All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Someone I Used To Know by Paige Toon

Someone I Used To Know
Paige Toon
Penguin Random House AUS
2021, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: So much can change in half a lifetime… 

Then

At fifteen, George is the foster brother Leah never asked for. As the angry, troubled boy struggles to come to terms with his circumstances, Leah finds herself getting drawn closer to him.

Theo’s wealthy family have mysteriously pulled him out of boarding school and he’s now enrolled at the local state school with Leah and George. When their worlds collide that summer, the three teenagers form a bond they believe will be unbreakable. But life doesn’t always go to plan…


Now

Shocking news brings Leah back to Yorkshire, baby daughter in tow. But Emilie’s father Theo isn’t with them, and George has unexpectedly returned. After half a lifetime, have they healed the scars of their pasts? Will coming back home set their hearts in a different direction? 

I was really excited to read this, Paige Toon has written books that I’ve really loved recently and this was definitely one of my most anticipated reads. I picked it up late in the afternoon and intended to just read 100 pages – I’ve been trying to read every day of this lockdown 4.0 and posting what I’ve been reading on instagram. I 100% did not expect to churn through this whole book in just a couple hours, but honestly, I should not be surprised that I did!

It’s told in mostly two timelines, the then and now. In the then, Leah is a teenager, around 15 and part of a big, noisy, very changing family. Her parents have opened their home to many foster children over the years, choosing mostly to focus on older children, the teenagers who have trouble securing permanent or long-term homes. Leah is their only biological child but they are all treated the same. Leah has some complex feelings about her often chaotic home – she often wishes her parents had more time for her (she’s the ‘well-behaved’ one, the least squeaky wheel so to speak), but she understands why they truly do this. And many of the children they foster stay family – such as her ‘brother’ Jamie. George arrives, sullen and resentful, during a particularly tumultuous time and Leah does her best to befriend not just George, but also Theo, who has recently been expelled from his expensive boarding school and enrolled by his father in the local. The three become inseparable for a short time.

In the now, Leah is back at her family home with her young daughter. It’s the first time she’s seen George in over a decade. Theo, Leah’s husband and her daughter’s father, is not here. Leah and George have an opportunity or two, to heal their pain, both from their abrupt separation and the other things that have happened in their lives.

Loved, loved, loved this book. I loved both the timelines, the busy and noisy family house that Leah was raised in, the heartbreaking stories of the various children that were offered shelter under her parent’s roof. Leah has realistic, mixed feelings about the fostering – these children are often hugely troubled, hurting and sometimes, their lives are even in danger. It can bring about difficult situations but despite sometimes the struggle, it’s truly the calling of both her parents. They love it, even when children leave and go back to situations that are less than ideal or, in the case of some of the younger ones, are adopted out. The way that the family is written is so beautiful, I fell in love with all of them. Even Joanne. There’s so many little details that I thought were such good touches – like the alpacas and the reason they have the rabbits. Leah’s parents are endlessly, endlessly patient, trying to truly provide a safe space for these children. Very little behaviour raises an eyebrow.

I really enjoyed the way Leah, George and Theo became friends. They’re all very different and it’s circumstance that throws them together. And the trio is not without its complications. George has a lot of issues stemming from his difficult childhood – Theo is rich and privileged but shows Leah and George that just because you have money, it doesn’t mean you have an easy life. In the now, George is long gone and Leah and Theo are married. This book totally did a number on me about the story of Theo, it was one of those lightbulb moments where everything clicks into place. But then George returns, drawn back by a newspaper story done on Leah’s parents and praising them for all the children they gave homes to. And perhaps by something else.

This is the sort of book that I felt would really pack an emotional punch and it does, for lots of reasons. There’s so many scenes in here, in both timelines. I was just so drawn into this story – all the characters have things going on and there’s questions in the now that you have to wait for the then to answer. Some of them are shocking but others will provide closure, a way forward…..even the brightest hope.

Definitely one of my favourite books read this year.

9/10

Book #95 of 2021

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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: If You Could Go Anywhere by Paige Toon

If You Could Go Anywhere 
Paige Toon
Penguin Random House AUS
2019, 432p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Angie has always wanted to travel. But at 29, she has still never left her small mining town in the Australian outback. When her grandmother passes away, Angie finally feels free to see the world – until she discovers a letter addressed to the father she never knew and is forced to question everything.

As Angie sets off on her journey to find the truth – about her family, her past and who she really is – will enigmatic stranger Alessandro help guide the way?

Last year I read my first book by Paige Toon and absolutely loved it. She became a must-read on the strength of that alone and I was really excited about this book.

Angie has lived her whole life in the South Australian outback opal mining town of Coober Pedy where most of the residents live underground in caves carved into the rock to escape the relentless heat. Angie has always longed to travel – in fact her most asked question of people she meets is the title of the book – ‘if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?’. The fact that Coober Pedy attracts a lot of travellers and backpackers means that Angie gets to meet and befriend people from all over the world and when circumstances trap her there, caring for her grandmother as she ails late in life, she’s able to live vicariously through others and explore the world from her home.

When her grandmother dies, not only is she suddenly free of responsibility for the first time in a long time, Angie also discovers something that gives her some direction. She finds herself travelling to Italy to meet family she never knew she had and all of a sudden, a whole new life with possibilities opens up before her eyes. No longer is she alone in the world, her Australian relatives all gone, her friends moved to Adelaide and getting on with their lives, marrying and having children. Angie is suddenly embraced and made part of something new.

Despite being the son of Sicilian migrants, my husband has zero interest in seeing Italy. Apart from feeding people, he doesn’t really seem to connect with that side of his heritage which is perhaps a product of his upbringing in a small country town and also timing, where immigrants and the children thereof were basically made to stamp out a lot of that difference in order to fit in. No speaking other languages in public, no ‘strange food’ at school, no foreign names. They were Anglicised and shortened in quick order.

But me? Seventh generation born Australian? I’d love to go to Italy! And this book taps right into that because I think I’d feel just like Angie does when she arrives, minus the complicated feelings about meeting family that she didn’t know existed until just recently. Angie gets to explore and see Italy through such fresh eyes and her delight at everything is infectious. This is a love letter to Italian architecture, scenery, food and culture and I loved every bit of that. Angie’s family run a restaurant (I was going to say an Italian restaurant then, which is a bit redundant, given it’s in Italy). Angie is shown around by Alessandro, a handsome and charming man who works at her father’s restaurant and even though they’re loosely connected, they are not actually family. Alessandro lives a free spirit sort of life, spending months travelling around the world in his Kombi van, popping back to the restaurant to work when the money runs out. Although he’s light hearted and fun, Angie glimpses a melancholy side of Alessandro that she immediately wants to know more about.

The romance wasn’t my favourite part of the story. Maybe this is just the fact that I’m getting old now, but I found Alessandro tedious at times, with his lack of responsibility and callous way that he often treated the family that cared about him. I think the reveal of Alessandro’s feelings and how deeply scarred he is by the events of his childhood comes a bit too late – or at least it did for me, because I’d already had rather a lot of “carefree Alessandro who doesn’t care about this or that” and it was enough to see him as a bit of an annoying man child who doesn’t commit to anything is happy to break hearts in various ways as he goes off on his daredevil adventures. That’s not actually an accurate portrayal of Alessandro and he hides a lot from the world, which Angie, with her dedication and a nature that desires to help people, slowly uncovers. The thing is, Angie and her love for him and his finally revealing his pain aren’t a magic fix either (just a start) and it was clear that Alessandro was always going to need help to really deal with those feelings and his guilt and live with it in a way that didn’t affect him so deeply. The ending felt a little rushed for me, as it moved towards a conclusion, with all of this spilling out in quite a short time.

A lot of this rings true for me, because visiting my in-laws is very similar to when Angie goes to visit parts of her new extended Italian family. The food is familiar, the family relationships are familiar, the mannerisms and expectations are familiar. I really enjoyed experiencing that and the rest of Angie’s adventure through her eyes. Angie was a really lovely character, who had spent a huge portion of her life caring for her grandmother and being there for her after the deaths of both Angie’s grandfather and mother. She also devoted herself to the members of her community, both permanent and transient, befriending those from far away and making them feel more comfortable as well as doing things like learning their languages and how to cook their favourite baked treats from home. She was such a warm and giving person that it was good to see her do some of the things she had wanted to do from very early on – travel, see the world, experience new things. She’s a very selfless and thoughtful character, even with things that make her scared or uncomfortable, she’s always thinking of others and how to make things better for them.

I really enjoyed this, especially the parts devoted to how Angie sees Italy and travelling.

8/10

Book #68 of 2019

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Review: Five Years From Now by Paige Toon

Five Years From Now
Paige Toon
Penguin Random House
2018, 337p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘One day, maybe five years from now, you’ll look back and understand why this happened.’

Vian and Nell are thrown together at the age of five when Vian’s mother and Nell’s father fall in love. At first wary of each other, they soon become the best of friends. But five years later, they are torn apart and Vian moves to the other side of the world.

Fast-forward five more years to when Vian comes to visit, and Nell discovers that the boy she once knew is now ‘Van’ – a wild and carefree teenager. Chemistry crackles, but once again, they’re separated.

For the next two decades, Nell and Van meet every five years, but life and circumstance always intervene. Will they ever find true happiness? And will it be together?

This is my first Paige Toon book and I’m not sure how it is I’ve gone this long without ever having read her before. Now that I have discovered her, I’m going to have to explore her backlist and there are so many books! Which is both good and bad – good because yay, more books! Bad because how on earth am I going to find the time to acquire and read so many of these books?

But I will have to try because I absolutely loved this book. I read it in a single sitting and in such a short time – I could not put it down once I had gotten started. Normally I would be wary about a book that seemed to be about two people who belong together constantly finding obstacles in the way of them actually being together. But Paige Toon constructs this in an utterly believable way and negotiates the obstacles skilfully without the story ever feeling repetitive or contrived.

Nell and Vian meet when they are both just five years old. Their parents, Nell’s father and Vian’s mother are moving in together, having fallen in love. Due to the smallness of Nell’s father’s cottage, they will be sharing a room and their early hostility and wariness of each other fades away and becomes a tight bond. They are separated five years later after a tragedy and from then on, it seems they are destined to only come together briefly every few years as they negotiate their lives on opposite sides of the world.

Something Nell’s father says to her – “five years from now, you’ll understand why this happened” underpins the entire story with events occurring that the characters don’t have the capacity to understand in the current timeline, but with hindsight, will be able to grasp the deeper meaning of. It’s something I’ve thought about myself in my own life – something going wrong, or not to plan. But then later looking back and seeing that the moment or incident led to something else or set me on a path that changed my life. For Nell and Vian, there are key moments in their interactions with each other that shape their lives and although these moments cause pain, they are also the harbingers of joy and change.

I loved the setting and the relationships in this. The relationship Nell has with her dad is truly remarkable and it evolves in the most organic of ways. She’s an adoring child, a rebellious teen struggling to find her way, pushing against her dad’s understandable tendency to be quite strict. Then she enters her adult years and their connection strengthens again and her devotion to him is just wonderful to read. Likewise Nell has a tight group of friends that she meets at school and they stay close all the way into adulthood, despite attending different universities and moving away for jobs and family. And always, always there is the bond between Nell and Vian/Van which also evolves over the years.

This is a book that won’t be for everyone – it’s hard to classify and although it has strong romantic elements, it’s not a romance as such. It’s two people who love each other absolutely but it’s a very complicated love. There’s a lot of factors that come into play in order to orchestrate things this way, probably beginning with the way things play out when Nell and Van are 15. It gives both of them a false impression as to how they would be viewed and they are reluctant to really push in that situation, for what they want. But it’s something that with a few conversations, could’ve been cleared up. By the time these conversations are had, their lives have taken directions that it’s no longer ‘easy’. There are strong reasons, for both of them that I found 100% believable and it’s not difficult to understand why they make the decisions they do. It’s a compelling story from beginning to end and I was just so invested in the two of them. It kept me guessing.

This is a strong, beautiful and bittersweet book. Such an amazing introduction to Toon’s writing and I can’t wait to try a few more of her books.

9/10

Book #81 of 2018

 

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