While You Were Reading by Ali Klaus and Michelle Berg

while-you-were-reading-9781925750560_lg.jpgTitle: While You Were Reading

Author: Ali Klaus and Michelle Berg

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Published: July 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: Words are messy. Love is messier.
A hilarious, insightful new novel from the creators of Books on the Rail

Meet Beatrix Babbage – 29-year-old dog-earer of books and accidental destroyer of weddings.

After ruining her best friend’s nuptials, Bea relocates to the other side of the country in search of a fresh start, including meeting new people, living life to the fullest and finally pulling off balayage.

But after a few months, life is more stagnant than ever. Bea’s job is dead-end. Her romantic life? Non-existent. And her only friends are her books, her barista and her cleaning lady.

​Then Bea stumbles across a second-hand novel, inscribed with notes. Besotted with the poetic inscriptions, Bea is determined to find the author … and along the way, she finds herself entangled in one hell of a love quadrangle.

Funny, poignant and insightful, While You Were Reading reveals that there’s no such thing as perfection, the value of true friendship and, most importantly, the power of not living in fiction, but still reading it … Often.

A love story for book lovers that celebrates much more than romance.

~*~

Another offering from Book Ninjas, Ali and Michelle, While You Were Reading is another love letter to readers, books and the friendships forged through a love of reading. Beatrix Babbage is at her best friend’s wedding when everything in her life falls apart. She inadvertently ruins the wedding and is cut off from her friends. So, she moves to Melbourne to start over, and gets a job with a marketing agency, and befriends a poet-barista called Dino, his business partner, Sunday, and Mystery Writer, whose inscriptions in a book called Meeting Oliver Bennett guide her through her time in Melbourne. Yet her life stagnates, and her only regular contact is with Dino, her books, and her cleaner, Ramona, and the girls at the bookstore at the centre of Ali and Michelle’s previous book, The Book Ninja (there’s no need to read them in order, as they are both stand alones – more on this later.)

As the book moves on, Bea takes herself on a journey to discover who the Mystery Writer is, charting this online as Frankie did in The Book Ninja, and some of our favourite commenters pop up in her mentions, providing another delightful link back to The Book Ninja. Yet a chance meeting with Zach, another with Ruth and her unfolding friendship with Sunday, see her embroiled in a love quadrangle – with various people and books, as well as her constant attempts to reach out to her friend from Perth, Cassandra with disastrous results at one of her Next Chapter nights.

With Next Chapter – speed dating for books – Bea hopes to find Mystery Writer and connect with other readers – but her sister, Lizzie, an ex-Bachelor contestant, has other ideas that involve dating, romance and things Bea would rather not conflate her idea with.

The journey Bea takes has its ups and downs with people, work and books – leading to a fantastic result towards the end that gives her an amazing drive, and gives her much more to search for than romance. Instead, she makes friends with a group of people she least expected – of these, I think Mia was my favourite. followed closely by Sunday, because she followed her passions.

While You Were Reading is a cleverly written rom- com – the kind that is as much an ode to romantic love as it is an ode to friendship, knowing and loving yourself, and most importantly, for me, a love of books and the written word. It is driven by the marginalia of Meeting Oliver Bennett, leading to an author and connection that came as a complete surprise to me – and even though this is a well-used trope, the way it is executed is original and ensures the mystery is kept up to the final pages.

2019 BadgeIt is filled with bookish and popular culture references that I appreciated, and I love that the title refers to a certain movie starring Sandra Bullock from the nineties. Having a book where I can relate to the character, and where many of the references are at my fingertips, is wonderful, and I loved that the list of books mentioned is given at the back – many of which I have read and have on my shelves.

I adored that it referred back to The Book Ninja, and in a way, follows on several months after the end of that book. However, as it is a passing mention, it is not necessary to read that one first, but it is fun to be able to pick up on the references and nods to that book, and the way both books use narrative (mainly) interspersed with blog or Instagram posts and messages, and notes. Because these are interspersed with the prose, they enrich the story and are given context and cues to help the reader navigate the story.

Books about books are something I love – most books with a hobby or something people enjoy tend to be about sport – so for book lovers like me, this is refreshing because it allows us to see what we enjoy celebrated, and I look forward to more from these authors.

Book Bingo Seventeen – A Book Written by an Australian Woman more than ten years ago

20181124_140447Welcome to round seventeen of book bingo with Amanda and Theresa. No bingo this time around – but am able to tick off a book written by an Australian woman more than ten years ago. This was one that I had many options for as well but chose the second part of the first Deltora Quest set to include here.

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As with my previous posts on this series, I came to this recently, having been in the position where it was never in the school library when I wanted to try it, or only being able to get the later books – which had I read out of order, I may have stopped reading out of confusion. Even though these books are aimed at a younger audience, I find I am thoroughly enjoying them. Working in children’s publishing as a quiz writer means I read many kids books as well.

lake of tears

In the Lake of Tears, Lief, Barda and Jasmine are seeking the second stone for the Belt of Deltora, a Ruby, and will encounter monsters and deceptions along the way as they seek the next stone. The dangers that lie ahead threaten to break them apart, yet as with many trios, will make their bond stronger and help them on their quest to restore Del. I’m continuing to read and will be posting more reviews for the series soon.

Row Two:

A book by an author with the same initials as you:

Non-Fiction book about an event: The Suicide Bride by Tanya Bretherton – #AWW2019

Fictional biography about a woman from history:

Memoir about a non-famous person: Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Book written by an Australian woman more than 10 years ago: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019 (2001)

Row Five:

Prize winning book:

Book written by an Australian woman more than ten years ago: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019 (2001)

Themes of fantasy: Vardaesia by Lynette Noni – AWW2019

Book set in an exotic location: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – #AWW2019

Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

Comedy: Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

One more book bingo for August next week, and then we look down the last six or so posts for the year across September to December!

A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison

a-pinch-of-magic-9781471124297_lg.jpgTitle: A Pinch of Magic

Author: Michelle Harrison

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Published: March 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $16.99

Synopsis:‘A SPELLBINDING STORY, STEEPED IN MAGIC. I ADORED IT’ – Abi Elphinstone, author of Sky Song 

Three sisters trapped by an ancient curse.

Three magical objects with the power to change their fate.

Will they be enough to break the curse?

Or will they lead the sisters even deeper into danger? …

The enchanting new story from Michelle Harrison, author of the bestselling THIRTEEN TREASURES trilogy 

Praise for A PINCH OF MAGIC:

‘BRILLIANT’ Emma Carroll, author of Letters From The Lighthouse

‘This delightful tale fizzes with magic and races along at a fantastic pace. This book completely charmed my socks off!’ Alex Bell, author of The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club

‘Simply phenomenal! A breathtaking quest for survival and freedom, bursting with brave heroines, enchanted objects and deadly dangers. And at its heart is a powerful and beautiful message of sisterly love and loyalty overcoming jealousy and betrayal’ Sophie Anderson, author of The House With Chicken Legs

‘What a glorious book this is! I was utterly captivated by the Widdershins sisters’ Lisa Thompson, author of The Goldfish Boy

‘Take three sisters, add the cruellest of curses and a pinch of magic, and you’ll have a tantalising tale you cannot put down’ Tamsyn Murray, author of Completely Cassidy

‘Gutsy and rude, full of warts-and-all family love, Harrison’s latest has the wry enchantment of an E Nesbit classic’ Guardian

‘A fabulous magical adventure’ Sunday Express

‘Fantasy and adventure appear on every page of this spellbinding tale’ The Daily Mail

~*~

Three sisters – Betty, Fliss and Charlie – live in Crowstone with their grandmother. Their father is in jail, and their mother is dead. Crowstone is like a small English village, but seemingly without the trappings of the twenty-first century. Opening on Halloween in the days and weeks before Betty turns thirteen. They’ve never been allowed to leave Crowstone’s bounds, but in a daring attempt, Betty and Charlie try – only to be dragged back home by their grandmother, and the story of an old curse within the Widdershins family, that condemns them to stay within the bounds of Crowstone – or they’ll die.

Fliss and Betty decide to do some digging – they uncover links to Sorsha Spellthorn, whose story is woven throughout the novel as the girls work to break the curse that was laid upon their family one hundred and fifty years ago. The question is – how will they do it, and will they succeed?

This book was a recommendation from the awesome, friendly Merrill at Book Face, Erina Fair, my local indie bookshop where I find the majority of my reads outside of review books and quiz writing books. I’ll be talking about them in another post about Love Your Bookshop Day, which was yesterday, the tenth of August.

Back to the book – and I loved it. Filled with magic, mystery and family ties, it is a delightful and wonderful book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and found myself longing to get back to it whenever I had to put it down so I could find out what was going to happen to the Widdershins. It is exactly the kind of book I love, and I think it is fabulous that the staff at Book Face know what to recommend to me – and when, because it feels like this week was the right time to read this book.

Each sister is unique, and brings something delightful and special to the story, where they journey through their area and even through time to race to break the curse. It has everything, as I said before, but it is especially wonderful because it focuses on family love, rather than romantic love, and the lengths family goes for to help each other. We need more books that focus on family, and this is one to add to the list.  I am looking forward to the sequel – if there is one – when it comes out.

The Monster Who Wasn’t by T.C. Shelley

the monster who wasn't.jpgTitle: The Monster Who Wasn’t

Author: T.C. Shelley

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia

Published: 8th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $14.99

Synopsis:A brilliantly rich and strange fantasy adventure that will make us all believe in monsters  be they good, bad or somewhere in between.

It is a well-known fact that fairies are born from a baby’s first laugh. What is not as well documented is how monsters come into being 

This is the story of a creature who is both strange and unique. When he hatches down in the vast underground lair where monsters dwell, he looks just like a human boy – much to the disgust of everyone watching. Even the grumpy gargoyles who adopt him and nickname him ‘Imp’ only want him to steal chocolate for them from the nearby shops. He’s a child with feet in both worlds, and he doesn’t know where he fits.

But little does Imp realise that Thunderguts, king of the ogres, has a great and dangerous destiny in mind for him, and he’ll stop at nothing to see it come to pass …

~*~

We all know where fairies come from. J.M. Barrie taught us this in Peter Pan – that the laugh of the first baby broke into a thousand pieces, and that was where fairies started. Each new baby laugh is a fairy. Yet little is known of the world of monsters, and where they come from. Using a mix of traditions, myths, fairy and folk tales, though concentrated on the European or Anglo-Celtic traditions, T.C. Shelley explores this in her debut novel, The Monster Who Wasn’t.

2019 Badge

In The Monster Who Wasn’t, it is established that a monster is born of a last sigh of someone, a stark contrast to the birth of a fairy. But what happens when a first laugh and last sigh come together? This is the premise for the main character, Imp, who later becomes known as Sam. He was born in the monster world but has all the features of a human: belly button, gender, heart. But does he have a soul, and where does he truly fit? In the human world, where the gargoyles who adopt him send him to find chocolate.

It is here he finds out he bears a remarkable resemblance to the Kavanaugh family, who take him in, yet when the ogre, Thunderguts finds out his plan for Imp could be thwarted, he will take drastic measures. Throughout the story, told through Imp’s eyes, the collision of worlds feels inevitable as you read on.

It is engaging and fun, seeing how Imp finds his way in the human world and how the gargoyles, grumpy as they are, will do anything to help him, as will an angel, Daniel. The gargoyles are monsters who are neither good nor evil, rather they are a kind of chaotic, neutral force who have a sense of what family is and help Imp in the final chapters of the story.

A fun and engaging fantasy novel for all ages, and that brings together fairy tales and modern fantasy in a fun and exciting way to appeal to readers of all ages. It is one that is delightful as a standalone yet could also potentially become a series. Whichever way T.C. Shelley goes, I very much enjoyed this novel.

Top Marks for Murder (A Murder Most Unladylike #8) by Robin Stevens

Top Marks for Murder.jpgTitle: Top Marks for Murder (A Murder Most Unladylike #8)

Author: Robin Stevens

Genre: Historical Fiction/Crime

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 6th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis:Daisy and Hazel are finally back at Deepdean, and the school is preparing for a most exciting event: the fiftieth Anniversary.

Plans for a weekend of celebrations are in full swing. But all is not well, for in the detectives’ long absence, Daisy has lost her crown to a fascinating, charismatic new girl – while Beanie is struggling with a terrible revelation.

As parents descend upon Deepdean for the Anniversary, decades-old grudges, rivalries and secrets begin to surface. Then the girls witness a shocking incident in the woods close by – and soon, a violent death occurs.

Can the girls solve the case – and save their home?

The brilliant new mystery from the bestselling, award-winning author of Murder Most Unladylike.

~*~

Top Marks for Murder was my first adventure with Daisy, Hazel and their Deepdean friends, and I really enjoyed it. Set in the 1930s, just a few years before the outbreak of World War Two. Nestled in a private school, Daisy and Hazel have returned to school for a two-month absence, just in time for the school’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations. They meet new girl, Amina El Maghrabi from Cairo, who has taken Daisy’s crown – a history that seeps through from previous books. As the girls prepare for the anniversary, animosity builds between some of the fourth formers. But the Friday of the weekend anniversary, Beanie sees what appears to be a murder – and from there, Daisy and Hazel find themselves looking into a possible murder, and looking at the parents as suspects as they uncover secrets from many years ago that could be bubbling to the surface as murder comes to Deepdean and threatens to close the school forever.

This is one series I would love to go back and read the rest of the series to get to know the characters more and see what other crimes Daisy and Hazel have investigated. Exploring the class system in England, coupled with characters like Hazel – the narrator of the series, and Amina – from Hong Kong and Egypt, countries with a colonial influence, the novels bring diversity into the books on many levels, and show a world beyond what previous series may have explored from other authors.  The schoolgirl rivalries are eventually set aside as the murder of a teacher rocks the school, and Daisy, Hazel and their friends recreate crime scenes and ask a London police officer to help them investigate. But who is the killer and how will they uncover the crime and save the school?

Even though this is a series, I feel one can pick it up at any point, and go back and forth as you find the books, but I am hoping to eventually read them in order and get a full understanding of the story and characters. It is funny, light but at the same time, has moments of darkness amidst an English boarding school setting that is familiar from many series from Enid Blyton books and Harry Potter but also has a few differences that make it a unique series for readers aged about ten and older to enjoy, and feel as though they are investigating the crime with Hazel and Daisy.

It is also a sort of school-girl homage to Sherlock and Watson, which I thoroughly enjoyed about it and thought it was an intriguing way to look at the world of consulting or amateur detectives in a very different setting and with a very different set of characters. Looking forward to reading more books in this series.

The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke

the secret dragon.jpgTitle: The Secret Dragon

Author: Ed Clarke

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 6th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: ‘So if you’re not an animal that’s alive today, and you’re not an animal that’s extinct either, what on earth are you?’

Mari Jones is desperate to be a real scientist, even though she’s only eleven. So when she discovers a tiny dragon while fossil hunting on the beach, she’s sure she can find a good scientific explanation – as long as she can keep it hidden enough to study it.

Unfortunately for Mari, this is one secret that doesn’t want to be kept. And as she starts to form a deeper bond with the mischievous dragon, she might have to admit that, when it comes to friendship, science might not have all the answers.

~*~

Since her father died when she was five, Mari has kept mostly to herself, in a world of fossils and dead things, rather than the world of living animals and the farm she lives on with her mother, Rhian. Mari longs to become a scientist, like her father, and leave the farm life behind. While looking for fossils one day, as she dreams of becoming like Mary Anning, she discovers a baby dragon. After meeting the new boy at school, Dylan, she agrees to let him help her study the dragon and keep it a secret.

Bu the little dragon has other ideas, constantly trying to escape to get back to the beach where Mari found it, not caring who sees it or finds out about it. Mari is determined to keep things strictly scientific, yet as she gets to know the dragon and Dylan she discovers that sometimes, friendship is more important than science, and friendship can’t be measured by science either.

The first in a new series set in Wales, The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke brings together the real world and fantasy, in a small Welsh town where dragons exist. It explores themes of friendship through Dylan and Mari, and families as the two kids fight to save Gweeb, the dragon and keep her safe from those who want to harm her, like Ffion and Dr Griff. At its heart is the mystery of Mari’s father as well, and her desire to find something – fossils, science, naming the dragon species and sharing an interest with Dylan. Though at first, they come at it from separate perspectives, they begin to build a friendship that is charming and delightful.

Reading the first book in a new series is interesting, and delightful, because you get to meet the characters as they are, and watch them grow through the book and series, heading off on their adventures with Gweeb. I loved this story, set in the wilds of Wales with a dragon, and new discoveries that start out as science, but become much more.

I also loved it because it’s about friends, with a female lead who wants to follow her passions and makes friends along the way. This is important to show because it shows all kids that their abilities and passions are important, whoever they are, and that they can be friends with whomever they want to be friends with. Also, the presence of dragons makes everything fun and chaotic, a chaos which is balanced nicely with the rest of the novel and the calmer moments, exploring the strained relationship between Mari and her mother at the start of the book.

I am looking forward to seeing where Ed takes Mari, Gweeb and Dylan in the rest of the series.

The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades

the burnt country.jpgTitle: The Burnt Country

Author: Joy Rhoades

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House/Bantam

Published: 6th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 375

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: The stunning new novel from the author of The Woolgrower’s Companion, whom the Australian Women’s Weekly described as ‘a wonderful new voice in literary rural fiction’.
A scandalous secret. A deadly fire. An agonizing choice.

Australia 1948. As a young woman running Amiens, a sizeable sheep station in New South Wales, Kate Dowd knows she’s expected to fail. And her grazier neighbour is doing his best to ensure she does, attacking her method of burning off to repel a bushfire.

But fire risk is just one of her problems. Kate cannot lose Amiens or give in to her estranged husband Jack’s demands to sell: the farm is her livelihood and the only protection she can offer her half-sister Pearl, as the Aborigines Welfare Board threatens to take her away.

Ostracised by the local community for even acknowledging Pearl, Kate cannot risk another scandal. Which means turning her back on her wartime lover, Luca Canali …

Then Jack drops a bombshell. He wants a divorce. He’ll protect what’s left of Kate’s reputation, and keep Luca out of it – but for an extortionate price.

Soon Kate is putting out fires on all fronts to save her farm, keep her family together and protect the man she loves. Then a catastrophic real fire threatens everything . . .

~*~

Set on a farm in country NSW, The Burnt Country is unique amongst rural fiction I have read. It’s 1948, and World War Two has been over for three years. Kate Dowd has been running the sheep station Amiens alone since her father died and her husband, Jack, left her. Left to support herself, her half-sister, Pearl, Pearl’s mother Daisy, and another relative, Harry, Kate is faced with decisions about selling and rumours floating around town about her family.

Yet it is a time of drought as well, and whilst the fires of what people want from her and expect from her start to flicker around her, a very real fire threatens her home and community, and leads to investigations and events that could change Kate, her community, family and Amiens forever.

Her wartime lover, Luca, and ex, Jack return at about the same time. Yet this storyline does not take over, rather, the romance bubbles beneath the main storyline of family and home, and what it takes to protect what you hold close. Throughout the novel, the dark spectre of Jack looms as he comes in and out of Kate’s life with threats, demands and conditions to go along with a divorce he demands. He knows Kate cannot pay the price he demands, and Kate and her friends use their knowledge and skills to uncover what Jack is after – so there is a bit of a mystery in this book to go along with bubbling romances – two, it turns out, and one of which I felt was a lot more prominent between another couple, and it was one I quite enjoyed,

2019 BadgeDetermined to help her family, and stand up for herself, Kate does what she can to get them through a bushfire that sweeps across the region. I was swept up in this book, because it allowed Kate to be a woman of her time, but at the same time, she stood up for what she believed in, and what was right. She did not let what many people saw as normal and right dictate what she should do, and she showed compassion and strength in the face of accusations that at one point, she feels she cannot defend herself against.

Kate faces blatant sexism and disrespect as she does things her way, from her burning off method, to hiding Daisy and Pearl from the Aborigines Welfare Board – determined that they won’t be separated and determined to make the necessary sacrifices to save her family and her farm. It is a story about a woman who finds herself in circumstances she never foresaw, much more than a romance. It is a very human story, with circumstances and a setting very real to many Australians, as the threat of drought and bushfire linger all the time in rural communities. This aspect was my favourite, because I believe it really allowed Kate to shine and grow as she stood up to those who doubted her who blamed her for things beyond her control and knowledge. It showed that those who are loyal to you in times of trouble are important and true family will always find a way to come back together.

Populated with a diverse group of characters from several backgrounds and attitudes, like many books, The Burnt Country is a snapshot of a community, illustrating a variety of views that we see as abominable today, yet would have been accepted in the post-war years.  Including these is undeniably uncomfortable, but at the same time, we shouldn’t shy away from a very real reality that many faced in the mid-twentieth century in those conditions. It is a great novel, because Kate does not allow what society expects dictate what she does, and she is a wonderful character, and her story is powerful. It is always good to see women in fiction front and centre beyond romance, perhaps with romance bubbling on the side or in the background. Seeing them in other positions and plots shows there are many more aspects to these characters than might be present in some places.