Sunday 23 April 2017

Book Review: But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure

But Then I Came Back is written as a companion book (not a sequel as such, but the same characters, different protagonist and different story) to This Raging Light. I think it stands pretty well on its own without having read the first book, but the intro is a little washy and confusing and without the backgrounds of the characters it is hard to understand why the accident happens in the first place.

Eden slips off a rock by a river and ends up in a coma for a month. But then she comes back. Before, she was a ballet dancer with dreams of the big time in New York. Her life was organized, planned. While she was in the coma she experienced some crazy-weird stuff in the InBetween or the afterlife if you will. Now that she is back she tries to get her head around what she experienced, as well as having a totally different view on life. She also feels a connection with another girl, Jasmine, who is in a coma and resides down the hall from her in hospital. Eden feels like she can somehow reach her but realizes how weird that seems to everyone else. There is also Joe, Jasmine's best friend who becomes part of Eden's recovery too. Eden's family also play a big part in the story.

Now this is Young Adult Contemporary Fiction. I knew that going in, I felt like I would enjoy something lighter after a couple of darker, intense reads. I was conflicted with this book. I was not a huge fan of the narrative written as Eden's thoughts. She is obviously a teenager and thinks like one, but she didn't seem very likeable, or maybe I am just getting old. It didn't stop me from finishing the book though, the content pulled me through. Another thing I wasn't a fan of was the magical, otherworldly elements. A cool concept, but I thought some of it was a bit over-the-top.

On the plus side, I really appreciate the fact that Laure tackles the tricky issue of 'what happens after we die/are in a coma'. She did a lot of research into the medical side of things and the realities of recovery. In the Q & A in the back of the book, Laure talks about her very close friend who committed suicide just before she wrote this book. She didn't get to come back, but Laure found similarities between her and Eden and used the book as a sort of goodbye for her. I find this so heartbreaking but I praise her for dealing with death and tricky topics in a way that makes you end with feeling that life is meant to be lived well. I also enjoyed the fact that there was a love interest but it didn't overwhelm the story.

Overall, I'd read both This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back together. It is not a light, fluffy YA book but it deals with real issues. Thought provoking, funny and an interesting journey of self-discovery.

Available from 11 April 2017 in both paperback and eBook formats. 

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy of this book.

Friday 21 April 2017

South Canterbury Camping Trip

This past week Dave, Addison and I went camping with two of our good friends Roanna and Stephen. We headed south of Christchurch to Timaru, where we picked up the Chiles family's caravan and headed about 30 minutes inland to a farm on the edge of the Pareora River. The farm is owned by a family friend and Dave's parents have been camping here for years. It is such a beautiful place, a secluded gem of solitude mixed with the occasional farm bike and dogs moving sheep around the paddocks.

It is currently autumn and pretty darn cold, we were hitting 6/7 degree lows overnight which is pretty chilly when you are sleeping in a tent! Thankfully we had the caravan for Addison to sleep in which was probably the best move we made because a) it was warm(er) b) it was enclosed and c) it was sound proof enough that we could still be up late chatting away and she couldn't hear us but we could still hear her when she woke.

We headed down on Monday and stayed until Thursday which was 3 nights and that felt like a long enough stay. There was no running water at the site so we had a chemical toilet and zero showers because the river was freezing! Thanks to the wonders of merino and deodorant we didn't smell too bad but the first hot shower after coming home was bliss.

The campsite has a well-used fire pit which we immediately got to finding and chopping wood. There is also a pizza oven which we tested out and had great success with.

It got dark around 6pm and we let Addison stay up and cook marshmallows with us then put her to bed. The magic of dark nights! It felt way later than it was and I think we ended up heading to bed around 9.30/10 most nights.

We spent the first two evenings hanging by the fire to keep warm but the last night it started raining so we retreated to the semi-enclosed dome tent that Ro & Stephen had brought. We had a Primus gas cooker for most of our cooking and the caravan also has a small gas stove. We had a 20 litre container of water and took some store bought bottled water too after our second container sprung a leak. We also had a chilly bin with a couple of bags of ice to keep our food cold. There was still ice left after 3 days so that seemed to work pretty well.


Dinner - Bacon & Beans with Toast
Breakfast - Bacon, Eggs, Hash Browns, Toast
Lunch - Sandwiches with Salad and Deli Meats
Dinner - Baked Potatoes with Creamed Corn, Bacon and Sour Cream (cooked in the embers of the fire!)
Breakfast - Pancakes, Bacon and Maple Syrup
Lunch - We did a supply run into Timaru to get more water (and chocolate) and had lunch there.
Dinner - Pizza in the pizza oven!
Breakfast - Bacon, Eggs, Hash Browns, Toast
Lunch - Instant Noodles

Snacks were fruit, chips, chocolate and s'mores.

We took a plunger and coffee as well as hot chocolate and herbal teas which were on high rotation with the whistling kettle.

While we were camping we did a lot of exploring with Addison. She loved to help us with the general set-up and wood gathering. She got to work finding 'treasure' which were just old beer caps from previous occupants. We threw stones in the river, found some interesting looking ones, talked to the sheep, splashed in puddles and she took Roanna on a bunch of interesting adventures around the campsite. The toys we took to bust out when boredom finally arrived were playdough, bubbles, her dolly and a colouring book. We also had a couple of books for bedtime as well as her duvet, white noise, light lamp and cuddly toy. She quite took to the chemical toilet because it was in its own little tent and was just the right height for her. She was such a trooper in the cold mornings - we had to teach her to put her hands in her pockets and put her in multiple layers of merino to stay warm. She ended up with pretty dry lips so next time I'll make sure we have chapstick with us.

Dave and Stephen took a walk down to the Pareora Dam which was about an hour round trip on an overgrown path. It was a bit far for Addison so we stayed at the campsite with her while the boys went adventuring.

Roanna and Stephen were such awesome camp-mates. They had just spent the weekend camping in the rain at Eastercamp and still managed to be enthusiastic about coming to an unknown spot with the three of us. Addison loved having some extra attention and got quite attached to them. We made a pretty good team and had just the right amount of gear between us to make it an adventure. They didn't even bat an eyelid when the tantrums happened. Thanks guys!

We had so much fun on our trip and despite all my reservations about taking Addison camping, she well and truly proved me wrong and had a great time. We plan to make this a relatively regular occurrence now that we have figured out how it all works. Thanks to the Chiles' for the use of the caravan too!

Wood gathering

Addison discovering the toilet tent

Handing out snacks

Adventuring - Gumboots essential

Dave whittling a knife

I promise I was there!

Blowing bubbles

Jacket potatoes and walnuts we found drying by the fire

Morning fog

Balancing by the pizza oven

Getting the pizza oven nice and hot


Addison helping wash up

Arty shot

xx Amy

Book Review: My Hand To Hold by Smriti Prasadam-Halls

My Hand to Hold is a beautifully illustrated, feel-good book with the overall message of unconditional love running deeply through.The rhyming structure flows well  which I enjoy in children's books. It is beautifully illustrated, oh wait, I said that already? Well it is! The rabbits play through every breathtaking season. The rabbits are also not given specific genders so it can apply to any family unit. What I like best though is that it shows that life isn't always sunshine and roses:

'I love you in the dazzling sun,
When everything we do seems fun.
But when you have to shout and yell,
I love you at those times as well.'

This is definitely a book aimed at younger children (under 5's) but is lovely and sweet so older siblings won't mind listening in.

Available now in hardback and paperback.

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy of this book.

Friday 14 April 2017

Book Review: Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

The Roanoke girls are rich and beautiful but hide a generations-long secret. This dark, dirty secret leads them to either run from the family home, or die.

Fifteen year old Lane Roanoke has stayed away from the family house but after her mother commits suicide, Lane is welcomed into the small-town Kansas mansion where her Grandparents and cousin Allegra live. During the long, hot summer, Lane and Allegra become good friends, meet boys and generally own the town but when the summer ends Lane runs and doesn't look back. Until eleven years later when Allegra goes missing and Lane is drawn back to find out what happened to her. But will Lane be able to resist the pull of the Roanoke secret once again?

I am so morally torn after reading this book. It touches on a very intense subject that made me feel pretty gross. I can't give it away without spoiling the plot, although the secret is known pretty early on. This is unusual for a small-town mystery novel, usually it would be saved until the end. But it silently festers and reaches all corners of the town. In saying that, the book has that draw, that pull that makes  you turn page after page to find out what happens in the end. There is a mystery element to the book which always gets me, Allegra leaves a trail of clues which need to be found by Lane. There is sex, crude language and characters that are beyond screwed up.

When Lane returns she reunites with her old flame who has about as many skeletons in his closet as she does. The two have a push/pull relationship where each seems to think that their issues will destroy the other but they manage to accept their brokenness and I think that is one of the better parts of the novel.

The narrative is told in then/now flashbacks and interspersed with brief voices from the dead or departed previous Roanoke girls. I liked this style as it kept the story moving and revealed the vulnerability and innocence of the girls who came before.

Overall this is not a comfortable read but if you can get past that then you will be rewarded with an intriguing tale with plenty of twists.

Available from March 14, 2017 in hardback and paperback.

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy of this book.

Monday 10 April 2017

Book Review: Takedown by Stephen Leather

I chose this book to review because I had previously read another by Stephen Leather - Dark Forces and I really enjoyed it. This one however didn't quite hit the mark for me.

The premise is that a British Special Forces soldier has gone rogue and joined forces with ISIS to launch a terrorist attack in the UK. Charlotte Button - an ex-MI5 agent (featured in other books by Leather) is hired off-the-books to take him out. She hires her favourite hitman Lex Harper to head up the operation.

I mean that is what the back of the book hints at, there is also a side-plot which involves Charlotte's personal insurance policy from when she was with MI5 - three flash drives that have been hidden away in security vaults. Two of these have been robbed and the third is at risk. Lex is called in to work on this case too.

The book starts in the perspective of Caleb McGoven - the rogue agent. There are a couple of chapters dedicated to getting to know how he gains the support of ISIS. Then we never get his perspective again. It switches focus to Lex for the rest of the book, save a chapter here and there for other minor league characters. This really confused me. It felt like I was getting invested in the terrorist plot and I would know why, where, what - all the important stuff. But nope. Nada. Everything was given from Lex's crew.

Lex is great at his job and is a relatively likable character, although he has his own stuff to deal with as well, more side-plots which kind of overtake the main plot. I think that is my main beef with this novel - there are too many sub-plots which could have easily been their own novels. The main 'rogue terrorist' plot - the one that drew me to the book in the first place - was super anti-climatic and took up maybe half the read time. I enjoyed the other plot lines but it was pretty jumpy.

Still a good read if you like the genre and the author, otherwise I'd read some of Leather's other novels instead.

Published by Hachette New Zealand. Available from 28 February 2017

Thanks to Hachette for providing me with a review copy of this book.