The Books of 2016 - Books 11 - 20

Hello all, 

Since I have written a post about my first ten books, I thought it only fair to keep going. I have smashed my goal of 18 books for the Goodreads challenge which I am proud of, even though it was less than previous years. I am currently in this weird reading space where I have started a few books but haven't been reading lately. It's been a busy end of year, so I am trying to be lenient but I can't help but feel a kind of lull in my habits. I tell myself I can't be 100% all the time, and I know it to be true, but I just wish I had the concentration to sit down with a book and read. I thought that maybe writing small reviews would get me back into the right head space, so fingers crossed that it will work. 

Just like the prequel to this post, I am using the synopses from Goodreads. 

*minimal spoilers for all you folks playing at home*

Much love, 
Valerie

Ps. I have started a new IG profile about books called vfbrreads. If you enjoy aesthetically book-ispired photos, I highly recommend following me! 

Book 11# The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
Synopsis: This is the wise, unsettling, drastic story of three women whose lives share a common wound: Zenia, a woman they first met as university students in the sixties. Zenia is smart and beautiful, by turns manipulative, vulnerable and irresistible. She has entered into their separate lives to ensnare their sympathy, betray their trust, and exploit their weaknesses. Now Zenia, thought dead, has suddenly reappeared. 

In this richly layered narrative, Atwood skilfully evokes the decades of the past as she retraces three women's lives, until we are back in the present, where it is yet to be discovered whether Zenia's "pure, free-wheeling malevolence" can still wreak havoc. 

The Robber Bride reports from the farthest reaches of the sex wars and is one of Margaret Atwood's most intricate and subversive novels yet. 

Summary: The Robber Bride was enjoyable, but I expected nothing less from Atwood. I tore through this book easily, enjoying each story of how Zenia screwed over Tony, Charis, and Roz. It reminded me a little bit of the First Wives Club, a movie I always enjoy watching.

The ending wasn’t quite as good as the other Atwood novels I’ve read. It was a little too comical and slapstick for my liking, but amusing nonetheless. The only thing that bothered me were a couple of loose ends I wanted answers to – 'What was the truth about Zenia?' and 'What happened to Charis' boyfriend, Billy?’ I can only assume that Atwood ended the book that way because of the mystery that clung to her antagonist, but it felt unfinished to me.

Rating: 4/5

Book #12 – Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down 
Synopsis: 
All night Audrey woke again and again, and every so often Nick would be awake, too, and their bodies would shift into new shapes, and once Nick reached for her as if in a panic, and once Audrey thumped to the kitchen half-awake and stuck her head under the tap to drink, and once she turned over to face Nick, who was open-eyed, and they began to kiss in a dream, bodies just coming to, and she saw the dull shadows from the streetlights pass over his face as he came, and he covered her body with his and she felt his breath in her hair, and they held each other, and the whole time they never said a thing.

Audrey, Katy and Adam have been friends since high school—a decade of sneaky cigarettes, drunken misadventures on Melbourne backstreets, heart-to-hearts, in-jokes.

But now Katy has gone. And without her, Audrey is thrown off balance: everything she thought she knew, everything she believed was true, is bent out of shape.

Audrey’s family—her neurotic mother, her wayward teenage brother, her uptight suburban sister—are likely to fall apart. Her boyfriend, Nick, tries to hold their relationship together. And Audrey, caught in the middle, needs to find a reason to keep going when everything around her suddenly seems wrong.

Evocative and exquisitely written, Our Magic Hour is a story of love, loss and discovery. Jennifer Down’s remarkable debut novel captures that moment when being young and invincible gives way to being open and vulnerable, when one terrible act changes a life forever.

Summary: An excellent debut novel from Australian writer, Jennifer Down. I devoured it in a matter of days. I loved the heaviness of this book; the story was realistic and it felt more like a memoir than fiction. The story could have easily been about a friend from the past.

I wish that I had learned more about Katy before her death , especially about the her friendship had on Audrey. While Down did an amazing job showing the impact of Katy's death upon Audrey and Adam, it felt slightly unbalanced. Saying that, the depiction of their grief was written beautifully; I simply wanted to read more about Katy as a person.

I am glad that I read this book (shout out to Vicky for gifting me this book for my birthday!). It's always nice to read literature from emerging Australian authors. I look forward to Down’s next book.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book #13 – Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
Synopsis: 
Tsukiko is in her late 30s and living alone when one night she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, 'Sensei', in a bar. He is at least thirty years her senior, retired and, she presumes, a widower. After this initial encounter, the pair continue to meet occasionally to share food and drink sake, and as the seasons pass - from spring cherry blossom to autumnal mushrooms - Tsukiko and Sensei come to develop a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly into love.

Perfectly constructed, funny, and moving, Strange Weather in Tokyo is a tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance.

Summary: I was initially drawn to this book’s amazing cover art, but the blurb piqued my interest enough to buy it; a woman grows up to fall in love with her high school teacher.

The story had that simplistic, slightly melancholy feel that so many Japanese novels evoke. Unfortunately this novella was a little too stark for my personal taste. This is probably (at least partially) caused by cultural and translation barriers, but I couldn’t connect to the story as much as I would have liked. The love story was interesting as it unfolded, beautiful in its slow intimacy, but I was left dissatisfied. It did make me want to read more Japanese literature soon, so recommendations are more than welcome! (No Murakami, I've read them all.)

Rating: 3/5

Book #14 & #15 – Tomorrow, When the War Began & The Dead of Night by John Marsden (The first two books of the Tomorrow Series)
Synopsis: 
When Ellie and her friends return from a camping trip in the Australian bush, they find things hideously wrong — their families are gone. Gradually they begin to comprehend that their country has been invaded and everyone in their town has been taken prisoner. As the reality of the situation hits them, they must make a decision — run and hide, give themselves up and be with their families, or fight back.

Summary: I finally started this series after watching the movie on TV one night. I love how Australian the narrative is, it's probably the best part about the series, but I think the YA magic is lost on me with this specific series. There is no nostalgia to back it up, and as an adult it got a bit tiring as I plodded along. I think it's a solid series (so far) but I got bored by the end of the second book. The story tends to drag between the action scenes which makes me unsure if I will ever finish. Maybe it's just one of those anthologies you cannot read all at once, and I shouldn't have tried. Writing this summary has made me think about going back, so it's not all bad, but I am definitely going to have to read several books in between each instalment.

Rating: 2.5/5

Book #16 – Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Synopsis: 
Libby Day was just seven years old when her evidence put her fifteen-year-old brother behind bars.

Since then, she has been drifting. But when she is contacted by a group who are convinced of Ben's innocence, Libby starts to ask questions she never dared to before. Was the voice she heard her borther's? Ben was a misfit in their small town, but was he capable of murder? Are there secrets to uncover at the family farm or is Libby deluding herself because she wants her brother back?

She begins to realise that everyone in her family had something to hide that day... especially Ben. Now, twenty-four years later, the truth is going to be even harder to find.

Who did massacre the Day family?

Summary:I’m going to put this out there and say firstly that I didn't enjoy Dark Places nearly as much as Gone Girl. This  ultimately it comes down to my personal preference as I know many who find this book the superior, but I didn't find it nearly as intelligent.

The plot is enticing, well thought out, and entertaining but Libby Day is one of the most annoying protagonists I have ever had to follow. I know she is written that way because Flynn had a purpose for her, but her demeanour made the story drag heavily. I enjoyed Patty Day’s chapters and found them much needed relief from the neurotic Libby. With all I didn’t like in this novel, the ending was at least spectacularly unpredictable. Kudos, Gillian Flynn.  

Rating: 3/5

Book #17 – Something in the Heir by Jenny Gardiner 
Synopsis: 
He’s a prince with a problem, she’s a commoner with a getaway plan. 

Modern-day Prince Adrian of Monaforte has a most old-fashioned problem: his demanding mother wants him wed to her best friend’s daughter, the hard-partying Serena. When his refusal falls on deaf ears, Adrian decides it’s time for him to slip away from his gilded cage and figure out his life, all on his own. As luck would have it, event photographer Emma Davison, weary of a revolving door of lost-cause men and tired of her outsider-looking-in career, is in need of her own escape clause, just in time to help a wayward prince in need. And she soon discovers that sometimes a girl’s gotta sweep a prince off his feet.

For any girl that’s ever held out hope that some day her prince would come…or better yet, hoped that some day she’d come to him. 

Summary: I tried my hand at reading another romance novel and just like when I read Bet Me last year, the story was fine until I poked holes through it. Afterwards, I found myself more critical and less than amused. I don't know why I do this to myself, knowing that this genre is known to be a predictable, with the ability to tug at the heart strings. I always want there to be more. Maybe I'm picking the wrong type of romance novels as I am sure that there are ones out there that aren’t cheap thrills. Which is what this was. Both Emma and Prince Adrian were blah protagonists and it wasn’t a fun read.

Rating: 1/5

Book #18 – Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Synopsis: 
They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation and perfect for fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

Summary: Problematic themes aside, I enjoyed this book thoroughly. Me Before You is what I want from the romance genre. Even reviewing this book brings back the warm fuzzies, not because it was extremely fluffy, but because it felt real. I am a sucker for a good story, no matter how cheesy it gets, and this one was exactly what I felt like. I enjoyed Lou as a protagonist (it helps when I imagine her film equivalent, Emilia Clarke, all big eyes and big smiles) and her positive attitude juxtaposed against Will Traynor's less-than sunny disposition was the kind of opposites-attract trope I ate up without question. The book dragged in the middle, I was frantic for some momentum at the end of the second act, but when it finally did, I was satisfied. Satisfied as I cried silently in the park, during my lunch break, listening to the audiobook.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book #19 – Drown by Esther Dalseno
Synopsis: 
Seven emotionless princesses.
Three ghostly sirens.
A beautiful, malicious witch haunted by memories.
A handsome, self-mutilating prince.

Belonging to a race that is mostly animal with little humanity, a world obsessed with beauty where morality holds no sway, a little mermaid escapes to the ocean’s surface. Discovering music, a magnificent palace of glass and limestone, and a troubled human prince, she is driven by love to consult the elusive sea-witch who secretly dominates the entire species of merfolk. Upon paying an enormous price for her humanity, the little mermaid begins a new life, uncovering secrets of sexuality and the Immortal Soul. As a deadly virus threatens to contaminate the bloodstreams of the whole merfolk race, the little mermaid must choose between the lives of her people, the man she loves, or herself.

A complete reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale, this is a magical-realist fable that captures the essence of sacrifice and the price of humanity.

Summary:  Dalseno’s adaptation of The Little Mermaid was inspired. I was impressed at how she returned to the grave, dark tone of the original fairy tale, but still made Drown her own. I was impressed. Dalseno’s writing tone was perfect as I felt like I was reading an fable for adults. I love how she didn’t stick with the main mermaid narrative but included the stories of the prince as well as the Ursula-type figure – both grey characters that were neither all good nor all bad. The whole story was multi-faceted and added to the overall story arc. Absolutely loved it.

Rating: 4.5/5

Book #20 – After You by Jojo Moyes
Synopsis: 
“You’re going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. But I hope you feel a bit exhilarated too. Live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just live. Love, Will.”

How do you move on after losing the person you loved? How do you build a life worth living?

Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future...

For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

Summary: I know that lots of people didn’t feel that Me Before You required a sequel but I quite enjoyed watching Lou without Will. I would even say I liked it just a smidge more than its predecessor. Lou’s life moves on without her as she struggles to get over Will, which is very much how grief works sometimes. I liked how Lou doesn’t automatically switch from ‘not coping’ to ‘coping’ one day, how it takes time and certain events to get there, and how this book doesn’t end with a normal happily ever after. If anything, it ends with that first step in healing.

I quite liked the addition of Lily into the story, even though she’s a brat, as well as the entrance of new beau, Sam, and how her feelings for him bring conflict to Lou’s heart. My biggest problem was that, like Me Before You, it dragged in the middle. Moyes spent too much time on Lou’s lack of direction and indecision. I get that it’s more realistic this way, but it was a bit annoying.

Overall, I liked these books. They were the right amount of ‘romantic yet believable’ that I think the romance genre should be.

Rating: 3.5/5