Category Archives: Book reviews

Book Review: The Tilt by Chris Hammer

I was unaware that this novel is the second in a series, but it mattered little. It really was suitable as a standalone.

The tension begins from the first page when a woman plans to blow up a regulator wall, while a man runs frantically through a forest dodging shooters. Three months later a skeleton belonging to a man missing since 1943 is found. Detective Constable Nell Buchanan is assigned to investigate, returning to her home town where her family still lives. She’s has a difficult relationship with her family which peaks our curiosity. Then another body turns up.

This is not your classical rural crime novel as it has many layers flipping back and forwards in timeline, often without warning. There are also many characters to keep you on your toes as you, the reader try to piece the family and community ties both past and present.

The writing is brilliant, descriptive as it is beautiful, placing us in the Australian landscape of forest, river and small country town. ‘The lack of wind meant there was nothing to mitigate the oppression that enveloped the weatherboard house on the plain above the Cadell Tilt. It baked and it sweated and it cowered, its iron roof shimmering like a skillet.’

The locals are cringe-worthy. ‘He has a face like a slab of marble, white and veined with pink, topped with a strawberry-blond mullet so thickly woven it could be a doormat.’ And they are suspicious, curious and not always friendly.

Tension grows from the shadowy presence of preppers, cookers and twitchers as we’re never really sure who they are.  Nell becomes embroiled in an old family feud as things get personal and old grudges emerge the more she digs deeper into the mystery.

Nell herself gives little away and at times I wondered if she really had grown up in the area as she seemed quite disconnected. She certainly didn’t head down memory lane to give us much insight into anything more than her family background. But then that was the point as the family tree came together like a piece out of As I read I was kind of wishing I had the chart to refer to but when I saw it mapped out at the end, I realised that advanced knowledge would give away some of the twists. And there are a lot of twists much like the Murray River so well featured in the family saga.

I really loved this novel, the first I’ve read by Hammer and I’ll be searching for the rest.

Book Review: Exiles by Jane Harper

I always look forward to Jane Harper’s books and have read them all. Exiles is also the third and last in the Aaron Falk series, so I was keen to read this one.

 A baby is found lying peacefully in her pram at a rural festival but there is no sign of the mother.  Yes, this hooked me immediately.

It’s a year later when we meet Aaron who arrives in the deep wine country of South Australia to attend the christening of his godchild. It also happens to be the twelve-month anniversary since the baby’s mother, Kim Gillespie disappeared and Aaron is drawn into the appeal for information at the very same food and wine festival where she disappeared. Kim Gillespie’s shoe was found in a reservoir and there is speculation about whether it’s suicide, murder or a merely an accident. Aaron becomes engrossed in her close-knit family and friends and he begins to wonder what secrets they’re hiding.

I loved the setting, the wine, the vines and could well envisage the landscape. Harper certainly knows how to paint a picture.

However, I did find the first half quite slow because it was an information dump of backstory and for the life of me, I wondered why she started the story twelve months later. After all, Falk was actually at the festival when Kim disappeared. The time gap added no value that I could see. I really wanted to be in the action from the start not hear about it.

By the time the novel ramped up half way through I was losing interest. There I’ve said it. There was a lot of characters to keep track of and care or not care about. But I persisted to the very satisfactory end. The police work seemed to plod and Falk appeared to be more of a bystander along for the ride. The side plot of his romance dominated more than his interest in the case. But then he’s on leave and why should he care about something that happened a year earlier? His motivation to investigate laboured until finally we got to see his internal musings and questioning of people and events. On the plus side, his romantic life showed more of his vulnerability and his own internal conflicts which I enjoyed.

Not her best but for many, it will be enough.

Book Review: Soulmate by Sally Hepworth

I’ve read a few of this Melbourne author’s books and have enjoyed each one. Soulmate is no exception.

Pippa and her husband Gabe move to a cliff top house in exclusive Portsea not realising that the clifftop is a popular suicide spot. Since moving, Gabe has managed to talk down seven people and become a hero in the area. The eighth time, he’s not so lucky but Pippa watching on begins doubting what she saw as it looks as if Gabe has pushed the woman called Amanda.

And so begins an intricate plot with many questions about Gabe and Pippa’s marriage and the carefully crafted image of who they actually are.

This one is certainly a page-turner made all the more delightful because it is set in places I know well. And that’s a particular bonus of reading a Hepworth book.

The Soulmate doesn’t disappoint as you can basically kiss goodbye any chance to do anything else other than set aside a few hours to consume each page of twists and turns wondering about the relationships, what love is and how loyal a person can be.

Opening in Pippa’s voice, the chapters alternate with the voice of dead Amanda. I thought that the two women were a little too alike for me, their voices just a tad too close as to confuse me at times. I admired how the alternating chapters became shorter and shorter as the story climaxed forcing me to turn the page and keep reading.

Hepworth delves into many themes such as love, postnatal depression, adultery, mental illness, grief and suicide but she handles them sensitively providing enough shade to balance the highs and lows of emotions a reader may feel.

If you’ve never read a Hepworth novel and want to lose yourself this holiday season, then The Soulmate would be a good one to start with.

Book Review: Clarke by Holly Throsby

This is about the mysterious disappearance of a woman. Or is it?

Set in 1991, police arrive at Barney’s rental house to dig up the backyard looking for Ginny Lawson who has been missing for six years. Next door lives Leonie who was a close friend of Ginny’s and who eagerly awaits justice for her friend. She’d never liked Ginny’s brute of a husband who has already sold up and moved away and is married to someone else in QLD. Barney and Leonie as well as a number of neighbours are keenly watching proceedings hoping for a resolution.

This novel is much more than about the disappearance of Ginny. It’s also a study of people, their relationships and central to that is loss and grief.

Alternating between Barney’s and Leonie’s point of view, Throsby gently draws out their characters revealing who these two people are. Leonie cares for four-year old Joe who keeps asking for his mother. Barney parks outside of McDonalds to glimpse his estranged son who works there. Leonie was a good friend to Ginny lamenting how the police had ignored her initial concerns about her friend’s disappearance and Ginny’s brutish husband.

Throsby goads us into making assumptions about these two characters nudging us to think one thing then slowly revealing their backstories. I did however guess the connection quite early between the two.

It’s a slow-moving story, gently threading the everyday mundane of surviving loss, dealing with grief and attempting to move on. Much like unwrapping a many layered parcel wrapped, each one makes you love and feel for the characters understanding them until we are left with nothing but hope at the end.

“Leonie rinsed her tea mug and set it on the drying rack. She went back to the table and collected Joe’s milky bowl, ‘Uptown Girl’ was coming softly out of the radio.

‘I want to see my mum.’

‘Sweetheart,’ said Leonie, holding the bowl.”

The town of Clarke, populated with 13000 people is just big enough to have all the usual amenities, even a shopping plaza, the description of which is so well portrayed that I could visualise the bleakness of the 1991 recession.

The end is very neatly tied together, perhaps a little too coincidental, but this one is an engaging read and I loved the characters more than anything else. Beautifully written, it’s a very compelling read. Pick this one up when you can.

2022 Reading Wrap and Book of the Year

As I say goodbye to 2022, I’ve reflected on all the books I’ve read. Thank goodness for Goodreads which helps me track what I’ve read and when. I swear the books I read last year were read years ago which goes to show that a year actually is a long time.

Check out my reading list below. Perhaps you’ve read some of them too. But it is hard to pick a favourite as I had a few five stars in there. But I couldn’t go past Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey as winning my book of the year. Beautifully written, a tale told well, I really enjoyed it.

What’s your book of the year?

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Lucky by Marissa Stapley
The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters
Child of Fear and Fire by G.R. Thomas
All That He Is by Jill Staunton
The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
Shuggie Bain by Douglas   Stuart
Devotion by Hannah Kent
Loveland by Robert Lukins
The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey

it was amazing

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks
The Kiss by Santa Montefiore
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth
The Good Mother by Rae Cairns
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
French Braid by Anne Tyler
Still Life by Sarah Winman
Band-Aid for a Broken Leg by Damien Brown
The Mother by Jane Caro
Penny Wong, Passion and Principle by Margaret Simons
Denizen by James McKenzie Watson

it was amazing

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy
Cold Enough For Snow by Jessica Au
Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down
Infinite Splendours by Sofie Laguna
The Promise by Damon Galgut
Stone Town by Margaret Hickey
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Clarke by Holly Throsby

The Promise by Damon Galgut

Book Review: Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey Mcquiston

I admit I selected this book because of its cover and from publicity generated by other book bloggers. Yep, I fell for the hype and there has been a lot. Had I read the blurb, I probably wouldn’t have bothered as romance is not a genre I read very often.  Nevertheless, I read this one. And I can’t say it was brilliant but it wasn’t all bad either.

The story centres around Alex, the son of a female US President and his relationship with a UK Prince called Henry. Does it sound like someone you might know? Initially, these two are enemies, then a friendship forms and eventually love grows with disastrous consequences. You get the drift.

It’s a light and easy read, although there are a lot of characters to keep up with. I found the sister and friend to be so similar that I kept losing who was who. I wonder why there really was a need for this extra character? The politics was interesting with the authors imagination running rife about the possibility of a female president. But the media craziness was as you expect. The character of Prince Henry was an interesting take although I could only visualise the real prince Harry whose name is actually Henry. Perhaps the names should have been completely different to avoid identifying with the real royal family.  

Of course, everyone is wealthy and beautiful and well, just awfully privileged. I just couldn’t get terribly invested in any of the characters. The biggest problems Henry and Alex had was keeping their scandalous secret from the media and not ruining an election. Predictable and not particularly compelling for me. But I gave it a go. If you like that sort of story then it’s one for sitting by the pool, I think.

Book Review: Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

Most of us have been touched by mental illness, either directly or indirectly by someone we know. This is a remarkably frank and honest story about a young woman called Martha who knows that something is not right but has no idea what it is and how to go about fixing it.

Martha comes from a family where her sculptor mother is barely there for her children preferring to leave her offspring to their own devices. Her father, a wannabe poet knows his daughter is not well and tries his best to help.

This novel is also about relationships and love too, especially between sisters. Martha’s sister Ingrid is her rock, her sounding board and her support. Ingrid is also quite a personality, all knowing and seeing when it comes to protecting Martha. The same can be said of the relationship between Martha’s mother and her aunt, Winsome. Indeed, it is Winsome, my most favourite character who holds the extended family together putting her arms around her own children as well as her nieces. Her love is intense and loyal. Winsome goes above and beyond including financing her own sister’s lifestyle. She even takes on Patrick, a young boy of fourteen whose own father can’t be bothered with him.  

Martha flits between relationships choosing the wrong men and learns much later how important Patrick is to her, unaware of his love until she is in her thirties.

The author deals with the illness in intricate detail, deliberately withholding from the reader the name of the condition, when it is finally diagnosed. The author does mention afterwards that the illness is fabricated and I’m not sure how people with genuine illnesses might react to that.  Nevertheless, it shines a light on how difficult mental illness can be and the problematic road to seeking the appropriate help which can be as daunting as it is difficult.

The author’s navigation around failing and blooming relationships is genuine and tender as is the discussion surrounding the pressure to have children for many women. Mason also spotlights the effects on loved ones who can feel helpless and lost in their support as shown by the toll on Ingrid and Patrick.

The writing is beautiful, flowing gently through the years of Martha’s life culminating in a hopeful ending.

I enjoyed this book but for some it might be hard to handle so much sadness. But there is a lot of light and shade with much love and humour that you can’t help be drawn into it.