Mad Men, Bad Girls and the Guerrilla Knitters Institute (#1) by Maggie Groff

Published: 3rd March 2012 (print)/6th August 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pan Macmillan Australia/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 364 pages/7 discs
Narrator: Georgie Parker
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Mystery
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

When a secretive American cult moves to the Gold Coast, freelance journalist Scout Davis’s investigative antennae start quivering. She sets out to expose the cult’s lunatic beliefs and bizarre practices, but when she learns the identity of a recent recruit, her quest becomes personal. And dangerous.

But Scout has her secrets too. In the dead of night she sneaks out with an underground group of yarn bombers to decorate the locality with artworks. The next mission ticks all the right boxes – it’s risky, difficult and extremely silly. However, Scout has a sneaking suspicion that the local police sergeant, Rafe Kelly, is hot on her tail.

Jess from The Never Ending Book Shelf reviewed this a while back and since then I have been keen to read it. It came across my desk at work and I borrowed it right away to give it a go and I was… satisfied, I think that’s the best word to use.

The story itself is quite interesting, the investigation into a cult and the second mystery and investigation at the school is really good. Scout is a great investigative journalist and seeing how she maps out her stories and her plans are a nice insight into the mind of someone in her profession. She is headstrong and good at her job, she is clever and creative and seeing her work is an engaging part of the story. But having said that, I wasn’t a fan of Scout herself at times. Yes, admittedly, she is strong and confident and snarky and sarcastic and knows how to laugh and enjoy life, but she also isn’t the most faithful, and while she is having adulterous thoughts about a friend she doesn’t seem the least bit guilty. I kept waiting for her to snap out of it, to realise she couldn’t have these thoughts while her partner is overseas. It annoyed me she didn’t try to stop herself and that she went on with no remorse. It didn’t make you like her as a character in that regard.

Also while the guerrilla knitting part was interesting, I couldn’t see the point in relation to the rest of the story. It was more like a side quest that had no relation to anything else. It is like Groff has just put a few weeks of Scout’s life together and is telling us. Which is fine, but while the rest of the events sort of blended together or connected in some way, this never really needed to be there in terms of story.

This snippet of a life approach is supported by the fact Groff goes into a lot of detail about Scout’s day to day business, a lot of little details and descriptions are included about what she does, from shopping to what she eats and her daily routine. Whether this has to do with her diabetes and Groff felt like in the daily routine we needed to know the practices and how they fit into her life otherwise it wasn’t believable I’m not sure. When exciting things happen it all comes back to her diabetes and how it comes into play. Whether it would be as saturated with detail and description if she didn’t have diabetes I don’t know, I’m not sure I really needed to know every little thing Scout did though.

As a narrator Georgie Parker probably isn’t the best choice and maybe this also came into play of how I enjoyed the story. She adds emotion as she reads into odd places and doesn’t read it…I don’t want to say normally, but she pauses at odd times in sentences, it’s very casual and seems like a fun activity rather than trying to read the book as it were. Not to mention there is little difference in the voices she uses for characters, sometimes it disappearing altogether at times. Granted you don’t always need it, but it was something I noticed. Like all audiobooks you get used to some things, but I couldn’t quite get used to Georgie’s style and her voice annoyed me more often than not, it kept bringing me out of the story and while I accepted her style, I never stopped noticing it like I have done with other audio books when I become more invested in the story than the voice telling it.

Overall it was interesting for the investigative style and the story surrounding it. Groff frames the story well and shows how Scout moves from one part of her research into another, how she fits it into her day with life’s little dramas and adventures. The writing is good, the action and suspense was good, the balance of the serious and the every day worked well and Groff flows from one event to the next successfully. It was enjoyable and I might have to find the next book to see if it really gets me into the series and maybe see more of the Guerilla Knitters in action.

You can purchase Mad Men, Bad Girls, and the Guerilla Knitters Institute via the following

Print

Booktopia | Pan Macmillan Aus

Angus & Robertson | QBD

Audio

Booktopia | Angus & Robertson

The Reluctant Jillaroo by Kaz Delaney

Published: 4th January 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Allen & Unwin
Pages: 348
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult/ Romance/ Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Harper Gage has won the opportunity of a lifetime – ten days at Winmaroo Jillaroo and Jackaroo school. The camp could give her the recommendation she needs to go to the exclusive Agricoll for years 11 and 12. But when an accident leaves Harper hospitalised, her twin sister, Heidi, goes in her place. The only problem is that Heidi is not much of a country girl – not like her sister. And to make life even more complicated, her sister’s biggest rival Trent is going to be there. Will she be able to fool him?

And then the reality of the school hits Heidi hard. It’s all dust, snakes and heat – a million miles away from the surf she loves. When she meets the fun and handsome Chaz, life at the school suddenly doesn’t seem so bad, although with Trent acting up and trouble brewing with the other students, Heidi’s not sure how long she can keep her identity secret. And if her secret is revealed, will Chaz ever be able to trust her again?

Once again Kaz Delaney had me awake until 3am finishing one of her books. Read, finished, and loved the same day I got it and it was wonderful from start to finish!

Kaz gets your attention early on by starting in the middle of a moment, we are thrown into the story with no idea what has happened, and only Heidi’s thoughts to fill us in. I love stories that drop you straight in the action; it makes your curious and engaged right away. The idea that Heidi and Harper have concocted is well within the realm of believability, and Kaz writes so well that the story flows seamlessly and you get caught up in the story naturally.

Of course Heidi’s experience isn’t going to go smoothly, having to act like her sister and hiding her inexperience is drama enough without also dealing with a budding romance and the unexpected arrival of someone who actually knows her sister. Watching Heidi deal with everything that comes her way is fun and commendable. She never gives in and covers her tracks as best she can, not without the pang of guilt and the sadness she feels at lying to people she’s become good friends with.

Heidi is a great and admirable character. She’s a Batman lover (a great start), but she is also friendly and welcoming, even when she is out of her depth, and her loyalty and determination outweigh her fears and trepidations. She’s uncertain in her surroundings but she is strong and determined, not willing to let her sister down. Her commitment to her sister drives her to succeed and sees her doing things she wouldn’t normally do. What I also adored about her is that she has a great moral sense and good nature that makes her want to help people and make them feel included. Looking after other camp attendees and noticing what others are doing or feeling, making sure they are happy, is what makes her a wonderful person.

But this is not just a simple story where Heidi mustn’t be found out, there are mysterious things happening at the camp as well. The gradual introduction of the mystery is subtle and at the same time doesn’t deter from Heidi’s fish out of water experiences. Kaz connects everything brilliantly and there are twists and turns offering up a different thrill away from watching Heidi try to drench sheep or milk cows.

The best part about reading this though is how it feels like you are right alongside these characters, riding along trails, whispering at night in bunks, and having everyday experiences. That’s what makes Kaz’s writing so wonderful, it feels so realistic. Everything happens all at once, everything overlaps, and there can be fun and drama and love alongside one another.

It’s clear Kaz has done some amazing research and gone to a lot of effort to make this story feel authentic, not just in the camp activities, but also in making sure every character feels like a complete person, full, developed, and with experiences of their own behind them. You can’t help but love them all for their quirks and their different personalities; the comradery and friendships are evident, even after such a short time.

There really is so much to love about this story, it’s fun, suspenseful, and filled with mystery and madness that keeps you hooked from the start, not to mention an ending that will amaze!

You can purchase The Reluctant Jillaroo via the following

Dymocks | Kindle | Booktopia

iTunes | Publisher

Amazon Aust | QBD

AWW16

The Crow Box (#1) by Nikki Rae

Published: 15th January 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self Published
Pages: 164
Format: ebook
Genre: New Adult/Paranormal/Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

The small wooden box is dirty, the size of a human fist, and sealed with wax. When Corbin takes it upon herself to clean it and break the seal, a voice she has tried to ignore gathers strength. Shadows play on the walls at night, and with a family history of mental illness, Corbin fears the worst. But the voice tells her it is real. That its name is Six and it will prove it in time. 

Drawn to this mysterious entity, Corbin isn’t sure what to believe and the line between reality and her imagination blurs more every day.

Some doors should not be opened; can this one be closed?

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

I think I say this for every one of Nikki Rae’s books, but she is a master at telling a story. Not only are the themes and the plots intricate and unique, but her words and descriptions and vivid and evoke images and feelings, and she places you inside the mind of her characters so well, it’s almost like you are experiencing things alongside them, even minor things like understanding the mind of an artist.

The Crow Box was nothing like I thought it would be, and I am not even disappointed by that. I was not entirely sure what I expected but Rae didn’t let me down. Corbin’s story is filled with mystery and a slow but dangerous decent and watching her struggle against it is enthralling.

When Corbin starts to hear a voice she thinks she is going mad like her mother, and seeing the way Rae introduces Six, and the way it interacts with Corbin, it’s clear why Corbin thinks she is losing her mind. But the wonder of the story is how she functions alongside it, what she does to deal with it, how she reasons with it, embraces it, fears it. Rae’s writing brings you into Corbin’s experience and makes you understand unreservedly what she is going through. Her confusion and attempt to explain what is happening is expressed and explored beautifully.

What makes Corbin so wonderful is that she is practical, she’s had years of stress and worry because of her mother’s condition but she manages to cope and enjoy her art and things around her. Her approach to the strange occurrences around her are reasoned and as Rae brings us deeper into Corbin’s mind you can see this reasoning adjust, but remain.

Rae gradually pulling you into Corbin’s mind is eerie and unsettling. The journey from being an outsider to her inner thoughts is amazing, and it unsettles you in all the right ways. Not knowing what Six is or where it comes from is also part of the experience. The unanswered questions and the non answers given by Six add to the secrets. The gradual development and the mystery is intriguing, and Rae balances the pace and story flow with the not knowing and slow burn mystery very well. There is a balance between the surreal and the real which only enhances the overall feeling because it brings in the idea that the strange and unexplained could come so easily into the every day.

Wherever you think the story is going it isn’t and where Rae takes you is incredible. Theories and assumptions get tossed aside as another thing unravels your thoughts, and tiny twists make you realise you are in much deeper than you thought. The writing is melodic and creative, but not overly poetic or dramatic, the right balance to convey meaning and portray a scene. Rae uses her words wisely and her descriptions are perfect for capturing just the right explanation for a sensation or a feeling. The writing teases you and taunts you, offering hope and answers like dangling a string for a cat.

After the experience Rae takes you on and after those final few chapters, the ending is one of the most frustrating things you’ll endure. The ‘to be continued’ makes you want to pick up the next book immediately and keep reading. From the very first line until the final full stop Rae holds your attention and once you’ve started down this rabbit hole you won’t want to stop.

You can purchase The Crow Box via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

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The Girl Who Went Missing by Ace Varkey

Published: 23rd April 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self Published
Pages: 245
Format: ebook
Genre: Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

When June Warner arrives in India to visit her sister Thalia, a trip to take her mind off her jilted engagement, she is greeted by the bright hot chaos of Mumbai but not her sister. She goes to the YMCA where Thalia is staying, only to find that she is not there.

Convinced that Thalia’s no-show is a sign that she is in danger, June begins a desperate search for her younger sister.

Police Commissioner Oscar D’Costa, scarred by the tragedies of his past, swears he will never again ignore his gut instinct when it comes to a missing girl. And with more and more dead foreign women being found in his precinct, he becomes convinced a conspiracy is at play.

Through the two worlds of American naiveté and Indian chaos, they must find the girl who went missing.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

From the opening pages Varkey pulls you into the story with intrigue and mystery with cryptic writing and an unknown figure. From a gripping start he takes you on a journey that demonstrates the love and devotion of a women looking for her missing sister, even when that leads her into the underbelly of Mumbai and into the world of trafficking and murder. The dark opening tone is not sustained however, which is great because the writing, while intriguing, would not be enjoyable to read for the entire story; switching points of view also lightens the tone and provides a fresher aspect which is a good balance.

The descriptions of India are vivid and detailed, capturing the gritty underworld, the busy and crowded city, as well as the isolated and remote areas. Most of the novel takes place in Mumbai, and Varkey explores the chaotic and different lives of those that live there. Using June as an outsider, the culture shock is evident and Varkey uses numerous characters and circumstances to explore the good and bad aspects of the culture.

The mystery of June’s missing sister is the majority of the novel, but it doesn’t drag. The evolving mystery means you are always guessing what will happen and whether Thalia is ok. The descriptions of police work and real time processes creates a sense of reality, and Varkey captures the believability with clues that go nowhere and leads that fizzle out; coupled with personal histories of characters spur on the search and with many side stories and connecting characters, the story is multi-focused and well rounded.

The narrative is fast paced but balanced, and there is an ideal amount of pressure across the entire story giving you the sense that anything could happen at any time. There are varying levels of suspense, and from the first pages to the last there is always something to surprise you. The twists often lead you away from what you expect to happen and keep you continually guessing. I loved that the story always kept you guessing, when you thought something would happen suddenly the story shifted, but it doesn’t shift too far from the initial point, it just tweaks your expectations.

A lot of the emotion and real intensity comes from the characters, both innocent and otherwise. June’s love and concern or her sister comes through the page, and the terrible actions of others and the warped rationalisations add another level. The dark and sinister characters were more disturbing because Varkey gets us inside their head, and the inclusion of events and circumstances so close to reality and close to possibility makes it even more unsettling. Characters like D’Costa offer a surprising perspective. His scepticism conflicting with his sense of duty show how personal histories affect every day actions, and through him an idea of everyday life in Mumbai is explored.

There are a lot of characters to focus on, but each plays a part and each one offers something different, whether to June’s search or to the understanding of the situation. June is a great character, she is slightly naive and lacks confidence but you see her grow through the novel, becomes bolder and more confident. Her uncertainty about being in a strange city and knowing no one is pushed aside by concern for her sister, and as she slowly starts to make ground and finds support you can see her strengthen.

There is a mixture of suspense, mystery, and gritty reality that sustains the intrigue and interest throughout. The characters are real and engaging, their own personal lives are explored that bring a depth and wholeness to the story rather well. The multiple perspectives help this and seeing each character’s involvement and thoughts are an added bonus. For a first novel, Varkey has excelled in creating a story that captures you from the start and takes you on a journey of mystery and uncertainty, never sure where it will end up until the final pages.

You can purchase The Girl Who Went Missing via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

A Force of Nature by Dan McEwen

Published: 12th July 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 FriesenPress
Pages: 196
Format: ebook
Genre: Paranormal/Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Do you believe in Fate? Would you recognize it if it was happening to you? Then you’ll want to meet Toronto PR guru Claire Chandler. She grew up convinced greatness awaited her. Why else had she survived a series of bizarre childhood tragedies? Yet she doesn’t see what’s coming when she journeys north on a long weekend in August to Bay Harbour, a post-card pretty tourist town on the edge of Canada’s popular Georgian Bay vacationlands. She thinks she’s there to reconnect with a former mentor. But Chandler’s chilling affinity for the “unnatural and unexplained”, a macabre “gift” that once made her a freak of nature to classmates, will make her a force of Nature. Shadowed by a ghostly white wolf and haunted by the victims of a long-dead killer, she’ll discover a startling new ending to a fifty year-old mystery. She’ll also discover romance with Tom Katz, an affable, treasure-hunting bush pilot with a reputation for living up to his name. They’re an unlikely pair and Chandler thinks it’s just a summer fling. Instead, a series of white-knuckle adventures will bring them to a time, a place and a choice that will forever link their lives. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

There are many things to enjoy about McEwen’s story. It is compelling without being over the top, it has mystery and romance, there are puzzles to solve and unexplained phenomenons, all blended into a relatively normal series of events and narrative.

The narrative is well written, there is a great tone and voice that really suits this type of story. The pacing is excellent, the gradual revealing of new information and clues you don’t know are clues are part of its charm and makes for an entertaining read.

From a seemingly normal enough beginning it soon delves into a story about a possible curse, a horrific past, life in a dying coastal town, and mysteries beyond total comprehension. The ‘ghost story’ element is balanced well with the real and McEwen combines the two naturally and in a wonderful mystical way that makes it border on the realm of possibility.

The characters are interesting and don’t take over control of the story with their own personal problems. They each share the space and manoeuvre around the greater narrative, not even always playing that great of a role, but existing around it. So often there are times in which the story could deviate but McEwen always keeps the main story on track, connecting everything to it rather than having side stories; a clever approach and one that works remarkably well.

For all the mystery and unexplained there is quite a strong believability about this. Relationships are real, connections feel genuine, even the strange occurrences have been explained and placed in such a way it is plausible within the realm of belief and who each character has been portrayed to be. Claire is the first mystery, surviving against the odds numerous times and having an unexplained gift. It is this gift that brings Claire to the coastal town, and during her stay it proves useful on more than one occasion.

The narrative follows Claire’s time in the town, staying with an old friend, but she is not the only perspective we see. With narration from numerous characters a wider picture is shown, opening up the mystery slightly and giving us a better sense of the people and the town.

One thing I did enjoy was how McEwen developed this story, gradually changing focus and making it appear to go in a few directions, telling everyone’s story while never truly straying. Claire’s terrible secret isn’t the main focus like you think, certain characters don’t take focus like you think they will; there are numerous moments that could have been a key factor but McEwen instead uses these as background to the main issue. In doing so this adds to the realism and believable nature, it is just life going on, albeit alongside a greater mystery and unnatural phenomenon.

A strength of this story is as it progresses you are able to see people grow up, you see them have realisations, make changes in their lives, and sort out who they are and what they want to do. This I think is why the ending is also as strong as it is, wrongs have been set right (as much as they can be in the real world), people have their own form of closure and comfort and it is hard to feel dissatisfied even with an ending like that where you wiah you could have just one more answer.

With a story that combines the paranormal and reality it can be hard to make it seem real, however I think McEwen has done a wonderful job in mixing the two. Taking the spiritual approach rather than straight supernatural was a clever idea and one that makes the events of the story much stronger and powerful.

You can purchase A Force of Nature via the following

Amazon

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