#AWW2021 “Some things had to be lived with.” Review of “The Dry” by Jane Harper

Title: The Dry
Author: Jane Harper
Genre: Crime fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 02/08/2021 – 06/08/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I finally got around to reading The Dry! It’s only been sitting on my shelf for four years!

This might have been a five star read for me if I hadn’t seen the movie first. I had hoped that I had forgotten all the major details in the intervening eight months but things started coming back to me as I read, including the identity of the murderer and how a seemingly unrelated plot point led to their discovery.

Despite all of that, this is a very well-written book. I’ve said before that while I enjoy thrillers, general crime fiction doesn’t work for me quite so much. This book does lean more towards the crime fiction, but Harper creates such a vivid picture of a small drought-stricken Australian town that I was drawn in. Lines such as “Falk bought three shirts, because the man seemed so grateful that he was prepared to buy one” felt like a punch to the gut.

The writing style, with flashbacks in italics intruding on the modern day narrative, revealed things at a great pace. The flashbacks are from a more omniscient narrator, providing us insight into the past of characters who are already dead by the time our main character arrives, as well as things that the POV characters would have no way of knowing. It all worked really well to keep the tension building.

I am definitely keen to check out more of Jane Harper’s work, particularly as I won’t have spoilers for subsequent ones the way I did from seeing the movie for this one. I can only imagine her writing goes from strength to strength.


This review is part of my 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“It was an imperfect world, and her chosen profession was decidedly imperfect, but for now she had a hint of that spark again.” Review of “Dead Man’s Switch” by Tara Moss

Title: Dead Man’s Switch (Billie Walker Mystery #1)
Author: Tara Moss
Audio book narrator: Danielle Carter
Genre: Mystery/Historical
Intended audience: Adult
Dates Read: 03/07/2021 – 18/07/21
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Ah, what a great piece of historical fiction this was! Set in Sydney in 1946, just after the war, this is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Billie Walker, former war reporter and now private inquirer. While most of her cases involve tailing cheating men and gathering evidence to give their wives grounds for divorce, but when a woman asks Billie to investigate the disappearance of her 17-year-old son, Billie finds herself thrown into something far more sinister.

Moss’s extensive research is clear and makes all the difference to the book. Details of buildings, fashions, cars, the police force and post-war rationing, just to name a few, are all there, and it makes you feel like you’re there, too.

Billie is a strong lead who carries the story very well, and she’s supported by some great side characters including her baroness mother, her veteran secretary Sam, a quiet but sturdy Detective Inspector, and a young Aboriginal informant.

The mystery runs along at a good pace, with two seemingly unconnected plotlines converging on an exciting climax.

I also want to mention Danielle Carter’s narration of the audio book. She did a spectacular job bringing all these different characters with different accents and backgrounds to life.


This review is part of my 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2021 Book Review: “An Unforeseen Demise” by P. A. Mason

Title: An Unforeseen Demise (Trouble Down Under #1)
Author: P. A. Mason
Genre: Urban fantasy/cozy mystery
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 27/06/2021 – 30/06/2021
Rating: 
★★★★

Review: 

I have to admit that when I heard P. A. Mason was writing a series of witchy cozy mysteries set in Australia, I wasn’t actually expecting an American main character but I understand the choice. Mason’s audience is likely to be mostly Americans, or at least largely non-Australian, and an audience stand-in who can ask questions about kangaroos and our odd colloquialisms was probably necessary.

Kat Crowe is one of a family of witches who travels to Australia to take care of her Aunt Tabitha’s affairs after the older woman’s unexpected death. But Aunt Tabby’s death seems suspicious, not the least because as a seer, she should have seen it coming, and seemingly didn’t.

This book has all the elements you expect from a cozy mystery: small town, nosy neighbours, and residents who aren’t all they seem. I loved some of the witchy additions, like the “witchy web”, an app that connects the magical community but appears as a phony astrology app to non-magical people who stumble across it.

The solution to the mystery was somewhat bittersweet, but it more than answered the question of why no one knew about Aunt Tabby’s death before it happened.

I’m definitely looking forward to more of Kat’s adventures in future instalments!


This review is part of my 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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Book Review: “Bitter Falls” by Rachel Caine

Title: Bitter Falls (Stillhouse Lake #4)
Author: Rachel Caine
Genre:
Thriller
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 13/01/2020 – 17/01/2020
Rating:★☆

Review:

I’m not sure if this is the last book in the Stillhouse Lake series or not (a few things at the end made me feel it might be), but either way, I think it is the last one I will read.

The depiction of the PTSD all of the Proctors are experiencing is really well done. There’s a scene early on during an active shooter drill at the kids’ schools, and it was particularly heartbreaking seeing Connor’s reaction.

I also thought the cult was depicted well, including the self-proclaimed prophet who lead the group, the way many women were the most stout believers, and the whole setup itself. The action sequences at the end of the book are well done, as usual. There is one explosion that is particularly chilling, knowing what its intended purpose was even if it didn’t achieve it.

If I had realised that the case Gwen is working on in this book was closely connected to the events of the previous one, I might have re-read it beforehand. As it was, being eight months between instalments, I didn’t remember all the ins and outs and so I felt a bit lost. It’s not as connected to Wolfhunter River as Killman Creek is to Stillhouse Lake, but I would recommend having the events of Book 3 fresh in your mind.

I also couldn’t help feeling frustrated with some of the decisions the characters made, particularly running into things without solid plans, and in contradiction to what law enforcement has advised them. I know that without them doing things like this, there is no story, and that it was quite in character for Gwen, but it reached the point where I couldn’t suspend my disbelief anymore.

All this meant that I was never especially keen to pick the book up, and that I wasn’t terribly engaged when I did. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastic series, and Stillhouse Lake/Killman Creek as a duology are definitely among my favourite thrillers ever. But as I mentioned at the top of the review, I think I’ve reached my limit with this series.


Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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Book Review: “The Nowhere Emporium” by Ross McKenzie

Title: The Nowhere Emporium
Author: Ross McKenzie
Audio Book Narrator: Monty d’Inverno
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience:
MG
Date Read: 06/07/19 – 09/07/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book reminded me a lot of The Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern and going by the reviews, I’m not the only one. Obviously, this is for much younger readers, and it has its differences. I still enjoyed the idea of a magical shop with infinite rooms containing Wonders drawn directly from imgination.

Daniel Holmes lives in present-day Glasgow, but when he comes across a mysterious  shop where the owner doesn’t expect him to remember his time inside, he is taken on as an apprentice to Mr Silver of the Nowhere Emporium. But Mr Silver has a long and sad past, and his sworn enemy is still looking for him. Daniel finds himself in the middle of this fued, and in a race to save the Emporium and the staff he’s come to love.

There are some really wonderful rooms described throughout the Emporium. Many of them were whimsical and delightful and made me feel nostalgic for childhood. And I’m all for a tragic backstory, so the fact that that was at the heart of the conflict was really enjoyable for me, too.

I did think that some of the running around to try to stop Vindictus Sharpe from destroying the Emporium did get a bit tedious, especially when it was a case of “Go to this room – no, that didn’t work at all” followed by the same again. It seemed only to serve to throw some more backstory in, because some of these rooms turned out to be no use at all.

Still, I did appreciate how the challenges that Sharpe and Daniel set each other at the end played into fears and biases that had been set up for each of the characters earlier on, and they had to face them in the only way they knew how. The ending may have been a little rush, but I still felt that it was satisfying. I got through this is only a few days and really appreciated a simply, whimsical story with a lot of heart.


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“For dreams, too, are ghosts, desires chased in sleep, gone by morning.” // Review of “Lair of Dreams” by Libba Bray

Title: Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2)
Author: Libba Bray
Audio book narrator: January LaVoy
Genre: Historical fantasy/horror
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 09/06/19 – 06/07/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book had a lot to live up to after I enjoyed the first one so much. I’ve got to be honest, there were times when I was just plain bored, and as you can see from the dates above, it took me nigh on a full month to get through. But it did pick up in the final quarter, and that’s why it still gets the rating it does from me.

There are a number of different threads through this book. First, Henry and his new friend, Ling Chan, are both dreamwalkers, and they meet as a mysterious sleeping sickness is taking over New York. So much of this storyline was devoted to character back stories and world building. I sometimes felt these parts were very, very slow.

Evie, Sam and Jericho are still about. Evie has become a sensation with her own radio show, The Sweetheart Seer, but to be honest, I found her a bit irritating in this book. In the first book, she was superficial but you could see what she was using that superficiality to mask. But there was less of that hidden vulnerability here, and she got a bit tiresome. The fact that there is a love triangle developing between her, Sam and Jericho also made me a bit weary.

Having said that, part of this aspect of the story is the search for Sam’s mother, which is hinted at, at the end of book one. I did find this stuff intriguing, and the extra information we got about Project Buffalo. I’m still not sure where the oft-mentioned King of Crows comes into that, but I suppose that will be revealed later in the series.

I guess the main reason I struggled more with this book than the first is that the pacing is entirely different. In the first book, there is a race to find the killer before he attacks again. There is no such time pressure in this book. So many scenes are devoted to dream walking, but the dreamscape is the same each time. And the characters aren’t really doing much, just hanging out and chatting. No one actually knows how to fix the sleeping sickness, so they just sort of generally worry about it.

Libba Bray does do a very good job representing true realities of life in the 1920s, and the gap between the privileged and the marginalised. I loved that Ling is a disabled character, and that forms part of her identity but isn’t her whole story. She is also part-Chinese and the book doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the anti-Chinese sentiments that were alive and well at that time.

There are some characters I haven’t mentioned, such as Theta, Memphis and Isaiah, and that’s because while they’re there, I didn’t really feel their scenes/chapters added much to this particular story. As I said, there’s a lot of character and background stuff, and I’m sure some of things we learned about the characters in this book will play out in the next installments but… it made it long.


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“There is no greater power on this earth than story.” // Review of “The Diviners” by Libba Bray

Title: The Diviners (The Diviners #1)
Author: Libba Bray
Audio book narrator: January LaVoy
Genre: Historical fantasy/horror
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 28/05/19 – 07/06/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book had everything I want in a book! 1920s New York, serial killings, the occult, ghosts. Not to mention January LaVoy is a fantastic narrator.

There is a large cast of characters, whose paths intersect in various ways, but the main ones are Evie O’Neill and co., who are assisting the police in solving a series of occult murders. In between these, we get spooky chapters detailing each killing (don’t listen to these after dark!), along with chapters introducing us to others with powers that will become known as Devining, making them Deviners.

Evie is pretty selfish and self-centred, though she has moments of vulnerability. She puts on a front to hide the grief of losing her brother in the war eight years earlier. But she and the others make a good team when it comes to solving the murders.

The rest of the ensemble cast all have really fleshed out characters, too. Even though in the cases of a lot of these  characters, the book is setting up for the sequel where they become central characters, their scenes never felt like filler. I really iked Mabel, Evie’s BFF, though I wished she would sometimes stand up for herself a bit more (though she definitely has potential to come into her own later). I had mixed feelings about Sam Lloyd and Jericho Jones, whom I am pretty sure are going to both become love interests.

I loved all the history involved in the mystery. There are fifty-year-old cults, and weird ceremonies, and prophecies and all sorts of fun things. And it’s so detailed. There are creepy murder scenes that were probably made extra creepy by the fact that I always seemed to reach them when I was walking after dark from the bus stop, or driving alone late at night. January LaVoy has a certain talent with voices, I must say. The climax is especially scary, with Evie mostly on her own against an army of ghosts.

There did seem to be about an hour at the end of the book where things were being either tied up or set up for  the next book. There are so many different characters, it really did feel like Bray was actively having to tick each one off to make sure she’d dealt with them. But I was still keen to start the second book as soon as this one was finished.


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Book Review: “Wolfhunter River” by Rachel Caine

Title: Wolfhunter River (Stillhouse Lake #3)
Author: Rachel Caine
Genre:
Thriller
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 11/04/2019 – 17/04/2019
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Back in 2017, I devoured books one and two in this series in four days. I absolutely loved them, so I was really looking forward to the long-awaited third instalment. It didn’t quite deliver on the fronts I hoped it would, but it was still a good read overall.

At the heart of the novel is the Proctor family, along wtih Sam Cade, trying to move on with their lives post-Melvin Royal. Their pasts still haunt them in ways they could never imagine, and there are betrayals lurking around every corner. I enjoyed this character-driven stuff even as I was a bit disappointed that the suspense was lacking.

The crime story and the suspense really picked up in the last third. Up until the 60% mark, I was thinking that not much had really been happening plot-wise, but there was enough in that last third to make up for the rest. It did get a bit complicated and I had to remember who a lot of different people were. A few different sub-plots all came together, so there was a lot to keep track of.

I suspect that this is something of a bridging book between the original Melvin Royal duology and future crime-solving instalments. I am definitely interested to see if/how this series continues.


Thank you to NetGalley and the Publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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#AWW2018 // Book Review: “Olmec Obituary” by L. J. M. Owen

Title: Olmec Obituary
Author:
L. J. M. Owen
Genre: Mystery
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 2/12/18 – 7/12/18
Rating:
★★

Review:

I have to admit my main reason for wanting to read this book was because it contained a fictionalised version of my own workplace. And reading those sections was pretty awesome because I was all like, “Hee! I understand that reference!” But once that novelty wore off, I found myself a bit flummoxed by how much the author was trying to squeeze into one book.

Between complicated family dynamics, a new job for the main character, shady academic behaviour and flashbacks to the figures in the historical mystery, there was a lot to take in. I’m not entirely sure it worked.

Sometimes the historical scenes felt a bit more like filler. It was interesting to see a bit about the lives of those whose skeletons Elizabeth was analysing, but at the same time, that wasn’t something Elizabeth would ever be able to know from her work, so there was no real connection between the two timelines.

I also felt that a lot of the character development felt forced rather than natural. Someone would be generally coming across as a decent person, then they would out-of-the-blue say something rude or mean for what seemed like no other reason than to establish them as an adversary.

Having said that, overall, the writing style is quite readable and accessible. There were some info dumps regarding ancient history, archaeology and linguistics, but they were interesting enough that they didn’t feel too info-dumpy. I am always a bit hesitant about things like eidetic memory and dreams to help a character solve a mystery (both things that happen in this book) – they both make it a bit too easy in my opinion, but that is a matter of personal preference.

At this stage, I don’t feel like I’m going to go on to the subsequent books in the series, though I haven’t entirely written them off yet. I just don’t think it’s the kind of thing where I can read all of it back to back.


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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Book Review: “‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas” by Jacqueline Frost

Title: ‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas (A Christmas Tree Farm Mystery #2)
Author:
Jacqueline Frost
Genre: Cozy mystery
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 14/11/18 – 17/11/18
Rating:
★★★

Review:

Okay, I have to be honest, I went into this book not expecting too much. I thought the story would be a bit OTT, and that I wouldn’t be abe to take it too seriously, but that I wouldn’t mind, because it’s a Christmas story and you can get away with that in Christmas stories.I didn’t expect to get really invested!

When Holly’s best friend, Caroline, is accused of the murder of Derek Waggoner, whose body is found in a giant bowl of mints at the town’s annual Christmas Lights ceremony, Holly sets out to prove her innocence. But doing so attracts the attention of the killer, putting Holly in danger for the second Christmas in a row.

While this is the second in a series, it stood alone well enough. The book filled me in on the details I needed to know from the previous book, and most of the focus was on the events of this one.

As i said, I got quite invested in Holly and her friends. I wanted Caroline to get out of jail. I wanted to know why Sherriff Gray seemed to have pushed Holly away after kissing her quite publicly and dramatically last Christmas (I actually really loved Sherriff Gray a lot just in general). Even the minor characters had really distinct personalites and I really enjoyed getting to know them.

I was a bit annoyed that when the murderer is finally revealed, they have a big villain monologue while they train a gun on Holly. I did raise my eyebrows a little bit at the suggestion that the real Santa did have something to do with  Holly getting out alive, as well as a few other Christmas miracles. But hey, didn’t I say you can get away with a lot in a Christmas book?

I do have the first book  in this series on my Kindle and I intend to read it closer to Christmas (when I am hopefully through my ARCs and have finished my 2018 challenges). I’m definitely looking forward to revisiting Mistletoe, Maine, even if I am doing it in the wrong order.


(Thank you to the Publishers and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)

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