Saturday 28 June 2014

Mini Reviews: Five Romance Novellas

Only With You by Cecilia Gray (via Netgalley)
This is the fifth book in the Jane Austen Academy series, a modern adaptation of Austen's stories that sees all the heroines attending the same school. This book focused on Emma. I quite liked it. I liked the relationship she had with Knight and I thought it was a pretty accurate portrayal of Emma in a modern setting. It doesn't adapt the whole book, instead picking up a couple of incidents to cover within its limited space, and I think that's for the best. As I've said before, this series is by no means a perfect adaptation of Austen's novels, but it is a fun and easy read and obviously written with a lot of affection.
Rating: 3/5
Red at Night by Katie McGarry
This novella tells the story of Stella, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and Jonah, a rich, popular guy who of course isn't without his own issues. They keep meeting at the cemetary and soon form a connection. This book was OK, it wasn't bad but it didn't blow me away either. It's quite short so of course you don't spend much time with the characters but I don't think that was the reason I didn't really connect with them. They just didn't feel particularly real to me, I suppose. Stella especially seemed to have been created just to deliver a particular message - this book was inspired by the Goodie Two Shoes Foundation as part of the "More Than Words" series after all, so her story relates to that and it just felt like the "lesson" was piled on a bit thick. But I think fans of Katie McGarry would enjoy it anyway.
Rating: 3/5

The Wicked Confessions of Lady Cecelia Stanton by Viveka Portman (via Netgalley)
This book is in the same series as another novella I read recently that I hated, but I'm trying to get through some of the many books I've requested on Netgalley in overexcited moods, and since it was only short I thought I'd read it anyway. I liked it a little better than the other story, but it still wasn't great. The olde worlde language wasn't quite as bad here and the characters were slightly less annoying. But only slightly. Basically, this book focuses on the newly married Cecelia, who gets "lessons" in how to please her husband (and actually just pleases herself) from her best friend and maid. So yeah it's a lot of sexytimes, but... meh. It's just not very good.
Rating: 2/5

Hero Duty by Jenny Schwartz (via Netgalley)
Jessica is a billionaire who gets bullied by her family. After the recent death of her father, she has to face her wicked step-mother and step-brother, who are trying to take the company that she's inherited away from her. Not feeling strong enough to face them alone, she hires ex-soldier Brodie to be her "emotional bodyguard". The whole premise just made no sense to me and it didn't really become clearer as I read the book. I feel like Jessica didn't even know what she wanted out of Brodie (well, other than sexytimes and love within five minutes of knowing each other), but if you ignore the weak reason they've been thrown together there is some nice scenes between the two. But I didn't actually like either of them, and Brodie in particular was a complete douche multiple times and behaved in completely unrealistic ways. So I didn't love this one. It was a quick read but very underwhelming.
Rating: 2.5/5

It's Love, Dude by Jenny Schwartz (via Netgalley)
This book actually came out before Hero Duty but I didn't realise it was part of the same series until I started reading the latter. It's about Brodie's brother, Zane, a world champion surfer who is back in his hometown for a press event. He quickly falls for Molly, who works for the local MP and is friends with Zane's granddad. I liked this book a lot more than Hero Duty, the characters were way less annoying. I still didn't love it because I'm not a fan of instalove, and it also didn't make sense that Zane and Molly didn't know each other at all considering they grew up in the same smalltown and apparently knew everyone else, but it was entertaining enough. It would make a good beach read.
Rating: 3/5

Saturday 21 June 2014

Quick Audiobook Reviews: About a Boy, North and South and The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde

About a Boy by Nick Hornby, narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt
Will is an awful, self-centred, lazy, unemployed, rich, bored, philandering 36-year-old man child. Marcus is a sweet, weird, bullied, lonely 12-year-old boy with a suicidal mum and an absent dad. The two don't have anything in common but when Marcus latches on to Will, both their lives change forever. I wasn't sure that I would like About a Boy, because the only other Nick Hornby I've read was High Fidelity which I sadly hated. I had the impression Hornby generally writes the same type of unlikeable anti-hero, and while that was certainly the case here, I found the book overall to be very charming. I think it helped that the chapters were split between focusing on Will and on Marcus. It was Marcus' story that particularly got under my skin. I felt for the little weirdo, and I loved watching the development of his relationship with Will and the way they affected each other. The one drawback for me was that it seemed like Marcus had almost changed TOO much by the end. But I liked the way these two damaged characters helped and healed each other. The narration by Julian Rhind-Tutt was very good, and his voice for Marcus was particularly well done. It had the right touch of wonder and childishness without sounding ridiculous. About a Boy was a really great audiobook - I might even have to give Hornby's other books a go now.
Rating: 4/5

The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde: In Aid of the Royal Theatrical Fund, narrated by Judy Dench, Jeremy Irons, Joanna Lumley, Sinead Cusack et al.
I remember when I was a kid The Happy Prince was my least favourite fairy tale. It is just so bleak and depressing. This audiobook provided my first experience of Oscar Wilde's other fairy tales and yep, bleak and depressing is the theme for all of them. I don't think there's one with a happy ending. It got a bit much by the end of the book, frankly. Of course, the writing is exquisite and the pairings of some of the narrators - most especially Judy Dench, Joanna Lumley and Jeremy Irons - was divine. But after the first few beautiful but awful stories I found myself growing very impatient to get to the end of the collection. As wonderful as the prose it, it doesn't provide for a pleasant experience. I actually found The Happy Prince to be one of the LEAST depressing stories, and that is saying something.
Rating: 3/5

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, narrated by Juliet Stevenson
Oh I just adore this book. You know how it goes. Two people from different worlds meet and piss each other off but are secretly attracted to each other and the tension grows and ahhh it's amazing. But what's great about Gaskell is there's so much more to her stories than romance (although the romance is brilliant). North and South is about class divides and the struggles of life and faith and grief and love and friendship and learning and growing. It's truly wonderful. I don't love the religious parts myself but everything else I could connect with and relate to so much. Gaskell's characters are still as vibrant and three dimensional today as they were in their own time. Her third person narration allows insight into the minds of more than just the heroine, and this is particularly valuable for the perspective we get of the hero, John Thornton. The passion that simmers underneath his stiff exterior, which we actually get to READ about unlike in so many other classics, is extroadinary and oh-so-swoon worthy. I think I may even love him more than Mr Darcy. And THAT is saying something. As for the audio aspect, Juliet Stevenson is absolutely the best narrator I've experienced. She is SPOT ON with all the character's voices, absolutely perfect. I can't praise her highly enough. Outstanding.
Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Top Ten Books On My Winter TBR Pile

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I didn't make headway into my Autumn TBR AT ALL sadly, so hopefully I do better this time around.

1. Night Beach by Kirsty Eager. I haven't read any Kirsty Eager and everyone tells me how amazing she is, and this one has been sitting on my bookshelf unread for far too long.

2. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. I have heard good things about this from reviewers I trust so I'm excited to see what it's like.

3. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I have wanted to read this for so long and I recently bought it on Audible, I'm hoping the audiobook is good.

4. The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth. I picked this up at the Sydney Writer's Festival last week and I'm really keen to read it soon - I loved Forsyth's take on Rapunzel in Bitter Greens.

5. Girl Defective by Simmone Howell. I started reading this recently but I've been in a bit of a funk so I decided to put it aside until I can really enjoy it.

6. Petals on the Wind by V.C. Andrews. Yes, I'm going to continue on my recap journey. First I finish Flowers in the Attic, then it's on to Petals.

7. The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp. I have this on audiobook and I'm really curious about it but I
m worried it will be totally depressing.

8. Searching for Sky by Jillian Cantor. This book sounds kinda bizarre but I'm definitely intrigued.

9. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I feel like the last person in the world who hasn't read this book, and I want to get to it before I see the movie.

10. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. I got the Audible edition and it sounds like a really great way to experience it.

Friday 13 June 2014

Audiobook Reviews: Revisiting Melina Marchetta

I've been wanting to reread some of my favourite Melina Marchetta books for a little while, and decided to give the audiobooks a try, because I don't feel so guilty about rereading if I'm at least experiencing the books in a different way. These are some notes on the audiobooks themselves, as I've already addressed the overall books in my original reviews.

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Narrated by: Rebecca Macauley
Available at: Audible
I really loved this audiobook. Macauley's narration was great and felt authentic to the characters and the story. I didn't love a couple of the male voices, like Griggs, but they weren't bad - just not totally how I thought they should sound. Overall it was a solid performance from Macauley though, and it was a wonderful way to experience the story again. It made me ugly cry on the train, which looked even weirder than it usually does when reading, because I wasn't actually reading - I had headphones in and it probably just looked like I was listening to a really sad song or something. But it was worth it. 
Rating: 5/5 story, 4/5 audio.

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta (Book 1 in The Lumatere Chronicles)
Narrated by: Tom Wren
Available at: Audible
I have really mixed feelings about this one. The audiobook was so, so good in some ways and really not good in others. Wren's narration was well done for the most part and some of his voices - like those of the older men in particular - were brilliant. But other voices were awful - Froi's was one that was very grating. And certain words and names were so badly mispronounced it drove me batty every time I heard them. I could also hear him swallowing at times which wasn't very pleasant. But I found myself loving the book perhaps even more than I did the first time, nonetheless. Still, I probably wouldn't recommend this as a way to experience Finnikin - certainly not for the first time.
Rating: 5/5 story, 2.5/5 audio.

Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta (Books 2 and 3 in The Lumatere Chronicles)
Narrated by: Grant Cartwright
Available at: Audible 
The final two books in this series are narrated by a new voice actor from the first one, and although he doesn't have any really standout character voices like Wren did, he is also much better overall. He gets the pronunciation of everything right, the pacing is good and the emotions he infuses the dialogue with are incredibly moving. There was one section in particular that I relistened to about five times before I moved on because it was so powerful - part of that was the amazing writing, but the narration really enhanced it. I still don't know if I'd recommend listening to the audiobooks if you haven't actually read the series first, but maybe that's because I adored the experience of actually reading them so much. Basically, no matter how you get them, they're going to be good.
Rating: 5/5 story, 4/5 audio.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Top Ten Books I've Read So Far This Year

I haven't included rereads here, which I've been doing A LOT of, so unfortunately that didn't leave me with a lot to choose from. I feel I have read more bad books than good books this year, sadly. But here are some I really liked:

1. You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sarra Manning, audiobook narrated by Julie Maisey. This was definitely my fave read of the year so far, I think. It was fun and touching and I just adored it. The audio version was really great.

2. False Colours by Georgette Heyer, audiobook narrated by Phyllida Nash. I loved, loved, loved this book. So much fun! I've been meaning to read more Heyer since I finished it so perhaps the second half of the year will see me do that.

3. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling. This was a hilarious memoir by my best friend Mindy.

4. The Accident by Kate Hendrick. An emotional and raw contemporary YA novel from the country that does them best (IMO) - Australia, natch.

5. Such Sweet Sorrow by Jenny Trout. I really liked this new take on Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet. It was a page-turner and I hope there's a sequel.

6. Playing by the Rules by Imelda Evans. This was a really enjoyable and cute rom com-style read. The companion book, Rules Are For Breaking (which actually came out first but I read second) is also a lot of fun.

7. Zombies Vs. Unicorns, Edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier. A short story battle in which Team Zombie and Team Unicorn fight it out to see which is the ultimate mythical creature. As awesome as it sounds.

8. Indecent Desires by Jane O'Reilly. I've been reading a fair bit of romance/erotica this year and most of it has been pretty terrible. This is probably the best one I've read - I actually liked it.

9. About a Boy by Nick Hornby, audiobook narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt. I haven't reviewed this one yet but I listened to it recently and thought it was great.

10. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I think I'm one of the few people in the world who didn't love this book. I've included it here because I can see objectively it is good, and also pretty much all the other books I've read have been mediocre to awful, but still - TFIOS made me mad.

Sunday 1 June 2014

Audiobook Review: You Don't Have To Say You Love Me by Sarra Manning, Narrated by Julie Maisey

Neve and William have an intellectual connection and, while he's been in America the past few years, Neve has been working hard to ensure they have a physical connection when he gets back. She has lost a lot of weight and is no longer obese, but she's still doesn't feel ready for William's not-too-distant return. Aside from shifting the last few pounds, she needs more relationship experience - ANY would be handy - so she comes up with the idea of a "pancake relationship", a first relationship that you can chuck away like you throw away the first mangled pancake in a batch. Her sister's hot but sleazy boss Max is the perfect candidate for her first pancake, and he agrees to try the relationship because he's never really been in one himself, and it's ideal for him coz Neve doesn't care if he sleeps with other people coz she certainly doesn't want to sleep with him.

With this hijinksy set up, I was expecting You Don't Have to Say You Love Me to be a lot of fun. And it certainly was. Charming, funny and completely entertaining. But what I wasn't expecting was just how touching it would be - and how much I would relate to it. Neve is a complete mess, and boy did I see my own messy self in her. She is intelligent and attractive, but so incredibly insecure it's painful to read about at times - all the more painful because it was like hearing my own thoughts repeated back to me. From the way she froze when a guy tried to cuddle her across her tummy, to the way she held up her fingers to indicate she was just a LITTLE bit drunk when she was actually very drunk, it was bizarre just how much I felt like Neve WAS me sometimes. Some readers may find all her insecurities annoying, but they felt completely authentic and relatable to me. She also experiences a lot of character growth over the course of her book, and her journey towards accepting and even loving herself is heartbreaking and heartwarming all at once.

The funniest moments, as well as a number of incredibly moving ones, come when Neve interacts with Max. They are complete opposites in so many ways, and it makes for some hilarious and really fun scenes. Even more fun is the amazing chemistry they have, which gets harder and harder for them to resist. Max is a bit of a douche at times, but of course he has a big heart underneath. He is blokey and messy but he's also sexy and charming and respectful and lovely and a little bit broken himself. It's hard not to fall in love with him by the end.

The secondary characters are really great, and I especially loved Neve's family relationships. The way they hurt each other but love each other so much was realistic and really got under my skin. On a lighter level, Neve's work friendships and the office politics she deals with made for an entertaining subplot. Her career ambitions and growing belief in herself, even when others don't, is an awesome part of her character arc.

The story, characters and writing are all fantastic, but I also really appreciated the exploration of what makes a good relationship, and how your dreams and expectations don't always match reality - which can actually be a very good thing. The contrast between someone who you think is right, but who isn't at all, with someone you think is all wrong, but who is actually totally right, was really well done. The whole book was just so realistic in the most entertaining way.

I listened to the audiobook edition of this, read by Julie Maisey, and she did a wonderful job. Neve's voice was perfect and although I was a little unsure of Max's at first, I got used to it and really liked it in the end. The pacing and expression is spot on and all in all it was very compelling to listen to. This is one of those books where you begin to resent the rest of your life for getting in the way of it. When I finished You Don't Have To Say You Love Me I had a big, goofy grin on my face - and it doesn't get much better than that.

Rating: 5/5

Head Cast
I think I watched the Winter's Tale trailer too many times around the time I started reading this, because I pictured Jessica Brown Findlay as Neve and Colin Farrell as Max. Also Tom Hiddleston as William, because Hiddles.

Fine Print
Published: 2011, Whole Story Audiobooks
Get it: Audible