Review: After the Flood by Dave Warner


Title: After the Flood {Dan Clement #4}

Author: Dave Warner

Published: 2nd August 2022, Fremantle Press

Status: Read September 2022 courtesy Fremantle Press



My Thoughts:


Set in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, After the Flood is the fourth book by Dave Warner to feature Detective Inspector Dan Clement, though it also works effectively as a stand alone.

As his team handles a spate of petty crimes including an unruly protest, the theft of explosive materials, and vandalism of a vaccination clinic, DI Dan Clement, lonely and missing his teenage daughter, is feeling restless and longing for a distraction. Fate obliges with the discovery of a body, naked with tire tread marks on his chest and railroad spikes driven through his palms in a remote area of a cattle station, and Clement finds himself in a race to prevent a deadly scheme.

In what is a tightly plotted, engaging police procedural, Clement and his squad’s challenge is to identify the dead man, and then methodically gather evidence that might explain the reason for his gruesome murder, and reveal his killer. Warner offers several red herrings leading to a succession of dead ends that frustrate the officers, but just as the case seems to stall, a surprising connection is made. The tension rises sharply as the pieces then rapidly fall into place, leading to an explosive finish.

Themes explored in After the Flood include family, trauma, grief, revenge and disenfranchisement. Warner also raises topical issues such as corporate greed, social justice, and eco-terrorism.

The setting of After the Flood is well realised. Clement’s Major Crime Squad are based in Broome but their territory is extensive, and both its geographical and social features can complicate their investigations.

Offering intrigue and excitement, After the Flood is a well written police procedural that I sincerely enjoyed.


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Review: Dark Deeds Down Under Edited by Craig Sisterson


Title: Dark Deeds Down Under: A Crime and Thriller Anthology

Author: Craig Sisterson (Editor)

Published: 26th June 2022, Clan Destine Press

Status: Read September 2022 courtesy Clan Destine Press



My Thoughts:


Showcasing some of the best crime fiction writers in Australia & New Zealand, Dark Deeds Down Under, edited by Craig Sisterson and Lindy Cameron, is an excellent anthology of nineteen original short stories.

Offering a wonderful variety in style and setting, I enjoyed reconnecting with familiar characters, such as the delightful Nancy’s created by RWR McDonald’s, and the introduction to ones I’m yet to meet, like Dinuka McKenzie’s Detective Sergeant Kate Miles.

‘Sinner Man’ reminded me how much I love Garry Disher’s character of rural Victorian cop Constable Paul Hirschhausen. I really hope there will be another Hirsch novel released this Christmas.

New Zealander Helen Vivienne Fletcher grabbed my attention with her surprising opening paragraph to ‘He Who Laughs Last’, a stand alone short story with a murderer who utilises an unlikely murder method.

There’s a hint of supernatural horror in ‘Rock-a-bye Baby’ by Dan Rabarts & Lee Murray, which includes a gruesome murder, a kidnapped infant and a thrilling chase across Auckland.

I giggled at Kerry Greenwood’s jar at the former federal Australian LNP government in her short story featuring Earthly Delight’s baker Corinna Chapman and her feckless ex-husband, ‘The Rooming House’.

A haunting tale set in the heat of rural Queensland, ‘The Falls’,  by award-winning writer and Wuilli Wuilli woman Lisa Fuller, gave me the chills.

Joined by authors Alan Carter, Nikki Crutchley, Aoife Clifford, Sulari Gentil, Narrelle M Harris, Katherine Kovacic, Shane Maloney, Renee, Stephen Ross, Fiona Sussman, Vanda Symon, and David Whish-Wilson, there’s honestly not a single disappointing tale among this collection of mysteries and thrillers.

A must have anthology for antipodean crime readers, Dark Deeds Down Under is also the perfect introduction to the breadth of Australian and New Zealand talent for international readers. I highly recommend this outstanding collection.


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Review: Criminals by James O’Loghlin


Title: Criminals

Author: James O’Loghlin

Published: 5th July 2022, Bonnier Echo

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

““We answered the call, identified the perpetrator….Job done. Crime solved. Except it wasn’t. We’d only solved half of it. We’d only figured out the ‘who”….We’re all icebergs, showing the world our shiny tip, smiling as we say ‘Good morning’ and ‘Fine thanks’, while beneath we hide the messy, complicated truth. To really solve a crime you also need to work out the ‘why’.”

Given James O’Loghlin’s pedigree as an ABC presenter, comedian and former lawyer, I was expecting something caper-ish (crime mixed with screwball comedy) from his debut adult fiction, Criminals, but this is primarily a character driven story, a little quirky but also deliberate and thoughtful.

After absconding while being driven to court mandated rehab, drug addict and petty thief Dean Acton figures a big score from the Blacktown Leagues Club will solve his most immediate needs and let him lay low for a while. Sarah Hamilton, working as a barmaid while on indefinite leave from the police force, remains calm when she’s confronted by two armed masked men, which is why she notices that the thin one seems to recognise her. Sipping a gin, patron Mary Wallace smiles as the shorter of the two robbers turns his gun on her, getting shot now, she thinks, would be convenient.

In the aftermath, as the narrative alternates between each we’ll realised character, O’Loghlin explores the question of criminality through themes of guilt and innocence, opportunity and responsibility, second chances and redemption, and the choices we make that define us.

“I never thought about the consequences of getting a decision wrong, until it happened.”

Sarah puts her investigative skills to work, identifying one of the thieves as her high school’s former football hero, but having once before made a judgement with terrible consequences, she needs to be certain she isn’t making a mistake. Raised on the maxim of ‘right’s right, and wrong’s wrong’ the line is less clear to her now, and she struggles with the decisions she’s faced with.

“‘You committed a crime, but are you a criminal?’
‘Yes, because I committed a crime.
‘Then everyone’s a criminal.”

Mary, a middle-aged, depressed alcoholic contemplating suicide, is inspired to recreate the excitement of the hold up by embarking on her own petty crime spree, while assuring her absent daughter via email that everything is fine. But as the thrill of lawbreaking wears off, Mary has to choose what to let go of.

“I know I’m right down the bottom, nearly as low as you can get. But in a weird way that’s almost a relief, cos it means you can’t fall any further.”

Dean meanwhile, barely has time to celebrate his ‘perfect’ crime before he’s arrested. Faced with a lengthy prison sentence what he decides to do next will not only define his future, but could change someone else’s.

Written with insight, wit and compassion, Criminals is a thought-provoking and engaging novel


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Review: Do As I Say by Sarah Steel


Title: Do As I Say: How Cults Control, Why We Join Them, and What They Teach Us About Bullying, Abuse and Coercion

Author: Sarah Steel

Published: 28th June 2022, Macmillan Australia

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy PanMacmillan


My Thoughts:

Sarah Steel, the creator and host of the popular ‘Let’s Talk About Sects’ podcast, examines the dynamics of cults and the people involved with them in Do As I Say: How Cults Control, Why We Join Them, and What They Teach Us About Bullying, Abuse and Coercion.

The definition of a cult is not always clear, but most of us are certain we would recognise one, so I found it interesting that many of the former members (who weren’t born into one) interviewed by Steel claim they didn’t join a cult, they joined ‘a group’ or ‘a movement’ or’ a community’, and it was only much later, some not until after they’d left, that they recognised they had been recruited into a cult. They’d often been vulnerable at the time, not because they were naive or unintelligent as people are wont to think, but because they were at a turning point in their lives and searching for purpose or a sense belonging.

Toxic cults, Steel demonstrates, are incredibly adept at promising to have the answers for those seeking them, and irrespective of country, culture or belief system, share similar unhealthy traits designed to impose control on their followers. Steel explores the tactics they exploit to recruit and keep members, and why people, especially women, find it so difficult to leave once they become enmeshed. It’s far more complicated than you might think and Steel, sharing fascinating firsthand accounts and meticulous research, provides thoughtful insight into the issues.

Steel also addresses the elements of cultic behaviour that can be found in a range of societal organisations including mainstream religion, MLM companies, political groups, fandoms, and street gangs. There is some discussion about conspiracy theories including those that have arisen due to the pandemic. I appreciated the focus on cults operating in Australia, somewhat surprised to how many have a foothold here, though often these are an offshoot of North American or British groups imported via the global reach of the internet, and disappointed to learn that Australia’s weak whistle-blower laws offer them so much protection.

Written in an almost conversational tone, Do As I Say reads well. I particularly like that Steel allows for individuals to share their personal stories. I do think the book could benefit from some boxouts to highlight or summarise points made in the narrative though.

Do As I Say is an interesting, thought-provoking read that should suit a range of readers interested in the topic. In her conclusion, Steel suggests transparency, empathy, bridging and education, especially in regards to understanding coercive control, is a way to not only combat unhealthy cults, but will also help those caught in abusive intimate relationships. Certainly something needs to change as society increasingly veers towards absolutism.


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Review: Five Bush Weddings by Clare Fletcher


Title: Five Bush Weddings

Author: Clare Fletcher

Published: 2nd August 2022, Penguin Random House Australia

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy Penguin Random House Australia



My Thoughts:


Five Bush Weddings is a charming Australian romantic comedy debut from Clare Fletcher.

Wedding photographer Stevie-Jean Harrison loves being part of a couple’s special day, but, single at 31, she’s starting to think she may never have her own. Everyone she knows seems to found ‘the one’ – her ex has just announced his engagement, and his gorgeous, young bride-to-be wants Stevie as their photographer; Jen, her best friend and roommate, seems committed to the Most Boring Man Alive; even Stevie’s sexagenarian mother has started dating, – why can’t she?

Johnno West has been in love with Stevie-Jean since he was nineteen. Recently returned to rural Queensland to fulfil his parents expectations and take over the family farm, he is hopeful his best friend’s ex might finally be ready to give him a chance. After all, she once made him promise that if they were both single at 32, they would get married, and he intends to hold her to it.

The friends-to-lovers romance trope has always been my favourite, and it underpins the story of Five Bush Weddings. Stevie and Johnno have known each other for over a decade, but her relationship with Tom (Johnno’s best mate), and his later move to London, stunted their mutual attraction. Fletcher cleverly utilises the wedding ceremonies that Stevie is hired for to create a framework that ensures the two characters are reunited. I enjoyed the chemistry between the pair, and their teasing banter. There are several obstacles to their relationship as the story progresses including a reluctance to risk their friendship, Stevie’s poor self-awareness, and the introduction of romantic rivals, and while you know it’s going to work out, the author does generate some tension. The heat level in this novel is quite chaste, though remarkably Fletcher is able to communicate passion with a dropped meat pie.

I did grow impatient with Stevie at times as she leant into her self-pity a little too often, and behaved badly as a result, particularly with Jen. I liked her relationship with her mum though, and no one deserves to have an affair implode so publicly. Funny, thoughtful and easy-going, Johnno is a less complicated character. I liked the dynamic with his family, and his support of his sister.

I really enjoyed the distinctive Australian details in this novel. Though Stevie is based in Brisbane, the book is set largely in rural Queensland where the various weddings she photographs take place. Fletcher ably evokes the vastness of the outback and its landscape, but more importantly she captures the sense of community and tradition that unites small towns, and the characters that populate them. The ‘Bush Telegraph’ posts are a fun touch, and I appreciated that Fletcher also touches on some important issues that impact rural life.

Told with heart and humour, Five Bush Weddings is an entertaining read with a satisfying happily ever after.


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Review: The Angry Womens Choir by Meg Bignell


Title: The Angry Womens Choir

Author: Meg Bignell

Published: 5th July 2022, PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia



My Thoughts:


“I’m all for stirring things up but the West Moonah Womens Choir manages perfectly well in its steady, peaceful way. The Angry Womens Choir would burn down the world.”

I knew by page three I was going to adore Meg Bignell’s new release, The Angry Womens Choir, as much as I did The Sparkle Pages and Welcome To Nowhere River.

A story of friendship, community and empowerment, it begins when busy wife and mother Freycinet Barnes distractedly steps in front of a moving car. The driver, Kyrie and her passenger Rosanna, are members of the West Moonah Womens Choir, and Freycinet (who dislikes being called Frey) finds herself welcomed into their supportive fold.

The award-winning West Moonah Womens Choir is made up of nine women of different ages and stages of life. They are well known for their traditional repertoire performed at various events in Tasmania, but in private the women transform into The Angry Womens Choir, belting out their large, and small, frustrations and ‘furies’ in song.

“So we have a rebel princess, the actual Liniment Girl, a hero lawyer, a badly behaved genius, a dementing woman, a rising star, a dying woman and a murderess.”

The choir is more than just a group of singers, they are a family who choose to love, support, and celebrate one another, even if they occasionally squabble like siblings. Bignell has created a delightful cast of unique women, some with quite extraordinary histories, all of whom I came to care for, from the formidable choir director Bizzy, to the brave and tragic Rosanna. Despite appearances, and her own doubts, Freycinet, it transpires, fits right in. I enjoyed getting to know her and cheered her on as she struggled to reclaim herself.

Freycinet joins the choir just as they have announced they are going to host their own rally in a few months to protest oppression in all its forms. Naturally there is a strong feminist angle to this theme, but it’s intended as an inclusionary term to encourage empathy and everyday activism. Bignell captures the passion, energy and courage of these women and their campaign to make a difference that will not only better the community, but themselves as well.

Other subplots are weaved neatly into the story including the threat to the choir’s practice space, a shabby historical building which a local councillor is determined to demolish and Freycinet’s daughter’s struggle with an eating disorder. Most of the choir members also have an arc of sorts from an unexpected pregnancy, to a reunion with a lost love.

Though there is plenty of humour, and even moments of sheer absurdity, to be found in The Angry Womens Choir, which are sure to make you laugh out loud, there is real emotional depth to this novel as Bignell explores loss, grief, regret, forgiveness, and rage.

The Angry Womens Choir is witty, impassioned, poignant. A joy to read, I encourage you to #JointheChorus


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Review: Someone Else’s Child by Kylie Orr


Title: Someone Else’s Child

Author: Kylie Orr

Published: 1st June 2022, HQ Fiction

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy Harlequin Australia



My Thoughts:


Debut author Kylie Orr explores friendship, betrayal, and trauma in Someone Else’s Child.

With traditional approaches failing to treat eight-year-old Charlotte’s brain tumour, everyone agrees that securing her a place in an overseas clinical trial that offers help is essential, despite the exorbitant costs involved. While Lottie’s heartbroken father Jeremy continues to work to support the family, and her devoted mother Anna, takes sole responsibility for her care, Ren, Lottie’s loving godmother, does what she can to help them all cope with the strain, and is an eager supporter of the fundraising efforts.

As the story unfolds from Ren’s perspective, it’s clear she admires Anna, though they are quite different from one another. Orr’s skilful portrayal of their dynamic, which is integral to the plot, is very believable. In their nine years of friendship, Ren has never had reason to suspect Anna capable of deceit or cruelty. If Anna is lately occasionally sharp and demanding, Ren readily accepts the stress and exhaustion of the circumstances as an excuse. While she may not always agree with her friend’s decisions, Ren tells herself she is not a mother, and she trusts that Anna knows what is best for her daughter.

Orr stirs a range of strong emotions as the story progresses, from sadness and compassion, to dread and anger, but there is nuance to be found too. Though there is no surprise in regards to the direction the main plot takes, there is growing tension as Ren begins to suspect something is wrong which eventually builds to a dramatic confrontation. I like that Orr also briefly explored the aftermath of events, with an epilogue set three years later.

Subplots also add texture to the characters and enhance the story, in particular Ren’s struggle, as a Respite Coordinator for the town council, to find help for a young single mother of disabled son at the end of her rope.

Well-written, with complex characterisation, and an emotive plot,  Someone Else’s Child is a strong debut. I couldn’t help but consider how I, compared to Ren, would reaction at various points, suggesting this would be a great choice for a book club.


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Blog Tour Review: A Recipe for Family by Tori Haschka


Title: A Recipe For Family

Author: Tori Haschka

Published: 3rd August 2022, Simon & Schuster Australia 

Read: August 2022 courtesy DMCPRMedia


My Thoughts:

Stella Prentice feels like she is drowning. With her husband, Felix, rarely home, she’s struggling to manage her full time career as a brand manager for an upmarket grocery chain while raising her bright four year old, Natalie, and resentful teenage stepdaughter, Georgia, along with fulfilling life’s everyday tasks. Stella’s friends amongst her well-off Northern beaches community insist that a live in au pair is the life raft she needs, but will it be enough to save a sinking ship?

Set within the same community as Tori Haschka’s debut novel, Grace Under Pressure, A Recipe for Family shares the exploration of similar themes such as work/life balance, marriage, motherhood, family, friendship and the stresses of modern living.

As an overwhelmed working wife and mother, Stella is an easy character to relate to as she attempts to juggle the demands on her time, struggling with guilt and resentment when she inevitably drops a ball. Hiring an au pair is an impulsive move, and though Stella is hopeful it will work out, she is uncomfortable with the arrangement. Subsumed by her own issues however, Stella does not handle the situation well, and her relationship with Ava becomes increasingly strained.

I felt very sorry for Ava, still grieving the recent loss of her mother, she is very far from home, and still so young. Ava attempts to draw comfort and advice from notes and recipes left to her by her late mother, but it quickly becomes clear, though she bonds well with Natalie and Georgia, that she doesn’t quite have the maturity or experience to negotiate the awkward situation she finds herself in.

There’s also a third narrative strand in A Recipe for Family which involves Stella’s mother-in-law, Elise. I liked the character, and enjoyed many of her observations, but I didn’t feel the features of her storyline fit comfortably in the novel. I thought the glimpses into the lives of Stella’s and Ava’s friends and acquaintances were more relevant, providing some interesting context and contrast to their circumstances.

Food, and in particular its associations with motherhood, is a linking motif in the novel, from Stella’s repeated attempts to connect with Georgia by preparing meals to honour her stepdaughter’s late mother, to the comfort food Stella prepares for herself at a low point, to the recipes that Ava cooks for the Prentice’s. I think many of us have at least one recipe that serves as a connection to family – for me, it’s my mother’s meatloaf, and I enjoyed this aspect of the novel. I also really liked that Haschka thoughtfully includes the recipes mentioned through the story in full.

Warmly written, with relatable characters, and thoughtful observations, A Recipe of Family is an engaging novel. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the last few lines of the novel had quite the unexpected kick, and I hope that Haschka decides to explore its consequences, (particularly for Eve) next.


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Review: Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivener


Title: Dirt Town

Author: Hayley Scrivenor

Published: 31st May 2022, Pan Macmillan Australia 

Status: Read June 2022 courtesy Pan Macmillan


My Thoughts:

Dirt Town (published in the US as Dirt Creek) is an impressive crime fiction debut from Hayley Scrivenor.

When twelve-year-old Esther Bianchi fails to return home from school one afternoon, the small country town of Durton is horrified. The reader knows from the outset that Esther is dead, though it’s five long days before the town learns her tragic fate.

Dirt Town unfolds from multiple perspectives, most notably the poignant voices of Esther’s best friends, Ronnie and Lewis; the missing girl’s devastated mother, Constance; investigative officer Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels; and a dramatic ‘Greek chorus’ that represents the children of the community.

This is an absorbing, tense mystery where Esther’s disappearance prompts the revelation of several secrets. It’s not just the girl’s killer who is desperate to hide wrong-doing from Michael’s investigation, and untangling the mistakes, deceits, scandals, and crimes that cloud the case is a challenge for an outsider. With so many viable suspects, I did not guess the answer as to who, or why, until it was revealed.

Sensitive readers may find particular scenes disturbing, but I did not feel they were gratuitous, and spoke to character.

The insular nature of the community, it’s remote location and hot, energy-sapping weather create an atmospheric read. The characters anxiety supports the momentum of the narrative, which is measured, but not slow.

Skilfully crafted, Dirt Town is a gritty, intense, and moving novel that exposes a tragedy and its aftermath.


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Review: The Fallback by D.L. Hicks

Title: The Fallback

Author: D.L. Hicks

Published: 31st May 2022, Pantera Press

Status: Read June 2022 courtesy Pantera Press/Netgalley


My Thoughts:

The Fallback is the second crime novel from Australian police officer and author, DL Hicks, and while there are loose links with his debut, The Devil Inside, it reads well as a stand alone.

When Detective Senior Constable John Darken learns that the body of Eric Johnstone, a former CI placed in the witness protection program, has been found tied to the oyster beds in the small town community of Point Imlay, he volunteers to help the locals investigate. Teamed with city homicide detective Emma Capsteen, early evidence suggests that Eric (aka Rufus O’Keefe) may have blown his second chance and gotten on the wrong side of a local bikie gang, but then a second body is discovered with similar injuries and the police struggle to see a connection.

This is a well paced police procedural, as Darken, Capsteen and their local colleagues try to discover why Eric was killed and who is responsible. The drug dealing members of the Sixers and Niners are an obvious suspect, given Eric is a junkie, but Hicks presents several plausible red herrings that muddy the officers investigation. There are some tense moments for the main characters and some interesting surprises as the story unfolds, but it’s just as it all seems resolved, that Hicks makes a stunning reveal I didn’t see coming.

Darken is a likeable lead character. He is a little fragile, dealing with the recent death of his partner in the line of duty and in the midst of a divorce, but a good investigator, and a good man. I liked Emma too, she’s smart and no nonsense, and I enjoyed the hint of romance that developed between them.

I thought Eric’s perspective was an interesting facet of the novel that provided insights the police investigation couldn’t. He is a surprisingly sympathetic character, more self destructive, than villainous.

Well crafted with a gripping mystery and interesting characters, The Fallback is a great read, and I hope to read more from Hicks.


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