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!

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.

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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.

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.

Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey

Where the dead go.jpgTitle: Where the Dead Go

Author: Sarah Bailey

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 5th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 464

Price:  $29.99

Synopsis: Four years after the events of Into the Night, DS Gemma Woodstock is on the trail of a missing girl in a small coastal town.

‘Every bit as addictive and suspenseful as The Dark Lake . . . Sarah Bailey’s writing is both keenly insightful and wholly engrossing, weaving intriguing and multi-layered plots combined with complicated and compelling characters.’ The Booktopian

A fifteen-year-old girl has gone missing after a party in the middle of the night. The following morning her boyfriend is found brutally murdered in his home. Was the girl responsible for the murder, or is she also a victim of the killer? But who would want two teenagers dead?

The aftermath of a personal tragedy finds police detective Gemma Woodstock in the coastal town of Fairhaven with her son Ben in tow. She has begged to be part of a murder investigation so she can bury herself in work rather than taking the time to grieve and figure out how to handle the next stage of her life – she now has serious family responsibilities she can no longer avoid. But Gemma also has ghosts she must lay to rest.

Gemma searches for answers, while navigating her son’s grief and trying to overcome the hostility of her new colleagues. As the mystery deepens and old tensions and secrets come to light, Gemma is increasingly haunted by a similar missing persons case she worked on not long before. A case that ended in tragedy and made her question her instincts as a cop. Can she trust herself again?

A riveting thriller by the author of the international bestseller The Dark Lake, winner of both the Ned Kelly Award and the Sisters in Crime Davitt Award for a debut crime novel.

~*~

2019 Badge

The third and final novel in the Gemma Woodstock trilogy goes off with a bang. First, a young girl goes missing. At the same time, Gemma’s ex-husband, Scott, dies, and she’s left to care for her nine-year-old son, despite people around her thinking she should leave him with his step-mother and baby sister. Instead, Gemma takes a job up the coast, near Byron Bay over the Easter holidays and takes Ben with her. She is called to investigate the disappearance of a local girl, Abbey, and the murder of her boyfriend. Everyone seems to think Abbey is dead as well – but is she really, and who in this town would want both of them dead?

The search for answers becomes complex as the story moves along, as suspects ebb and flow, and everyone starts suspecting everyone else. At the same time, whilst staying with the local police officer and his wife, Gemma starts to look into missing drugs from the hospital, and incorrect use of prescription drugs. With these two cases possibly linked, Gemma finds out there is much more to the murders and those on the suspect list than Gemma and her colleagues realises.

The final book wraps up many threads left over from the previous two books, whilst a murder and secondary storyline evolve over the novel to reveal a complex storyline on many levels – for the plot, the crime and the characters, especially Ben and Gemma as they deal with the death of their father and husband while Gemma investigates the crimes.

Referring back to previous cases, Gemma’s story and past is revealed more in this novel, and as she reconnects with her son, she finds herself wanting to be in his life more than she has previously.

Told in first person, everything is seen through Gemma’s eyes, and view of the world. She still feels like her family doubts her and thinks she should leave Ben’s care to Jodie, his stepmother, and try to convince her it would be better for both of them – this has been an ongoing thread throughout the trilogy. However, it feels like things will be resolved in the final book for Gemma and her family, and much like the crimes she investigates, things are not going to be simple or straightforward. But hopefully, she can work it all out.

What I’ve enjoyed about this trilogy has been the mysteries that Gemma has to solve and experiencing the world through her eyes. Intricate and deeply involved in every way and with every thread of the story. It’s an intense mystery that has the characters and reader on their toes – you never know what is coming, and even as various clues are dropped, they aren’t so obvious that I could work out who the real killer was, there was definitely a feeling that came from a couple of characters that made me instinctively not trust them and wonder if they had any involvement.

Overall, this was a really good way to end the trilogy, and I hope Gemma Woodstock fans will enjoy it.

Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda

Rowan of Rin.jpgTitle: Rowan of Rin

Author: Emily Rodda

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Scholastic

Published: February 2004

Format: Paperback

Pages: 138

Price: $14.99

Synopsis:Bravest heart will carry on when sleep is death, and hope is gone. Rowan doesn’t believe he has a brave heart. But when the river that supports his village of Rin runs dry, he must join a dangerous journey to its source in the forbidden Mountain. To save Rin, Rowan and his companions must conquer not only the Mountain’s many tricks, but also the fierce dragon that lives at its peak.

Seven hearts the journey make.

Seven ways the hearts will break…

The witch Sheba’s prophecy is like a riddle. A riddle Rowan must solve if he is to find out the secret of the Mountain and save his home…

To the sturdy villagers of Rin, the boy Rowan is a timid weakling. The most disappointing child ever. Yet, incredibly, it is his help they need when the stream that flows from the top of the Mountain dries up. Without its water their precious bukshah herds will die, and Rin will be doomed.

The six strongest villagers must brave the unknown terrors of the Mountain to discover the answer to the riddle. And Rowan, the unwanted seventh member of the group, must go with them.

~*~

Published several years before Deltora Quest, Rowan of Rin is another of Emily Rodda’s series I never got a chance to read as a kid – again due to the books often being out of the library when I wanted them. So, I’ve started reading them this year, and with this book, hit my 120th book of the year, and my 59th book in the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge for 2019.

In this book, the village of Rin are faced with losing their bukshah heard as the stream from the Mountain dries up, and their survival is in question. The local witch, Sheba, has predicted the seven who will save Rin, and Rowan is one of the seven destined to go on the quest.

2019 BadgeThe first in a series of five, this book sets up the characters and village of Rin in a self-contained story and novel, where Rowan and his companions go on a journey to save the village and each other. Rowan is reluctant, however, and nobody wants to go with him, but a few have faith in him – Strong Jonn and Marlie defend him and make sure he remains with them as they head towards the Mountain.

These books are quick, fast-paced reads that seem to fly by. Yet they are filled with action and adventure, and magic that enthrals readers as they head with Rowan to save his village. I’m loving getting back into some good Australian authors, whether it is the first time I have read their books or I’m heading back to familiar worlds or new stories by much-loved authors.

I’m really enjoying visiting these books and reading these stories, and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the Rowan series and finding out more about Rin and the world that Emily Rodda has created. These short books are delightful, and quick reads – but still have so much to offer for readers and fans of Emily Rodda.

Book bingo Sixteen – A Book by An Author Under 35

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Welcome to August, and the latest book bingo posts from Theresa, Amanda and me. Well, only about eight more posts left until we wrap up this bingo card, and again, I have a row filled in, resulting in a bingo. The post for that will come later, but I am adding in my bingo graphic where squares are filled in even though the book is not yet published and have gone back to adjust this in older posts.

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I’m getting down to the squares where I’m grappling with what to use to fill in. This category was going to be one of those I either struggled with or had to guess at, as not all author biographies let the reader know the age, or even age group, of an author. But after some research, I found out that Skye Davidson fitted into this category with her new book, Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny.

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The third in a picture book series for all ages, Archibald can’t help but be naughty. He means well, but things just seem to end up being a naughty experience for him. But this time, he is using his naughtiness to help save Easter – and maybe even create a new Easter tradition in Bland Land where he lives. I have been following this series since it was first published last year after the publisher contacted me to review for them – I now review and edit for them, with a few books they’ve sent to read, but I am getting there!

Another row has  been completed, scoring me a bingo in the text row, and the other post to come soon.

BINGO!

Row Five: Bingo

Written by an Australian Man: The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

Written by an Australian Woman:Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson – #AWW2019

Written by an author over the age of 65: Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s Brilliant Career began by Libby Hathorn – #AWW2019*

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

Row three:

Novel that has 500 pages or more:

Fictional biography about a woman from history:

Themes of justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Book set on the Australian coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson – #AWW2019

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

That wraps up this week of book bingo!