All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

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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Review: The Memories That Make Us by Vanessa Carnevale

The Memories That Make Us
Vanessa Carnevale
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 400p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Dear Gracie,
Here are some things you should know:
The yellow toothbrush is mine. You sleep
with your socks on.
You and I were the closest thing to perfect I
ever knew in my life…
Love, Blake

After an accident leaves Gracie Ashcroft with severe amnesia, she finds herself struggling to recall the details of her life: the elements of her past, her personal preferences, even the identities of her loved ones.

Recollecting little more than the bond she shared with her deceased mother over their mutual love of flowers, Gracie leaves the life she’s established with Blake, the fiancé she can’t remember, and moves to the country where she attempts to revive her family’s flower farm.

What she doesn’t count on is developing a deep connection with Flynn, her neighbour. Reconciling the person she has become with the person she was, Gracie must confront the fact that she might lose both chances at love before she can find herself.

I don’t know how I haven’t read this book before now because amnesia is one of my absolute favourite tropes. I came across this scrolling through one of the apps my local library uses to lend out eBooks and I knew as soon as I read the blurb, I had to read it.

Gracie and her fiancé Blake are in a car accident that results in Gracie being in a coma. When she wakes up, she has no memory of herself and her life. She can identify flowers but she doesn’t know how to tie her own shoelaces. She can’t remember how to cook an omelet. And she has absolutely no memory of Blake and the love that they apparently shared. And she cannot face him – she wants time to reassess her life, to see if the memories come back. She flees her Melbourne apartment for her late mother’s Daylesford farm, where they once grew fields of flowers. There she meets Flynn, a handsome and helpful neighbour who suddenly proves indispensable but makes her very confused about her future.

I think this book really captures the terror and disconnect of waking up and not having any of your memories – not just about the people you know, but about yourself as well. Gracie, free from the choices of her “previous self”, the self before the accident, finds herself drinking coffee, eating eggs, much to the shock of her best friend, who insists that she doesn’t eat eggs and she only drinks herbal tea. She finds herself in an apartment that is unfamiliar, with a career that feels uninspiring. When a real estate agent calls her about her mother’s property in Daylesford, Gracie decides that she will go there and see if there are any answers to be found.

One of the few things that Gracie seems to connect with, is flowers. They are among some of the first things that she can truly remember, with bits and pieces of information coming to her. When she arrives at the property, she can identify the remains of plants, but she still has to do research and suddenly comes up with the idea to passionately resurrect the flower farm. It’s going to be a challenge, but Gracie has something to focus on and it does seem that the more time she spends there, the more keeps trickling back to her although it’s the tiniest portions of information.

There’s a large portion of this plot where it’s difficult to talk about without spoiling a rather key piece of information. The key piece of information isn’t difficult for the reader to figure out at an appropriate time (well before Gracie does, but that is intentional, I think) but it’s something where they shouldn’t be informed about prior to beginning the book. I did find it really interesting but I was also in two minds about it as well because it involved someone not following someone else’s wishes. I understand why they did it but the fact of the matter was that they still did it and that did make me feel very conflicted about that. I can only guess at how confused and betrayed Gracie must’ve felt upon the reveal, how a lot of her inner turmoil was exacerbated because of this.

I really like fresh flowers but I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about them. I enjoy buying the odd bunch when I’m out and about, to brighten up my home (not that that’s a thing, these days!). So I really enjoyed a lot of the information about growing them for commercial sale and Daylesford is a place that’s not too far from where I live and it’s a place I’ve visited. It’s a beautiful town (cold in the winter though!) and it was great to enjoy a book in a setting that was familiar but not necessarily one that I’ve come across too many times before, reading Australian-set fiction. I appreciated the connections Gracie forged in the town, the friendships she built as she struggled to find herself in more ways than one. I found it interesting that this was a catalyst for her changing almost every aspect of her life, rebuilding it almost by herself, as she seeks to find the person she once was. She doesn’t want people to tell her about her past likes and dislikes, her past jobs and hobbies, she wants to remember them or if she cannot do that, discover them on her own. Makes me wonder – if the same thing happened to me, what would I discover about myself? Would I reach for a book each day? Still make myself a cup of tea first thing in the morning? Choose that certain chocolate or favourite treat? Would I still dislike all seafood? Or completely free of my prejudices and established biases, would I feel differently about many things? It’s a really interesting thing to ponder, I think.

I really enjoyed this – it was a beautiful, thoughtful story and explored a lot of the reasons why I love books that feature amnesia.

8/10

Book #151 of 2020

The Memories That Make Us is book #49 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: Confessions Of A GP by Benjamin Daniels

Confessions Of A GP
Benjamin Daniels
The Friday Project
2012, 384p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Benjamin Daniels is angry. He is frustrated, confused, baffled and, quite frequently, very funny. He is also a GP. These are his confessions.

A woman troubled by pornographic dreams about Tom Jones. An 80-year-old man who can’t remember why he’s come to see the doctor. A woman with a common cold demanding (but not receiving) antibiotics. A man with a sore knee. A young woman who has been trying to conceive for a while but now finds herself pregnant and isn’t sure she wants to go through with it. A 7-year-old boy with ‘tummy aches’ that don’t really exist.

These are his patients.

Confessions of a GP is a witty insight into the life of a family doctor. Funny and moving in equal measure it will change the way you look at your GP next time you pop in with the sniffles.

Honestly, I thought this would be a humorous read with some serious undertones about the difficulty of being a GP, especially in regards to the NHS and funding etc, but it wasn’t really at all like that, for me.

I actually found this pretty condescending, patronising and overly snarky, like the author was trying way too hard to be funny but it just came off more like he was being a jerk. There are descriptions of patients that are downright rude and disrespectful – a chapter titled ‘Kirsty the tranny’ comes to mind immediately, which seems incredibly blind, even with this being published close to 10 years ago. There’s also quite a bit of fat shaming, particularly in the case of a man who was housebound due to his large size. Daniels describes him as “fucking enormous” and later details events trying to get the man out his house whereby they seem to invite half the neighbours around under the guise of “helping” (how could they) but more just seems like a chance to gawk.

There are some rather sweet stories, whereby you can see the importance of community medicine and the role of the GP, even when it’s time wasting in a way. There are elderly people where the GP might be pretty much the only contact they have with the outside community and it can be their lifeline. Daniels details patients that visit him almost as therapy and even though that might take up time better allocated elsewhere, it’s so important to some people in the community for their overall health and wellbeing, as the GP can just be someone to listen to them. He makes quite a few house calls as well, which seems an important part of his job and these can be for a variety of reasons – to respond to a suicide warning, to administer morphine to a woman dying of breast cancer, to check over an elderly man who has fallen and was discovered by a neighbour. There is also a chapter that details the procedure of “granny dumping” which is families admitting elderly relatives to hospital around Christmas so that they may be able to go on vacation or have a ‘peaceful’ time without having to keep a constant eye on a relative who may need round-the-clock care.

But these chapters that I found interesting, informative or sweet are sprinkled in with a lot that I found snarky and mocking, especially as some of the things the author chose to mock or treat as though it was funny, weren’t really worthy of it. I’m sure there are plenty of things that are amusing or frustrating etc, in being a doctor but there were a lot of stories where it felt like that focus was misplaced or misdirected and it made my enjoyment of this book definitely not as high as it could been. The chapter about the overweight man in particular and Daniels’ reaction to his medical problem (which although unpleasant, he didn’t respond to in a professional way at all and handballed it to a community nursing organisation) as well as the description of having to remove him from his house and the chapter on the transgender person (and there are more chapters too, these were just the 2 that stuck in my mind the most) made me really want to dislike the author and put the book down. I did finish it because it honestly didn’t take very long. I’ve since learned that there are more of these but I definitely do not have any interest in reading any of them. I do not want to read anything else in this author’s judgemental voice.

4/10

Book #138 of 2020

 

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Review: The Christmas Party by Karen Swan

The Christmas Party
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan
2019, 480p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When Declan Lorne, the last remaining knight in Ireland, dies suddenly, an ancient title passes with him. But his estate on Ireland’s rugged south-west coast is left to his three daughters. The two eldest, Ottie and Pip, inherit in line with expectations, but to everyone’s surprise – and dismay – it is the errant baby of the family, Willow, who gets the castle.

Why her? Something unknown – something terrible – made her turn her back on her family three years earlier, escaping to Dublin and vowing never to return. So when Willow quickly announces she is selling up, her revenge seems sweet and the once-close sisters are pushed to breaking point: in desperation, Pip risks everything to secure her own future, and Ottie makes a decision that will ruin lives. It’s each woman for herself.

Before moving in, Connor Shaye, the prospective new owner, negotiates throwing a lavish party at the castle just days before Christmas – his hello, their goodbye. But as their secrets begin to catch up with them, Ottie, Willow and Pip are forced to ask themselves which is harder: stepping into the future, or letting go of the past?

This was the last Karen Swan available on my library’s eBook borrowing app that I hadn’t yet read – well actually there’s one more, but I own a print copy of that, so I’ll be reading that version. So after I borrowed this, I went and requested a bunch of others in print form, from my local library, which will be delivered to my home. I’m still enjoying this journey throughout this author’s entire backlist, and this one was close to one of my favourites. It’s also one of the few I’ve read that did not contain a historical component to the story, focusing purely on a present day story in Ireland.

Declan Lorne was the last remaining knight in Ireland, a title that would only pass to a male offspring. He had three daughters, so the title will die with him, however he can leave the vast estate divided up between his children. It’s a crumbling pile, in need of close to a million euros spent on it in order to really restore it to its former glory. To everyone’s surprise, the main house does not go to oldest daughter Ottie, who has managed the estate in recent years. She gets a small slice, with the home she lives in and the land to run her business, as does middle sister Pip. But it’s the youngest daughter Willow, who gets the castle. Willow who left for Dublin years ago and basically hasn’t been back. Everyone is stunned, especially Willow but she quickly reasons that her father assumed she’d be the only one who would do what needed to be done – sell the castle. Rid themselves of the albatross around their neck that it has become. And that is exactly what Willow decides to do, contacting someone who showed interest in the castle previously. And before it’s sold, it’s leased out to host a party.

All of the sisters seem to have secrets, so the title is quite apt. Willow fled the local area years ago and seemingly either doesn’t return, or returns very seldom. She isn’t there for her parent’s lavish wedding anniversary party and it’s obvious that it was something that drove her away however no one seems to have ever sat down and genuinely asked her what it was that made her flee. Ottie is incredibly busy trying to run the estate, trying to get it out of the hole it’s in. She has a glamping business and is also keeping a very significant secret from everyone, including her sisters. And Pip has dreams – at the moment she runs a horse riding business around the local area but her real dream is in breeding. However there’s no cash for that, even though Pip has a small plan she wants to put in place in order to kickstart this dream. A bad judgement leads her to risk her life for it and everything goes wrong.

There’s a distinct lack of communication that runs through this book. Willow inherits the castle and decides to sell it for numerous reasons but it’s the longest time before she even has a conversation with at least one of her sisters that confirms that she will be selling it in a matter of weeks. Ottie has never told her sisters her own big secret, which has been going on for years. Willow hides an even bigger secret that shook her very existence, which she’s never confronted the relevant people with and the truth of it will break her heart again. And the sisters’ mother, it seems like she has a lot of secrets too and is in such a fragile state that she’s barely capable of a conversation, nor is she able to understand precisely why Willow decides to sell the home. Her attitude about moving to the Dower House, which she was left in Declan’s will, got incredibly tiring after a while.

There’s a potential romance, for each of the sister’s and they’re all quite different. I liked all of them, particularly I think, Ottie’s. It was pretty obvious what was going on with Ottie in the beginning of the book and she seemed to be the only person who couldn’t see someone for how they truly were. She had to make that realisation herself though, had to have everything ripped away so that she would see the real person, not the person she thought existed. Ottie had a lot of issues with not being born a male, which honestly, were pretty pointless. It’s not something she could control and her dad learned that the value of a daughter was just the same as the value of a son, even if he couldn’t pass down the title to one of them. I do feel however, that it took a huge portion of the book to get to the titular party and at times it did feel like things were dragging. Also some of the romances could’ve used a bit more time, Pip’s especially I think. But apart from that, I did really enjoy this one and I loved the idea of the crumbling castle, the desperate situation and the fact that they needed a miracle.

8/10

Book #140 of 2020

 

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Review: The Christmas Secret by Karen Swan

The Christmas Secret 
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan
2017, 478p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

They say that behind every great man, there’s a great woman, and behind London’s most powerful leaders, there stands only one—Alex Hyde, business coach par excellence. She’s the woman they turn to for advice and strategy when the pressure gets too much. So when Alex gets a call offering an unbelievable sum to discreetly manage a family member on the board of an esteemed Scottish whisky company, it’s business as usual. She can do this in her sleep.

Only, she’s never met anyone like Lochlan Farqhuar before. CEO of Kentallen Distilleries, he’s also the son and heir of the company’s founder, and a man for whom there is no “no.” He’s a maverick, and Alex needs to get inside his head before he brings the company to its knees. But as she tasks herself with finding a way in, she finds that for once, she’s not the one in control. And when she stumbles across a chance discovery that changes everything, she’s suddenly not so sure she should be.

My next book in the reading Karen Swan’s backlist project and I chose a winter title. The last couple were summer titles so thought I’d head back to something that felt a bit more in step with what I’m experiencing right now….although this is a more extreme version. The Christmas Secret is set on the Isle of Islay, an island off the coast of Scotland, well known for whiskey distilleries.

Alex is a business coach, which means she helps manage people in high pressure jobs through strategies to make them more efficient and less stressed. She can also be called in to manage situations where working relationships are breaking down and smooth the way back to formality and civility. In this circumstance, she has been approached to ‘manage’ a difficult CEO of a whiskey distillery, a family company where it’s the CEO on one side and several other family members and perhaps the rest of the board on the other.

For Alex, Lochlan Farqhuar is the most difficult person she’s ever worked with. For a start, she was called in by someone else, so he’s completely against even working with her at all. He’s belligerent, combative, obstructive and everything else that hinders progress. He won’t even listen to Alex, who is armed with information like Lochlan punching another board member, punching walls, throwing computer monitors, the list goes on. Alex has been briefed that his actions are causing the company harm and he needs to be reined in so that decisions might be made. As the highest shareholder and direct descendant of the founder, Lachlan holds a majority vote that basically can overrule pretty much everyone else.

Alex’s job is interesting and her adventure to Islay is a bit of a shock for her. She’s used to designer brand names, luxury and the high life, having built her business up to be one of the most prestigious and sought after of its type. But accomodations on Islay are not what she’s used to – she’s staying in like a family-run B&B with shared bathroom facilities, no wi-fi and basically no cell service. Also her luggage didn’t make the ferry so for the first few days, she must ‘make do’ with what her 80yo landlady rustles up from her daughter’s long-forgotten clothes. It’s a far cry from the carefully curated businesswoman Alex presents to the world!

Despite Lochlan’s obvious disdain of her and her job, Alex does manage to surprise him several times with skills and knowledge that she has about other things. She always does her homework before arriving for a new job and she has educated herself thoroughly on whiskey production and is also already well versed in other activities that people on boards and CEOs of companies might like to do or talk about in their spare time. Alex’s job is about people – reading them, understanding them, relating to them. At first Lochlan is difficult but Alex does learn how to provoke him into responding. However it does seem that Alex is oblivious to the thing that might make Lochlan respond most of all….

I enjoyed this a lot more than I enjoyed the previous Karen Swan book I read, which made me feel that the main characters were basically toxic toward each other. At first glance Lochlan doesn’t seem a good prospect – he has that brooding nature going on but he also seems like he might be a bit dangerous. Alex goes in only armed with part of the information and it’s quite a while before she finds out what Lochlan has been facing and how he’s been provoked from many corners. Lochlan really shot himself in the foot by being so difficult because if Alex had been given a full picture earlier, there are certain things that would’ve been a lot different….but then it wouldn’t have been such a rollercoaster ride!

I loved the setting here – the island has a personality all of its own and is described wonderfully. I also appreciated the information about making whiskey as well as the twists and turns in the plot, especially centred around Alex and her job. There are some things that make the reader wonder about her, about her decisions and career path and it takes a long time for a full picture of her, her life and why these choices were made, to be formed. I also ended up liking Lochlan – I am a sucker for a brooding man, and even though I found him frustrating in the beginning there was a lot that came to light later on that made everything make much more sense. I also really liked how the two were brought together at the end.

(Just realised I forgot to mention the historical component of the story – it seemed to take up much less page time in this one than the last one I read and it laid some groundwork nicely without being distracting).

7/10

Book #136 of 2020

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Review: The Farm At Peppertree Crossing By Lèonie Kelsall

The Farm At Peppertree Crossing
Lèonie Kelsall
Allen & Unwin
2020, 4332p
Read via my local library/RB Digital

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

An unexpected inheritance, a traumatic past and a family whose secrets are kept by the town

After a fractured childhood spent in foster homes, city-girl Roni has convinced herself that she has no need of anyone – other than her not-as-tough-as-he-looks rescued street cat, Scritches, and her unborn baby, who she’s determined will feel all the love she’s been denied.

Despite facing a bleak future, Roni distrusts the news of a bequest from an unknown aunt, Marian Nelson. But, out of options, she and Scritches leave Sydney behind, bound for the 800-acre property on the edge of the wheat fields of South Australia.

However, this is no simple inheritance: Marian seeks to control her legacy from beyond the grave by setting tasks that Roni must complete before she can claim the property and a life that could change her future. With everything at stake, Roni must learn to trust in the truth of Marian’s most important lesson: everyone deserves love.

Recently I added another app my local library uses for eBooks and noticed that this one is a bit different to the other. The other one I use, books are checked out by someone like a regular print book and you have to wait for them to be ‘returned’ so you can borrow them. This app however, has books that are always available, and you can check them out any time. This book was one of them – it’s a recent release that I’ve seen a couple of reviews for and it felt like something that I would enjoy.

Roni lives in Sydney – she was raised in a string of foster homes and for the last 10 years has worked in a cafe near Circular Quay. She makes just enough to get by, barely. But her rent will soon be increasing and she knows that she won’t be able to afford the new amount, she’ll need to find somewhere else to live. Sydney is an expensive city and it’ll be difficult. A strange phone call leads to a meeting with a lawyer and Roni learns that an aunt has left her a house. Well, property really, in South Australia, as well as the means to visit it. In order to inherit, Roni must undertake a series of tasks set by her late aunt, the first of which is visiting the family homestead. Her aunt has left her letters to read at various points, including with other people, whom she has tasked to help integrate Roni into the community. Roni goes to see the property with firm intentions of doing whatever she has to do to inherit it clear, and then selling it and going back to Sydney. After all, she was raised entirely in the city, she doesn’t know anything about farming or country life. But as she and her cat Scritches settle in, the place – and some of its residents – begin to get under her skin.

I really enjoyed this book – loved it actually. I thought that Lèonie Kelsall did an amazing job at showcasing what Roni’s life in foster care must’ve been like, but without going into extensive detail about it. It’s clear that she carries some deep, deep scars from that time, specifically related to an event as well as just the general instability of it. Roni has also lived a mostly solitary life since aging out of care – she seems to have no real friends, although a decent working relationship with her boss. She works long hours and then hurries home, often in the dark, to her apartment where she also helps elderly occupants occasionally get their medications or drops in groceries to them. She’s about to face a significantly troubling situation when she receives the news that she has what could be a substantial inheritance. All Roni seems to really have in her life is her cat Scritches, whom she rescued from behind a dumpster years ago after boys were coaxing him out and then pelting him with rocks. The bond between Scritches and Roni is seriously adorable – he has huge swathes of personality and is a massive part of the story. And there is a part in this book that made me cry and it was all because of Scritches.

Roni is a fish out of water on the farm and resentful of the ‘challenges’ her aunt has left her – things like make a loaf of bread from a sourdough starter, feed the poultry and care for them, integrate herself into the local community. Despite working in a cafe, Roni doesn’t seem to have ever really cooked herself meals and is clear about her distrust of vegetables. She makes a lot of mistakes, ones that you would expect people raised in the city to make and her lack of self confidence is quite an issue as well. Roni has had very little in the way of genuine care and affection in her life, which makes her vulnerable and also shapes her personality. She’s determined….but also tentative, which is an interesting combination. I enjoyed the way she slowly evolved, the longer she spent time at the farm. When she arrives she’s paranoid – locks herself in when the sun goes down, completely thrown by the silence of the country, freaked out by the lack of traffic noise etc. She carries with her a lot of scars from her city life and it takes her a while to relax, to settle into rural life, to even begin to embrace it. I understood her finding some of the challenges annoying – it felt like a lot of hoops to jump through by someone who had known of her existence and yet had done little to make her life more comfortable and seemingly nothing to be involved in her upbringing and life. It takes time for things to be explained and there were times when I thought Roni’s vulnerability was a bit frustrating, because it’s obvious to me what is happening, that she’s in danger of being exploited. But for someone who had grown up like Roni did, it was completely understandable that she’d want to find a happy ending, a reason for her being in care, for being abandoned. It’s idealistic and she has lessons to learn about how she can go about making her life fulfilling and rich herself, rather than relying on a relationship with one person to do that.

There’s a love interest in this book as well for Roni and I thought that played out perfectly. Roni requires a deep understanding and Matt gets that, without needing to be told. He himself has his vulnerabilities as well and they compliment each other very well, especially with the knowledge and help he is willing to impart to her. I loved them together.

9/10

Book #141 of 2020

The Farm At Peppertree Crossing is book #46 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

 

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Review: The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

The Drover’s Wife: The Legend Of Molly Johnson
Leah Purcell
Penguin Random House AUS
2019, 288p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Deep in the heart of Australia’s high country, along an ancient, hidden track, lives Molly Johnson and her four surviving children, another on the way. Husband Joe is away months at a time droving livestock up north, leaving his family in the bush to fend for itself. Molly’s children are her world, and life is hard and precarious with only their dog, Alligator, and a shotgun for protection – but it can be harder when Joe’s around.

At just twelve years of age Molly’s eldest son Danny is the true man of the house, determined to see his mother and siblings safe – from raging floodwaters, hunger and intruders, man and reptile. Danny is mature beyond his years, but there are some things no child should see. He knows more than most just what it takes to be a drover’s wife.

One night under the moon’s watch, Molly has a visitor of a different kind – a black ‘story keeper’, Yadaka. He’s on the run from authorities in the nearby town, and exchanges kindness for shelter. Both know that justice in this nation caught between two worlds can be as brutal as its landscape. But in their short time together, Yadaka shows Molly a secret truth, and the strength to imagine a different path.

This is a reimagining of a Henry Lawson short story – I’ve never read Henry Lawson so I wasn’t really familiar with it. But Leah Purcell has adapted it into a play, this novel and also a movie which was supposed to be released this year, although I’d imagine a lot of things will have been put on hold due to the recent events of the world.

Molly Johnson is a woman about 40, a “drover’s wife” – her husband Joe Johnson spends a large portion of the year away, moving livestock around. Molly doesn’t mind that – life is easier when Joe isn’t around. He returns bringing supplies and often leaves her pregnant. For Molly, her four children (and now one almost arrived) are everything. Her mother died giving birth to her so she grew up without that maternal love and now Molly lavishes her children with it, whilst also making sure that they grow up smart and savvy to the dangers around them. Danny is her eldest at 12, almost a man now (in the time). Given my child is 12 in about a month, this is hard to reconcile, that a child of this age would be considered old enough to go out droving or earn a living some other way. Danny is a smart and thoughtful boy, good with his younger siblings and helpful to Molly. She’s told him she’ll need him when the baby comes – she’s getting older and this one may not be so easy.

When I started this, I didn’t expect the story to skew off in several different directions. As well as Molly, we also get the story of Nate and Louisa, a married couple coming from England to Australia to live. Nate was injured in South Africa and was relegated to desk duty after that but in Australia he will be in charge of the town of Everton, which is the closest town to where Molly Johnson’s shack is located. There’s also some history of the establishment of the town, such as information on prominent families who settled the area (wealthy Brits) and some of their interactions with the local Indigenous people.

This book shows a harsh life, for most of the characters. Molly just barely gets by, there are times when she and the children go hungry, when the supplies have dwindled to nothing. She lives very isolated, although was brought up by her father to know how to take care of herself. Her life revolves around her children – her father made the match with Joe when he was dying even though Molly was just 16 and Joe in his 30s. He’s not kind – he drinks and gets violent when he’s had too much. But Molly endures all he dishes out and protects her children as best she can from his temper. She lives for the day he takes off north, droving again and leaves her alone with her children, at peace.

For Nate and Louisa, Australia is also harsher than they expected and it’s a trek from Melbourne, to the town of Everton where Nate will be overseeing everything as the new man in charge. Chance leads them to Molly Johnson’s door and they beg some kindness from her, although something about the area raises Nate’s suspicions. He’s thrown into the deep end at work too when a prominent family are murdered, a black man accused. There’s a manhunt and Nate is pulled in many different directions: his wife and child’s safety and wellbeing, the local men brawling at the sales, the murders, the manhunt, searching out Joe Johnson. There’s a lot going on.

This book took a lot of unexpected turns, particularly after the character of Yadaka shows up at Molly’s cottage. Yadaka challenges a lot of Molly’s beliefs – her beliefs about Indigenous people and then, even her beliefs about herself. He is well spoken and gentle even though he’s wanted for violent murders. On her own and about to give birth, Molly is forced to rely on him and she knows she cannot defend herself against him, should the need arrive. But Yadaka never gives her need of that, he is helpful and just wants a place to heal. In Molly, he gets answers to questions he’s always known and gives Molly information that  eventually, once she has processed it, helps her make sense of many things.

I found the ending quite moving……and not disappointing, but deflating I suppose, that it had to be that way. But Molly’s love for her children stood out above all else and there was nothing she wouldn’t do, to protect them and help them but her helplessness in all other aspects of her life, as a woman, was highlighted and cost her dearly. Even though she was a capable, strong, independent woman, at this time in history, that didn’t matter. Everything was stacked against her.

I’ll be interested in seeing the movie of this when it is released.

7/10

Book #135 of 2020

The Drover’s Wife is book #45 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: Brazen And The Beast by Sarah MacLean

Brazen And The Beast (The Bareknuckle Bastards #2)
Sarah MacLean
Avon Books
2019, 438p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The Lady’s Plan

When Lady Henrietta Sedley declares her twenty-ninth year her own, she has plans to inherit her father’s business, to make her own fortune, and to live her own life. But first, she intends to experience a taste of the pleasure she’ll forgo as a confirmed spinster. Everything is going perfectly… until she discovers the most beautiful man she’s ever seen tied up in her carriage and threatening to ruin the Year of Hattie before it’s even begun.

The Bastard’s Proposal

When he wakes in a carriage at Hattie’s feet, Whit, a king of Covent Garden known to all the world as Beast, can’t help but wonder about the strange woman who frees him—especially when he discovers she’s headed for a night of pleasure… on his turf. He is more than happy to offer Hattie all she desires… for a price.

An Unexpected Passion

Soon, Hattie and Whit find themselves rivals in business and pleasure. She won’t give up her plans; he won’t give up his power… and neither of them sees that if they’re not careful, they’ll have no choice but to give up everything… including their hearts.

I really enjoyed the first in this series, Wicked And The Wallflower but upon reading that, it was what was going to be the third book that interested me the most and this was just a book that should be read in order to get to the third one.

The series centres around a group of siblings – several born on the same day, bastard sons of a Duke and a girl claimed to be legitimate, but the wrong sex. The siblings were pitted against each other (the males, obviously) so that the Duke could choose who would be his heir. When it was all over, one was the winner, the other three were running literally, for their lives.

Years later, and the three that ran rule Convent Garden. The first book revolved around Devil and how he came to find happiness and this one deals with the one called Beast. When Lady Henrietta finds him unconscious in her carriage, it puts a spanner in the plans she has put together so carefully and she can’t have it. She must go ahead despite this inconvenience and when Beast wakes, vowing revenge on the ones who got the jump on him, Henrietta turfs him out of her carriage. But Beast doesn’t let anything go and he knows Henrietta will lead him to the answers he wants. He chases her down….and they make a bargain of sorts.

This was an up and down read. I thought the beginning was intriguing, particularly as Beast was down and out, having been hit from behind and bested. The ‘Bareknuckle Bastards’ don’t let anything go though and when Lady Henrietta figures out why he’s there, she knows she has to protect the (somewhat undeserving) culprit. Lady Henrietta was born common, her father was given an Earldom through services to shipping which will not be passed down and will only be for the duration of his lifetime. Having failed to make a match during her Seasons, she wants more from life. She wants to prove to her father that despite being the wrong sex, she can run his highly successful shipping business, that she has the intelligence and wherewithal to do so. Her father remains unconvinced, purely because of the fact that she’s not a son.

Where the book kind of lost me was the bargain between Beast and Henrietta, which, after he betrays her, she intends to keep part of….presumably because it fits into her plans to rid herself of something, but it makes very little sense plot-wise, after what Beast has done. She’s not privy to the why he has done it, so she sees it as the ultimate betrayal, which makes all of the interactions afterwards fall somewhat short for me, until it’s revealed why Beast did what he did, because of his saviour complex. Whilst there was a lot to like here in terms of Lady Henrietta’s background, her intelligence, her determination, her self belief, her want for something more than the life mapped out for someone who had the advantage of wealthy father who had been granted a title, there was also some times when the story went in circles and repeated some of the instances of the first book, probably deliberately (Devil even remarks that Beasts sits, in the same situation Devil himself was in earlier) and it just feels done before.

My excitement about the third book is in a state of confusion. I enjoy an anti-hero who needs redemption, especially if it’s a man tortured by love but the Duke seems like such a complete tosser who actively tried to murder people in this book and it makes me wonder how he can be redeemed or why anyone would love him. I’m sure MacLean will weave in tragic backstory using scraps of what we already know but given what both Devil and his scar as well as Beast, have experienced, as well as the one they saved and kept hidden all these years, how on earth this could become a situation that anyone could accept is a mystery. I feel as though a line needs to be drawn somewhere and ‘man who attempts to murder his own siblings as well as the one he claims to love unreservedly’ might well be it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book where the hero needs to grovel more than this one. We shall see.

7/10

Book #127 of 2020

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