Still Me (#3) by JoJo Moyes

Published: 23rd January 2018 (print)/2nd February 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Michael Joseph / W F Howes
Pages: 480/13 hours 38 minutes
Narrator: Anna Acton
Format: Audio
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Louisa Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She steps into the world of the superrich, working for Leonard Gopnik and his much younger second wife, Agnes. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her new job and New York life. 

As she begins to mix in New York high society, Lou meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past. Before long, Lou finds herself torn between Fifth Avenue where she works and the treasure-filled vintage clothing store where she actually feels at home. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself: Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you reconcile a heart that lives in two places?

Funny, romantic, and poignant, Still Me follows Lou as she navigates how to stay true to herself, while pushing to live boldly in her brave new world. 

The adventures of Louisa Clark continue from the streets of Manhattan. She has crossed the pond and headed to America with a new job lined up as a companion/assistant to a wealthy woman. Familiar faces from the previous novels are there; Nathan and of course Lou’s family make appearances. There are also some nice surprise appearances as well. For those who loved Paramedic Sam he’s still there, Sam and Lou have decided to try a long distance relationship, despite the newness of their own relationship. And of course it wouldn’t be a long distance romance without jealousy and things that could have been solved if people didn’t see what they wanted to see and decided to sulk instead of just talking to one another.

For Lou her new job is a challenge but has some excitement of its own. The Gopniks are otherworldly in their wealthy bubble of parties, balls, and disconnect from the Every Day Person. Agnes is selfish and needy, clinging to Lou like a security blanket and believing her needs are the most important. She switches between a formidable presence to an insecure young girl and it’s hard to know which one will make you sympathise with her. Will she soften and be changed by the charming Lou from England? In an odd Mary Poppins moment I was half expecting this family to be changed and moved by Lou’s presence and her influence. It didn’t happen as much, she doesn’t come in to change anything, or alter people’s perceptions too much, she just comes and does her job and tries to be a friend and true to herself while embracing new things.

There’s the usual family drama that is the same whether you are rich or, poor, or middle class, disrespectful stepdaughter, oblivious husbands, throw in a moody housekeeper and more money than people know what to do with and you have a story filled with drama and conflict.

It’s not all New York though; we get to see the other side back in England as well. I liked that you got to see how Lou’s family have gone on without her, her mum, grandad, and sister all coping without her and moving on. They have their own lives and achievements which is a nice change of scene. After being absorbed into the high society of New York you get the abrupt switch to everyday life with other peoples’ lives.

I will admit I was apprehensive about this third book, but then again, I was the same with book two. But I was surprised early on and I liked that it didn’t take me where I thought it would. I loved the sudden changes and the twists that I didn’t see coming.  I liked that Moyes suddenly decides she is going in a different direction, no apologies. It is heartfelt but not sappy or too idealistic. There’s a delightful slowness with this story while also keeping a great pace. Moyes explores relationships and establishes her characters with style and with ease. Building up the story and taking us on a great journey through her characters and the New York high society.

The ending was wonderful, a suitable ending to the story that has been told. There’s satisfaction and hope, but also a few things left unsaid and unsolved. If this is the last we see of Louisa Clark, I think this is a fitting conclusion to her story.

You can purchase Still Me via the following

QBD | Booktopia

Book Depository | Dymocks

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Publisher | BookWorld

 

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Mr Stink by David Walliams

Published: October 2009
Goodreads badgePublisher: Harper Collins Children’s
Pages: 267
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

“Mr Stink stank. He also stunk. And if it was correct English to say he stinked, then he stinked as well…”

It all starts when Chloe makes friends with Mr Stink, the local tramp. Yes, he smells a bit. But when it looks like he might be driven out of town, Chloe decides to hide him in the garden shed.

Now Chloe’s got to make sure no one finds out her secret. And speaking of secrets, there just might be more to Mr Stink than meets the eye… or the nose.

I think I liked this. I did and then I didn’t then I did again. It had moments of being sweet but then it would go silly again and then weird, then it would circle back to being sweet. At best I think it was a peculiar story, one that certainly left me with a lot of questions. At the core of it Mr Stink is a homeless Mary Poppins. He comes into the lives of the Crumb family and makes it a bit better.

At the start we are introduced to poor Chloe Crumb, living in her sister’s shadow, bullied by her as well as the kids at school, and she is never good enough for her mother. We are also told about Mr Stink, the man who smells so incredibly terrible who sits on a bench all day long with his dog.

I liked the characters Walliams has created. Mrs Crumb has a touch of Hyacinth Bucket in her, while poor suffering Mr Crumb has to put up with her. Chloe’s sister Annabelle is the snobby, bratty little sister who is spoiled and adored by her mother, and seeing her be cruel to Chloe was a bit heartbreaking. There were some jokes around Annabelle I liked; especially the ones about how full Annabelle’s schedule is trying to fit in all her extracurricular activities. I also liked the camaraderie between Chloe and her dad, their small actions of defiance against her mother’s demands.

One character I never fully understood was Mr Stink. Once you get to the core of his story it is quite serious for a children’s book, Walliams goes from silly jokes, to serious moments then back to silly jokes. The seriousness came out of nowhere and I was very surprised. It didn’t feel like it had a place in this light-hearted story, but Walliams throws these moments in there a lot as it goes on, making you think there is going to be a more heartfelt direction, and there is, to his credit, but it never lasts as long and is still surrounded by these obscure and silly jokes.

Another thing that confused me was the changes in Mr Stink’s personality. Sometimes he seems like a normal homeless person, bit eccentric ok, but normal enough. But then other times he seems delusional about what year it is or how money works. It distracted from the story and interrupts your sense of trying to work out who Mr Stink is as a character. He seems to be two people without actually meaning to be, especially after you understand his personal story.

I listened to this as an audio book and Walliams narrated it with the help of Matt Lucus. They both did a great job, the story translated well to audio well and with the pair of them doing a variety of voices it was a fun listen. It had the humour that kids books have with jokes about being dirty and doing gross stuff, but it also had a little bit of heart in it as well. It is sweet but it is weird, and felt like it could have been a bit more than what it was, but that might be asking a bit much of a children’s book that was just meant to be a bit funny with a fun story.

 

You can purchase Mr Stink via the following

Book Depository | QBD

Booktopia | Wordery

Fishpond | A&R Bookworld

The Fellowship of the Ring (#1) by J. R. R. Tolkien

Published: 29th  July 1954 (print)/11th October 2005 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt /HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 398/18 discs
Narrator: Rob Inglis
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★  – 2 Stars

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, The Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit

In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose. 

First of all, no one in all my years of hearing about Lord of the Rings ever mentioned just how much singing I would have to sit through in this book. The only time I wish I was reading it instead of listening to it was putting up with so many songs. There were five-minute songs in there that were hard to skip on audio, not to mention all the random ones we needed in there about having baths, walking, general merriment, and who knows what else.

Tom Bombadil was also a nightmare to put up with, I was so relieved when his part ended I actually cried out in frustration when he came back. That is not to say the rest of the story was horrible. I actually enjoyed some parts, some parts were genuinely interesting and had that adventure tone to them, and then other times it was just boring.

I wanted to like this story, it started off so interesting and each time I found myself becoming uninterested I felt I was doing this story a disservice. I know people talk about Tolkien being big into description and long-winded things but that wasn’t a real problem, I didn’t mind the walking and the travelling for most of the book, but for some reason the walking towards the end was incredibly dull and hard to listen to and there are some scenes that I think were entirely unnecessary.

I did like the characters though, I liked Frodo and I liked Sam’s loyalty. Merry and Pippin weren’t as silly as I recall them being in the movie and I especially liked the complexity of Aragorn. There is a good story here woven between the oversharing and focusing on that instead is a great way to get through the boring bits. Tolkien came through though with a good and interesting ending, after a dull stretch it suddenly takes off and you are whisked into a great conclusion that makes you want to head straight into the next story.

I am not a huge fantasy reader but I don’t hate the genre, and this is after all THE fantasy novel, the beloved classic, and I am a little surprised, I thought I would like it more than I did. You can certainly see the Tolkien genius, but my goodness you have to put up with a lot of nonsense to get there.

I also realised too late that I should have started with The Hobbit, but there was a prologue recap before the story and there are enough references within the text itself that it is not really needed, but I did feel like I was missing out on something.

You can purchase The Fellowship of the Ring via the following

QBD | Dymocks | Book Depository

Booktopia | Bookworld | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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Bro by Helen Chebatte

Published: 1st February 2016 (print)/1st June 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Hardie Grant Egmont/ABC Audio
Pages: 240/MP3
Narrator: Julian Maroun
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

What happens when you mix teenage boys, a fight club, and ethnic rivalries? 

You get war.

Romeo Makhlouf knows the rules.

Stick with your own kind. Don’t dob on your mates or even on your enemies. Respect the family.

But even unwritten rules are made for breaking.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like Bro but Chebatte definitely surprised me. It isn’t a long book but it one that is important as it talks about trying to fit in when people class you as different on both sides, and the pressure of being loyal to your family roots, all with a delightfully Australian feel.

This is Boys ‘R’ Us meets Hate is Such a Strong Word  in all the best ways. It is, I’ll admit, very Australian. One could say too Australian, but I have heard teenage boys speak to one another and aside from the lack of swearing, it sounds like this for the most part (so many bros!). It takes some getting used to but I quite liked the tone of voice Chebatte used, especially how Julian Maroun narrated, it felt very real; you really get the sense of these teenage boys who are trying to be cooler and tougher than they actually are and the tired effort the adults are going to to try and help them

Chebatte uses the male point of view quite well, demonstrating the conflicts between the races at school, girl trouble, and trying to find where you belong, something which reminded me of Ayoub’s Hate is Such a Strong Word for the female perspective. I liked Romeo as a narrator, I also liked that Chebatte balanced him but not too evenly. He has some sensibilities but he is still a young boy with wild ideas and a feeling of invincibility. You clearly understand his conflict about who he is and whether he is Lebanese or Australian, and how even though he was born here he still doesn’t feel like he belongs. This conflict drives his decisions and affects the decisions he makes, right or wrong they may be.

There are many aspects I recall from my own high school days in here, just the scenes Chebatte has set up about classes, canteen lines, and group dynamics, even though my experience wasn’t the same as Romeo’s school in a lot of ways, it still feels familiar. The plot can be criticised as childish and absurd, but in the way that most teenage conflicts are, they are petty and ridiculous and fought for nothing, and yet at the time, it’s the fight you are willing to stand for no matter the consequences.

I was apprehensive about this book, I genuinely thought I wouldn’t like it but I’m glad I read it. It tells the story of the danger of boys and their masculinity, peer pressure, “national pride”, racism, and trying to belong. It’s a book people should read about feeling different, and the consequences of male pride.

You can purchase Bro via the following

Dymocks | QBD

Booktopia | BookWorld

Amazon | Amazon Aust

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Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Published: 26th July 2016 (print)/20th July 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Flatiron Books /Bolinda Audio
Pages: 415/15 discs
Narrator: Caroline Lee
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

First of all, let’s all rejoice, I have read a Moriarty book I didn’t dislike! It was interesting, it had characters I liked and who were interesting, and there was a good plot that had purpose and flow.

After a few unenjoyable books by Moriarty I was worried going into this but it surprised me. The classic “I’m not going to tell you what I’ve been hinting at for most of the book until almost the end” Moriarty approach is there which surprisingly worked very well in this story. In the past, it’s been a frustratingly drawn out longer than need be experience, but this time it works ideally. With the numerous perspectives to cover it spreads the novel out and covers multiple angles and adds depth to the story and more complexities.

With so many characters Moriarty circles around the unspoken event, also known as “the worst day” and just as you get closer she spirals out again. It seamless and I loved that we inch our way closer and closer and then are flung straight back out again into someone else’s point of view and backwards or forwards through time.

The characters are full and brought their lives to the page, Moriarty showing us exactly who they are with a few words or actions that encapsulates them perfectly and Lee adds another level with her excellent voices and narrating ability. Each character felt real to some degree and had their own depth and unique quality. Moriarty made even the briefest characters have something that made them stand out. I enjoyed Oliver’s kind but abrupt nature, and while I disliked Erika’s character, I liked that she was different and could annoy me, which is a weird experience. On the other hand, I can’t tell if I feel sorry for Harry or not. In a way I think we are meant to feel sorry for him, but at the same time not. I liked that Moriarty made me have such conflicting feelings about so many of her characters.

When the surprise does come it’s after much speculation on the reader’s part and Moriarty doesn’t disappoint. The slow reveal is wonderful and linked to so many characters that it adds more questions and sparks a whole other set of problems and dramas.

The ending I think was perfect, it was the best ending for the characters and I am glad Moriarty didn’t try to make it any other way which she easily could have. There are surprises and wonderful moments, it’s not without its problems but it was an enjoyable book that was complicated and messy and revealed how one single event can affect everyone differently and can change everything.

You can purchase Truly Madly Guilty via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia | Wordery

Book Depository | Kobo| Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust | QBD

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