Review: Philippa Gregory – The Constant Princess

The Constant Princess
Philippa Gregory

Katherine of Aragon, daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, eventual Queen of England. Brought up on the battlefields worshiping her Mother and God, Katherine from the age of three knew that she would be Queen of England. Even upon her first husband’s death, her determination would boost her to her desired goal.

Katherine is a true heroine that gets what she wants both by being forthcoming and sneaky. I honestly thought she was going to get her head chopped off, but perhaps that was the French… Honestly, I thought she should have taken Henry VII as her husband and poisoned off Henry VIII. No-one would have noticed, in those days it was more common to die early than to live!!

This is the closest I get to studying history. I couldn’t tell you much about the truthfulness of this novel, although the carefree and careless picture of King Henry VIII (who got married a lot of times!) seems absolutely accurate. I did a quick Google about Katherine and I am reasonably certain that this novel is accurate on the facts that we actually know about.

I thought I had read Phillipa GregoryΒ before this, but I haven’t written a review. Perhaps I let it slide because it wasn’t a novel from a publisher. This is a light romance that passes the time very satisfactorily and it doesn’t matter whether you are interrupted during the reading or not.

As it progressed, I got a little more bored by it and the glacial pace. The beginning awkward romance was far more exciting. Let’s give this novel 3 stars.

Review: Oliver Sacks – The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat
Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks was “one of the great clinical writers of the twentieth century” (The New York Times) who in this novel “recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders”.

I found this novel interesting but very outdated. The contents is almost 30 years old! I skipped over most of the scientific parts, discounting them as outdated, but some of the observations by Oliver Sacks

In my typical fashion, I mainly enjoyed the stories of the abnormal brains and chemicals that created interesting humans. I never knew so many interesting things could be created by brain abnormalities.

This for me highlighted the importance of music and math intertwined. The man who could no longer identify basic things, not even his wife (who he thought was his hat!), could make it through life by singing songs to remind him what to do. The men who couldn’t remember anything within the space of 2 minutes found solace in music and prayer.

I picked this as I was at a relative’s house and I wanted something different to read. Was it the right choice? I still benefited from reading it, even if it was just to perk my interest in neurological disorders once more.

Review: Sarah Schmidt – See What I Have Done

See What I Have Done
Sarah Schmidt

A true mystery novel, Lizzie Borden took an ax and brutally murdered her father and step-mother. But is it true? This is what this fiction novel explores from the other people’s perspectives at the time.

The dust jacket is written as if a 32-year-old woman living at home is abnormal, but truly it isn’t especially for those days. She isn’t married. I also think her sister was a complete idiot. Ok, your mother has trusted you to look after your sister, but at some point you must get your own life. From what I learnt about the sisters in this novel, Lizzie should have been institutionalized.

I never connected with any of the characters, I got confused between all the time jumps and the ending was completely unsatisfactory. I get that its based on a true story, and so there is no resolution – but that’s what fiction is all about! Resolving storylines and helping the reader to understand what is going on. Instead I met a bunch of characters that I didn’t care about, including Lizzie’s parents, and thus I couldn’t care less that they had died, or had hope for someone to be punished for the crime.

I HATED this novel. I persevered to the end, but it wasn’t worth my time. It’s not worth your time either. I finished it, yes, but that is because I was hoping for deliverance at the end by the creepy guy in the shadows. So since I finished it, I should give it 2 stars, but I’m not. 1 star.

Hachette Australia | 1st April 2017 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Josepha Sherman (ed) – Lammas Night

Lammas Night
Josepha Sherman (ed)

Lammas Night is a collection of short stories inspired by a Wizardly Ballad written by Mercedes Lackey. The foreword tells me that originally it was going to be a collection of songs based on what comes next, but it was deemed that it wouldn’t be salable.

I’m not sure why this book was salable, I’m certainly not going to read it again. Maybe it was the fact that Mercedes Lackey’s name was on the front cover, despite Josepha Sherman being the editor? Although Lackey always says writing novels isn’t really profitable enough to live on (she’s married to Larry Dixon, another fantasy author). When almost every short story follows the same pattern (that was set out in the original ballad) it’s predictable and boring. And of course there isn’t enough time to become properly attached to the characters during the course of a short story. I don’t think there was a single character that I wanted to hear more about.

A couple of the short stories bucked the trend and approached the ballad’s ending instead and what same next. In some cases, it seemed exactly like it was a follow on from someone else’s short story. But I found it hard to tell since there were so many different characters’ names floating around in my head.

I didn’t read this in one sitting, instead choosing to pick up another couple of novels in between. I borrowed it while we were on vacation from my Aunt and so it was intended as a leisure read. I can easily give this 3 stars for readability but would advise reading it over time so you don’t get bored. I didn’t hate any of the short stories due to the writing style, but I didn’t love any either.

Review: Renee Watson – Piercing Me Together

Piercing Me Together
Renee Watson

When you’re the scholarship token black girl in a white private college there are bound to be some tensions and a lack of good friends. Jade has plenty of opportunities in life, but not the ones she wants. The chance at another scholarship to College means that she’ll be mentored by a strong woman in the community, except that her mentor keeps standing her up.

Hmm, this wasn’t a bad novel, but I’m not sure it was exceptional either. I was putting off reading it because the cover wasn’t doing it for me, but I happened to feel like an easy read with a female protagonist. Jade shows some nice character progression for standing up for herself and getting a better feel for the world around her.

I wasn’t quite sure the purpose of her mentor and the meetings with the other mentees/mentors. I don’t understand this teenager, but I’m perhaps out of touch. Maybe it’s time I stopped reviewing these novels… but I don’t know what I would replace them with. These are the reads I need when my brain is completely zonked from work.

3 stars from me, but 4 stars for its intended audience. I think American teenagers who would like some better fiction that’s not a white, middle-class attractive chick will enjoy this novel. I feel like I’ve said that about another novel recently too:Β Leah on the Off Beat.

Bloomsbury | 1st March 2018 | AU$14.99 | paperback

Review: Brendan Lawley – Bonesland

Bonesland
Brendan Lawley

Bonesy’s life is centered towards one thing – getting to the City and out of his completely backwater town. There’s just a couple of things that need to be set straight first… Such as his parents living in the same house again, not being bullied at school and getting laid by a girl.

I hated the objectification of women in this novel, and the completely inappropriate language all of the boys used. The lovely Muslim girl goes to a party and gets hit on and followed home by people she’s turned down. I’m perfectly fine with her smoking pot, but where are her friends to help her out when she gets in trouble? The amount of drink and drugs going around was crazy. I’d love to know where this town is, and I wonder whether its real occupants actually behave in this deplorable way. Actually, this novel reminds me of Dream-something or other that was about another isolated idiot. I grew up isolated and so did my fiancee – and neither of us had these problems (she’s a first in family to College too).

I don’t get why his nick-name was Bonesy. I hardly remember why Bonesy was remarkable. Was he average? Probably. He gets picked on because he has a ‘thing’ about germs and he is terrible with girls. The bullying is pretty extreme, but he doesn’t say anything or do anything about it. Even his friends aren’t great at supporting him. This novel attempted to show us some character growth, but it felt forced and uncomfortable.

For a kid taking valium, he wasn’t doing that well on it. He ‘thinks’ he ‘might’ have OCD, and I’d agree with that, but I’d also say he had Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Also, he is in serious denial that I would not expect of a 15-16 year old regarding his parent’s separation. His main aim seems to be get off the medication because his father wants him to and for his parents to magically become a family again.

Does his father work? How the hell do they afford anything? I’m sick of novels where the kid is poor, but there’s no solid explanation for why they have anything at all. Where’s your drive to succeed? I get that you want to go to the Big Beautiful City, but you’ve got to actually TRY get there. You can’t just hope something will magically happen in the next 2 years.

I finished it, but shouldn’t have bothered. 2 stars from me.

Text Publishing | 1st May 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Sarah Lotz – The White Road

The White Road
Sarah Lotz

Simon does a terrifying crawl through a bared off cave where three people died beforehand. He wants to get footage of their bones, and wants to prove himself a decent climber after the fall that shattered his shoulder and ankle. His video footage goes viral, and he needs to top it. What better than Everest’s dead?

I couldn’t get behind this novel. I attempted to read it twice and at least got in about a quarter of the way before giving up this time. While the opening chapter puts you a bit on the edge of your seat, you know that he survives it because he writes the rest of the novel! It goes downhilll from there as Simon’s narration becomes increasingly erratic and we are introduced to more and more characters. I got sick of the frequent, gratuitous swearing that did nothing to endear me to Simon.

Additionally, I thought that for all his ‘brave’ climbing, Simon was a complete push-over. He was also irresponsible – you’re going to get stuck for sure, and you don’t care about the cost of the rescue party? I get that his family doesn’t care for him much, and that he feels like he doesn’t have an aim in life. That doesn’t mean that you should let your best-friend push you into climbing a mountain while he sits back home and counts dollars.

I stopped reading this novel and decided to release it into the wild. I (hopefully) have better things to read that I have brought with me, and I don’t want to waste my reading time on something that is not going to effectively distract me through very long hours of driving. I’m not really sure where I am going to source books when I have gotten through the ones in my luggage, but I will make do. The Australia Post guy back home said that he couldn’t deliver any more mail because the box was full! Oops, sorry bookies…

2 stars from me. Maybe the right audience who always wanted to read a fictional novel about the challenges of caving and Mount Everest, but I’d rather read a memoir of an Everest climber who has a decent story.

Hachette Australia | 16th May 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Helen Hoang – The Kiss Quotient

The Kiss Quotient
Helen Hoang

Stella Lane can come up with a formula to unite very disparate data points and predict customer purchases. However, her mathematics skills have not equipped her for when one person becomes a relationship of two. Her critical analysis of the situation has only one answer – pay someone to train her in the language of love.

This was a HOT romance novel filled with unexpected touching moments of both kinds! I devoured it in one afternoon, eagerly voyeuring into Stella and Michael’s burgeoning relationship. Stella is developed as a fantastic non-typical character that is full of life and her own strong personality. Michael is not quite as well explored, but the author exposes enough of him (pun intended!) for the reader to properly appreciate him.

I can fully understand Stella’s point of view. Being touched by people (even your family) can be very intimate, and at times it can feel like there is an invisible, painful friction when you are interacting with them when you feel vulnerable or perhaps don’t like them.

I’m not normally a F/M romance reader as I’m more interested in F/F ones such as Something True (did I mention there is a new Karelia Stetz-Waters novel coming out????). But this novel was an excellent exception – I really enjoyed it and I think it deserves 4 stars. May everyone find their Michael who respects them and treats them like a God(dess).

Allen & Unwin | 13th June 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Nelika McDonald – Deeper than the Sea

Deeper than the Sea
Nelika McDonald

Theo is hiding just a single secret from her adopted daughter Beth. But that single secret is going to catch up with her, and Theo will be ripped from Beth’s side. Both of them are adrift at sea at the mercy of the courts for something that Theo did 16 years ago. Will they be united?

Sometimes I think that laws are made to be broken. Seriously, I get that a 16 year old isn’t necessarily a full adult. But at the same time, someone should have asked Beth how she felt, and let Theo talk to her. How could Theo talking to her possibly put her at risk? Beth is old enough to look after herself, in many countries she would have children of her own already, or could even be going to college!

I didn’t get the importance of the woman that jumped off the cliff. I feel like there was some sort of symbolic meaning there, but I didn’t get it.

Again, I brought this novel with me on vacation thinking that it would be a flop and so I’d be happy to leave it behind when the time came. However it ended up being way more engrossing than I thought it would be. Sigh. I hope I can find it a good home here in a Little Free Library.

About half-way through this novel I thought to myself that it was going to be either a semi-failure of 3 stars, or a really solid 4.5 stars, but it was going to come down to the ending. And I was not disappointed by it! It is worthy of 4 stars for a satisfying and perfect ending after a thrilling build-up.

Pan Macmillan | 1st July 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Petrea King – Up Until Now

Up Until Now
Petrea King

Petrea grew up in a household with a father suffering from PTSD and a demanding, yet fragile older brother who eventually killed himself alone overseas. Petrea herself is diagnosed with cancer and given a limited time left with her two children and her estranged partner. Unsatisfied and unhappy with her life, Petrea finds herself able to help others so that she can help herself.

Lyrically written and with beautiful prose, you will find yourself travelling deeply into Petrea’s consciousness throughout her life. This memoir is one of the more enjoyable ones I have read, although at times I found myself having to hold onto my disbelief at how things worked out so conveniently. I AM a scientist by trade after all.

Sometimes I felt like Petrea’s introspection was too much for me, and was too self-absorbed compared to what a normal person could achieve (although of course I would not wish her life circumstances on anyone). I think this is because I feel like only people who can go and meditate in a cave for months in peace could reach that level of enlightenment and contentedness. *If only* I think to myself, if I too could meditate for hours I would also reach that same level of being ok with the world. This is my envy speaking.

It’s important to remember that this is one woman’s story, and that she has written it to inform people about her life, and her opinions, not a life-path that everyone can follow. For people who feel inspired by her story of healing herself both physiologically and psychologically, Petrea has written a range of other novels. I would expect that those are equally well-written and enjoyable, and I will read any that wander my way.

This is a superior novel to Standing on my Brother’s Shoulders in terms of a sister dealing with her brother’s suicide. The writing style of this novel is lovely and consistent, despite Petrea’s insistence that she is not naturally good at writing (given that she didn’t have much formal schooling). You will likely enjoy this novel if you like thoughtful novels that prompt contemplation and want to balance a discussion of how Western and other Traditional practices can work together. I am overseas, and so this novel will likely not come home with me due to baggage limits, but if I was at home it would remain on my shelf.

Allen & Unwin | 23rd August 2018 | AU$32.99 | paperback