All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Within Reach – Sarah Mayberry

Within Reach
Sarah Mayberry
Harlequin
2012, 288p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Angie Bartlett had a special friendship with Billie. They’d been best friends for twenty years, ever since they were at boarding school together. They’d been through a lot together but their lives had gone in very different directions. Billie had married Michael and had two beautiful children. She was a bit of a free spirit, a celebrator of birthdays, a lover of trying new hobbies even though nothing ever stuck. Angie was still single at thirty-two, passionately dedicated to her career as a jeweler, creating beautiful, original pieces. She’s always been a part of Billie’s children’s lives and has gotten on well with her husband Michael.

Then tragically, Billie loses her life on what should have been her thirty-second birthday. Angie is deep in her grief, 10 months passing without the pain easing. She realises, on a routine visit to Michael and the kids that Michael is not coping with the loss of his wife and that things in their household have descended into a bit of chaos. Angie is desperate to help, she knows that Billie would hate to see Michael and her children this way and she does her best to step in, motivate Michael to get back to work and get out of the house and begins also watching the children for him when she can in order to help with stability in their lives.

Angie is then stunned when she suddenly begins to see her best friend’s husband as a man. An attractive man in his own right and she can’t stop noticing and she’s horrified. The betrayal is sharp and she tries to distance herself before realising that she just can’t. Extricating herself from this situation would probably be for the best but she cares too much for the children, who need her and also too much for Michael himself. Even though this can go no where, she cannot walk away.

Michael doesn’t know what he’d do without Angie. He’s been lost, adrift since Billie’s death and he realises that without her, life would’ve been very bleak for him and his children. Angie has always been around but he’s never noticed her as anything more than his wife’s best friend, but now that his wife has been removed from the equation, he’s beginning to see Angie in a different light. She’s beautiful, single and she’s right there in front of him. Michael doesn’t want anyone else, doesn’t want to ever love anyone, his memory of Billie is too precious to taint that way but he also can’t deny his growing attraction to Angie.

Michael and Angie are both caught in a difficult place…. it’s betrayal to a fallen loved one versus the desire and possibility of a beautiful happiness.

Within Reach is Australian romance author Sarah Mayberry’s newest release. I discovered Mayberry’s work just a little while ago thanks to Marg over at Adventures of an Intrepid Reader when she read both Hot Island Nights and Her Best Worst Mistake. I highly enjoyed both of those novels, especially the latter and when I saw this one on NetGalley, I had to grab it.

I think it’s a difficult plot to handle sensitively, a blossoming romance between someone and the husband of their late best friend. I think Mayberry successfully delivers in many aspects here – the establishment of a genuine, lovely friendship between Billie and Angie, despite the fact that Billie is not a presence in this book very long before her death. She also showcases Billie and Michael’s marriage, although through Michael’s eyes retrospectively so the portrayal may be a little idyllic however it’s clear to the reader that Angie and Billie were very close and also that Billie and Michael were exceptionally happy with their lot in life. Likewise, their grief after she is gone is excellent – believable, heart wrenching but not overdone. A ‘suitable’ distance of time also passes (although mileage may vary on what is suitable for the individual reader) before Mayberry throws Michael and Angie back together in a permanent way: they come to a mutual arrangement that allows Angie to work out of Michael’s property and in exchange she can also be around to mind the children occasionally so that Michael can return to work, at least part time.

The attraction that develops between them is slow enough so not to alarm but at times I still found it a bit difficult to negotiate. I can well understand both parties’ feelings of guilt, self-loathing and the fact that they are betraying Billie. She was very precious to both of them, in different ways and even though she’s gone and not coming back it would be very hard to renegotiate boundaries that had been in place for years. The attraction is not something either of them want and Michael in particular is slower to the party and more reluctant but once he does acknowledge it, he’s also the one that acts on it aggressively. I also found Michael’s coming to grips with his feelings at the conclusion of the novel a bit quick for believability, given how much he struggled throughout the rest of the book.

Within Reach is beautifully written, a lovely contemporary romance encompassing friendship, love, grief and the ability to let go and move on. However for me personally, it was a pairing I found difficult to get behind. I couldn’t really relate to either of them and because of the fact they were connected through Billie, I did find it awkward to see them go to being lovers. But there are plenty of readers out there who won’t have issue with this or may even embrace it.

7/10

Book #145 of 2012

Within Reach is the 50th novel I have read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, 2012! I’m so thrilled that I have reached this number, it has surpassed all my expectations when I originally decided to join up for the challenge.

Within Reach was also read as part of my participation in July’s NetGalley Knockdown.

 

 

 

 

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One Breath Away – Heather Gudenkauf

One Breath Away
Heather Gudenkauf
Harlequin MIRA
2012, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Broken Branch is a small town, one of the few of its kind left with a school that still encompasses all grades from kindergarten to year 12. Meg Barrett is one of the local police officers and normally her young daughter would be at school but Meg lost an argument with her ex-husband about access and their daughter is with him for the day. Never has Meg been so glad for something like that when she is called to the school amid a flurry of reports that there is a gunman. The entire school is in lockdown and reports are conflicting – no one knows how many people there may be inside, what weapons they have or what they want.

Will Thwaites is an old farmer, busy with work every day. Recently he has been reluctantly entrusted with the care of his two grandchildren from his only daughter Holly. Holly was horrifically burned in a housefire and remains in hospital in another state recovering and Will’s wife has gone to be with her. Holly left Broken Branch, the farm and her parents at 17 and her two children, Augie and PJ have heard many things growing up about how much Holly hated the farm, and how resentful she was of her father. Now they are living on the farm with their grandfather in Broken Branch, the place their mother couldn’t wait to leave.

Augie just wants to go back home to her mother. She doesn’t like being here and she’s determined not to like her grandfather either. She’s fiercely protective of her younger brother PJ – she feels that she has to be. Augie is in 8th grade and has made only one tentative friend in her time here and right now she is huddled in her classroom, fearing for her brother. When she has the chance to escape, she chooses not to, instead going back to look for her brother in his second grade classroom.

Evelyn Oliver teachers the second grade. She is retiring soon after a long career and when the gunman enters her class, she’s determined not to fail her students. She’s not going to be the one that retires amid whispers that ‘she let it happen’ or ‘she did nothing’. She’s never let her students down before and she’s not going to start now, even if she is the one that doesn’t come out of this situation.

Holly is lying in hospital, recovering from severe oil burns that have disfigured her and leave her in a painkiller induced stupor. Whilst she is recovering, her thoughts turn to her own childhood in Broken Branch and the events that led her to leave it all behind, including her family, all those years ago. Broken Branch and her grandfather’s farm is the last place she wants her two children to be, but she had no choice – now after a hysterical phone call from Augie, all she wants is to see them again.

One Breath Away is Heather Gudenkauf’s most recent novel and again she tackles family relationships and the ties that bind. This whole novel takes place over the course of less than a day and revolves around the reports coming out of the Broken Branch school that a man with a gun has entered the building. As the school went into lockdown, it was almost impossible at first for the police on the outside to get a clear indication of where he was. There were conflicting reports and the information they had to wade through was extensive. In the age of everyone owning a cell/mobile phone, the 911 line gets jammed with calls, making it hard to pick out exactly what is relevant and what is just hysteria.

The story focuses a lot on relationships and the events that led to several of the people being involved in the precise ways in which they are. Augie and PJ shouldn’t be in this town, shouldn’t be at this school, but they are. While their mother lies recovering, they are being cared for by their grandfather. PJ has his own reasons for wondering why the gunman has chosen his particular classroom to step in to and there is at least one other student who believes the same thing. The second grade teacher Evelyn Oliver considers whether or not the perpetrator is a previous student and Meg Barrett, the officer on the outside also wonders whether or not there is a personal connection to herself as well. This is all extremely well done and the relationships are deeply credible and contain just the right amount of love and also fracture so that they are not unbelievably idyllic nor dysfunctional to the ridiculous. Although I did question Holly’s reasoning behind leaving her family forever when she left Broken Branch, I could understand her reasons for leaving the town.

However because of the time and care paid to fleshing out the relationships between the characters, I often felt that there was a lack of tension in the novel, especially for one that revolves around a potential school shooting. There are some sections where time is devoted to some historical moment when really I’d just rather be back at the school finding out exactly what is happening – who this gunman is and what his motivations were! In a book that deals with a both intricate and intimate family relationships and also a thrilling suspenseful event, it’s a very fine balance and sometimes the balance was tipped towards the families leaving the situation with the gunman on ice which could be a fraction frustrating. However I did think that the identity of the gunman was well thought out and well laid throughout the story, as were the ‘red-herrings’. Overall I think One Breath Away is a very solid and well written story, just not quite as suspenseful as I thought the story line warranted.

7/10

Book #141 of 2012

One Breath Away counts towards my participation in July NetGalley Knockdown. It’s the 3rd title read

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June Reading Wrap Up & July Happenings

Total Books Read: 26
Fiction: 26
Non-Fiction: None this month
Library Books: 3
Books On My TBR List: 4
Books in a Series: 8
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 16
Male/Female Authors: 6/20
Kindle Books: 5
Books I Owned or Bought: 9
Favourite Book(s): Canada by Richard Ford, Storm by Brigid Kemmerer, Burning Lies by Helene Young and I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella.
Least Favourite Book(s): Dead Time, by Anne Cassidy
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 11

Can you tell June was cold and rainy? Windy and miserable? I read 26 books for the month. Winter has well and truly arrived here with days barely cracking double digits temperature wise, plenty of chilly wind and days of rain. Good for the reading, not really all that great for opportunities to get out of the house with two little ones. June also saw me give away another 10/10 rating, this time Canada by Richard Ford and there were plenty of books that I rated 9 or 8 so all round a pretty good reading month. I notice that the amount of library books I’m reading is dwindling as the amount of review copies I’m receiving is increasing and I’m reading quite a few of my own books so that’s something…although I’m not making even the smallest dent in the TBR pile. I read 6 books by men in the month of June which for me, is huge! I also read a few on my Kindle – getting into practice for next month for reasons I will talk about a little bit below.

As we’re now halfway through the year, I thought I’d give an overall tally count and also a progess report on how I’m doing in all my challenges so far!

Total Books Read For 2012 So Far: 125
What’s In A Name?5 Challenge Progress: 3/6 complete
Australian Women Writers Challenge Progress: 45 complete. My original sign up was more than 10 from as many genres as possible as this was the highest option to choose but I wanted to try and read as many as possible. So far I’ve covered contemporary women’s fiction, young adult, rural lit, crime/mystery, short stories, speculative fiction, historical fiction, fairy-tale retelling, literary fiction, psychological thriller, paranormal, romance and a literary adaptation.
Around The World In 12 Books Challenge: 6/12 complete so far taking in books set in South Africa, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Tanzania, Cuba and Germany.
Graham Greene Challenge: 2/3 complete
50 Classics in 5 Years Challenge: 2/50 complete
Obernewtyn Read-A-Long Challenge: 1/6 complete

Now there’s a couple of things I will be taking part in during the month of July!

Firstly after a handful of us quite enjoyed the read-a-long I hosted for June of My Hundred Lovers, by Susan Johnson for the publisher Allen & Unwin, we decided that we would like to do another, organised by ourselves. The read-a-long this time will be hosted by Stephen and the book we have chosen to read is All That I Am by Anna Funder which was recently announced as the winner of the Miles Franklin award, one of Australia’s most prestigious literary awards. The sign up post can be found here and also the read-a-long schedule can be found here.

I’m also taking part in the NetGalley Knockdown throughout the month of July hosted over at Pretty Deadly Reviews. I’ve definitely cut down in the amount that I request on NetGalley but I still have a lot of books on my Kindle from there (because they don’t expire on Kindle which is helpful, but also not, as they pile up) so for the month of July I’m aiming to try and read quite a few of them! It’s going to help that I’m going away for 2wks in the latter part of the month to visit my family in another state so I’m only taking my Kindle with me (and one book, the Anna Funder one so I can keep pace with the read-a-long). Sign ups are open until the 14th July here. There are no real benchmarks for the challenge, just an aim to try and read and review as many galleys as you like! As good as being away and only having my Kindle is going to be, I am also on holiday so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to be out and doing things most days with my kids if it’s nice weather (my family live considerably north of where I do and their winters are much warmer, but often wetter so I’m praying for no rain). Hopefully I’ll get about 8 or so read throughout the month, that’s my aim.

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