The Reading Group: December by Della Parker

In brief: A short story introducing The Reading Group, a monthly novella about a group of women.

The good: Interesting concept.

The not-so-good: Very short!

Why I chose it: Liked the sound of the series and the first story was free.

Year: 2016

Pages: 17

Publisher: Quercus

Setting: England

My rating: 7 out of 10

I read about The Reading Group series on social media and thought it sounded interesting, so when the first instalment was free on Kindle, I grabbed it. It was my own stupidity not to realise that a short story is just that and of course, I read it quickly and it was all nicely tied up at the end.

The story serves to introduce us to the women who make up the reading group – Grace, Jojo, Serena, Kate and Anne-Marie. The story focuses on Grace, who is not having a merry festive season. She and her husband are behind on the rent and one of their sons may have a recurrence of cancer. She doesn’t want to share her worries with the group, but knowing her, they suspect something is up and question her. When the truth comes out, of course they want to help and do, each in their own way.

It’s a nice introduction, but everything was wrapped up a little too quickly for me. I liked that things had a happy ending but I’d also be more tempted to read on if there was more of a cliff-hanger. Grace’s problems seem to be sorted, and there are a couple of grumblings of other characters not living a perfect life. A new novella will be released every month for the reading group dealing with that month’s book. (December’s was A Christmas Carol and there are shades of that in Grace’s problems). The first four are now available on Amazon. Will I read them? I think I’ll wait until the whole series is available so I can devour it in one go. It’s a light and easy read and I’m a sucker for books involving books.

Mailbox Monday and What I’m Reading 16/1/17

Everything seems to be back almost in full swing after the holiday break – traffic is heavy, car parks are scarce and work is piling up! I didn’t receive any books in the mail, nor buy any (the shelves are still pretty bare). Luckily, here are the last books of my Christmas haul. (Birthday books are still to come).

Roman Crazy by Alice Clayton and Nina Bocci is a fun romance about Avery, wounded from the end of her marriage, spending the summer in Rome. But Rome is also home to Marcello, the man who got away. Gelato by day, Marcello by night – is it a summer fling or the start of a new life?

Daughter of the Murray by Darry Fraser is historical fiction, set on the beautiful Murray River. Georgina’s not happy with life with her foster family in the 1890s, especially when prodigal son Dane returns. She flees on his prized stallion, crossing paths with Conor Foley, a businessman with a proposition for Georgina. Where does her heart lie and how will things turn out in the changing political landscape?

Outback Emergency contains three stories (The Doctor’s Rescue Mission by Marion Lennox, Pregnant on Arrival by Fiona Lowe and A Baby for the Flying Doctor by Lucy Clark), all medical romances set in the Australian outback. There’s a tidal wave, flying doctors and love in the air!

The Doctor by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki is non-fiction, where Dr Karl discusses quirky, interesting science in fun chunks. Why do people talk louder when they’re drunk? Why don’t you sleep well in an unfamiliar bed? Why does streaming videos use more power than your fridge? Is caffeine now a good drug? I love Dr Karl and I love that I can always find out more through his detailed references.

If you want to look at other books received, do visit the Mailbox Monday blog for links to everyone’s mailbox goodies.

It’s Monday! What are you reading? is hosted by Book Date. Click on the pictures to read more about the books.

What I Read Last Week:

What I’m Reading at the Moment:

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Nicotine by Nell Zink

In brief: Penny’s father dies and her family suggests she repair her grandparents’ house. The problem is that it’s being lived in by squatters – one of which she falls in love with.

The good: The writing is brilliant.

The not-so-good: I didn’t understand if there was some kind of hipster meaning to it all.

Why I chose it: Bookshop recommendation for Nell Zink.

Year: 2016

Pages: 288

Publisher: 4th Estate (Harper Collins)

Setting: USA

My rating: 6.5 out of 10

Nell Zink is an author I’ve had on my must read list for ages. I’ve borrowed Mislaid a couple of times from the library, but never got the time to actually read it. Then in my local bookshop I saw the cover of Nicotine and fell in love. How ironic! How cool! Then when the bookseller told me enthusiastically how much he loved Nell Zink (he hadn’t yet read Nicotine, but loved The Wallcreeper), I was sold. I wanted to love this book so hard, but in reality it made me feel old and out of touch. The writing is brilliant, detailed and ironic but the subject matter mainly made me think…what?

You could divide up Nicotine into two or three sections, the first being the end of life of Penny’s beloved father, second her initiation into squatters and their causes and the third being slowly re-joining the majority of the human race in terms of a job. The first part with Penny’s father is haunting, sad and downright disgusting in places. Even though Penny and her father Norm are fictional, I was really incensed as to the care Norm received in “palliative care”. It was absolutely rubbish, and no care was involved! Norm’s care in the hospice should have been in tune holistically with his own following as a Shamanist, but it was the completely opposite. It shouldn’t have been like that!

After Norm’s death, Penny is at a loose end. Unemployed and having done a large chunk of care for her father, the rest of the (highly dysfunctional) family decide that she should rescue Norm’s parents’ house from the squatters and restore it. Initially she goes reluctantly, but on meeting the squatters at the house now called Nicotine, she falls for Rob, an asexual bicycle repairer. She joins the group in what they say is pro-smoker’s rights. In reality it means being cordoned off at rallies and sitting around a lot, talking about saving the world but being focused on sex, Bucket Monsters and hanging around smoking/drinking. This was the part I really didn’t understand very much. Is it meant to be some kind of irony, rebels who don’t do much rebelling? People with labels that don’t match their reality? All the characters are unique and quirky, but I really couldn’t care about them too deeply nor could I work out their trajectory. This section made me feel old! Am I missing references to hipster or alternative culture? I’m going to take the whole things as an ironic post-college rebellion by not really doing much but working at being alternative.

Then Penny starts to realise that maybe Rob isn’t her thing and gets a job. She goes to work, dresses in a suit. Meanwhile the other residents of Nicotine have fled after the escape of the Bucket Monster after a nasty incident involving Penny’s brother. They are on a road trip, lost but looking for similar people and places. Meanwhile, order is being restored to Nicotine by the way of Penny’s brother, who is trying to impress one of Nicotine’s now former residents. Will it work? Will Penny get back with Rob? It’s all a bit confusing as characters move on, then return to square one.

The writing is what makes Nicotine compelling, addictive like its namesake. But as for content…maybe we aren’t meant to be emotionally involved in this book but cynically taking a look at lazy politics. I’ve bought The Wallcreeper on the bookseller’s recommendation to read, and am hoping that I enjoy it more.

The Barbershop Girl by Georgina Penney

In brief: Amy Blaine never has any luck with men, but when English comedian/writer Ben Martindale worms his way into her barbershop, he also finds a way to her heart. But little does Amy know that she’s the subject of Ben’s weekly newspaper columns…

The good: I love Amy (sweet, kind and with awesome baking/fashion sense) and this is my favourite book yet by Georgina Penney.

The not-so-good: I demolished this one and was left with a book hangover. (Also, Ben – you can be an utter tool).

Why I chose it: Wanted to know more about Amy after reading Fly In, Fly Out. Thanks Penguin for the copy!

Year: 2017 (first published as Irrepressible You, 2014)

Pages: 296

Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin Random House)

Setting: Mainly Fremantle and Perth, Western Australia

My rating: 10 out of 10

I’ve enjoyed Georgina Penney’s other books, which are set in my home state, but I knew I was going to love The Barbershop Girl as soon as I saw it. Not only do I own several flower hairpieces, but I have serious dress envy for the one Amy, our heroine is reading on the cover. As I read through the book, I realised that I wanted to be good friends with not only Amy, but Ben, the hero. I didn’t want to stop reading their story – it’s funny, sweet and the characters are perfectly constructed.

The story features characters that will be familiar to those who have read Fly In, Fly Out (such as Jo, Stephen and Scott) but the book works perfectly well as a standalone. Amy is Jo’s sister and they are as different as chalk and cheese. While Jo is tomboyish with a penchant for swearing, Amy never swears and wears her 1950s inspired outfits as armour, day in, day out. What both sisters have in common is their horrible upbringing which has left them very close. Amy is grateful to Jo for pretty much raising her and she wants Jo to know that she’s doing fine. Except that she’s not. Amy’s business (barbershop and hair salon) are doing well, but some of her staff have attitudes better left at the door and Amy’s love life has never worked out. Worse, one of her exes insists on making her life a misery every time he’s off swing back in Perth. So when Amy completely fails to recognise a famous opera singer and his famous comedian mate in a bar, she feels pretty useless. She has to apologise – and that’s how Ben Martindale comes into her life.

Ben is funny and lives behind a veneer of utter bastardry – he’s that guy you love to hate but secretly kind of like. He’s rich, says what he thinks and is hiding out in Australia to write and stay out of the British tabloids. Amy isn’t his usual type, but she wins his heart with her dedication to whatever she does. He’s hiding a scarred childhood too, but you’d never know that. And he doesn’t want you to know, so describing Amy under a code name in his weekly columns in a sardonic tone equals affection in Ben’s head. But will Amy agree?

The novel is absolutely gorgeous – it is truly funny and incredibly sweet at times. My only qualm would be the damage caused to an Aston Martin DB9, but at least it’s a fictional one! I truly felt the characters became friends (they were that well fleshed out and lifelike) and I’m trying to fight the urge to go to Fremantle to look for Amy’s salon. (She gives her customers homemade cake and cookies, how sweet is that)? I even found Amy as a fashion inspiration a few days over the last week for dresses and heels! While Amy is an easy person to like, it says a lot that Georgina Penney made Ben, who by his own admission is a bastard, a character to like. Seeing him alone, vulnerable and at a loss helped me as the reader to see there was more to him than just clever words and a flash car. Amy also helps him to see that he doesn’t need to hide as he helps her to see that it’s okay to vulnerable. They are quite similar in some ways.

My time with The Barbershop Girl just flew by. I’m really, really looking forward to hopefully reading Scott’s story one day. He’s a mysterious photographer who jets around the world, surely he has some secrets to reveal?

Mailbox Monday and What I’m Reading 9/1/17

I guess we could say we’re in the middle of summer now in Australia – the weather is certainly telling us so! It’s gone from nice to stinking hot to nice again in the space of a week. So first of all, I’d like to say thank you to my postie who returned from holidays to deliver the first three books here, all on the same day (totally worth it). I’ve also included three more of my Christmas books – there’s more to come, plus birthday books!

The top three books are absolute corkers from Hachette – thank you! Meet Me at Beachcomber Bay by Jill Mansell is set in the seaside town of St Carys, but the people who live there are very good at keeping secrets, especially about love. What happens when the truth reveals itself?

New York Nights by C.J. Duggan (out February) is the second book in the Heart of the City series. Sarah’s an Aussie living in New York as an au pair; her charge Grace is a cutie, but her father is secret and distant. Sarah will care for Grace as best as she can, while facing the challenges set by the highly complex Ben Worthington. I loved Paris Lights, so can’t wait to read this next!

The last book is a proof of Natasha Lester’s new novel, Her Mother’s Secret. A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald was one of my favourite books of 2016, so this is another book that I can’t wait to put my nose into! Out April, it’s set in the 1920s and 1940s and involves cosmetics (i.e. my crack). Leonora makes cosmetics in her father’s pharmacy until tragedy strikes, and she moves to New York to make her dreams come true. Years later, Everett Forsyth’s daughter receives an invitation to star in a set of advertisements for cosmetics – but why are her parents against it?

The last three books were Christmas presents. The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley is a historical fiction novel of real life artist, Elizabeth Gould (wife of John Gould). She’s not just an artist, but a wife, mother, lover and adventurer in discovering Australia’s birdlife. The end pages of this gorgeous hardcover have Elizabeth’s bird prints.

Miss You by Kate Eberlen is a book I saw popping up on several ‘best of 2016’ lists. The blurb reminds me a little of One Day (in a good way, I adored that book) as Tess and Gus meet in Florence one day before they are both due back home in England. Over the next 16 years, they are separated by different challenges – will they ever meet properly?

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory continues the Tudor series, focusing on Katherine of Aragon, Margaret and Mary – queens of England, Scotland and France. They are set against each other in the greatest of ways, involving war, marriage, love and loss.

If you want to look at other books received, do visit the Mailbox Monday blog for links to everyone’s mailbox goodies.

It’s Monday! What are you reading? is hosted by Book Date. Click on the pictures to read more about the books.

What I Read Last Week:

What I’m Reading at the Moment:

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Midnight and Mistletoe at Cedarwood Lodge by Rebecca Raisin

In brief: The final part in the Cedarwood Lodge trilogy reveals all – what is the secret of Cedarwood’s past? Will Clio and Kai ever get together?

The good: 100% delightful.

The not-so-good: The end of the series.

Why I chose it: Love Rebecca Raisin’s books – thanks HQ Digital for the eARC!

Year: 2016

Pages: 109

Publisher: HQ Digital

Setting: Evergreen, USA

My rating: 9.5 out of 10

The final part in the Cedarwood Lodge trilogy takes us to what is for some the laziest part of the year between Christmas and New Year – and for others, the busiest. Clio definitely falls into the latter as old flame Timothy asks her to put on a fancy New Year’s Eve party for his boss in order to impress. The group of friends and family celebrate Christmas together, with Amory getting a surprise present – a dog. Is this a plan by Cruz to entice her towards children or simply a sweet present?

Even though it’s chilly in Evergreen, tensions and relationships are thawing. Clio’s mum finally opens up to her about the events at Cedarwood Lodge so long ago, which results in a sweet reunion between mum and daughter. Aunt Bessie learns how to use Instagram, gaining an instant cult following for her Puft doughnuts that grows exponentially. And Clio…she’s torn between revealing her feelings for Kai and risking rejection as he deals with the real reason he came to the US. Plus, Timothy is no longer hinting at a reconciliation, he’s laying his cards out in full. All this comes as Amory and Clio set about organising the New Year’s Eve party, finding out at the last minute that Timothy’s boss likes to change his mind…a lot. It also gives Timothy the excuse to email Clio constantly with follow up phone calls…who will Clio choose?

The finale of the series is everything the reader could wish for – more of the Rebecca Raisin trademark sparkle and warmth, plus all the loose ends tied up in a satisfying bow. I’ve enjoyed my time with Clio, Amory, Kai, Cruz and the others…I’ll particularly miss Aunt Bessie, who is the second best foodie character after CeeCee of The Gingerbread Café. It’s been a set of charming reads, wonderful to sit and relax with over the holidays. I’ll miss the lodge, but I can’t wait to meet the next set of characters Rebecca Raisin creates as they will definitely be memorable!

Brides and Bouquets at Cedarwood Lodge by Rebecca Raisin

In brief: Back to Cedarwood Lodge for Part 2 of this delightful trilogy as Clio and Amory organise a bridal expo at the lodge as Christmas comes closer.

The good: As always, Rebecca Raisin’s books are heart-warming and loads of fun.

The not-so-good: Oh Kai. Why did you go?

Why I chose it: Love Rebecca Raisin’s books – thanks HQ Digital for the eARC!

Year: 2016

Pages: 102

Publisher: HQ Digital

Setting: Evergreen, USA

My rating: 9 out of 10

I always say this about Rebecca Raisin’s books, but they are just delightful. Think chocolates without the calories, or any kind of indulgence. It’s like slipping into another world of warmth, where you just know that good will triumph over evil. After 2016, it’s the kind of book we need!

Brides and Bouquets at Cedarwood Lodge is part 2 of a trilogy and I would suggest that it’s a good idea to read the first book (Celebrations and Confetti at Cedarwood Lodge) first to gain maximum love for this series. Then you’ll be familiar with Clio’s problems – bringing Cedarwood Lodge back to its glory days even though her mother refuses to set foot in the place, the reappearance of her (newly single) first love and Kai, the master builder who has left for the west coast. Clio’s best friend Amory is a strong presence in this book as she takes a sabbatical at the lodge (read: dodging her boyfriend after an unexpected proposal). The girls are on to their next project for the lodge – a bridal expo to showcase the possible role of the lodge for that dreamy winter wonderland wedding. Of course, things don’t go to plan when the local council refuses to let the brides into the chapel, citing structural issues. This is where Clio needs Kai back in her life and reluctantly, she calls him. It’s a glimmer of hope for Clio that he helps out so readily – maybe Kai feels the same way she does? But then there’s her first love Timothy who is suggesting he’d like to get to know Clio again and her mother refusing to give up the secrets of the lodge…it’s all too confusing!

We meet in this instalment Amory’s boyfriend, Cruz who is a hotshot on Wall Street but has a former life as a chef. When Clio’s chef bails to join a cruise ship, she turns to him in desperation and Cruz definitely delivers! It also makes him consider his career in a new light and changes Amory’s thoughts on him. Could there be extra love blossoming in the kitchen?

I loved the multiple plot threads going on in this novella, but we’re still left on tenterhooks as to the fate of Clio and Kai. Will she be bold and tell all? Or will she explore a new relationship with Timothy (and his scary children)? It’s a wonderful, fun read just right for the holiday season.

Mailbox Monday and What I’m Reading 2/1/17

Happy New Year! I hope everyone got a break and some time to have fun. As promised, here is the first of my Christmas haul, tentatively titled ‘The Ones That Kept Popping Up in My Social Media’.

As you can see from the above, I am Lego building again. The haulpak is just part 1 of 8 of my next build!

Bridget Jones’s Baby by Helen Fielding should need no introduction, given that it’s; a) Bridget Jones and b) there was a movie of the same title in 2016. I’ve read this and loved it – but fans of the movie take note, the potential dads involve Daniel Cleaver!

The Girls by Emma Cline has a cover that screams summer! In 1969 California, Evie wants to be part of the girls. But at the centre is Russell, who could be more than just one of the gang…

I also received one book from the lovely people at Penguin, Fiona McArthur’s Heart of the Sky (released 30/1/17). It’s about Flying Doctor Tess Daley and pilot Charlie Fennes in the small rural town of Mica Ridge. But Tess is seeking a change after a past accident and Charlie has a secret that will rock the station house where they live.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is set in New York City 2007. Clark is a partner at Lehman Brothers and Jende, recently arrived from Cameroon, is his new driver. His wife Neni gets work with Clark’s wife Cindy and everything looks like it could be happening. But secrets and the financial crisis mean that both couples need to rethink their dreams.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett is another book with a gorgeous cover about family. It starts in 1964 when Bert kisses Beverly at a christening party for Franny – but he’s not her husband. 24 years on, Franny meets a famous author while working and starts to tell him her family’s story…

If you want to look at other books received, do visit the Mailbox Monday blog for links to everyone’s mailbox goodies.

It’s Monday! What are you reading? is hosted by Book Date. Click on the pictures to read more about the books.

What I Read Last Week:

What I’m Reading at the Moment:

Up Next:

Book Nerd Statistics of 2016

For the first time in 2016, I kept a detailed spreadsheet of the books I read, based on one Book Riot talked through early in the year. It’s not that I don’t believe Goodreads when it gives me nifty stats like this:

But, the Aussie versions of books often have different numbers of pages (for example, my copy of A Perfect Heritage was only 753 pages) and I like to keep track of things that Goodreads doesn’t tell me. For example, where I got the book from, the author’s nationality, etc.

So here are the book nerd stats:

Do you keep records of your books read?

My Memorable Books of 2016

2016 has been a memorable year for a number of reasons, some good and some not so good across the world. When it came to reflecting on my most memorable books of the year, my first draft came at 15 books out of a possible 72 (21%) that I’ve reviewed on the blog! I noticed that I chose a lot of books that were funny, feel good or just plain enjoyable. That reflects my year – very busy and reading was for a time of relaxation and switching off from the world.

I’ve got six books on the ‘to be reviewed’ list, so I haven’t included them in this list but there are some great reads to come.

Here are my top 10 books that I loved in 2016, in no particular order:

While it might seem that I have a thing for blue covers, all these books made me laugh way too loudly in public, cry, exclaim out loud or smile repeatedly. Many thanks to the authors who wrote these wonderful books – you are gold! Thanks to the people who suggested that I’d love a particular book/author, you made this bookworm very happy!

What are your books of the year? Do we share any, or have I missed your favourites?