Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom – Leigh Bardugo

I found myself at home and sick this week. When I am sick all I crave are comfort reads. For me a comfort read is something not too challenging that I can wrap myself up in, enter a different world with a bunch of loveable characters. This week I found myself purchasing Six of Crows to satisfy my craving. Rookie error, I did not purchase Crooked Kingdom at the same time and found myself racing back to the shops the very next day. For those of you not familiar with this duology, it has been described as Game of Thrones crossed with Ocean’s Eleven. Kaz Brekker, criminal mastermind of the Dregs gang has been offered a deal that can make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. The catch: break into a court that has never been breached and retrieve a hostage several nations are fighting to acquire. These novels follow Kaz and his chosen crew across an ocean to the Ice Court and back to claim their reward.

 

In all honesty I knew I was going to love these books from the second paragraph in with the sentence “…her eyes were brown – lovely, dreamy…melted chocolate brown? Rabbit fur brown?”. These books were funny. Laugh out loud funny. The prose, particularly between the six, was witty and quick and I loved every minute of it. I was surprised at how intelligent and well-put together these novels were for YA. I don’t mean anything against YA but often the fantasy genre is rife with cliches and predictability (not always a bad thing!) and this series had none. There was one twist that I saw coming and to be honest, you expected it knowing that there was two books in this series.

 

The characters were also a strong point of these novels. They were perfectly unique and in my opinion the best squad going (sorry Harry, Ron & Hermione). I loved each and every one of these characters. They all played their role, each one of them was flawed and had so much room for development. I don’t think I could even pick a favourite (maybe Jesper, but only by a fraction). What I loved about the way the book was written was how the story was told from each of their points of view across the two books. I loved this technique as it allows the reader to see so much more in the novel without having to resort to making the lone protagonist unusually and unrealistically perceptive, which happens a lot in these types of novels. It also allows you to get to know what  makes each character tick, what makes them unique.

 

I couldn’t praise these books enough. They are fast-paced with many twists and turns you don’t see coming and laugh out loud funny which balances the tension perfectly. The characters are to die for and so diverse! We have disabilities, mental insecurities and even a same-sex relationship. Also, quite touching, was learning that one of the characters disabilities comes from the author herself. Something she wrote into the books to show that we can all be our own hero, even if we are flawed. I would highly recommend both of these novels, particularly if you enjoy a good fantasy world. I give both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom four crows, both cracking reads.

 

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The Roanoke Girls – Amy Engel

The Roanoke Girls was like a car crash, you don’t want to look at it but once you are you can’t look away. This novel is about the beautiful and mysterious Roanoke girls, living on a grand estate where they appear to have it all, looks, money and yet every girl either dies young or runs away. Lane was lucky, she grew up away from it all until her mother died and she spent one summer living there, learning the mysteries of her family before disappearing and vowing to never return. That is until her cousin goes missing and she must return to find out what happened.

 

I read this book in one sitting on a Saturday night. It was horrific and fascinating and I could not put it down. Much of the fascination with this book lies in the persuasive characters that Engel writes. If you didn’t believe the motivations, the strengths of certain characters in this novel the concept would not work. Engel takes this unfathomable situation and makes it believable. I enjoyed the format of this book. We read most of it from Lane’s perspective jumping from the past to the present, slowly revealing Roanoke’s secrets. These time points are mixed with snippets of perspective of each of the missing or dead Roanoke girls, telling each of their stories.

 

Some of the prettiest book covers house the most horrific of stories and this book is no exception. The novel is physchomogically thrilling with plenty of good twists. The pacing is excellent, keeping the reader on their toes wanting to know more, see how it all ends. There isn’t much to discuss without giving away plot points but if you do pick it up be aware there is some strong content. I do recommend this one if you are after a creepy, psychological read. I found it reprehensible, yet engrossing. A true testament to strong writing. I give the Roanoke girls four carousel horses.

 

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Love & Misadventure – Lang Leav

Lang Leav was suggested to me by several people after I found myself wanting to read and enjoying poetry last year. A fellow Aussie? What could go wrong? I decided to start with her first collection, Love & Misadventure.

 

A Dedication

She lends her pen,

to thoughts of him,

that flow from it,

in her solitary.

For she is his poet,

And he is her poetry.

 

And so begins this collection with this dedication to her partner. Spilt into three parts: Misadventure, The Circus of Sorrows and Love. I loved this collection and marvelled in each of the poems. I loved that Leav’s work is slightly different to other poetry I have been reading and that it includes a bit of rhyme, makes it fun to read aloud, with a rhythm in your head. There was no set format to the poems, some are paragraphs, some are short, some rhyme. It kept the collection flowing and unpredictable. Changing it up, keeping my interest. The poems were short and snappy. Light and fun, despite some of the themes. The themes were relatable and the words true. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and look forward to reading more of Leav’s work, especially her upcoming debut novel, Sad Girls.

 

If you are a fan of poetry I do recommend this collection. If you aren’t much of a petty reader, I still recommend this collection. Leav’s work is accessible and easy to read so Love & Misadventure is probably a good place to start if you haven’t read a lot of poetry. I look forward to reading this collection and again and working my way through her other works. I give Love & Misadventure four hearts, a beautiful journey we can all relate to.

 

 

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The Lauras – Sara Taylor

The Lauras by Sara Taylor was another writers week discovery for me. This novel follows a mother and child on a road trip across the US. A pilgrimage to rediscover past friends, to right old wrongs and find a fresh start. Your typical road trip story of cross-generations discovery? Not quite, this book has a little extra something that makes it stand out from the rest. I’m giving you fair warning that I will be discussing a potential spoiler below so story reading if you want to discover it for yourself. Personally, this extra piece of information was what made me decide I wanted to read this book, however, I’m aware others may prefer not to know.

Okay, all ready for spoilers? Good, because you have been warned. The trick to this book lies in the offspring in this book, Alex. You see Alex does not identify with a gender. Sometimes Alex is just like her mother. Sometimes she identifies with the traits of her father. This gender neutrality is not a problem for Alex, which is one thing I like about this book. Nether is it a problem for Alex’s mother. It is other characters that the book comes across that can’t seem to comprehend Alex’s neutrality. That want to put Alex in a box. That have a burning desire to know what anatomy lies below Alex’s jeans. Which, by the way, the reader never discovers either and so they shouldn’t. This novel makes the point that is doesn’t matter what the outer shell of the body shows. What matters is what is is Alex’s mind, what Alex wants. This is a defining feature of the novel and in my opinion what really makes it. The reader doesn’t realise straight away, Alex’s gender neutrality, as the book starts when Alex is young enough that gender doesn’t need to be identified. Despite knowing this about Alex I still found myself picturing Alex as more feminine, perhaps because that is my own gender and what I identify, perhaps because for the most part novels that focus on the relationship between mother and child tend more to be books about mothers and daughters? Either way, it is still interesting that I subconsciously still attributed a gender to my metal image of this characters. It goes to show just how ingrained the impulse is to categories people as male or female. Taylor shows us great insight into a minority of people that many of us don’t know a lot about and perhaps need to understand so that we, ourselves don’t continue forcing choices on them, making them feel as though they are odd ones out, because they aren’t. They are ordinary people just like all the rest of us.

 

I loved the concept of the Lauras, where the title came from. Each of the characters from Alex’s mothers past were named Laura and we slowly hear about them as their journey slowly passes. We meet so many interesting characters on the road with Alex, all so fascinating that I suggest going and reading about them yourselves. I think this provides an excellent point of view that we can all consider, that each of our parents are more than just our parent. They were people before us. People with hobbies and interests and beliefs that may have fallen to the wayside with children, but that still shaped them as people. We should all be mindful of that and attempt to understand those that brought us into this world. You see themes of puberty, growing up, privacy and sexuality all deal with as Alex comes of age on the road.

 

There is so much to ponder within the Lauras, from the story at the superficial level to the deeper issues that are brought to the surface within these pages. Overall, this is a captivating book with beautiful prose and an urgency that develops to know what happens. I loved the ending, how it all came full circle for Alex. Personally I would recommend this book to anyone. I give the Lauras four cars taking Alex across the US.

 

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Storyland – Catherine McKinnon

I attended the book launch for Storyland and left feeling very excited to read this and in fact started it the next day. A short description of this book is that effectively it is Cloud Atlas but set in Australia. Set along the Illawarra across four centuries we meet five very different characters and learn their stories of living on the land.

 

Much like Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas we meet the five characters, each living in a different time point from the past to the present to the future. These stories are all, however, set in the same region, along Lake Illawarra which is south of Sydney in New South Wales. Each of the characters are linked in some way, whether it be by the land, or blood or history. I loved McKinnon’s transitions from character to character. They were seamless and smooth.

 

Each of the characters were very unique, some likeable and some were not. My favourites were Lola, an unsurprising common favourite. She was a strong, independent woman trying to do fight by her family in a harsh time that was made harsher if you were a woman without a husband. Bel was another favourite but completely different. She is a child and her perspective it described in the innocent way that only children can. She is an unusual soul and the way her mind works is unique and fascinating. I really enjoyed McKinnon’s glimpses into the future, they seem all too possible which is a terrifying thought.

 

An added bonus in this story is that many of the past stories have some basis in truth. Will’s story is based on an expedition with Flinders and Bass and was written after consultation with Flinder’s diaries for accuracy but from the perspective of their servant boy, Willian Martin. The character of Hawker is based on a true event where an Aboriginal woman was shot and mauled for stealing corn, an all too common story in those days that is no less horrific. In Bel’s story an ancient skeleton was dislodged in a storm, another even that occurred in the 90’s in this area. These fictional stories steeped in truth and accuracy lend this novel a little something more, lend it more reliability and impact on the reader.

 

The experience of reading this book was supplemented by the good fortune of having just listened to Girt by David Hunt as an audiobook in the days prior. I, therefore, understood the references to Bass and Flinders, Bennelong and Macquarie giving it a little something extra. It certainly adds to the enjoyment if you are familiar with Australian history but won’t make the novel any less enjoyable if you aren’t. If you are not overly familiar with Australian history, particularly if you are Australian yourself, I do recommend David Hunt’s unofficial Australian histories in Girt and True Girt (next up on my audiobook list). His books are a comical, yet accurate explanation of Australia’s history, which I found fascinating. We don’t learn a lot about our own (accurate) history at school and I found this a fascinating experience. Our history is at times so ridiculous that it sounds like fiction.

 

The only slight let down for me was that the ending seemed slightly anti-climactic but in a way it suits the style of the book and finishes of the tale nicely. I would highly recommend picking this book up. I have no doubt that Storyland will eventually become an Aussie classic, a tale of life in Australia and how we are all interconnected. I give Storyland four lyrebirds.

 

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Room – Emma Donoghue

First of all let me say, everyone says this is a “read in one sitting” kind of book. They are not wrong. Ensure you have ample time to devote yourself to this book before starting it. I made the mistake of starting this book when I did not have that luxury. In fact, every single time I picked this book up I was limited in some way so it took me an agonising few days to get through this book. Room is about Jack. Jack just turned five. He lives in Room with his mother. Sometimes she is visited at night by old Nick. This is why he must sleep in Wardrobe. Room is the harrowing tale of an imprisoned pair through the eyes of an innocent child who doesn’t quite understand what he is missing out on outside Room with the door that beeps.

 

This book really goes to show just how your mood can affect your opinions of things. The first time I attempted to read this book I just couldn’t get into it. I found the language difficult and only a few chapters in I was struggling to continue. The next time I picked it up for a second try I understood what all the fuss was about and could not put it down. This is an extremely fast paced read that has the reader on the edge of their seat from about 100 pages in and keeps them going right up until the end. This story will creep you out. It makes you realise just how easy it is for something like this to happen and you can understand just how the kidnapped women you see on the news suffered at the hands of their tormentors.

 

What kept this novel from being utterly depressing was how it was written from the eyes of young Jack. Having been born in this room and only having encountered his mother this world is not at all strange to Jack and everything is normal. This is how the world is. Table, Bath, Wardrobe, they are all animated objects in his life. Forrest are TV, dogs are TV, none of these things exist outside of Room, they are simply in the TV. Donoghue shows real insight into how a child mind works and her narration is fascinating. What is even more skilful is how she masters Jacks transitions from Room into the real world. She really thinks over everything and provides an astute picture of not only learning about a whole new world, but how the media and other people can shape their experiences, portray situations in ways that suit them with no thought to those it affects.

 

Donoghue writes some great characters. Not just Jack and ma, who are vivid and memorable in their world for two but her family outside. Steppa, Paul, the doctors and nurses are all vivid characters that help shape the world outside for young Jack trying to get a grasp on so many new experiences and concepts. I would highly recommend picking up Room. This novel is unlike anything I have read before and I am unlikely to forget it any time soon. I give Room four of Jack’s crayons.

 

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The Muse – Jessie Burton

This book jumped to the top of my TBR when I discovered Jessie Burton would be attending Adelaide Writers Week to discuss The Muse. This novel starts with Odelle, a Trinidadian aspiring writer who gets a job working at a fancy galley in London called the Skelton in the 1960’s. There she meets the mysterious conundrum that is Marjorie Quick. When the confident Quick is left shaken after a lost masterpiece is uncovered Odelle is determined to find out what has her so rattled. The reader slowly discovers the history of the painting back in Spain at the beginning of the civil unrest in the 1930’s. We meet Olive and her parents taking some time out in a villa in the country when two strangers arrive and change their lives forever.

 

The Muse was an extremely fast-paced read. Once I started I could not put it down as I just had to find out what happened. Although I may have read one too many Kate Morton novels as I managed to guess one of the major plot twists. The characters were a definite highlight. I found myself thoroughly enjoying Odell’s narration. She is prickly, intelligent and stubborn. I loved her interactions with her best friend and her new love interest, watching them trying to draw her out of her self was entertaining and endearing. Her relationship with Marjorie was a highlight. Marjorie is a great character and the two together keep the reader on their toes with the constant shifts in direction and mood.

 

On the flip side the story of Olive and the how the mysterious waiting comes to be is fascinating. The balances in each relationship are unique and each add something to the plot. The jealousy/power struggle between Olive and her mother is one relationship that is on a knifes edge throughout the book. Her father’s insistence that although women may paint they cannot be artists and her silent rebellion add another dimension. Isaac and Teresa and the air of mystery add a sinister taste to the air. All the while the two plot lines slowly converge into a complete story that leaves the reader a little shell-shocked at how it all wraps up.

 

I found this an enjoyable mystery that I thoroughly loved and can’t wait to read again. Hearing Burton speak about this novel only increased my love for this novel and my admiration for the author herself. I would urge anyone to give this book a go. I give The Muse four paintings, the centre that this plot revolves around.

 

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