Friday 28 June 2019

LOCAL GIRLS by Alice Hoffman

Local Girls
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yesterday afternoon, I grabbed this book from my thrift-store-finds-TBR pile with the intention of getting a sample. But Alice Hoffman's writing is so lovely and magical that I instantly got swept away in the story.

By the time I put the book down, I'd read over 70 pages. And this morning, I sat down to read a bit more and ended up finishing the rest.

Gretel Samuelson lives in Franconia with her family. Her absent father is always arguing with her unappreciated mother. Her older brother is so intelligent all he cares about is school. But when her father eventually leaves, her mother gets depressed and eventually becomes ill, and her brother stops caring about anything.

At least Gretel has her best friend Jill by her side, but as time moves along even that dynamic changes. And eventually everything in Gretel's life starts crumbling around her...

Wow. What a story!

It's fast-paced and emotional, starts when Gretel is a kid and takes her through her teen years and beyond. It's the kind of story that is grounded in real life because it focuses on the hardship of people's everyday lives, while throwing a little magic realism into the mix.

And it's done so effortlessly that once you start, you can't put the book down because you have to find out where it's going, where it's going to lead, and how it's going to end.

The issues Gretel's tale deals with are heavy: divorce, depression, cancer, mental illness, teen pregnancy, addiction and death. It's a total tragedy, because the awful things Gretel and her family deal with are dark and real. Stuff people suffer through every single day of their lives. Just like in real life, there's no cheating here, the consequences are real and devastating.

Yet, it's still such a wonderful book to read. In spite--or maybe because--of the trials Gretel goes through, that she manages to hold onto her strength means so much more in the end.

This is a lovely, but often sad, story about family, love, friendship and the way different people deal with hardships.

Also, there are several POV shifts that had the potential to be jarring, but totally worked at showing what other characters were going through.

Alice Hoffman is an amazing author, and the way she strings words together takes the reader on an emotional and unstable ride that will break your heart, make you cry and smile all at the same time.

I loved this!

Tuesday 25 June 2019

DRACULA by Bram Stoker

DraculaDracula by Bram Stoker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm not joking when I say it's about time I FINALLY read this book.

It's hard to believe that someone who loves vampires as much as I do still hadn't read DRACULA until now. But it's true, this was my first time.

I've had a paperback copy of this book since I first read FRANKENSTEIN back in high school. Yet, I kept putting it off. Or forgot about it. Or assumed the movie was enough. But I was wrong.

As great as the movie was, you have to read the book to really learn why Bram Stoker's tale is so amazing that we're still talking about it now.

I don't think I need to go into too much detail about the plot since we all know how the simple tale of Count Dracula hosting a young solicitor's clerk, who is to help him with some business affairs in London, leads Jonathan Harker to a super creepy castle in Transylvania and starts a chain reaction filled with innocence lost, lots of blood, and an oddball team determined to end an ancient evil...

Well, that's just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, there's SO MUCH story here. So many weird and wonderful things. The tense atmosphere shadows the narrative all the way through. A bunch of very likeable characters. True friendships forged easily and honestly. And a lot of intelligence, too. Some which comes from the woman who finds herself caught in the middle of everything.

Mina Harker is a character I liked from the moment she appeared on the page. Her voice is gentle and lady-like, yet raw and honest. She's happy in her roles as friend to Lucy and wife to Jonathan, yet is full of ideas and has a logical mind that is hard to ignore. Even when the men try to keep her out of the trouble they're all facing--because they want to protect her--it soon becomes obvious that they need her.

I really liked ALL the characters: Jonathan because he's nice, hard-working, reasonable and truly loves Mina. Dr. John Seward because he's an interesting fellow who runs an asylum, yet doesn't seem to conduct cruel experiments. Professor Abraham Van Helsing because he's so  clever, open-minded and gives the best monologues. Arthur Holmwood (aka Lord Goldalming) because his devotion to Lucy continues even after her death. Quincey Morris because he's an interesting American and a valued member of an unlikely team.

And what I liked best about all these men is how they stay friends even after being in direct competition. There's no toxic masculinity here, or the need for pissing contests. It's so cool how they're not afraid to show emotion and comfort each other without a second thought. And how strong their group is because of their determination to defeat a common foe.

I found the unity between these characters to be so refreshing. No one was fighting, or trying to make someone else look bad. These male characters were SO GOOD! So human.

The way the story is told totally worked for me. There are journal entries, letters and telegrams, from a bunch of different POVs. And everyone shows their diaries so freely, to help put all the clues together!

As for Dracula, I'm glad he was a malicious shape-shifting monster with only one thing on his mind. He was mysterious and awful, sneaky and a bitch to defeat. Not to mention that I thought the three Brides were creepy af.

I would love to read stories about what these freaky ladies got up to while the Count was away chasing other girls--cough--I mean, other business ventures.

Oh, and after everything that happened, I loved that ending note.

It might have taken me a while to get to this book, but as they say: better late than never. And I'm so glad I finally read it because I LOVED every minute of this long and detailed book.

Monday 17 June 2019

MATILDA by Roald Dahl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this book was a pleasure I must repeat some other time in the future. I love Roald Dahl, and this book is TOTALLY amazing in the quirkiest most magical way.

Matilda Wormwood is a little girl with a family that doesn't deserve her. Her father is a shonky car salesman and her mother is a self-involved fool. Her brother is pretty much invisible. None of them have time for the tiny girl and treat her so badly she prefers to spend time alone.

Did I mention that she's a genius? Yep. She teaches herself how to read by going to the library, and even learns maths on her own. So, by the time she starts school, she's already ahead of the other kids. And that's when Miss Honey takes notice of her brilliance.

But Headmistress Trunchbull won't hear of it. She's a tough meanie who hates kids and constantly insults and abuses them. Everyone is scared of the beast of a woman.

She didn't count on Matilda, though...

Like I said above, this book is something special. Not only is it funny and an interesting story I was totally into, but I adored Matilda. She's so cute and in spite of her terrible parents, she's smart and kind and thoughtful. A wonderful character to read about.

And she loves reading!

I seriously LOVED every minute of this book.

Of course I knew I would, Roald Dahl was an amazing storyteller who could spin excellent stories featuring some truly vile characters, but always balanced them out with terrific ones you find yourself cheering on. And there's always just a hint of magic that enhances the plot.

Plus it was super fun and features some cool Matilda pranks. 😄

The illustrations throughout the book are so simple, but perfect in every way. They really enhance the book and remind me of the Dahl books I read when I was kid.


Sunday 16 June 2019

Random Reading Thoughts

Hey, how are you today?

It's been a while since I posted anything, so I thought I might talk about the recent change in my reading habits.

For the first time in years, I don't have any ARCs or review books left on my TBR pile.

This might not sound like a big thing but for the last ten years, I've been reviewing books for several publishers. And because of that, I kept pushing review books to the top of my TBR pile.

Getting the chance to read books before they're released is an amazing opportunity and I loved doing it. The downside is that all my other books took a backseat. I mean, there's only so many hours in the day. 😵

Being a HUGE reader and a bibliophile means that I buy books all the time. A LOT OF BOOKS. From online stores, bookstores, Kindle store, Kobo store and a variety of thrift stores. And I buy them because I want to read them, but I kept running out of time.

Now, I find myself in a strange--yet freeing--place. I can finally read whatever I want, whenever I want. And I've been taking full advantage of this. I'm digging back into my Paperwhite and starting to go through my many thrift store finds. And it's GREAT!

Another unexpected thing is that I'm also more relaxed about when I read. As well as not feeling as bad about DNFing books. 

Maybe now I'll also get the chance to catch up on my fave series and finish off the ones that are complete.

BUT, don't get me wrong. This doesn't mean I won't review books for authors and publishers in the future. Of course I will. It just means that I won't be as swamped as I was before.

Happy reading! 😁📚

Thursday 13 June 2019

MONEY SHOT by Christa Faust

Money Shot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book I've had my eye on for a while, so I was really excited when it was included in the Hard Case Crime Humble Bundle.

Angel Dare is a former porn star with an attitude and a self-critical eye. She also runs her own agency, taking care of younger girls in the industry. The day one of her oldest friends asks her to make one last movie with the hottest male adult star at the moment, she reluctantly agrees.

But when she gets to the location, Angel finds herself in a bad situation. One that nearly gets her killed, and forces her to become a fugitive...

Wow. This book really kicks you where it hurts. It's raw and gritty, violent and fast. It's also full of awful untrustworthy characters with vile intentions.

Angel is not one of those. I loved her attitude! Enjoyed the hell out of spending time with her as she goes from almost-dead to determined to get revenge, before becoming a total kick-ass vigilante.

The way she presents the hardcore and often ugly world of adult entertainment is interesting. When she finds herself falling down the disgusting world of sex trafficking and slaves, things get uncomfortable. The deeper she digs while trying to find out who tried to kill her and why, the darker things get.

And that's another awesome thing I liked about this story. Angel wants revenge, and when she gets the chance she doesn't back down. She doesn't chicken out, follows through with her plan and is quite creative with her actions.

Faust's writing style was very cool. Angel's voice is clear, intriguing and provided such a riveting story that when I got to the end, I wanted there to be more.

This is a great action-packed book that at times made me feel dirty and appalled, but kept me glued all the way through. It's too bad about Malloy, I liked him because he was handy.

I really need to read the next one.

Wednesday 5 June 2019

DOGGEM by John F Leonard

Doggem: A Tale of Toy Dogs and Dark Deeds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A few months ago I read a very creepy short story written by this author, so I was looking forward to checking this one out too.

Doggem is the class toy. A stuffed dog that gets passed around the class so the teacher can assess the kids in her class, as well as the parent involvement.

When George gets to take Doggem home for the holidays, his parents don't seem to care. They're too wrapped up in the visit they're planning to Grandma's house. And when they get there, something awful looms in the woods around the cottage...

That was such a great story!

I have to admit, when I first started reading, I wasn't sure if I was going to like it because the main character was wandering all over the place. But, of course he would--he's a toy!

Anyway, it didn't take long for me to get sucked into the story because Doggem's voice became virtually impossible to shake. The story he witnesses while in the care of George was quite unexpected. Wow! Didn't expect it to go there. Didn't think this toy would experience something so... dark.

Trust me, I'm not just talking about the end to George's family drama, I'm also talking about where Doggem ends up. It's almost like two endings in one story, which totally fits because the plushie is like a fly on the wall watching everything unfold.

Yep. I really enjoyed this! And it also reminded me of the time my daughter actually did this at school. A strange experiment, but one that seems to work. LOL.

This is a shortie worth reading.

Tuesday 4 June 2019


Picnic at Hanging Rock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Joan Lindsay's Picnic at Hanging Rock is an Australian classic I've wanted to read for ages. After watching the TV show last year and picking up three different editions of the book, I decided it was time to FINALLY read this beauty.

It's Valentine's Day, in the year 1900, when a group of girls attending the Appleyard College for Young Ladies go on an excursion to the nearby Hanging Rock. Hanging Rock is a rock formation found deep in the Victorian bush, and seems like the perfect spot to visit on this lovely summer day.

When four of the girls go for a walk and only one returns in hysterics, a teacher vanishes too. The mystery of what happened on that day becomes the only thing anyone can talk about.

And then another returns...

I'm SO glad I finally read this eerie little book.

Not only is the mystery at the core of the story super addictive and kept me glued to the pages, but the whole experience felt like walking through a surreal nightmare. Every word adds to the unsettling suspense, spreading a cloud of darkness that keeps expanding.

That's why I found the writing style perfect for this story. It's told in third-person omniscient POV, taking the reader from one character to another very quickly, as well as revealing past and present tidbits along the way. Telling the story in this way usually bugs me, but not this time. Dealing with the narrative in this way helped keep the intrigue going, as well as include the many characters featured in order to get the full scope of the story. It also made the setting and surroundings feel as strong and important as the characters.

Although the girls who disappeared were popular seniors, the actual plot revolves around what happens to everyone else--teachers, students, staff--at the boarding school they attended. It spans to include the last guy to see them that day, and how his life is affected. And even the policemen conducting the investigation.

Sarah's story is so sad. I felt bad for her because her life is affected in the worst way possible. There were so many things she didn't know, especially the people who actually cared about her and were willing to help. Instead, she gets stuck with the awful headmistress. The flower imagery surrounding this poor child was tragically beautiful.

The French teacher, Mademoiselle de Poitiers, was another character I really liked. I was totally invested in her journey and her part in everything was great.

There are so many things to love about this story, and one of my most favourite things was the gothic atmosphere that drips off every page. Not to mention how well the author captured the bush, the climate and how harsh Australia's landscape can be. I felt like I was there with the characters, every step of the way.

As for the ambiguous ending, it TOTALLY worked for me. Not just because it was a clever way to end the tale, but also because I already had my own theory and was hppy with what I read.

Oh, and after finishing the book I went back to the foreword, which was full of spoilery stuff. Plus I also found out about the original Chp 18, which explained what happened to the girls. I thought it was cool.

Either way, I enjoyed this a lot.

Sunday 2 June 2019


1951. Esther Durrant, a young mother, is committed to an isolated mental asylum by her husband. Run by a pioneering psychiatrist, the hospital is at first Esther's prison but soon becomes her refuge. 

2018. Free-spirited marine scientist Rachel Parker embarks on a research posting in the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast. When a violent storm forces her to take shelter on a far-flung island, she discovers a collection of hidden love letters. Captivated by their passion and tenderness, Rachel determines to track down the intended recipient. 

Meanwhile, in London, Eve is helping her grandmother, a renowned mountaineer, write her memoirs. When she is contacted by Rachel, it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to reveal secrets kept buried for more than sixty years.

Last year I read and really enjoyed The Botanist's Daughter, so of course I was interested in checking out this author's latest release.

The location might confuse her, but Esther Durrant thinks she's heading out for a nice holiday with her husband. After the heartache she's been through, she's glad for the break. But soon after arriving at the isolated island, she realises something isn't right.

Rachel Parker is an Australian marine scientist who travels all over the world. She doesn't like spending too much time in one place and doesn't do attachments, so her job is perfect. When her latest assignment leads her to an island off the Cornish coast, she discovers a lot more than clams.

Eve lives in London with her grandmother and is helping to take care of her after a bad fall that puts the otherwise strong and independent elderly woman on bedrest. But she's also helping her write a book about her old mountaineering days.

When Rachel finds some letters written by Esther, they lead her to Eve... 

Well, that was a nice, well-written novel. 

Told in the alternating POV of Esther--as she suffers through a traumatic ordeal--Rachel--as she finds herself in new cold and wet surroundings--and Eve--as she focuses on helping her grandmother while struggling to find her own place in the world. Each woman's story unfolds at their own pace, but complements one another until all the seemingly unconnected pieces fall into place.

My favourite story was Esther's. She was a woman suffering through a terrible loss during a time in history when women were expected to be a certain way no matter what. Even after having the best of intentions, the man she trusted most in her life betrayed her with his secrets and lies. And inadvertently introduces Esther to a passion she wouldn't have discovered otherwise. Or the heartbreak that led her to.

While I mostly enjoyed Rachel's POV because of her independence and peculiar profession, I felt that Eve's and Richard's somewhat pulled me out of the story, and I looked forward to going back to Esther. To be honest, the excess in POVs kept me from fully immersing myself into the story as deeply as I'd hoped.

I have to admit, that while I did enjoy this book overall, I personally didn't feel the same connection and wasn't charmed in the same intoxicating way I was by The Botanist's Daughter. But that's okay, because this is an entirely different story.

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant is an interesting tale about the effect women's lives have on the generations that follow. About how their legacies echo into the future, and what happens when secrets rise to the surface. 

It also showcases the differences between modern women and the ones who came before. The ones treated like property, and the impossible, heartbreaking choices they had to make just to keep the peace.

These stories are important, and should be shared.

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant, June 2019, ISBN 9780733639401, Hachette Australia
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