The Vanishing Stair (#2) by Maureen Johnson

Published: 22nd January 2019 (print)/22th January 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Audio
Pages: 384/9 hrs and 13 mins
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult / Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.

For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.

The tantalising riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unravelled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life. 

Johnson has done an amazing job with this sequel because it brings all the mystery of the first book and as the clues and evidence unravel it also raises new questions which I totally wasn’t expecting. We may find out the answers to some of the questions in Truly Devious, but the answers to the questions raised in The Vanishing Stair are as equally intriguing and in a way a whole lot more dangerous. The characters we fell in love with in Truly Devious are back, the events of the previous story still there but with a small jump in time. We get to see how the school and students have coped after the events of book one and how Stevie is managing as well.

One of the best things of this story is how Johnson has treated her characters. I love how each person at Ellingham have their uniqueness explored in a respectful and honest way. Stevie’s passion for true crime, as well as her own anxiety and self-care techniques are part of her day to day, and Nate’s introvert nature is accepted, jested about sometimes between friends but is never seen as a problem. The reasons that these students have been accepted into Ellingham is openly welcomed and celebrated and Johnson constantly reminds us that these are gifted kids who have a passion and a talent beyond the norm that they need to be free to explore and develop.

There is drama and mystery, all the things a good crime story should have. Johnson doesn’t hold back from the realities of this kind of story but she also tries not to be too gruesome or detailed. There is a good balance between what Stevie is capable of finding out due to her position, but has all the fun or sneaking out and maybe being in places you should go. The 21st century issue of technology with mysteries is used to the story’s advantage and using these modern conveniences doesn’t essentially make anything easier but it helps when Stevie is confined to a school in the mountains and has no actual job or resources to use beyond her immediate surroundings and her desire to find answers.

Rudd is once again a great narrator. Her voice captures Stevie’s uncertainties and her passion, you can see these characters come to life in your mind and all the teenage awkwardness, uncomfortableness and enthusiasm is all expressed perfectly. Her pace is wonderful and her tone keeps you engaged throughout.

This is a series you must read in order so if you haven’t already, you should check out Truly Devious. There is a third book coming soon so if you become enraptured in this series like I have, you won’t have to wait long.

You can purchase The Vanishing Stair via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Published: 23rd October 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Macmillan Australia
Pages: 362
Format: Paperback
Genre: Crime
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

This is definitely my new favourite Jane Harper book. From the start I was immediately pulled in, the voice and tone drew me in and I wanted to stay in this story and keep reading.

Nathan doesn’t set out the solve the mystery of his brother’s death, but a few things don’t sit right with him and little by little he tries to fill in the gaps. This is not a police procedural story however, the focus is on trying to come to terms with his brother’s death and while the family wonder about what happened to him, it is also about getting through the grief together.

Harper hints at secrets and events, baits us into keep reading and honestly it works. Not quite so much to get answers, the anomalies are not followed up like a detective would, but the tone feels so comfortable that you want to keep following this narrative. She lays down clues and hints that you don’t even realise long before but at the same time once she has planted a seed the tone shifts and a whole other component is explored. It never felt out of place, or unconnected, and I couldn’t help but marvel at how she mixed everything together so seamlessly, never breaking from the flow of the story. She doesn’t focus constantly on speaking in riddles, she gets on with the story while making well placed and relevant hints about characters throughout which could easily mean nothing as they could everything.

Harper captures the outback environment brilliantly without resorting to long details and descriptions. She uses the characters and the story itself to reflect the harshness of the land and the dangers it holds. One great surprise was the blink and you miss it reference to some familiar faces from Harper’s debut novel, The Dry. I enjoyed the connection to the two stories but Harper also uses it to add an entire new layer to the characters as well.

I loved being in this story and I loved everything about this story. I loved these characters and their honesty and their secrets. I loved Nathan and his fractured, broken self but still with a strong family commitment buried deep inside. His character is one of honesty but also one of damaged resilience. Harper could have gone so many different ways with his personality but she dances on the edge of the line skilfully instead of making him cross it which I adored.

People are right when they say this is Harper’s best book to date because there is a comfortableness about this book, but it is one that still contains mystery and heartache, and complications that don’t overwhelm one another but coexist side by side remarkably, balanced back and forth as the story progresses.

You can purchase The Lost Man via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Force of Nature (#2) by Jane Harper

Published: 26 September 2017 (print)/26 September 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Macmillan Australia/Wavesound Audio
Pages: 377/8 hrs and 57 mins
Narrator: Steven Shanahan
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along a muddy track. Only four come out on the other side. 

The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and encourage teamwork and resilience. At least, that’s what the corporate retreat website advertises.

Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker, Alice Russell. Because Alice knew secrets, about the company she worked for and the people she worked with.

The four returning women tell Falk a tale of fear, violence and fractured trust during their days in the remote Australian bushland. And as Falk delves into the disappearance of Alice, he begins to suspect some dangers ran far deeper than anyone knew. 

This is the second book from Harper and the second in the Aaron Falk series. I enjoyed The Dry and I was looking forward to continuing the story but found this one slightly lacking. I felt it was a really slow start, I started and then took a break because I couldn’t get into it, after three goes I stuck with it and while it took a few chapters to really cement itself it was an enjoyable read in the end.

The problem coming to the second book from an author after you’ve really liked the first one is that when the beginning fails to grab you, you notice it immediately. In part you see it as a slow start but you also have that voice in the back of your mind that keeps telling you that it’s not as good as that other book they wrote. The difference here is that this was a sequel, the further adventures of Aaron Falk and that helped a little. Being a detective means that every case is different and while The Dry might have been a bit more exciting, this case has moments of intrigue and mystery as well.

You don’t have to have read The Dry to understand what happens in this one, there is only a brief mention of the events in the past book but nothing that needs greater expansion and no connection to the events in this one. Falk remains is a good detective who is wary of stories and alibis and trying to do the proper thing for those involved.

The structure was a combination of flashbacks and present time, and the different characters each get their own perspective on what happens. This was a good approach and style because as each new piece of information was revealed by Falk’s inquiry Harper takes us back to see the events play out. The characters have some depth and personality but I remained a bit uninvested in them as people even though I was curious about the mystery itself.

It’s psychological and each character has their own secrets and hidden agendas. The corporate retreat brings out grudges and personal vendettas and the reader is provided with snippets of information, clues, and can create their own theories on what might have happened. The actual answer I was actually surprised by because it was not entirely straight forward but still stayed within the realm of expectation.

The main issue I found with this book is I wasn’t as drawn in to the mystery. I couldn’t connect with the characters and therefore didn’t care about them; those missing or otherwise. As I say, it took me three goes to push through the first part but there was reward by the end with a satisfactory conclusion.

Comparing them later I was surprised I only gave The Dry 3 stars as well because as I was reading this book I remember liking the other one much more. Obviously there are varying levels of my three star enjoyment.

You can purchase Force of Nature via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

The Dry (#1) by Jane Harper

Published: 26 September 2017 (print)/26 September 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Macmillan Australia/Wavesound Audio
Pages: 377/8 hrs and 57 mins
Narrator: Steven Shanahan
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

In the grip of the worst drought in a century, the farming community of Kiewarra is facing life and death choices daily when three members of a local family are found brutally slain.

Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk reluctantly returns to his hometown for the funeral of his childhood friend, loath to face the townsfolk who turned their backs on him twenty years earlier. 

But as questions mount, Falk is forced to probe deeper into the deaths of the Hadler family. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret. A secret Falk thought was long buried. A secret Luke’s death now threatens to bring to the surface in this small Australian town, as old wounds bleed into new ones.

With the backdrop of a rural Australian town in Victoria, Harper’s narrative shows the complexities of small town relationships and the pressures that the landscape and the weather can have on the people who suffer it. It also explores the dangers of secrets and the consequences when these secrets become known.

I listened to this as an audio and Shanahan does a great job as narrator. His pace is ideal, his tone suits the character well and creates an image of Falk in your mind that Harper has tried to express through her words. I was drawn into this story and with all of Harper’s surprises it never feels like a constant chop and change, but instead like a natural progression of the investigation, the drought, the built up tension of a small rural town.

One thing I have found in many small town stories is how easily and comfortably they vilify anyone who they feel have wronged them, justified or otherwise. The town of Kiewarra having no shame in hiding their displeasure at Falk’s return. Harper conveys the animosities the town feel towards Falk remarkably well. You feel that small town suffocation, the hatred of outsiders, and having the past dredge up feelings and complications.

Harper uses flashbacks and conflicting opinions to show all sides of the characters which in turn affects your own opinion on the events. I really enjoyed the mystery in this story and I loved how you genuinely are never entirely sure what has happened as all the possibilities sound each as likely as the others. For a debut this is a captivating read and Harper shows some impressive skills in teasing information, providing red herrings and casting doubt in the reader’s mind despite all the evidence to the contrary.

I was intrigued by the narrative and while the pace is slow, the story itself keeps you engaged. This isn’t a fast paced thriller to keep you on the edge of your seat but it plays with your expectations and provides twists and surprises tactfully throughout.

Falk was a solid character and one that you could easily see was genuine. He had his own issues with the town but he was there doing a job and no matter what the town said or did to him he was going to stick it out. He could see their own small mindedness and while he had his own opinions about what they did to his family, he wasn’t going to let that stop him from finding justice and doing the right thing.

Friendship and a deep down sense of guilt makes him try to help and I liked that Harper made his occupation close enough that it his enquiries weren’t entirely out of the blue, but it was far enough that he was very much there unofficially.

For that, this different style of police procedural novel was interesting and by the end I felt Harper respected the story and the reader in the conclusion she gave us. Falk is also a character I am interested in reading more of because while he isn’t perfect, he isn’t the stereotype that is known to be thrown around which in itself makes this a refreshing read.

You can purchase The Dry via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

 

Long Lost Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 2nd July 1998Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Vintage
Pages: 189
Format: Paperback
Genre: Classic/Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

It was a cloudless summer day in the year nineteen hundred.

Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared.

They never returned.

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction the reader must decide for themselves.

I read this last year and while most of the actual plot has been forgotten, I still recall my disdain and unenjoyment. This terrible “classic” has managed to be one that has the rare privilege of having a much better and more enjoyable movie. With the knowledge that movies only take a small percentage of the true depth and meaning of books, I figured the film version of Picnic at Hanging Rock had done the same. What I discovered instead, was that the first 13 pages of the book is the entirety of the movie.

I was confused and intrigued when I started to read, how can this book fill all these pages when the picnic is right at the start? But it is such a small part that propels the rest of this story into the strange and dull thing it becomes. I loved the mystery, I loved the eerie feeling and I loved how unexplained it was. But after it happens, it was hard to find the same enjoyment from the remaining book. The confusion remained, but the intrigue was replaced by boredom.

After the famous picnic the narrative becomes a longwinded story about guilt and nightmares, boring descriptions of boarding school, and page after page of nothing. There is probably meant to be a mystery in there, detective questions, curiosity and fear about the missing girls was mentioned after all. And yet eventually I found myself dreading each page, dragging myself through this book for the desire to finish it, to hope it got better. I hated this book so much in the end I couldn’t even finish it, I think the final ten pages remain unread because I was interrupted reading it and genuinely had no desire to pick it back up again. They could have found them in those ten pages but I find that highly unlikely.

I think I’d like to have my memory remain where I thought that the book itself was just the trip to the rock, that it ended with the unanswered questions and mystery about what happened without the stuff afterwards. That is much better than the other 176 pages where I wanted to claw my eyes out.

 

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