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

 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Published: 24 May 2012 (print)/24 May 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Broadway Book/Orion Publishing Group
Pages: 415/19 hours 18 minutes
Narrator: Julia Whelan, Kirby Heyborne
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Thriller
★ – 1 Star

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

There have only been a few books that I felt cheated by, genuinely cheated by. These include The Last Battle by C.S Lewis, The End by Lemony Snickett, and to a very small degree To All The Boys I Have Loved Before by Jenny Hann. Being cheated by a book is more than disliking it, it is where I feel the author themselves have cheated me as a reader by building up my expectations and leading us to a point, only to dismiss our investment in their characters and turn the entire thing on its head with no point or purpose, ignoring everything that has come before.

Granted, each of these books cheated me in different ways, but Flynn’s crime here is not only making the book boring to read, toxic characters or not, but also because there is no satisfaction in anything that happens. The reader is not rewarded for dealing with this story, nothing to reward us for getting to the end of this long and tedious book. I don’t need a happy ending, make it as messed up as you like, but there was frustration in that conclusion, not a decent conclusion to the nonsense I had to sit through.

Irony could have played a great part, karma, justice, all these things. Instead, we’re left with these characters who I hated from page one and hated even more by page 400. It just got worse and then even when it got interesting it was still terrible. The writing was terrible which makes you hate the story they were telling. They were both poorly written, poorly expressed, and I think even though Flynn tried to give Nick some emotional baggage, the fact it is poorly explored means it all comes to nothing.

Surprisingly, the audiobook was also a bit terrible, Heyborne’s odd emphasis of some words catch in your ear and every time he said “my wife” (which, again, poor writing, is said A LOT), he sounded like Borat. I couldn’t escape into the story because having it read aloud highlights the problems even more. There is repetition, both characters constantly compare things to how it’s done in a movie, and they whine. They might have been decent characters if their story was better written.

When I hit part two I groaned because there was another chunk of this book. But luckily it somehow it managed to get more interesting. Predictable, but interesting. I got the result I expected, I was impressed that Flynn went the direction she does, but it didn’t remove the issues. The fact Nick’s narration is infuriating, and the language Flynn uses is repetitive, sexist, and boring. Even in the “exciting” part it is boring and monotonous.

When Part Three came, I rolled my eyes and prepared myself for another long boring section of this book. I can see the plan to make the ending some tragedy, some Shakespeare tragedy for us to wallow over, but it didn’t work. I could think of three better endings for this book and I wish any of them had been picked. I know this is apparently a psychological thriller in concept, it is not in execution. How Flynn has managed to make this story unentertaining is beyond me. The framework is there for a thriller, you get inside character minds and see their motives which was intriguing, but it wasn’t enough to save the story.

You can purchase Gone Girl via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

 

Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson

Published: 14th June 2011 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Collins
Pages: 359
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Thriller
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

As I sleep, my mind will erase everything I did today. I will wake up tomorrow as I did this morning. Thinking I’m still a child, thinking I have a whole lifetime of choice ahead of me… 

Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love–all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story. 

Welcome to Christine’s life. 

I have wanted to read this for years and I’m so glad I finally picked it up. THIS BOOK IS AMAZING! Again, I have seen it compared to 50 First Dates (like all memory books are these days it seems), but it is much better than that and totally not even the same thing.

Christine’s memory resets every morning and she reverts back to thinking she is in her twenties. It’s a phenomenal read seeing how she adjusts and copes with this realisation every morning. Her husband’s patience, their coping mechanisms are all wonderful.

The routine Christine and her husband had is changed when she starts to see a doctor without her husband knowing. Christine starts keeping a diary which she reads each day, but she still only knows what she is told every morning and what she’s learnt from herself the day before. The emotions you experience are similar to Christine’s – can you trust the doctor? Is the husband keeping secrets? Who is telling the truth? It’s an intense and incredible reading experience.

There were so many little things I loved about this book. I loved that Christine was middle aged and not younger. I loved that she is able to do what she does even when she has no idea about what she has done in the past. I love that Watson lulls me into a false security and then shatters my expectations. I love that when you think you know what is happening you could not be more wrong. I also love the structure of the novel. The before, the after, the fact we get to see her daily diary and it becomes part of the story.

Having a character who needs to be reintroduced to herself each morning has to possibility of being repetitive, but Watson never makes the repetition annoying or ironically, too repetitive. The exploration of Christine’s day to day life, her discoveries, and her conversations with her husband are approached slightly differently each day. And as Christine knows more, is shapes her conversations. And her mind focuses on different things each day.
The underlying mystery of Christine’s memory loss is always there and as it grows and takes hold your own suspense and tension and excitement builds. But without ruining anything, Watson plays with you remarkably well with this. There are twists upon surprises with secrets and things unsaid. It’s a roller coaster ride and when you think you know what is about the happen, something even better happens instead.

I implore that if you love thrillers, and love to be surprised and enthralled, that you should read this book.  And, I will say, that there is a film adaptation of this and it is actually very close to the book so if you were uncertain about checking it out, you totally should. But of course, the book is a more fulfilling experience on all fronts and you should read it first.

You can purchase Before I Go to Sleep via the following

Booktopia | Dymocks | Angus & Robertson Bookworld

Book Depository | Fishpond | QBD | Wordery

 

The Golden Child by Wendy James

Published: 1st February 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Collins
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Genre: Thriller
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Blogger Lizzy’s life is buzzing, happy, normal. Two gorgeous children, a handsome husband, destiny under control. For her real-life alter-ego Beth, things are unravelling. Tensions are simmering with her husband, mother-in-law and even her own mother. Her teenage daughters, once the objects of her existence, have moved beyond her grasp and one of them has shown signs of, well, thoughtlessness …

Then a classmate of one daughter is callously bullied and the finger of blame is pointed at Beth’s clever, beautiful child. Shattered, shamed and frightened, two families must negotiate worlds of cruelty they are totally ill-equipped for.
This is a novel that grapples with modern-day spectres of selfies, selfishness and cyberbullying. It plays with our fears of parenting, social media and Queen Bees, and it asks the question: just how well do you know your child?

From the very early pages I was hooked on this story, so much so I sat down in the morning to read it and was finished by the afternoon. I was enamoured by James’ ability to write such a seemingly ordinary story while still giving off the unsettling feeling that everything isn’t as it should be. That unsettling hidden something that makes you wonder about motives and who is telling the whole truth and who are we supposed to believe. Especially when you can’t find a reason for these feelings right away.

James’ storytelling ability is amazing. The level of tension and suspense it balanced wonderfully by the mystery of what is happening alongside the everyday. I am of course not going to mention anything about the plot. This is the kind of book you need to experience for yourself and have everything revealed to you as it’s intended.

I will say that on top of James’ excellent writing, the characters are really what make this story shine. The different and often clashing personalities mix together to create the perfect storm and propel this story into its brilliance.

There are so many things to praise and so much to digest as you read. You’re enthralled by these characters and their lives, and James’ uses emotions, motherhood, love, and friendship to bring this to life. Despite the constant feeling of unease I had while reading it, it remains a chilling and fantastic story.

One thing I loved was the clear differences between Beth and alter ego Lizzy. Beth deals with the real life of everyday; she has a family who have needs of their own and life decisions and adjustments to make. But what makes Lizzy such a great contrast is that there are elements of those same problems in her blog posts, but on such a different tone and level. Lizzy lets her vague words tell a story to her readers, she doesn’t give specifics and her commentary can be interpreted in multiple ways.

I thought James did a wonderful job with the blogging side of the novel. She captures the voice well and it reads quite realistically. I also loved that the comments were included too because not only are they another reflection on what commenting on blogs is often like, but they also help show the comparisons between Beth and Lizzy’s lives.

If you haven’t read anything of James’ before then this is a perfect time to start. It is the kind of book that is not only on topic in terms of issues with social media, but should be read by parents, teens, grandparents; everybody can get something out of this novel. You will be turning the pages none stop and will remember a story like this long after you’ve read that final page.

You can purchase The Golden Child via the following

Publisher | Booktopia

Kobo | Dymocks

 QBD | Angus & Robertson’s Bookworld

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