All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Ink And Bone by Rachel Caine

Ink And Bone (The Great Library #1)
Rachel Caine
Allison & Busby
2015, 410p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Knowledge is power. Power corrupts.

In a world where the ancient Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, knowledge now rules the world: freely available, but strictly controlled. Owning private books is a crime.

Jess Brightwell is the son of a black market book smuggler, sent to the Library to compete for a position as a scholar . . . but even as he forms friendships and finds his true gifts, he begins to unearth the dark secrets of the greatest, most revered institution in the world.

Those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn. . . .

Recently I was very sad to hear of the death of Rachel Caine, from cancer. I have read quite a few of her books – the entire Morganville Vampires series, the Revivalist series and probably a few others here and there. It reminded me of how much I still had to read of her backlist. On one of my TBR bookcases, I have about half of the Weather Warden series. I’ve read the first book probably 10 years ago now but have never gotten around to finishing the series. And despite how much I’ve really thought this series would interest me over the years, I hadn’t even managed to start it. So I figured I would give this one a go as it is one I’ve always wanted to read.

It’s an alternative timeline series, where the Great Library of Alexandria still exists. It also controls knowledge – all the books are stored in libraries and dealing in books has become rare and contraband with the threat of death hanging over anyone who dares. Still, when anything is banned there are people who will pay handsomely for it and there are people like Jess’ father who will provide. He ropes his sons in from a very early age – already to the detriment of his eldest. Jess knows if he gets caught, he will not be rescued, he will not be acknowledged and he should spill no information.

Jess’ father summons him when he’s 16 and announces that he’s paid for Jess to take the exam to enter the Great Library under a sort of…apprenticeship? Jess still must take and pass a test, which he does and then he finds himself on the train to Alexandria, meeting his fellow students, some of which will be brutally sent home. From however many there are that begin, only 6 will be chosen. Their instruction is undertaken by Scholar Wolfe, who doesn’t seem to relish the task he has been chosen (?) for.

The world building is really interesting. In some ways the society is very advanced, in others it appears not so much. England and Wales are basically at war, there are dissenters around that want to bring down the Great Library and dismantle its power. I found the beginning of the book a bit slow but once Jess made it to Alexandria to begin his studies, it definitely picked up and became much more interesting. I really liked the group of students (there are many but about a half dozen of them or a few more become a main part of the story as Jess gets to know them, be it in a combative or friendly type of way) and I loved how the character of Scholar Wolfe developed. At first he is so dismissive of them, barely tolerating them, terrifying the life out of them. He seems like a bit of an asshole but sprinkled throughout the story (at the beginning of chapters, I think) are excerpts from communications and some of those flesh out his backstory a bit. As we get further into the story, more about him is revealed and his struggle at being chosen to be their mentor is given more light and the why becomes quite sinister.

This book went in some really exciting directions and the cast of characters is both interesting and diverse. There’s so much bubbling below the surface – Jess was only just starting to uncover some really strange and suspicious things towards the end of the book and things are not as they seem at all. I definitely want to know more about the Obscurists. This book is deliberately vague about it as Jess didn’t really know anyone who can or is willing to give him that information, but now he does, so I expect that to play a great role in books to come, especially as he seeks to free the one he loves.

I enjoyed this, despite the fact that I did find it a bit slow in the first 100-150p or so. The rest was a good read and I’ve already requested the second book from my local library.

7/10

Book #237 of 2020

 

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Review: Catch And Kill by Ronan Farrow

Catch And Kill: Lies, Spies A Conspiracy To Protect Predators
Ronan Farrow
Little, Brown & Company
2019, 418p
Read from my local library

Blurb from the publisher/Goodreads.com:

In this instant New York Times bestselling account of violence and espionage, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Ronan Farrow exposes serial abusers and a cabal of powerful interests hell-bent on covering up the truth, at any cost.

In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move, and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family.

All the while, Farrow and his producer faced a degree of resistance they could not explain — until now. And a trail of clues revealed corruption and cover-ups from Hollywood to Washington and beyond.

This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability, and silence victims of abuse. And it’s the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.

Both a spy thriller and a meticulous work of investigative journalism, Catch and Kill breaks devastating new stories about the rampant abuse of power and sheds far-reaching light on investigations that shook our culture.

I can’t remember when I first heard about this book but I knew it had been on my radar for a while and I requested it from my library and was one in a long line of people wanting to read it. It finally came in one of their deliveries and I’d almost forgotten about it until I got an email saying it would be due back soon and I realised I’d better read it quickly. I picked this up at 5pm to start one day, just anticipating reading 50-100 pages. I’d just finished the Obama book and I didn’t really think I’d be in for another pretty detailed non-fiction read but as soon as I started this, I couldn’t put it down. I finished it at 10pm the same night.

This was brilliant. I am reading this with the perspective of knowing the fallout, of how Harvey Weinstein was finally brought down after what was probably decades of abusing women who suffered a severe imbalance of power. But what I didn’t realise was just how much work went into this piece by not just Farrow but scores of other people as well, the non-stop research, fact-checking, legal covering, etc that had to be done to make sure that this could be published without being torn apart. Harvey Weinstein was a very, very powerful man and he had a huge army of lawyers and also other people that he paid to keep stories like this one buried.

And then of course, there’s the women who were brave enough to finally speak out about this behaviour. Not just the actresses like Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, Mira Sorvino and others, but also people that used to work for Weinstein. He wielded NDA’s pretty heavily but some of them were still willing to talk and not just talk, put their names to the story, to take away the anonymity that people can use as a defence and give a face to the experience. It sounded like a brutal world, a man heady with power who used female staff as a way to lure women in that he wanted to see. The stories by different women had so many similar themes: Harvey cajoling women up to a room about a professional matter (and he’s the boss, the dude with all the say, in a lot of cases these people couldn’t afford to say no) and then appearing in a bathrobe, asking for a massage or telling them he’s going to masturbate. In some cases, it was grabbing them forcefully and pinning them down. He used his power to make sure that they didn’t dare speak out and if they did, he employed a vast amount of people to dig up stories to discredit them and bury anything on him. It went as far as even getting a New York DA to agree not to press charges when the victim wore a wire that had him admitting it on it. For a lot of people this was an open secret for so many years but no one could speak out without severe repercussions and he slid away from the scandal again and again. Until this time.

The personal toll this took on Farrow is detailed here as well. Not just the hours and hours of research and trying to find people to speak, to have their stories heard and trying to protect them, but also the way in which Weinstein hit back: having him followed, threatening Farrow’s employment with NBC, getting them to kill the story as well as threatening to sue him personally and suggesting that Farrow was compromised by the allegations his own sister had made of being abused in her childhood by Farrow’s father, director Woody Allen (a compatriot of Weinstein’s, who actually provides him with advice on how to handle the allegations). Allen’s story is well known (he married his former partner’s adopted daughter, their affair starting when he was 56 and she was 21) and his adopted daughter (with Farrow), Dylan, has accused him of sexual assault when she was a child. Ronan is a supporter of his sister’s claims, which was used against him in a letter by Weinstein’s lawyers and as an attempt to discredit his research and story. And when the #MeToo movement grew in numbers and more women started sharing their stories publicly, Farrow also realised that the place where he’d been working, the one that at first encouraged the story and then tried to kill it because of pressure from Weinstein, was also rotten. NBC had several high profile anchors taken down by the movement and were forced to part ways with people like Matt Lauer, as an example. Farrow broadened his investigation to listening to some of those stories too, for the purpose of publication and has now made a name for himself for investigative reporting of this type.

This book showcases how pervasive sexual assault in the workplace can be and how women can be left feeling like they have no option but to comply with what is being demanded of them because of a threat to their job or even the harmony of the workplace. It’s hard I think, for people to understand sometimes that rape doesn’t have to be a violent transaction in a dark alley. It can be because the woman is too scared to say no, is paralysed with fear, is drunk, is under threat. It’s something Weinstein definitely didn’t understand, until it all came tumbling down. Although chances are, he doesn’t understand it still.

This was excellent. So thorough and a testament to Farrow’s strength. He could’ve given up a hundred times, after he was blocked at so many turns but he kept going, he took the story somewhere else after NBC killed it, found it a home and they vetted it and vetted it until they were 100% sure it couldn’t be discredited. And now Weinstein is where he deserves to be – in jail.

9/10

Book #233 of 2020

 

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Review: The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa

The Worst Best Man
Mia Sosa
Avon
2020, 358p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A wedding planner left at the altar. Yeah, the irony isn’t lost on Carolina Santos, either. But despite that embarrassing blip from her past, Lina’s managed to make other people’s dreams come true as a top-tier wedding coordinator in DC. After impressing an influential guest, she’s offered an opportunity that could change her life. There’s just one hitch… she has to collaborate with the best (make that worst) man from her own failed nuptials.

Tired of living in his older brother’s shadow, marketing expert Max Hartley is determined to make his mark with a coveted hotel client looking to expand its brand. Then he learns he’ll be working with his brother’s whip-smart, stunning —absolutely off-limits — ex-fiancée. And she loathes him.

If they can survive the next few weeks and nail their presentation without killing each other, they’ll both come out ahead. Except Max has been public enemy number one ever since he encouraged his brother to jilt the bride, and Lina’s ready to dish out a little payback of her own.

But even the best laid plans can go awry, and soon Lina and Max discover animosity may not be the only emotion creating sparks between them. Still, this star-crossed couple can never be more than temporary playmates because Lina isn’t interested in falling in love and Max refuses to play runner-up to his brother ever again… 

Recently I have been deep into the Barack Obama book (review to come of that one later this week) and it’s been something I’ve really had to focus on and I’ve only been reading about 100p or so of it a day. I decided to take a break and read something else, something a bit lighter, and this sounded interesting.

Lina is a wedding planner and at one of the weddings she’s coordinating a guest offers her the chance to come and interview for a prestigious job at the line of hotels she runs. Lina is determined to get this only to discover that she’s handicapped straight away. There are two candidates and each will be helped in their interview pitch by a marketing expert. To Lina’s horror, the marketing experts are her ex-fiance, who dumped her at the altar five years ago and his younger brother, apparently the reason her ex “saw the light” and fled the marriage before it could take place. Despite her hatred of Max, the younger brother, she’d much rather work with him than Andrew, her ex-fiance and so she snaps him up immediately and makes it clear that he’s decoration in this gig. She’ll get the job and she’ll get it on her own.

I didn’t love this. I understand Lina has some really raw feelings about being dumped just before her wedding was about to take place and Max was both a) the bearer of the bad news and b) according to his text message, the reason that Andrew bailed. And even though he’s the lesser of two evils for her to work with to get this job, she still decides to make his life a misery as some sort of revenge? Even though Max doesn’t remember what it is that he said or did to make his brother to decide to not be married and really, if it was that easy, clearly the guy wasn’t ready to be married anyway. Also it was five years ago and Lina is going for the job of her career – she’s already pretended to her new potential boss that she doesn’t know Max or Andrew so maybe it might be a good idea to….oh…..I don’t know, be professional? No, this doesn’t really occur to her and instead it’s childish pranks and stupid remarks and bickering.

I think this is supposed to be funny but it really wasn’t my type of humour. It’s told from both points of view and although I enjoyed Lina’s family, Lina herself wasn’t particularly interesting. Max is having pretty much immediate thoughts about Lina as soon as they come back into contact, although he tries not to. But as they work together more and more and keep instigating “truces” (which rarely last as one of them, generally Lina, does something childish and annoying), Max finds the thoughts harder and harder to ignore. For me though, they had zero chemistry and oh god, the sex scenes were awkward AF. I think they were supposed to be filled with “witty banter” but yikes, too much talking. If you have time to be doing that much talking then you are not doing enough of the sex. And I like scenes where the female character is assertive and not afraid to really go after her own pleasure too but a blow by blow description of exactly how cunnilingus is an art form…..too much. I can do with less actual explaining of what Lina likes.

There were a lot of things that felt shoehorned into this, almost like the plot had too much going on and some of those things fizzled out or were not really adequately resolved with any meaning. Like a lot is made of the competitiveness between Max and his brother and how their (astute, business-savvy) mother sees Andrew as this amazing marketing executive: high flying, going places but really he’s a dunce who keeps needing to ask Max how to do things or stealing his ideas. Why do they have this dumb competitiveness? How did it start? Why is Max such a doormat about his brother? Stop giving him the answers and let him sink or swim, you numpty. The brother is pretty heinous, but in this really bland and generic way, like he is cookie cutter douchy. He and Max have one scene that sort of half resolves things between them (but also feels like it raises more questions than answers) but he and Lina don’t really get much airtime. And towards the end, despite being the driving force in their “relationship”, Max has this completely random freak out about Lina and how being with her somehow makes him second-best to his brother again. Awesome. What a compliment!

5/10

Book #231 of 2020

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(Extremely) Mini Reviews {11} – What I’ve Been Reading Lately

I realised there’s a few books sitting there in my reads that I haven’t actually written anything for and I thought I’d just whip up another of these posts to try and include a few of them. A lot of them were actually read a little while ago so my recollections are probably a little vague now!

Actress
Anne Enright
Vintage Digital
2020, 269p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

This is the story of Irish theatre legend Katherine O’Dell, as told by her daughter Norah. It tells of early stardom in Hollywood, of highs and lows on the stages of Dublin and London’s West End. Katherine’s life is a grand performance, with young Norah watching from the wings.

But this romance between mother and daughter cannot survive Katherine’s past, or the world’s damage. As Norah uncovers her mother’s secrets, she acquires a few of her own. Then, fame turns to infamy when Katherine decides to commit a bizarre crime.

Actress is about a daughter’s search for the truth: the dark secret in the bright star, and what drove Katherine finally mad.

Brilliantly capturing the glamour of post-war America and the shabbiness of 1970s Dublin, Actress is an intensely moving, disturbing novel about mothers and daughters and the men in their lives. A scintillating examination of the corrosive nature of celebrity, it is also a sad and triumphant tale of freedom from bad love, and from the avid gaze of the crowd.

I was curious about this because Enright had won a Man Booker or whatever it’s called these days and this book was also long listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. She was also taking part in the Melbourne Writers Festival and this happened to be available through my local library at the right time. I was able to read this before her MWF session, which was my preference just in case the sessions talked a lot about things best left unspoiled.

This was okay. It was interesting in the way it was told, from the perspective of the daughter of an actress, who was kind of this person on the outside looking in. I enjoyed a lot of the narration of Katherine’s early life coming into acting, especially around London and Dublin and found her an interesting character in many ways. But I also felt that for me, it kind of lost its way a bit the further I got into it. However there was enough in the writing that I would read more of Anne Enright.

6/10

Book #150 of 2020

Readhead By The Side Of The Road
Anne Tyler
Vintage Digital
2020, 192p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Micah Mortimer isn’t the most polished person you’ll ever meet. His numerous sisters and in-laws regard him oddly but very fondly, but he has his ways and means of navigating the world. He measures out his days running errands for work – his TECH HERMIT sign cheerily displayed on the roof of his car – maintaining an impeccable cleaning regime and going for runs (7:15, every morning). He is content with the steady balance of his life.

But then the order of things starts to tilt. His woman friend Cassia (he refuses to call anyone in her late thirties a ‘girlfriend’) tells him she’s facing eviction because of a cat. And when a teenager shows up at Micah’s door claiming to be his son, Micah is confronted with another surprise he seems poorly equipped to handle.

Redhead by the Side of the Road is an intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who sometimes finds those around him just out of reach – and a love story about the differences that make us all unique.

I had never read Anne Tyler before but I had heard some amazing things about her writing. I’m not sure this one was the best one to start with, but it was the only one available through my local library so I decided to try it. Like Actress above, this was just okay for me. It started off quite promising, I was sort of interested in Michah and his somewhat very compartmentalised life but the arrival of the past actually ended up making me lose interest. And it wasn’t long enough for me, I found it a bit unsatisfying – like the previous one, perhaps not the best choice for starting, maybe there are others out there by Tyler that I will like more.

6/10

Book #157 of 2020

A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing
Jessie Tu
Allen & Unwin
2020, 293p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Growing up is always hard, but especially when so many think you’re a washed-up has-been at twenty-two.

Jena Chung plays the violin. She was once a child prodigy and is now addicted to sex. She’s struggling a little. Her professional life comprises rehearsals, concerts, auditions and relentless practice; her personal life is spent managing family demands, those of her creative friends, and lots of sex. Jena is selfish, impulsive and often behaves badly, though mostly only to her own detriment. And then she meets Mark – much older and worldly-wise – who bewitches her. Could this be love?

When Jena wins an internship with the New York Philharmonic, she thinks the life she has dreamed of is about to begin. But when Trump is elected, New York changes irrevocably and Jena along with it. Is the dream over? With echoes of Frances Ha, Jena’s favourite film, truths are gradually revealed to her. Jena comes to learn that there are many different ways to live and love and that no one has the how-to guide for any of it – not even her indomitable mother.

This was another book I read before the Melbourne Writers Festival as Jessie Tu was also the focus of one of the sessions that I’d booked into. This book sounded really interesting – and her session at the Festival was amazing, I really enjoyed it. But….even though the book was well written, I have to admit, the subject matter wasn’t always particularly for me.

There’s a lot in here about loneliness, about grief and longing and unfulfilled or untapped potential. The main character is incredibly destructive – addicted to sex, constantly searching for the high I think she gets from being with someone, and she’s willing to put herself into some pretty dangerous situations in order to achieve it. She’s also for a large part of the book, involved with an older man in what seems to be a borderline abusive relationship that seems to cause her a lot of grief but that she seems to struggle to break away from, but it was never really made clear why she was so enamoured with this person. I enjoyed Jena a lot more as a character when the action moved to New York and I felt like I got the focus of her music, of her playing ability, of her actually wanting something and achieving something.

There’s some very strong racial representation here which was fantastic and I felt like the complexities of being the offspring of migrants was explored well, as was Jena’s prodigious talent but a lot of the more gratuitous stuff left me cold.

6/10

Book #161 of 2020

A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing is book #57 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

Loner
Georgina Young
Text Publishing
2020, 247p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Set in Melbourne, Loner is a humorous and heartfelt exploration of new adulthood. Lona kills her days by sneaking into the dark room at her old art school to develop photographs. She kills her nights DJ-ing the roller disco at Planet Skate. She is in inexplicably, debilitatingly love with a bespectacled Doctor Who-obsessed former classmate, and in comfortable, platonic love with her best friend Tab. Lona works hard to portray a permanent attitude of cynicism and ennui but will her carefully constructed persona be enough to protect her from the inevitable sorrows and unexpected joys of adult life? Loner re-examines notions of social isolation experienced by young people, suggesting sometimes our own company can be a choice and not a failing. 

I really enjoyed this – I thought it was something I could really relate to, even though I’m now much older than Lona. I loved the setting in Melbourne and the little touches like Lona’s job working as a DJ in a roller disco. For many people, leaving school and beginning that next phase of your life is really difficult and Lona is navigating that – things aren’t working out, she’s stopped going to her university. She is also stretching her wings by moving out, finding a job that will help pay the bills, that sort of thing. She’s met someone she likes. The chapters are very short, which gives it a quick feel and there’s a lot in here that reminded me of my own first forays out of my parent’s home.

7/10

Book #162 of 2020

Loner is book #58 in The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

Dreams They Forgot
Emma Ashmere
Wakefield Press
2020, 228p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two sisters await the tidal wave predicted for 1970s Adelaide after Premier Don Dunstan decriminalises homosexuality. An interstate family drive is complicated by the father’s memory of sighting UFOs. Two women drive from Melbourne to Sydney to see the Harbour Bridge before it’s finished. An isolated family tries to weather climate change as the Doomsday Clock ticks.

Emma Ashmere’s stories explore illusion, deception and acts of quiet rebellion. Diverse characters travel high and low roads through time and place — from a grand 1860s Adelaide music hall to a dilapidated London squat, from a modern Melbourne hospital to the 1950s Maralinga test site, to the 1990s diamond mines of Borneo.

Undercut with longing and unbelonging, absurdity and tragedy, thwarted plans and fortuitous serendipity, each story offers glimpses into the dreams, limitations, gains and losses of fragmented families, loners and lovers, survivors and misfits, as they piece together a place for themselves in the imperfect mosaic of the natural and unnatural world.

Unfortunately, short stories are just really not for me. I’ve almost never found one that I like but I keep being tempted by them. These are in many ways, written very well but they just don’t speak to me. I am always left wanting more or wondering what happened next and in some cases, wondering what on earth actually happened. Sometimes they’ve very ethereal and mysterious. Perhaps the way I read as well, doesn’t particularly suit this mode of storytelling – I’m very much a read in one sitting type of person, I like to begin and finish. These might be much better dipped in and out of, really taking the time between each one to mull the prose over and sink into the ins and outs of what’s being told.

Book #180 of 2020

This was book #69 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

The Lying Life Of Adults
Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)
Europa Editions
2020, 336p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Giovanna’s pretty face is changing, turning ugly, at least so her father thinks. Giovanna, he says, looks more like her Aunt Vittoria every day. But can it be true? Is she really changing? Is she turning into her Aunt Vittoria, a woman she hardly knows but whom her mother and father clearly despise? Surely there is a mirror somewhere in which she can see herself as she truly is.

Giovanna is searching for her reflection in two kindred cities that fear and detest one another: Naples of the heights, which assumes a mask of refinement, and Naples of the depths, a place of excess and vulgarity. She moves from one to the other in search of the truth, but neither city seems to offer answers or escape.

Named one of 2016’s most influential people by TIME Magazine and frequently touted as a future Nobel Prize-winner, Elena Ferrante has become one of the world’s most read and beloved writers. With this new novel about the transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, Ferrante proves once again that she deserves her many accolades. In The Lying Life of Adults, readers will discover another gripping, highly addictive, and totally unforgettable Neapolitan story. 

I loved the Neapolitan Quartet and I was really excited for this, Elena Ferrante’s next book. However – I didn’t love this at all. In fact I struggled my way through it, constantly bored with the plot and the characters. A couple of times I considered DNF’ing it but in the end I persevered until I got to the finish. Honestly I just didn’t care about anything that was happening here.

3/10

Book #197 of 2020

Binti (Binti #1)
Nnedi Okorafor
Tor
2015, 96p
Purchased personal copy via iBooks

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive. 

Going to be honest here – I chose this book to read because I’m pretty behind in my Reading Women Challenge and I also didn’t have anything that qualified as Afrofuturism/Africanfuturism, which was one of the prompts, so I had to buy something. A few people recommended this in the Goodreads group and it’s really short – only 96p. It’s the first in a trilogy and so in order to make a bit of progress, I decided to read this.

It was really good – despite the lack of length in the story, it felt incredibly well rounded and the characterisation and description of setting were very well done. Binti is the first of her people to be offered a place at a very prestigious university and she has to basically turn her back on everything she knows in order to accept it, almost running away in the middle of the night. On the way there, the ship is attacked by these alien creatures – and Binti is one of only two left alive. She can communicate with them and so she makes a sort of bargain, in order to preserve her life.

I’m really tempted to go on with the other 2 instalments, they’re probably quite short too and I’m keen to know what happens next for Binti.

8/10

Book #209 of 2020

Binti counts towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. It’s the 18th book I’ve read and ticks off prompt #7 – Afrofuturism or Africanfuturism. This leaves me with 8 books to go for this challenge, which is definitely going to be a real struggle!

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Review: Christmas At Claridges by Karen Swan

Christmas At Claridges 
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan UK
2013, 502p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘This was where her dreams drifted to if she didn’t blot her nights out with drink; this was where her thoughts settled if she didn’t fill her days with chat. She remembered this tiny, remote foreign village on a molecular level and the sight of it soaked into her like water into sand, because this was where her old life had ended and her new one had begun.’

Portobello – home to the world-famous street market, Notting Hill Carnival and Clem Alderton. She’s the queen of the scene, the girl everyone wants to be or be with. But beneath the morning-after makeup, Clem is keeping a secret, and when she goes too far one reckless night she endangers everything – her home, her job and even her adored brother’s love.

Portofino – a place of wild beauty and old-school glamour. Clem has been here once before and vowed never to return. But when a hansome stranger asks Clem to restore a neglected villa, it seems like the answer to her problems – if she can just face up to her past.

Claridge’s – at Christmas. Clem is back in London working on a special commission for London’s grandest hotel. But is this really where her heart lies?

Okay I’ve been working my way steadily through Karen Swan’s backlist this year and I’ve mostly been really enjoying them. There’s been 1-2 that I’ve felt were just okay but this one? This is the first one I’ve quite disliked and it was really a very disappointing read. I’ve read a few reviews of other Christmas books (Swan puts out 2 books a year, a “summer” themed one and then a winter Christmas one) where they state how misleading the titles and covers are. This is one of those books for sure. Claridges is the scene of one meeting and then like, the last few pages of the book. Most of the book takes place over other seasons. It’s a thin stretch of any imagination to call this a Christmas book or even to link it to Claridges.

Clem is almost thirty, living in a trendy suburb of London with her brother Tom. Clem is a quintessential ‘It’ girl – partying, drinking, relationships that don’t last more than 12 weeks. She has little in the way of responsibility – her brother employs her at his company and rents her a room in his flat. Always he’s had her back until a moment of selfishness wrecks something he’s worked so hard on, that his company was relying on. Clem has disappointed the people around her over and over but it isn’t until Tom expresses his contempt for her that she truly feels sorry. Banished to Portofino Italy in order to comply with some stipulation on a big contract for her brother’s company, which she feels as her one chance to make amends, Clem comes face to face with the decisions she made in her past.

This was a hot mess of a story. Clem is really unlikeable – shallow and silly and selfish and just an all round smug pain. She’s been spoiled and cosseted her whole life and her brother is a huge enabler. Not sure why he’s so surprised when she does what she does, to be honest. At least she does feel some remorse but it didn’t seem enough. A mysterious man she keeps crossing paths with offers Tom’s business a huge contact that just might save it after Clem almost blew it up but the clincher has to be that Clem must oversee all aspects of the project personally. When Clem hears where, she doesn’t want to go but for reasons she cannot explain and so Tom won’t hear of it.

Karen Swan books often have a bit of an unusual romance, where sometimes the characters are involved with other people and you don’t get the true end game until well, the end. Quite often this has worked for me, because there’s been some complicated situations which give some real tension and chemistry. Unfortunately, this was not one of these books. I don’t think there was anywhere near enough groundwork done for the end game. There are some twists in the story and while some of these are explained relatively adequately, Clem’s feelings for a certain person are not and it just felt so underdeveloped to me. Especially as her involvement with another character takes up a rather large portion of the latter part of the book and the way it fizzled out was weird and unsatisfactory as well.

This is one of her older books and unfortunately there wasn’t really much about it that worked for me at all, other than, despite its size, it didn’t take me long to read it. I think that towards the end, you start to understand Clem’s truly reckless lifestyle and why she’s lived that zero responsibility, hardcore partying and drinking life but at the same time it’s like, well how long was she going to go on like this? If she hadn’t of been sent back to Portofino and had to face the decisions of her past, would she still have been exactly the same another 10, 20, 30 years down the track? She never confided in anyone, never explained anything, even to her beloved brother or best friend. Maybe a little of that earlier on, might’ve really helped. A lot of what happens is not really tackled in depth, despite the pretty high page count. Especially what happened over a decade ago, before the book begins, the reasoning behind such thing and the fallout of everything being revealed in the current day. And the ending was so lacklustre.

4/10

Book #208 of 2020

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Review: The Minute I Saw You by Paige Toon

The Minute I Saw You 
Paige Toon
Simon & Schuster UK
2020, 400p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Some people believe that it’s possible to fall in love simply by gazing into another person’s eyes . . .

When Hannah and Sonny meet, a spark ignites that is hard to ignore and impossible to forget. Weeks later, their paths cross again, but Sonny appears distant and reluctant to meet Hannah’s eye. It soon transpires that Sonny is at a crossroads. He’s committed to making serious life changes – ones that can’t and won’t include romance.

Hannah has her own reasons for wanting to keep their budding friendship platonic. Plus, she’s only in town temporarily, housesitting for her uncle. But as the summer hots up and the chemistry between them intensifies, Hannah and Sonny discover that there’s more to each other than meets the eye…

It’s not every month that I finish the TBR I set for myself. But in September I did and with a few days to spare. So I decided to take some time to read a few library books and a few random books that grabbed my attention before I got stuck into my October TBR. I really like the few Paige Toon novels I’ve read and somehow I missed this one when it was released earlier in the year. It was available on the app my library uses to loan eBooks so I decided to give it a go.

Hannah is a newish dispensing optician at the optometrist Sonny has gone to for most of his life and they meet when he comes for a regular eye test. There’s a load of chemistry and he’s leaving to go back to Amsterdam in a couple of weeks, which suits Hannah – she doesn’t do relationships. But when Sonny comes back to pick up his glasses, he’s like a different person and the chance of them hooking up vanishes. Hannah is surprised that she doesn’t stop thinking about him and surprisingly, they run into each other several times by chance in the next few months. The chemistry is there again but Sonny is troubled and he’s made a few vows to try and get to the bottom of the reason that he cannot form meaningful relationships. He and Hannah decide to try a supportive friendship instead, with no physical activity. That will be something new for Sonny, who seems to have treated women as a never-ending procession of one night stands. Sonny is committed to these changes that he’s making and Hannah is only in England temporarily anyway – she plans to leave again as soon as the uncle she’s housesitting for returns from his extensive overseas holiday. The only thing is, that chemistry won’t go away. And the deeper their friendship becomes, the more they learn to trust each other and confide in each other.

This was a lot different to how I expected it to be! At first Hannah and Sonny have this great chemistry but it doesn’t really go anywhere and when they reconnect, it’s in a way where Hannah’s new friend and her boyfriend know Sonny – and the friend is quick to warn Hannah off him. Sonny seems like a quintessential manwhore, shagging his way through anyone that’ll have him. But a little further on, after Hannah and Sonny decide to be friends, some of the reasonings behind Sonny’s inability to form relationships and lack of connection to women, begin to emerge and finally, he confesses something to Hannah that sheds a lot of light on a lot of things. Sonny’s feelings about this were so well written – they are complex and he’s a seething mix of emotions over it. Hannah is incredibly supportive of Sonny after this confession, being there when he needs it and also respecting his space when he can’t hang out due to his feelings on certain days, even though she misses and worries about him. She encourages him to confide in others, so that they might better understand him as well, even as she is hiding things from him herself. Hannah drops a few hints in the book about her own issues and inability to form meaningful relationships and when her truth comes it, it was also 100% not what I expected and I found her story really interesting. And heartbreaking.

The Minute I Saw You is a love story about two people who struggled with giving themselves completely to another person, for different reasons. Through Sonny’s “vow”, Paige Toon was able to give them a way to create and explore this deep friendship until finally, they realise that they are basically in a relationship. That against all odds, they’ve managed to build something really amazing and that if they just keep on doing what they’re doing, they’ll be fine. It doesn’t have to be this big ‘deal’ to go from their type of friendship, to officially being a couple. They establish huge amounts of trust between them, the sort of secrets they share are the type in which, shared to the wrong person, could seriously inflict incredible psychological damage, which is actually something that Hannah already knows personally.

I really enjoyed this, especially how both Sonny and Hannah learned that they could establish a home rather than moving around the world for work, or travelling to escape the ways in which they’d been hurt. This has reminded me that I really need to read more by Paige Toon, she still has so many books on her backlist that I haven’t read.

8/10

Book #196 of 2020

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Review: Here Is The Beehive by Sarah Crossan

Here Is The Beehive
Sarah Crossan
Bloomsbury ANZ
2020, 288p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

it happened,
again and again
and
again and again and again.

Together
apart.
In love
in aching.

Tangled
unravelling.

Ana and Connor have been having an affair for three years. In hotel rooms and coffee shops, swiftly deleted texts and briefly snatched weekends, they have built a world with none but the two of them in it.

But then the unimaginable happens, and Ana finds herself alone, trapped inside her secret.

How can we lose someone the world never knew was ours? How do we grieve for something no one else can ever find out? In her desperate bid for answers, Ana seeks out the shadowy figure who has always stood just beyond her reach – Connor’s wife Rebecca.

Peeling away the layers of two overlapping marriages, Here is the Beehive is a devastating excavation of risk, obsession and loss.

I don’t read a lot of novels in verse. Although I’ve actually read two this year pretty close together, which is unusual for me. I’m generally the type of person who wants more in my storytelling and sometimes I find verse a difficult medium to get stuff of meaning across. But I’ve read Sarah Crossan before and I’d heard good things about this and I was curious. Also it was available through my local library’s app for eBooks so instant gratification for the win.

Ana is a lawyer, working seemingly in wills and inheritance laws and she meets Connor at work, when he comes to her to have his will drawn up and trust funds for his three children. For the last three years, they’ve been having a very on/off affair. Ana seems ready to leave her life – she’s also married, with children. But Connor does not at all seem in the same place. He continually says that he cannot leave his wife and Ana often loses her patience with this. One of them will say it has to end, they’ll separate for a while. But eventually, they’ll come together again and things will resume. One day, Ana finds out that Connor has died when his wife calls the office to request how to go ahead with his will. Ana is gobsmacked and at first, thinks it’s some sort of joke. How could this be? She was speaking to him on the day he died. Actually, just beforehand. But the reality then sinks in and Ana is lost, set adrift in a world of pain and grief that she can’t even confide to people in, because no one she knows, knows about the affair. Ana seeks out Connor’s widow Rebecca, ostensibly to provide practical help and advice, but to also snatch a little bit more of Connor while she can.

I think that in this case, the verse format helps convey Ana’s broken frame of mind, the messiness of her emotions and her grief. She’s completely blindsided by the news that Connor is dead and it’s only because she was also his lawyer that she even finds out when she does. She has a lot of feelings that she struggles with, the disbelief that he is gone is primary but she must “soldier on” so to speak, keep turning up to work and getting things done because no one knows that she has any reason not to. And it’s not something she can really tell people either, she can’t request leave from her boss or tell her best friend why she’s losing weight, not doing well. No one knew (except one friend of Connor’s) and because of that Ana must wade through the fog herself, reminiscing about their relationship. It’s through these memories that we learn how they met, how they first began the affair and the tricky back and forth of it.

Everything about this is destructive. Connor and Ana’s relationship is destructive, even when it’s at its height. By the way it began, it’s full of drama and fighting and making up and accusations and demands and jealousy. And I felt like all of that was conveyed really well. The reader knows that Connor is married immediately but it takes a little while for the author to reveal that Ana is as well, and that she has children. The way Ana treats her husband is really pretty vile in this – and I know we’re getting a snapshot in time, especially when she’s not in a terribly good place. But she couldn’t make it any more obvious how she feels a lot of the time and the affair she’s conducting with Connor is ruining so many of her other relationships. She seems to place him above all others. It doesn’t feel grandly romantic, it feels secretive and sly and incredibly, incredibly toxic. Connor is dead and now all we get are Ana’s remembrances but it was hard to warm to him. Connor seemed like the guy that quintessentially wanted it all – the wife in the lovely home, the three kids…..and then the mistress on the side. He never seems like he’s ever going to leave his wife, no matter what and Ana keeps trying to force him to. She even threatens to call his wife and tell her. This is all consuming in Ana’s life, it seems more obsession than love, I’m not sure if it’s an escape? But if it is, it doesn’t seem to be a very enjoyable or peaceful one.

The ending felt very sudden, and ripped me out of the story at what felt like a key point in both Ana’s development personally and also within her marriage. I wanted to know what happened next – even though it’s not really what the story was about. But that was honestly, the part that I was the most invested in and it was when the book ended, which felt disappointing. But in terms of conveying the messiness and chaos of Ana’s emotions, I think the format was used in a really clever way. I just wanted her to take responsibility for some of the mess in her home life and it seemed like the story ended just as she was about to do just that.

6/10

Book #194 of 2020

 

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Review: The Recovery Of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

The Recovery Of Rose Gold
Stephanie Wrobel
Penguin UK
2020, 400p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Rose Gold Watts believed she was sick for eighteen years.

She thought she needed the feeding tube, the surgeries, the wheelchair . . .

Turns out her mum, Patty, is a really good liar.

After five years in prison Patty Watts is finally free. All she wants is to put old grievances behind her, reconcile with her daughter – and care for her new infant grandson. When Rose Gold agrees to have Patty move in, it seems their relationship is truly on the mend.

But Rose Gold knows her mother. Patty won’t rest until she has her daughter back under her thumb. Which is inconvenient because Rose Gold wants to be free of Patty. Forever.

Only one Watts will get what she wants.

Will it be Patty or Rose Gold?

Mother, or daughter?

This was a trip.

Rose Gold is in her early 20s and her mother is being released from prison after serving five years for aggravated child abuse. For most of Rose Gold’s childhood, she was ‘sick’ – constantly vomiting, her hair falling out, so ill and frail that she often needed a wheelchair to get around. It was endless trips to hospitals and doctors, explaining her symptoms, a barrage of tests but never anything in the form of answers. Always there was her mother, the only real presence in Rose Gold’s life, who home schooled her, who took care of her, who devoted herself to her…until an innocent comment made Rose Gold wonder if it was really such devoted care after all.

Munchausen syndrome by Proxy, aka Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another (FDIA) basically means that a caregiver incites, creates or claims illness in a child in their care, in order to receive attention that having such a sick child brings. There are a few risk factors, such as a stressful or complicated pregnancy and a mother who experienced child abuse. The reality of a diagnosis is that the only way to prove it is to remove the child from the person’s care and see if they improve. According to Wikipedia, in more than 95% of cases of this, the offender is the person’s mother.

With her mother in jail for five years, Rose Gold has had that time to put her life back together again, to see if she can live a normal life now that the oppressive presence of her mother has been removed. She has a job, an apartment and seems to be going through the motions of life – her mother’s friend supports her and is always there to offer a friendly ear. But Rose Gold has not been able to make friends, she doesn’t have a boyfriend and dig a little deeper beneath the surface of her life and it’s clear to see that she’s having trouble adjusting to her new ‘normal’ life.

For her whole childhood, Rose Gold believed that she was desperately sick – well, she was desperately sick, most likely due to high doses of an expectorant in her food. It caused quite severe damage to her body from the constant cycles of vomiting – her teeth are decayed and rotten in her mouth. She had severe malnutrition. She was incredibly weak – her hair would fall out in big clumps so her mother would keep it shaved so that losing her hair didn’t distress her. She often needed a wheelchair because she didn’t have the strength to get around on her own two feet. When she was teased at school for her sickly appearance, her mother pulled her out of school and homeschooled her. But even worse than the damage to Rose Gold’s physical condition might be the damage done to her psyche.

When Patty gets out of jail, she goes to stay with Rose Gold and immediately you’re like no, how can this be, she’s going to manipulate and hurt her again. Patty is a piece of work – she has a backstory that does involve horrific abuse but even with that, Patty is not a character one can feel sympathy for. She is unapologetic about her treatment of Rose Gold, incredibly angry about being in jail and determined that Rose Gold will pay for testifying against her. Even as she’s pretending to rebuild her relationships with her daughter, pretending that things will be different now, she’s constantly looking for ways in which she can punish, abuse, manipulate and gaslight Rose Gold in retaliation. The thing is, soon Patty starts to question Rose Gold’s motives for inviting Patty to live with her…..whereas she thought that Rose Gold was appropriately sorry for testifying and was ready to be the good, obedient little daughter again, there are things that make her wonder and that makes her utterly incensed. If Rose Gold is trying to get revenge on Patty for her childhood, then she’s going to pay and Patty is confident she’ll break Rose Gold down just as she has before.

That’s not to say Rose Gold is, to be honest, a likeable character either, in many ways. She has a lot of problems with things like appropriate boundaries and she’s definitely capable of a lot of manipulation and dangerous actions herself. But you know what? I wanted Rose Gold to succeed in punishing Patty. Even though Patty had obviously had a very awful childhood, what she inflicted on Rose Gold and her lack of remorse for it, made me want Rose Gold to win over her. No matter what, to be honest. That wasn’t to say I liked Rose Gold – I felt like she needed years and years of therapy and she had a vindictive streak that was incredibly concerning but there is surely an impossibility to underestimate the sort of mental damage that had been done on her by her upbringing. But I felt for her – I wanted her to triumph over her mother and over this situation as well and even though it’s a bit sick….perhaps for her, proving to Patty that she had no influence over her anymore, would be the best way.

8/10

Book #174 of 2020

 

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Review: Christmas Under The Stars by Karen Swan

Christmas Under The Stars
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan UK
2016, 486p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Worlds apart. A love without limit.

In the snow-topped mountains of the Canadian Rockies, Meg and Mitch are living their dream. Just weeks away from their wedding, they work and play with Tuck and Lucy, their closest and oldest friends. Meg and Lucy are as close as sisters – much to Meg’s sister’s dismay – and Tuck and Mitch have successfully turned their passion for snowboarding into a booming business.

But when a polar storm hits, tragedy strikes. Alone in the tiny mountain log cabin she shares with Mitch, Meg desperately tries to radio for help – and it comes from the most unexpected quarter, a lone voice across the airwaves that sees what she cannot.

As the snow melts and they try to live with their loss, the friendship Meg thought was forever is buckled by tensions, rivalries and devastating secrets. Nothing is as she thought and only her radio contact understands what it is to be truly alone. As they share confidences in the dark, witnessed only by the stars, Meg feels her future begin to pull away from her past and is forced to consider a strange truth – is it her friends who are the strangers? And a stranger who really knows her best?

After the week I’d had, I felt like a pleasure read, something that didn’t require a lot of concentration – and I don’t meant that in a bad way. But I had some non-fiction and thrillers left on my ARC pile and they weren’t what I was after so I went digging in the pile I’d gotten from my library before they had to suspend local deliveries. I have quite a few Karen Swan books there and this one immediately grabbed me when I read the description. The weather was a bit Armageddonish – some sort of chunk had broken off from Antarctica and had made its way to southern Australia and it was freezing, raining, windy etc. However it was nothing compared to the weather that opens this book, a snow storm of the highest category in Banff, Canada.

Meg and Mitch were teenage sweethearts and now it’s ten years later and they’re about to be married. Mitch is a daredevil and also works search and rescue as well as designing and manufacturing snowboards. When a call comes in that two people are missing just as the storm is about to really hit, he insists on going out there, despite Meg begging him not to. With no WiFi or cell service at their cabin and the landline out in the storm, when Mitch doesn’t return in 5 hours like he said, Meg has only Mitch’s satellite radio to desperately try and call for help, even though she doesn’t know how to work it. The only person that responds is a Commander on the International Space Station, who is in just the right position in its track across the globe to be able to hear her distress call and respond, saying he’ll relay her message to someone who can raise the alarm and get help.

This was such an amazing idea for a story! The idea of Meg being so incredibly isolated during an absolutely awful storm and her only source of solace and help is someone that’s actually not even on Earth. Meg is absolutely beside herself with terror and grief as she imagines the worst and the Commander – Jonas – is a steady, unflappable voice who offers solace and help when no one else can. When the storm passes and everything has settled, Meg is faced with an incredible loss. In her grief, she finds herself reaching out to the only person who was there for her that night, the only one who could see what she experienced and the only one that she feels really understands.

Meg moved to near Banff with her family when she was a teenager and despite the fact that she could’ve gone to art college, she chose to stay behind with Mitch, invest in the business with him. Her younger sister works as a doctor in Toronto and often wants Meg to visit but she seems reluctant to leave the safe, comfortable, unchanged life that she has carved out for herself there, working in a skii/hiking hire shop and still being part of the same foursome she has been in since high school – Mitch, his best friend Tuck, her and her best friend Lucy. Tuck and Lucy are now married and Mitch and Meg were just days away from it before the storm hit. Now, in the aftermath, Meg’s life has changed and is changing in so many ways. She finds herself accepting an invite from her sister to visit her in the city and wondering if maybe there are opportunities that might present themselves to her now that take her beyond this area she’s spent the last decade in.

I really loved this one – the beginning is excellent at making the reader feel like they’re part of the storm and the aftermath is very emotional as Meg, at 26 or 27, has to begin to put her life back together, piece by piece. She also has to deal with the fact that someone she loves, and whom she believes cared about her, may not actually have her best interests at heart and might be hindering her from making any progress outside the life that has been unchanged for a decade. It takes Meg a very long time to realise some of these things and understand how a toxic friendship had influenced her life, had made her think certain things. She has to learn to base her decisions on what she wants, not what others want or need her for and that’s a hard new mindset to get into.

I found Meg’s journey really emotional – it was full of grief and she really did hit the lowest of the low for a while, before you can see her trying to pull herself out of the hole, looking around her, seeing that she’s still young, that there’s still a world out there that she can participate in. Her life isn’t over yet. It’s not an easy journey for her and there are several setbacks along the way. One of the few constants for a while, is the Commander, as they move to exchanging emails and because the relationship is remote, it’s easy to confide things in each other. However when Jonas returns to Earth, it’s like Meg realises that he’s now a real person who occupies the same space she does and that comes with a whole new range of feelings, which I found really interesting. You can see however, the moment that the fog does start to lift for Meg and how she starts to accept that she is able to move on and even though there are still some things that will hurt her, there’s a life waiting for her, if she wants it.

This was so good and it has kickstarted my reading mojo again.

8/10

Book #166 of 2020

 

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Review: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land 
Elizabeth Acevedo
Hot Key Books
2020, 417p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance – and Papi’s secrets – the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Papi’s death uncovers all the painful truths he kept hidden, and the love he divided across an ocean. And now, Camino and Yahaira are both left to grapple with what this new sister means to them, and what it will now take to keep their dreams alive.

In a dual narrative novel in verse that brims with both grief and love, award-winning and bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

I’m the first to admit that stories in verse are generally not my thing. I’ve not read too many of them and the ones I have read, I’ve been so-so on. But I loved Elizabeth Acevedo’s With The Fire On High so much that I’d read anything by her. Probably even her shopping list. I think her first novel was also in verse but I’ve not read that, although it’s high on my list.

This was really good. It did take me a little while to settle into it and I think reading it in the format I did, sometimes made it a bit hard to remember which point of view I was currently in for the first few narration changes. The story details two girls, one living in New York City and one living in the Dominican Republic. For Camino, her father lives in the US and he visits her every summer. She looks forward to those days, especially as he’s supposed to be bringing her to the US. Her mother has passed away and she’s being raised by an aunt but Camino has big dreams to become a doctor and hopefully, that’ll happen in America. In New York, Yahaira’s father disappears every summer. But this time, he doesn’t come back. And both Camino and Yahaira are suddenly aware that the father they idolised had hidden many things from them.

So much was conveyed in this book, without an excess of words. The two girls are very different – one has grown up in a more traditional family unit and she has idolised her father, until she discovers one of his secrets. The other has already faced the loss of one parent and now, at 17, loses her other parent. The death of her father puts Camino in a bad situation – her father was paying the fees for her school and without that, her future is uncertain. He was also paying protection for her, avoiding her being harassed by local boys and with that – her future could be dangerous. When the two girls discover each other’s existence, it’s not an easy ride to sisterhood.

Elizabeth Acevedo uses the very real flight of American Airlines flight 587 as her inspiration for the catalyst of this story, something that severely impacted the Dominican Republic community both in New York and at home. The difference between the two lifestyles of the girls was portrayed incredibly well – Camino deals with poverty, the dangers of lurking boys who won’t take no for an answer, her pregnant friend juggling school and the desire to be a doctor. She’s been learning a local form of medicine from her aunt, who is a well respected caregiver and attends births and things like that. But Camino dreams of college in America, something that her father was supposed to make happen – what Camino doesn’t know is that in order for her father to secure her a visa, he needs the assistance of someone that Camino didn’t even know existed until after his death in the plane crash.

When the two sisters’ worlds collide, it’s not an easy path. They’re both almost adults and having to deal with the fact that just the other exists is enough. They are almost the same age – so what does that say about what sort of person their father was? How did that happen? Both of them have a lot of conflicted feelings toward him as well but he’s also no longer here for them to vent those feelings and get some answers. And they are still grieving the person they knew for their whole lives, no matter what their recent discoveries. Their feelings are similar, yet different. The sting of betrayal is the same, the feelings of hurt and confusion and anger and resentment. But then there’s more than that. They share a kinship in more ways than one.

This was a really powerful story and I read it in a single sitting. It’s another stellar read from a talented author. I really need to get myself a copy of The Poet X to read whilst I await her next book.

8/10

Book #147 of 2020

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