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Contemporary Gothic: The Engagement

The EngagementThe Engagement by Chloe Hooper

Liese has been working at her uncle’s estate agency in Melbourne. The luxury apartments Liese shows handsome farmer Alexander Colquhoun become sets for a relationship that satisfies their fantasies – and helps pay her debts. It’s a game. Both players understand the rules. Or so she thinks.
When Alexander pays Liese to spend a weekend with him on his remote property, she senses a change in him. A new game has begun in this psychological thriller for the modern age.

First Impressions: From the first few pages I could tell I would really enjoy this novel. I also felt some relief as when The Engagement was published I (unfortunately) read many middling reviews which didn’t inspire me to read it at the time.

Highlights: I loved Hooper’s contemporary Australian twists on both gothic writing and Dutch still life paintings. It was all subtle rather than overdone and highly entertaining. Liese is an unreliable yet reliable narrator and for some reason I enjoyed her background life in architecture. I enjoyed and appreciated Hooper’s description of the nondescript Norwich suburbs; it felt accurate and could be AnyUnremarkableTown, UK. In a nutshell, Hooper’s writing style and plot had me hooked. I read it in one day which is rare for me at the moment. I also love this cover.

If I was an editor: I would be aghast at the middling reviews I mentioned earlier. Sure, it is more literary than a lot of thrillers so perhaps the reviewers missed the point.

Overall: A few days on and I wonder if it is all just meant to be hilarious rather than alarming!

The Engagement: 5 Stars

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Kushiel’s Dart Read Along Week 2

Kushiel’s Dart Read Along Week 2
Chapters 9-18

Kushiel's Dart

1) In these chapters, Phèdre finally gets to have her own dedication ceremony.  Were you surprised by what they did with the dove? Also, do you think it is fair to ask people to make a life decision about serving Naamah at such a young age?
I had to go back and check what they did with the dove as I couldn’t remember… I think releasing the dove didn’t necessarily register much with me but I have since read that others were expecting some sort of dramatic sacrifice. I guess this is an obvious sign that I am only an occasional fantasy reader! Upon reflection, perhaps releasing the dove was a bit predictable and dull. That’s what we do now at ceremonies, don’t we?
I think it’s tough to ask people to make life decisions at such a young age, particularly when they don’t really know what they are getting themselves in to – Naamah’s servants make this decision before even seeing The Showing. However, in the world of the book serving Naamah is so desirable and engrained in society that given time and other options they probably would still make the same decision. Same as what happens in cults I guess!

2) Sex ed is definitely different in Terre d’Ange.  Do you think the Showing was useful for the teenagers? Do you think, at their age, you would have appreciated something like the book-learning they received in the art?
I think it would be useful to have The Showing as learning the facts doesn’t really enlighten you as to what happens or how to be creative. Teens these days have the internet so I guess they have their own private showings! I think the book learning is a good idea but it could be embarrassing depending on who the teacher was.

3) Hyacinthe has some neat theories about Delauney’s past.  What is your favorite theory?
I don’t have a favourite theory but it all adds to the intrigue about the man himself, like with the different name he is called by his former teacher.

4) Phèdre seems to be making a name for herself as an anguissette, known for never giving the signale. Do you think she would ever actually choose to use the signale, even if she were in real danger? Do you think her inability to do so might get her into trouble?
I don’t think she’d ever use the signale… she is marked with Kushiel’s Dart, after all. I don’t think it will get her into trouble. Rather, it will probably help her advance…

5) Do you think Alcuin is enjoying his career as much as Phèdre, or do you think he has a different focus? Do you think their differing appeals and tastes will drive them apart?
No, I don’t think he is enjoying it that much but you never know, he may just be coy. I suspect he is being strategic for himself in his career. As Alcuin and Phèdre have different motives they won’t clash so therefore won’t fall out.

Tidbits
I like how serving Naamah is very gender-fluid. There should be more of this in fiction.
In response to Dab of Darkness: I am an Australian based in the glorious land of Alba, specifically London. I don’t know where Australia would be in the grand scheme of things. Probably far beyond the Tsingano lands…

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Perfect Scandi Crime: The Redeemer

The Redeemer: A Harry Hole Thriller (Oslo Sequence 4)The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo

Picking up where I left off with this series pre-pregnancy…
(Well, I actually read The Snowman out of sequence while pregnant, I just wasn’t thinking…)

A Harry Hole Novel: On a freezing December night Christmas shoppers have gathered to listen to a Salvation Army carol concert. A shot rings out and one of the singers is dead. There is no immediate suspect, no weapon and no motive. But when the assassin discovers he’s shot the wrong man, Harry finds his troubles have only just begun.

First Impressions: The series is just as good as I remember. Why did I take so long to get back into it?

Highlights: Who doesn’t adore Harry Hole? Confident but frail, his very subtle dark humour continues to entertain me. In this novel I loved the complex layers of the Salvation Army that shadow the investigation. I also like how Nesbo involves different nationalities and histories in his novels. It is very European: despite their differences, all countries share a past, present and future.

If I was an editor: I would beg Nesbo to keep the Harry Hole novels coming. I have The Leopard, the next one in the sequence, ready to go.

Overall: More Oslo perfection.

The Redeemer: 5 Stars

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Steady with the Photographs: Disclaimer

DisclaimerDisclaimer by Renee Knight

What if you realized the book you were reading was all about you? When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine’s bedside table, she curls up in bed and begins to read. But as she turns the pages she is sickened to realize the story will reveal her darkest secret. A secret she thought no one else knew.

First Impressions: A good page turner and easy read but it didn’t quite meet the ‘unputdownable’ status.

Highlights: The twist! The twist! I didn’t see that coming. It turned the story from a standard thriller to a pretty sad and unsettling story.

If I was an editor: I would want a bit more intrigue scattered about before the twist changes everything. The author of the mysterious novel didn’t seem a fully convincing character and I don’t think the son’s first person chapters necessarily added a lot to the story.

Overall: A good read that suddenly becomes compelling close to the end.

Disclaimer: 4 stars

Thank you to Random House (Transworld) for a copy of the title to review.

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As American as a Patchwork Quilt: A Spool of Blue Thread

A Spool of Blue ThreadA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture. Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets.

First Impressions: To me the opening scenes with the phone call felt a bit farcical and staged, like I was watching a mid 20th century stage play. I didn’t necessarily dislike this but it did make the book feel as if it had been published a few decades ago. This is typical of Tyler so I wasn’t surprised.

Highlights: The story of surrounding Stem, one of the sons, was intriguing and heartbreaking in measure. The novel followed many strands of the family story and it all tied together well. It is definitely a literary novel rather than a ‘family saga’ despite the fact it follows the same family over a few generations.

If I was an editor: The first thing that would leap out at me is just how similar this novel is in feel and plot to other Anne Tyler novels. This isn’t necessarily a negative as the formula works and it’s a comfortable read with a timeless American (Baltimorean) story. I went through an Anne Tyler phase a few years ago (a big shelf in my local library) and while I enjoyed all the novels and appreciated her plotting and characterisation, they never really grabbed at my heart and affected me. I found A Spool of Blue Thread to be the same; enjoyable but it did not leave a lingering impression.

Overall: A pleasurable read. Perhaps not contemporary enough to win the Bailey’s Prize.

A Spool of Blue Thread: 3 stars

Thank you to Random House (Vintage) for a copy of the title to review.

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Apian Rapture: The Bees

The BeesThe Bees by Laline Paull

I recently had laser eye surgery and I downloaded the Serial Podcast to listen to during recovery. Well, I found it so gripping I finished it before my surgery even took place! I then treated myself to an audiobook and decided on The Bees. It’s been on my radar for a while.

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. But Flora is not like other bees. Despite her ugliness she has talents that are not typical of her kin and she begins to move through the various echelons of the hive.

First Impressions: Unfortunately I kept falling asleep after listening to a couple of minutes of this audiobook. I don’t know if it was the narrator, the story, recovering from a procedure or a combination of all three.

Highlights: The writing style is poetic with rather sensual descriptions of the bees’ scent and vibrations. I sometimes had to remind myself I wasn’t listening to a story about a cult where everyone knows each other’s business to a very personal degree. There was a lot of religious rapture.

If I was an editor: I would hope more people read the physical book rather than listen to the audiobook.  The story is full of description and I must admit that the repetitive prayers to the Queen began to bore me. If I was reading it I probably would have enjoyed it more as I would have skim read parts of it to get to the action. Unfortunately I found the action was often lost within description and I would get to the end of a chapter and realise I had completely missed a vital plot point (eg. the ‘dramatic scene’ with the drones, if you believe it) as I had started daydreaming. I did consider giving up at but a biological feat achieved by Flora at one point piqued my interest and I decided to keep listening.

Overall: A bit too lacklustre for me but probably the right ingredients to win the Bailey’s Prize.

The Bees: 2 Stars

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Kushiel’s Dart Read Along Week 1

Kushiel’s Dart Read Along Week 1
Chapters 1-8

Kushiel's Dart

Wow. I read these first 8 chapters really quickly. I was hooked!

1) Here we have the earliest days of Phedre’s life, and we have the story of Elua and his followers. Did you note any similarities between Phedre’s beginning and Elua’s stories? Do you enjoy having these stories upfront or would you rather have had the stories shuffled in later with an adult Phedre looking back?

I didn’t pick up on the similarities but now that you mention it, yes there are a lot!  At first I didn’t enjoy the stories and I hoped the whole book wasn’t going to be weighted down with descriptions of the mythology. However, as  I neared Chapter 8 and all the world started to make sense to me I actually went back and read the history of the land. I am reading a Kindle edition and it opens straight to Chapter 1. After I realised there was a map at the front and I had a look, everything started to make more sense. I like what the author has done with her world building!

2) Hyacinthe has become Phedre’s one true friend. Do you think she is the same for him? The dromonde, or fortune telling, fascinates Phedre. Do you have a fortune telling story?

I think at first the friendship was innocent and both were equals but I started to get the ominous feeling that Hyacinthe has the power and perhaps a sinister motive.

Fortune telling isn’t really my thing but I had my cards read while still at school and I was told I would be taking a journey. I was going on a school trip a couple of months later so maybe that counts?

3) The Midwinter Masque on the Longest Night is a long held tradition in Terre D’Ange. What stood out for you? Have you been to such a fete?

I immediately thought of the Venice Carnival which makes the idea of the world even more interesting. All the colour and action sounded great but it wouldn’t really be my thing.

4) Anafiel Delaunay has many secrets. How do you think those secrets will shape Alcuin and Phedre?

Well, he’s manipulating them, isn’t he? I don’t know exactly how or why but time will tell.

5) Delaunay has a saying; All knowledge is worth having. Do you believe this is so?

A tough one! I’m sure there are some things I just don’t want to know and I have definitely become more sensitive to terrible stories and events since my son was born so I guess I would like to remain ignorant on some fronts…

Other Tidbits

I love the marque tattoos!