Around the World in 12 Books Challenge - June & July Round-up

around the world 2014

June was a quiet month for the Around the World reading challenge and I got a bit behind on posting; July was also a slower month so I’ve combined the two for this round-up. You can also check out previous round-ups:

January
February
March
April
May

Note: Reviewer links go to the reviewer’s blog page; title links will take you to the book’s Goodreads page.

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ICELAND

burial ritesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent (reviewed by Deb @ The Book Stop) Historical Fiction

A book I’ve had hanging around for a while and just as keen to read as ever, especially after reading Deb’s glowing review: “Wow. If I had to pick a favorite book of the year, so far, this would be it. Everything about this book exceeded my expectations, even though acclaim for this book has been VERY high…” Deb continues to give a very comprehensive overview of why this book is, for her, amazing.



INDIA & ETHIOPIA

girl in the roadThe Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne (reviewed by Deb @ The Book Stop) Speculative Fiction/Science Fiction

I love the sound of this book. Deb says, “This book was so different from anything I’ve read lately. It’s near-future science fiction set in India and Africa, and written in a really lyrical way. It’s the story of two characters, both on a journey. Meena is a troubled young woman who has just been attacked by a snake in her bed, which for some reason leads her to believe she’s being pursued and has to leave town without a trace.”



VIETNAM

saigonSaigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam by Anthony Grey (reviewed by Shonna Froebel @ Canadian Bookworm) Fiction

This 30-year-old novel sounds like a lengthy undertaking, but well worth it. Shonna says, “At almost 800 pages, this is not a light read, but the novel flows quickly, leading the reader on through the strong characters he creates. Each section begins with a short historical comment of what is going on politically in Vietnam at the time. This gives us context and a grounding in the forces that influence the characters in that section. I learned so much about Vietnam’s history through the reading of this novel, and highly recommend it to those who may be visiting this country or just interested in history.”



SOUTH AFRICA

present darknessPresent Darkness by Malla Nunn (reviewed by Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out) Crime/Detective/Historical

The fourth book in the Detective Emmanuel Cooper series by Australian author Nunn. Shelleyrae says, “As with Nunn’s last book, Silent Valley (published in the US as Blessed Are the Dead), I read Present Darkness in single sitting. Skilfully crafted with an intriguing plot and superb characterisation, Malla Nunn’s Detective Emmanuel Cooper series should be on everybody’s reading list.”



CANADA

smoke riverSmoke River by Krista Foss (reviewed by Tanya @ 52 books or bust) Fiction

Tanya says, “Smoke River is Krista Foss‘ first novel. It is set in the vaguely named interlake region of Ontario, in a fictitious settlement that bears a striking resemblance to the Caledonia and Hagersville area bordering the Six Nations Reserve. In recent years, Caledonia has been synonymous with First Nations land disputes, and that sets the scene for Smoke River. … The story focuses on two families who are impacted in very direct ways by the land dispute. And she looks not just at the dispute, but the social realm that surrounds the dispute – who is friends with whom, who went to school together and who has petty jealousies. It is in these details that the story of Smoke River is at its most compelling.”



ARGENTINA

rats shadow playThe Rats / Shadow Play by Jose Bianco (reviewed by Kama @ For Culture’s Sake) Fiction, Novellas

This book doesn’t appear to be listed on Goodreads in either its original language or in translation, so I don’t have a link to share. It’s great to hear about books like this through the challenge. Kama says, “Two stories set in Argentine, with different characters but both quite psychological. The first one (The Rats) is focused on family and its friends. The second one is a story of a girl, working as a prostitute, and her mentally disabled brother. They are good, nothing exceptional, but both endings are just strong, making the stories memorable and worthy of recommendation.”



FRANCE

pardonable liesPardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear (reviewed by Sharon @ Faith Hope & Cherrytea) Crime/Detective/Mystery

The third book in the Maisie Dobbs series. Sharon says, “I enjoy the further insights into Maisie, yet still don’t get a personal connection to her. She seems very removed emotionally – perhaps the psychological elements of her overcome personality. The story itself is interesting and well written, but I prefer a more personable heroine that gets me emotionally involved. Maisie just seems to remain removed and stiff.”



GERMANY

daisies are foreverDaisies are Forever by Liz Tolsma (reviewed by Sharon @ Faith Hope & Cherrytea Historical Fiction

This is the second book in the Women of Courage series. Sharon says, “Personal tension between the main characters, Gisela and Mitch, increases as the love triangle manufactured by German soldier, Kurt, plays out to the music of his own imagination. Tolsma enriches readers’ understanding with excellent insights into Kurt’s thinking that colours his actions. A well researched, encompassing story that relieves the suspense with a satisfying conclusion.”



NETHERLANDS

summer house with swimming poolSummer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch (reviewed by Shannon @ Giraffe Days) Fiction; Psychological

I reviewed Koch’s new novel, and was quite engrossed. This is realism shadowed by the unpleasant inner-most thoughts of the protagonist, a GP. Events take place in the Netherlands as well as on the French Riveria, and revolve around what really happened at the summer house of one of Marc’s patients, a famous Dutch actor who, in the present day side of the story, has died. Marc is under investigation for his death and a possible case of medical malpractice.



NEW ZEALAND

swimming in the darkSwimming in the Dark by Paddy Richardson (reviewed by Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out) Fiction/Suspense

Shelleyrae gave this book five stars and is full of praise: “An atmospheric psychological drama, Swimming in the Dark, the fourth novel by award-winning New Zealand writer Paddy Richardson, explores the themes of family, oppression, fear and the strength it takes to rise above them. … Beautifully written, this is a complex and gripping novel which I couldn’t put down. I’m loathe to reveal this story’s secrets, and at a loss to articulate its power other than to say I was held captive by the undercurrent of suspense, moved by the character’s struggles, and stunned by the novel’s conclusion.”


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?-sm



We had some serious winter weather here in Tasmania last week – June and July were such nice months, always makes you suspicious! We had a solid week of torrential rain, incredibly strong winds and the resulting flooding, property damage, power outages and even one death (sadly, a woman in Launceston died when a branch fell on her while she was clearing branches). The whole state has been affected by the storms but where we are it’s been relatively sheltered. Wind and rain but no damage, nothing extreme. The only issue we’ve had is how hard it’s been to dry our washing! Doesn’t equal a life lost does it.

It’s mid-year exam time at school so in a way, I have a bit of downtime. Have been able to get some reviews done, which is such a great feeling. Not a whole lot else, though! I did treat myself to a movie on one of my days off, though: I went and saw Hercules, which was a bit of silly fun. Pleasant surprise to find Rufus Sewell in it though! Love Rufus Sewell…

POSTS

My Top Ten … Authors I Own the Most Books Of

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BOOKS FINISHED:

Endangered by Jean Love Cush
All I Want for Christmas is a Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

endangered all I want for christmas is a vampire god of small things

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BOOKS REVIEWED:

Endangered by Jean Love Cush
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
The Fever by Megan Abbott
The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand
John Dreamer by Elise Celine
Slave to Love edited by Alison Tyler
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Undead Next Door by Kerrelyn Sparks
All I Want for Christmas is a Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks

endangered fangirl fever chocolate thief

john dreamer slave to love fault in our stars undead next door all I want for christmas is a vampire

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CURRENTLY READING:

paris architect

The Paris Architect
by Charles Belfoure

I’m finding this really enjoyable, and a very smooth read – a nice contrast to The God of Small Things, which I just finished.

Summary:

In 1942 Paris, gifted architect Lucien Bernard accepts a commission that will bring him a great deal of money – and maybe get him killed. But if he’s clever enough, he’ll avoid any trouble. All he has to do is design a secret hiding place for a wealthy Jewish man, a space so invisible that even the most determined German officer won’t find it. He sorely needs the money, and outwitting the Nazis who have occupied his beloved city is a challenge he can’t resist.

But when one of his hiding spaces fails horribly, and the problem of where to hide a Jew becomes terribly personal, Lucien can no longer ignore what’s at stake. The Paris Architect asks us to consider what we owe each other, and just how far we’ll go to make things right.

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WHAT’S NEXT:

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles is probably next on my list of books to read, but I’ll probably read something light and fun in-between, maybe Landline by Rainbow Rowell … Really I have too much choice, which doesn’t help.

Mini Reviews: 2014 mid-year bundle

For the sake of my sanity, my memory and my goal of reviewing every book I read, I am doing a bunch of mini reviews today in order to clear my backlog (and my desk) before I totally forget what I thought of them. These books are ones I read as far back as February but haven’t had the time to review properly; I still want to discuss them and share them with you, but I can’t remember enough about the plot or details I enjoyed etc., to be able to write a full review. Hence, this bundle of mini-reviews. I’ve left out a few titles that I still hope (or need) to review properly; my reading tally this year has been scarily low so this won’t be a long list.

chocolate thiefThe Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand
Amour et Chocolat #1

Kensington 2012
Paperback
303 pages
Fiction; Romance



Summary from Goodreads:

Paris

Breathtakingly beautiful, the City of Light seduces the senses, its cobbled streets thrumming with possibility. For American Cade Corey, it’s a dream come true, if only she can get one infuriating French chocolatier to sign on the dotted line…

Chocolate

Melting, yielding yet firm, exotic, its secrets are intimately known to Sylvain Marquis. But turn them over to a brash American waving a fistful of dollars? Jamais. Not unless there’s something much more delectable on the table…

Stolen Pleasure

Whether confections taken from a locked shop or kisses in the dark, is there anything sweeter?

I have Angie at Angieville to thank for getting me to read this – it is SO MUCH FUN!! Funny, sexy, exciting, engrossing… It’s hard to go wrong when you combine chocolate with Paris with love and chemistry, isn’t it? And boy is there some sizzling chemistry going on here! If nothing else, read it for the sheer joy of Sylvain’s reaction when he discovers Cade broke into his chocolate shop and ate his chocolates – he follows her path through bins and trays of delicate chocolates like someone tracking an animal. His reaction is not what you’d expect. I just loved this, it’s the perfect read when you want cheering up, or a pleasurable distraction, or simply because you enjoy reading good books.

Read in February 2014





undead next doorThe Undead Next Door by Kerrelyn Sparks
Love at Stake #4

Avon 2008
Mass Market Paperback
369 pages
Paranormal Romance



Summary from Goodreads: Three signs that something is very different with your new man:

1. He sleeps all day…which would be annoying except he’s so attentive at night.

2. He’s attacked by sword-wielding assailants, yet insists he can handle it on his own.

3. He never seems to age.

Heather Westfield has always lived a quiet life, but that all changes when she helps a very handsome, very mysterious stranger. There’s something not quite right about Jean-Luc, but still, she’s never been with a man so charming, so attractive…so wonderful. Now if only a murderous villain wasn’t after them, they might get their happily-ever-after.

I really enjoy this series. They’re warm, funny, they focus a lot on building chemistry and genuine love between the main characters as well as touching on the practicalities and logistics of mortals having relationships with vampires (Shanna and Roman from book 1 are often handy for providing insight to the newest female mortal on how a relationship could actually work). Plus the idea of “good Vamps” surviving on synthetic bottled blood is a better solution than Lynsay Sand’s “bagged blood” from blood banks – that’s always bothered me a bit because of how hard it is to get people to donate blood in real life, and so the idea that so much of it would get sidelined for vampires to drink has never really sat well with me. You know what they say: even fantasy must be believable, plausible, realistic (within the realms of said fantasy). Okay so “they” don’t say it but I do.

Heather and Jean-Luc were an engaging pair and well suited. Plus in this book the first were-animal is revealed, and Ian finds a way to physically age so he no longer looks like a teenager despite being over five hundred years old. There’s a lot of tension and excitement in this one; a very good addition to the series.

Read in June 2014.





slave to loveSlave to Love: Erotic Stories of Bondage and Desire edited by Alison Tyler
Cleis Press 2011 (2006)
Trade Paperback
217 pages
Erotica; Anthology; Short Stories



Summary from Goodreads: The right kind of punishment can be a powerful turn on. Restraint can release hidden desires. A simple leather strap, a shiny pair of handcuffs, a delicate silk scarf, a dominant’s stern gaze. The yearning for a partner who will take control can grip one as powerfully as the most intricate, indecipherable rope knot. In Slave to Love, Alison Tyler gathers the most popular — and often most taboo — fantasies of sexual control and erotic restraint. Featuring such popular erotica writers as Marilyn Jaye Lewis, Saskia Walker and Rachel Kramer Bussel, Slave to Love is luscious, naughty, and infinitely sexy.

This book took me forever to read – I started it about eight months or so before finally finishing it – and while short story anthologies do lend themselves to being read slowly over time, that wasn’t my aim. I simply didn’t enjoy this volume. I think I may have reached my limits, or discovered my limits, something like that. I didn’t find these stories sexy, which certainly puts them firmly in the “erotica” category – if you haven’t read any, erotica is not romantic, it can be quite stifling and heavy and uncomfortable. The stories here were often dark, or a bit strange, or simply uninteresting.

This is the third anthology like this that I’ve read, and each one I like less than the one before. Think I’ll have to stop here.

Finished in May 2014.




fault in our starsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Penguin 2013 (2012)
Trade Paperback
313 pages
YA Fiction



Summary from Goodreads: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

Several years ago I read Looking for Alaska and was more annoyed than impressed. Didn’t stop me from reading this one, though. While it was much less annoying and depicted believable characters in heartbreaking situations – I can’t imagine what it would be like to know that you’ve got such limited time left (it’s the knowing that is especially awful, aside from the diminished able-body-ness that the narrator, Hazel, must accept on a daily basis) – it still didn’t wow me the way it has many other readers. I was mostly afraid it would be self-indulgent, sentimental and emotionally manipulative. It isn’t, not much anyway. Hazel’s first-person narration is part of the success of the novel, and it can’t have been easy to get inside the head of a young girl slowly dying of cancer. Green manages to bring her to life and let her breathe (ooh ouch the irony) on her own.

It’s a story about living life to the fullest and what that actually means for quiet, ordinary people like Hazel. It was easy to forget that she was dying, or ill, even. She’s a brave soul and that just makes it harder: you so want her to live. It’s not just her story, though: it’s also Augustus’, and his is even more tragic. Predictable, but no less tragic for it.

To be honest, I just don’t have much to say about this book. It’s got humour and intelligence, but oddly enough (considering how readily this happens), it didn’t make me cry. There’s just something missing in Green’s writing that would enable me to connect better with his characters. It’s like … it’s a little too … polished, a little too … neat and tidy. Hard to put my finger on it. It’s been a couple of months or so since I read it and it isn’t sticking in my mind like good books usually do. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, or didn’t care about the characters – I certainly did. It’s just that, as a novel, it didn’t work magic for me, and that’s that special quality that readers are always looking for, aren’t we?

Read in May 2014.





john dreamerJohn Dreamer by Elise Celine
John Dreamer #1

Elise Celine 2014
E-ARC (galley)
203 pages
YA Speculative Fiction



Summary from Goodreads: Andy wasn’t usually sure about much, but she was absolutely certain this was the weirdest day of her life as she stood stranded in the middle of a great white room with six strangers. Well, they were mostly strangers. She could have sworn she’d seen the guy with the green eyes before, and maybe that was why he kept staring at her.

When a man calling himself the Guardian appeared and said they had come to make their deepest dreams come true, they embark on an adventure none of them ever imagined, and the consequences of their actions would change them forever.

This was a nice, quick read, quite engrossing and interesting. The format reminds me of some other story – a book or a film – but I can’t think what and it’s really bugging me. I don’t mean that it’s derivative, only that I think it might be inspired by an older tale, if only I could what it is! Oh wait, am I thinking of the film Brazil maybe? Dreams within dreams? I feel like I’m getting warmer.

The characters are a bunch of misfits, except perhaps for the main character and John. The mystery, then, was why they were there and what their connection was. The story follows a pattern that you think is going to get repetitive and boring but isn’t because the “real” world, the dream space (the white room) gets incorporated into the scenarios. Though the characters are surprisingly slow at realising this.

It moves swiftly and keeps the momentum up, but to do so Celine had to sacrifice some much-needed character development. The characters are fairly thin sketches, a bit stereotypical, though they hint at greater depths. This is the first book in a series and while I’m not sure where the story goes from here (same characters??), it makes for fun, interesting reading.

Read in May 2014. My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via Netgalley.





all I want for christmas is a vampireAll I Want for Christmas is a Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks
Love at Stake #5

Avon 2008
Mass Market Paperback
350 pages
Paranormal Romance



Summary from Goodreads: Toni Davis’s Christmas wish list:

    1. Springing my best friend from the psych ward.
    2. Living somewhere that doesn’t have coffins in the basement. Occupied coffins.
    3. Finding Mr. Right. Please make him tall, dark, handsome, and alive.

This Christmas isn’t so merry for Toni. Her best friend’s been locked up in a mental hospital ever since she told the police she was attacked by vampires, and the only way for Toni to get her out is to prove that bloodsuckers really do exist. So she’s taken a job as a bodyguard for the Undead, but she gets more than she bargained for, especially when she meets Ian MacPhie, a Scottish rascal looking for Ms. Right.

Although Ian’s nearly five centuries old, he looks and acts like a twenty-seven-year-old hunk.

How can a dead man be so damn sexy? Could Mr. Wrong be Mr. Right? One forbidden kiss could lead to an eternity of passion—and all it takes is one moment under the mistletoe . . .

Hugely enjoyable, this one was. Really, I’m so glad I gave this series another try after starting with book 3 (Be Still My Vampire Heart) and disliking it so much, because all the other books I’ve read (eight so far) have been so much fun and not at all annoying. Toni is a solid heroine, hired as a day guard by the “good Vamps” to watch over them while they sleep because her fighting skills impressed Connor so much when he rescued her from a group of Malcontents.

There are several storylines going here, including Ian’s search for a nice Vamp lady to marry that results in some rather hilarious (and rather sad) dating fiascos, and Toni’s neighbour Carlos’ big secret. Lots of action and some attempt on the part of the bad guys (the Malcontents) to use some brain cells and come up with a plan of attack. Plus there’s some delightful chemistry between Toni and Ian and we get to see young Constantine work his magic. Literally.

Read in July 2014

Review: The Fever

feverThe Fever by Megan Abbott
Little, Brown & Co 2014
E-ARC (galley)
320 pages
Fiction; Mystery



Summary from Goodreads: The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.

The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie’s best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.

As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town’s fragile idea of security.

A chilling story about guilt, family secrets and the lethal power of desire, The Fever affirms Megan Abbot’s reputation as “one of the most exciting and original voices of her generation” (Laura Lippman).

I didn’t enjoy this as much as I’d hoped, partly because I was hoping it was more along the lines of speculative fiction (it certainly hinted at it!) and partly because I was reading a galley on my Kindle, and I struggle to interact with stories electronically. The other reason would be that I simply wasn’t all that interested in the characters. Deenie is perhaps the central character, but her father, Tom – a teacher at her school – also gets his point-of-view chapters. His side story is his status as bachelor and a vague flirtation with the French teacher. Her older brother, Eli, gets some air time too. No one character was particularly well developed, and the shift between such different characters gave it a choppy, uneven feel.

The plot itself started strongly, and built great atmosphere, but fizzled all too soon. It became fairly predictable, or rather, the build-up at the start created high expectations that didn’t hold. That said, I could have had a very different reading experience had I read this as an actual print book. The other issue is that, as a story about young adolescent girls and their complicated psychological make-up, I felt I’d read better, more thought-provoking stories. The Fever didn’t add anything or teach me anything new. Overall, simply disappointing.

Read in February 2014. My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via Netgalley.

My Top Ten ... Authors I Own the Most Books Of

Top Ten Tuesday badge

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week’s topic is:

Top Ten Authors You Own the Most Books Of

I wasn’t even sure how I’d find this out, but hoped Goodreads would help, since I have all my books catalogued there – yes, all 3803 of them: if I own it, it’s there. This list excludes authors of picture books and cookbooks. A few surprises here, or at least, an author or two I’m not so keen on admitting… ;)

1. GEORGETTE HEYER – 41 BOOKS

No surprise there, I have almost all her regency romances and historical fiction novels (but none of her detective books). I used to read and re-read these all the time, but it’s been years since I read a Heyer book.

2. CHRISTINE FEEHAN – 23 BOOKS

Okay so this one is a bit embarrassing, mostly because her books are so badly written and laden with clichés and stock characters. Truly, every book is pretty much the same and I could make fun of the language but it doesn’t bear repeating. But I have 23 of her books!! As you’ll see, this is partly due to the Paranormal Romance phase I went through in 2008, and partly because, as bad as they are, they can be oddly addictive.

3. KRESLEY COLE – 22 BOOKS

Continuing the Paranormal Romance theme, this author at least is one that I really love. Her Immortals After Dark series is pure awesome, especially due to its blend of Fantasy and Romance and the wonderfully unpredictable plots – can’t think of any other author who routinely puts her characters in the most impossible situations yet always manages to find an ingenious way of getting them out of it.

4. LYNSAY SANDS – 21 BOOKS

I have all of her Paranormal Romance books – her delightfully entertaining and saucy Argeneau series – up until #18 (there are, to date, three I don’t have) plus some of her historical romance titles. I got into her books after meeting her at the Toronto Book Expo in 2006 (back when Toronto had a book expo, before it was bought by the American one and swiftly cancelled), and was given a free signed copy of The Perfect Wife, which is rather silly yet so enjoyable.

5. BETH KERY – 19 BOOKS

This number is a bit inflated, because one of her books was first released as an e-book serial on Amazon and I bought them all, never got around to reading them (you know how much I dislike reading stories electronically), and then bought the story as a whole novel when it came out in print. But I am a big fan of Kery’s stories, ever since Wicked Burn.

6. L.M. MONTGOMERY and KATE ELLIOTT – 17 BOOKS EACH

I have accumulated a lot of Montgomery’s novels, and while I particularly enjoy her lesser-known books (The Blue Castle, Jane of Lantern Hill, A Tangled Web for instance), I never really got into her Anne books. One day.

Elliott is a fantastic fantasy writer, but I’m woefully behind! After devouring her first major fantasy series, Crown of Stars, I moved to her older science fiction series, Jaran, and loved that just as much. I have her two more recent trilogies, Crossroads and Spiritwalker, but haven’t found the time to read them yet. She is an author I buy whenever she has a new book, though.

7. HARUKI MURAKAMI, ROALD DAHL, KERRELYN SPARKS and J.R. WARD – 16 BOOKS EACH

Murakami writes awesome and often surreal speculative fiction. Dahl everyone knows – I have some from my childhood (I was a big fan in primary school) but I’ve been adding to my collection as an adult and re-reading them. I particularly enjoy Sparks, whose books are so much fun and quite well written. Ward’s books I’m really behind on, I guess I got a bit tired of her writing and the repetitiveness of her language. Since I’m still buying her books, I suppose I do plan on finishing the Black Dagger Brotherhood series as well as read the others I have.

8. ISOBELLE CARMODY and ROBERT JORDAN – 15 BOOKS EACH

Isobelle Carmody is one of my all-time favourite authors; between her beautiful imagination, her ability to weave philosophy and broader issues into her stories and her great characters, she’s my hero. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series was one of the fantasy series I started reading as a teenager, but I’m two and a half books behind (I nearly finished the first Brandon Sanderson co-written book, but I was heavily pregnant at the time and struggling to finish anything at all, so it got put aside).

9. CHARLAINE HARRIS – 13 BOOKS

I have 13 of her books because there are 13 books in the Sookie Stackhouse series – sound about right? I haven’t read the very last one yet so don’t spoil it for me!

10. DAPHNE DU MAURIER, SHARON SHINN, MARIA V SNYDER, JOHN MARSDEN, KATIE MACALISTER and TERRY GOODKIND – 11 BOOKS EACH

I love du Maurier, she’s an incredible writer with an impressive imagination and so much skill with words, she really gets into the human psyche. If there was one writer I wish was still alive today so I could meet them, it’d be her. Shinn, Snyder and Goodkind are all fantasy writers – love Shinn to bits, though I haven’t read all the books I have of hers; Snyder is great, very engrossing and readable. Goodkind was a writer I was really into at first, until his very right-wing political side squeezed the life out of his story. Haven’t read the last couple of books in the Sword of Truth series because of it. MacAlister is a paranormal romance writer – one of the funny ones – who I got into in 2008.


Honourable Mentions:

10 BOOKS: Sophie Kinsella

9 BOOKS EACH: Alexander Dumas, Diana Gabaldon, Scott Westerfeld, Lynn Flewelling, J.K. Rowling, Jackie French, Jacqueline Carey, Jennifer Fallon, Kelley Armstrong, Keri Arthur, Jeaniene Frost and Maya Banks

8 BOOKS EACH: Laura Lee Guhrke, Ann Aguirre, Sara Douglass, Philippa Gregory, Elizabeth Gaskell, Nicci French and Cassandra Clare

7 BOOKS EACH: China Mieville, Anne Bishop, Gena Showalter, Meg Cabot, Michael Chabon, Stephen King, Robin Hobb and Larissa Ione

Review: Fangirl

fangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
St Martin’s Griffin 2013
Hardback
435 pages
YA Fiction



Summary from Goodreads: Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? Open her heart to someone? Or will she just go on living inside somebody else’s fiction?

I love Rainbow Rowell’s books and highly recommend them any chance I get. Loving an author, it does tend to set the bar high, and so going into Fangirl I was expecting to love this, no matter what. Well, I don’t quite love it. It is a much longer story than her previous two, which made me gleeful: more pages of Rowell! But I think she actually writes better, stronger, when she keeps the page count down. Fangirl was a little too long. But it was enjoyable, and the longer page count allowed for well-developed characters and a natural, realistic feel to the gentle-moving plot.

The story is mostly a coming-of-age story for Cath, who, in her first year of university, is struggling to find space in her life for fanfiction – space, appreciation and forgiveness. It’s about reaching the cusp of adulthood and our struggle to abandon our childhood, about reconciling two halves of our selves, and giving ourselves permission to hold on to the things that give us joy. Entangled in every coming-of-age story (in real life) is the expectation that we must give up what we enjoyed as kids and teens, that we should “grow out of it” and move on – as if it’s something to be ashamed of, or things that will hold us back and prevent us from maturing. Genre fiction, especially Fantasy fiction, suffers greatly from this common, often subconscious social expectation, and we spend years of our adult lives apologising or justifying our appreciation of fantasy stories (and, often, romance, but that’s another story). Really, it’s not the fans of Fantasy that must change, but society’s understanding of what being an adult is.

Using Simon Snow fanfiction – a deliberately clear parallel to Harry Potter and the wealth of fanfiction (and passionate followers) it spawned – provides the perfect vehicle for exploring Cath’s conflicted maturity. Or rather, she is always true and honest to herself, but is pained and upset watching her twin sister Wren ditch it in favour of more socially-acceptable (or expected) young adult behaviour. Namely, going to parties, getting drunk and having sex. I could relate much more to Cath than to Wren, and it’s easy to see that in reality, it’s Wren who has the biggest maturity learning-curve to figure out. She stuffs up and makes big mistakes, and enters that tenuous period where young adults either continue to stuff up or decide to try a different path.

There is romance for Cath, and for me that was a driving force in the story. There were many elements to this that I loved; it was perhaps the fanfiction itself that dulled it a little for me. I’m not a big fan of fanfiction (ha ha), and could never write it myself. I’m very different from Cath in that regard, but it was great seeing it from a real fanfiction writer’s perspective. Looking forward to reading Rowell’s newest, Landline, next.

Read in February 2014 – apologies for not being able to remember all the things I wanted to say about this book!

Review: Endangered

endangeredEndangered by Jean Love Cush
HarperCollins Armistad 2014
Hardback
258 pages
Fiction



‘I believe we can make a solid argument that African-American boys ought to be deemed legally endangered. Their very lives are threatened with extinction, or at least any meaningful existence, and thereby ought to be afforded certain protections based on their classification as such.’

Roger Whitford, an attorney for the Centre for the Protection of Human Rights, has a plan to put a stop to the prejudiced treatment of black men in the United States, men – and boys – who make up a third of prison inmates. When Janae Williams’ fifteen-year-old son Malik is arrested for the murder of his friend Troy – the twenty-ninth murder in Philadelphia in the twenty days since the start of the year – Roger decides to take on the case, not just to free Malik, but to launch his big campaign to get black males in America extra support and protection.

Janae is a classic statistic: pregnant as a teen, she put her education on hold to have the baby and raise it on her own. Now she works as a cashier in a hospital cafeteria, striving to make ends meet and give Malik a chance to make something of his life. But now, he’s not just been accused of murder, the prosecution wants to try him as an adult – the standard response to murder cases. Keeping him in the juvenile court is just the first step in Roger’s plan, but first he needs to get Janae on side – not an easy task when you’re comparing her son to an animal.

Roger plans to use the Endangered Animals Act and have it extended to include African-American males, but it’s a hard pill to swallow for the community and Janae in particular. Even more so for young, ambitious Calvin Moore, a hotshot lawyer at a big firm with grand plans who studied his way out of the community Janae is stuck in. Roger wants Calvin on the case, but it’s a tough sell. Not until Calvin stops seeing his origins as something to turn his back on and instead as something he should try and use his skills and position to help, do the pieces start to fall into place.

But will Roger sacrifice Malik for the sake of the bigger picture? Can Janae truly trust an old white man to keep her son out of jail?

Cush’s debut novel has a clear aim and agenda, and tackles it well. With a tight focus, a neatly delivered storyline and believable characters, she brings the human angle to a serious issue of race, discrimination, prejudice and poverty. It’s a fairly short book that makes the wise decision to keep the spotlight on Janae and her son, rather than a long, drawn-out legal and political battlefield that could end who knows where. As much as you can’t help but want to follow through and see where Roger’s plan ends up, it would detract from the story without adding anything – especially considering that the situation Malik finds himself in is pretty much unchanged today. The point, I would think, is to get people thinking in a different way about the issues, to open a debate (or contribute to an already-existing one), not to launch into an actual, fictional campaign.

While the writing does, at times, carry the whiff of a beginner novelist – especially in some of the descriptions and language – there’s no denying that Endangered has the necessary ingredients for a great story, is highly readable and shows the author’s great potential. At times a bit simplistic, I nevertheless appreciated the human angle to the story. If the characters seemed a bit stereotypical, part of that would be because there’s some truth in stereotypes, and part of it would be because the author hasn’t yet reached her full range and stereotypes are unavoidable. Perhaps more time could have been spent on fleshing the main characters out, to make them feel and sound less like stock characters, but the writing was nicely, smoothly consistent throughout and the simple touch was actually refreshing.

Cush stretches her legal chops in the legal-drama side of the story; an attorney for many years, she has a focus on domestic abuse, urban violence, and inner-city education. The descriptions and dialogue between the lawyers and the judge, for instance, were accessible to a layman like me while still sounding authentic and believable.

Throughout the story, I couldn’t help but feel a chill at the thought of children – children – being tried as adults and sent to adult prison. This is, according to the story, a law in Pennsylvania, and is just one of several laws that I, as a non-American, hear about and shudder at. As Endangered shows, it casts the wrong emphasis on crime, and neglects – and downright ignores – the issues behind crime. I’m naturally leery whenever I hear the words “zero tolerance” because it’s so black-and-white and encourages black-and-white thinking, prejudice and a “hard-ass” attitude based on the idea that everyone’s equal and there are no excuses. There aren’t excuses, but there are reasons, and if you don’t stop and consider those reasons and what’s really going on – if you don’t get at the crux of the matter – then you’re never going to really, truly stop it from happening. Because clearly the threat of jail time doesn’t do much at all, and as this novel pointed out, prisons create hardened criminals out of people who made mistakes or did something dumb, for various reasons. It’s a big, complex mess of issues that throws open the debate of nature versus nurture – whether you’re a criminal, or whether your environment and various social factors contributed to you going down a particular path that, if the factors had been different, you might not have gone down.

Endangered doesn’t try to please those “hard-asses”: it clearly posits the understanding that these boys slip into crime because of poverty, peer pressure and other social factors. The lack of good male role models is also a contributing factor – not just in black American communities but everywhere – but again, Cush manages to blend the two sides: that you do have a say in how your life turns out, and you can change it; and that the world you come from does mean that we don’t all start out equal.

An enlightening and thought-provoking novel, Endangered blends readable entertainment with prevalent social issues to position Jean Love Cush as a writer to watch.

My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via TLC Book Tours.

tlc tour host-1

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Visit TLC Book Tours to check out more stops on the tour.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?-sm


Busy weekend! We headed up north on Friday arvo to spend the weekend at my parents’ house. We ended up going separately as I had to drive my brother’s car up – he was selling it to someone who lives at the other end of the state and Launceston was a good halfway point. I have to say that my mid-90s Nissan Pulsar (which is actually my sister’s) is a more comfortable and, strangely, fuel-efficient car than his three-year-old Mitsubishi Lancer. Probably because of the things he’d had added to the car to make it more of a young man’s hoon car! The tyres, especially. I felt every bump (at one point I hit a pot hole – that was scary!!) and the steering wheel was always being wrenched around, whereas the old Pulsar is a very smooth ride. Noisy (no insulation, really) and the windshield wipers don’t work too well (yes the blades are new!), yet it’s a nicer drive.

But first I’ll tell you about my son’s birthday party on Sunday – he turns 3 today, but we held a joint party for him and his cousin Felix, who turned 4 on the 8th. We had it at the Road Transport and Safety Centre – otherwise known as the “Bike Centre” – in Launceston, which has been around forever and is super cool. You rent the whole place for a couple of hours and get the key ahead of time. The kids had to bring their own bikes, and then they happily whizzed around the pretend streets and gleefully ignored the traffic lights, so much fun! We had nice weather for it too – while it was a bit chilly in the morning (we could only get a 9am booking), it became very sunny and even a bit warm! (We’ve been having a very easy winter so far – bit worried about what that means for the coming summer, though.)

I made a cake for Hugh’s birthday – having had iffy success in the past (including Hugh’s 2nd b’day cake which was meant to be a Thomas the Tank Engine cake but turned out to be … not) I keep trying, and it worked out pretty well this time. He’d asked for a Curious George cake, and after considering and dismissing some kind of three-dimensional monkey cake, I decided to try my hand at one of these:

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I didn’t take photos of everyone, but here are Hugh and his cousins (from top: Hugh, Felix, Tamsyn and Angus):

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Cake time! Hugh pretty much complained about having cold hands all morning, and before we sang Happy Birthday he fell off the bench, hence why he looks like he’s been crying (he was). It wasn’t until after they’d all eaten cake and we had to start packing up that he got on his trike and started having a blast – typical! Felix had a chocolate tractor cake – the kind of cake I wish I could make but so far haven’t been very good at!

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In terms of reading, reviewing and blogging, I didn’t, as you could have predicted, get very much done. I managed to get two reviews written, but I’m struggling with motivation these days. And this week is a write-off – I have so much to do before school goes back, so this might be the last of me you see this week. Hopefully not, but it’s not likely I’ll find the time to do more than this post. A sorry state of affairs!

POSTS

The Shelves are Groaning

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BOOKS FINISHED:

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

summer house with swimming pool

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BOOKS REVIEWED:

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

summer house with swimming pool ignite me



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CURRENTLY READING:

endangered

Endangered
by Jean Love Cush

I’m reading this for a TLC Book Tour – expect my review next Monday – and enjoying it so far. Here’s the publisher’s summary:

An innocent black teenager is accused of murder in this provocative and compassionate thriller that skillfully probes issues of race, class, crime, and injustice and offers a searing portrait of modern America.

From the time her son, Malik, could walk, Janae taught him that the best way to stay alive and out of trouble with the law was to cooperate. Terrified for his safety, she warned him, “raise your hands high, keep your mouth shut, and do whatever they say,” if the police ever stopped him. But when a wave of murders hits Philadelphia and fifteen-year-old Malik is arrested, Janae’s terror is compounded by guilt and doubt: Would Malik have escaped jail if he’d run?

Unable to see her son or pay for his defense, Janae, a cafeteria worker, reluctantly allows Roger Whitford, a white human rights attorney, to represent Malik. With the help of an ambitious private attorney named Calvin Moore, Roger is determined to challenge the entire criminal justice system and expose its inherent racism–racism that threatens the very existence of America’s young black men.

Offering a startling and unprecedented defense, the lawyers spark a national firestorm of debate over race, prison, and politics that burns to the very core of Janae herself. As she battles to save her son, she begins to discover that she is also fighting for her own survival and that of her community.

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WHAT’S NEXT:

What I posted last week hasn’t changed, sadly. Still lots of books to finish reading, and I haven’t yet started the ones I’d hoped to be starting this week.

What are your plans for the coming week?