Review: Heatstroke by Hazel Barkworth

Title: Heatstroke

Author: Hazel Barkworth

Published: May 28th 2020, Headline Review

Status: Read May 2020 courtesy Hachette Au/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

Heatstroke is a tense, atmospheric novel from Hazel Barkworth about mothers and daughters, desire and obsession, trust and betrayal.

It begins when the best friend of Rachel’s fifteen year old daughter, Mia, disappears, but this is not really a story about the missing Lily, it is about what Rachel feels she is losing…. her daughter, her youth, her attractiveness, and perhaps her mind.

Rachel presents initially as a somewhat depressed, slightly overprotective, devoted mother, but as the book progresses Barkworth reveals a complex character, with a searing secret that has the potential to burn her world to the ground.

The author’s writing is evocative and gripping, the fevered, oppressive atmosphere of the heatwave reflects Rachel’s tumultuous emotional state as the tension stretches to breaking point.

Yet I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed by the narrative, though I can’t quite articulate why. Still, this is an impressive debut, and I’ll be interested in reading what Barkworth writes next.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Hunted by Gabriel Bergmoser

Title: The Hunted

Author: Gabriel Bergmoser

Published: August 5th 2020, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read May 2020, courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

+++++++


My Thoughts
:

The Hunted by Gabriel Bergmoser was not what I was expecting. Less a thriller than horror novel in my opinion, I’m a little lost for words.

After a blood-soaked young woman stumbles from a car into a remote, outback roadhouse, owner Frank, his teenage granddaughter, Allie, and a handful of unlucky customers are caught up in a horrifying night of violence not all of them will survive.

Unfolding from several perspectives over two timelines that eventually meet, The Hunted is fast paced, action packed and suspenseful. My first instinct is to describe it as a cross between the films Wolf Creek (2005) and Deliverance (1972), and I think this would do well if adapted to the screen.

But had I been aware of the explicit incidences of torture and violence that occur in this novel, I wouldn’t have chosen to read it. At least twice I was uncomfortable enough to consider not finishing it, but to be fair to Bergmoser I was equally uncomfortable not doing so… I needed to know how it would end for the characters, particularly Frank, Allie and the story’s anti-hero, Maggie.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say I liked The Hunted, but that’s a matter of genre rather than any particular flaws with the book. If horror is your thing, I think you’ll love it.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Who We Were by B.M. Carroll

Title: Who We Were

Author: B.M. Carroll

Published: April 28th 2020, Viper

Status: Read May 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

Who We Were is an entertaining, fast paced contemporary suspense novel from Irish born Australian author B.M.Carroll, (who pens womens fiction as Ber Carroll).

In organising their twenty year high school reunion, Katy Barclay invites her former school mates of Macquarie High to answer a few questions to create an update of their yearbook. Annabel is the first to receive a spiteful email with her questions completed by someone else, Grace is next. In both instances the mystery writer knows details about their lives that no stranger should. Katy initially dismisses it as a thoughtless prank but soon more of her classmates, notably members of a particular clique, are targeted.

Who We Were unfolds from multiple viewpoints giving each character the opportunity to share their current lives, and their perspectives on their shared past. Katy, as the reunion organiser, acts as the story’s anchor. Along with Annabel (and by extension her husband Jarrod) and Grace, whom have remained friends over the years, we also meet Melissa, Luke, Zach and Robbie. I found the characters recognisable, and even relatable, both as teenagers, (as it happens my highschool ‘Queen Bee’ was also named Annabel), and as adults (like Grace I’m a SAHM of four).

Most of the group harbour regrets from their high school days (I think there are few of us who don’t), and any one of them could have reason to be holding a grudge. Carroll carefully lays misdirects and red herrings as the threats escalate, which left me guessing as to the identity of the guilty party for most of the novel.

With a dramatic conclusion, a well crafted plot and interesting characters, I really enjoyed Who We Were, and I’m happy to recommend it.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Amazon US I Amazon UK

Review: Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan

Title: Little Disasters

Author: Sarah Vaughan

Published: May 1st 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read May 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

Little Disasters is a compelling domestic drama by Sarah Vaughan.

“…but did you ever imagine killing your baby? Did you check and double-check you hadn’t overdosed her on Calpol; that you hadn’t poured bleach into her bottle; that she wasn’t being suffocated by soft toys in her crib? That you hadn’t inadvertently smothered her?”

When Liz is called to the ER to assess a ten month old child with a fractured skull, she’s surprised to find that her patient is Betsey, the daughter of a friend. Jess is the most attentive mother Liz knows so her friend’s vague explanation for her daughters injury troubles her, and she reluctantly agrees when her supervisor insists that social services be notified.

As the authorities begin to investigate, the story unfolds largely from the viewpoints of Liz, Jess, and Jess’s husband, Ed. Liz and Ed are baffled by the implication that Jess could have deliberately hurt Betsey, as a mother of three Jess has never demonstrated anything but devotion towards her children, but it’s clear to them both she is hiding something.

“The first time Jess imagines hurting Betsey, she has been home from hospital for three days.”

And she is. Vaughn captures Jess’s distress, guilt, and confusion very well. Many new mothers will be familiar with Jess’s anxiety on some level, I remember being frightened I would somehow slip and fall going down the three stairs to my backyard with my newborn in my arms. Jess though is consumed with the idea that harm will come to Betsey, not just accidentally, but deliberately and by her own hand.

“They all doubt her:….

And maybe they are right to do so.

Because she did something terrible, didn’t she?”

The well crafted plot offers more than one twist as the shocking truth of what happened the evening Betsey was injured is slowly revealed. Vaughn thoughtfully examines the complexities of motherhood, and in particular its impact on mental health. Along with Jess’s struggle with PND, the story also explores Liz’s traumatic relationship with her own mother, and touches on issues such as infertility and marital breakdown. The themes of friendship and connection are also important to the novel.

I found Little Disasters to be a gripping and insightful novel.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Review: Prey by L.A. Larkin

Title: Prey {Olivia Wolfe #2}

Author: L.A. Larkin

Published: April 22nd 2020, Clan Destine Press

Read: April 2020

+++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Investigative journalist Olivia Wolfe is back in L.A. Larkin’s latest exciting action thriller, Prey.

When the source that alerted her to a corrupt British Cabinet Minister dies in suspicious circumstances, Olivia ignores the warning from Global Threat Taskforce agent Casburn to drop the story, and instead chases it all the way to South Africa. With the help of friend and local police officer, Thusago, Olivia links the Minister’s tax haven account to a school principal in Soweto, and from there hunts down the powerful cabal who are playing a very dangerous and deadly game.

Short chapters and breathtaking moments of tension ensures Prey is a fast-paced read. Olivia’s investigation takes her across Africa as she tracks the clues that will lead to the mysterious head of the syndicate behind murder, money laundering and illegal poaching. And as Olivia attempts to avoid corrupt locals, and Casburn, with whom she has a complicated relationship stemming from the events in Devour, she’s unaware she has drawn the attention of a sadistic assassin sent to silence her.

The assassin is a horrifying character who takes delight in his macabre work, and streams it live over the Dark Web. Sensitive readers may want to skim a few descriptive paragraphs here and there, but his final confrontation with Olivia is a nerve-wracking encounter not to be missed.

While Olivia is not always sure who to trust, she does have allies in London, her mentor Butcher and his associate Ponnappa, helping her with investigation, and in South Africa, Vitaly Yushkov, Olivia’s former lover, steps in twice to save her life. I love that Olivia refuses to give up no matter the obstacles, she’s a kickass character who follows her conscience and the truth no matter the consequences.

While Prey is a sequel to Devour, which introduces Olivia in a similarly high intensity thriller, it’s not necessary to have read it to enjoy this (though I recommend you do).

An action packed story with a plot of intrigue and a dynamic lead character, Prey is a gripping and exciting read.

++++++

Available from Clan Destine Press

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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Review: Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen

Title: Please See Us

Author: Caitlin Mullen

Published: April 1st 2020, Gallery

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen is a haunting, heartbreaking psychological thriller.

“There is something bad in the air and in the water now, something rotten and wrong. A moral disease.”

Set in Atlantic City, once a popular tourist destination, crowded with vacationers, the famous boardwalk is now lined with boarded up store fronts, half empty casino’s, and strolling prostitutes. Mullen effortlessly evokes a once thriving town gone to seed, broiling in the July sun, edged by the boggy marshes where the bodies of a serial killer’s victims lie.

“There is a sisterhood among them, these women in the marsh. Each time he brings another one, they understand what she has seen.”

And though the unidentified victims, referred to as ‘Janes’ have a voice, Please See Us primarily unfolds from the perspectives of Ava aka Clara Voyant, a sixteen year old thief, grifter and boardwalk psychic experiencing fragmented visions she doesn’t understand, Lily Louten, who has reluctantly returned to Atlantic City to live with her mother after a devastating betrayal by her partner that also decimated her career, and Luis, a friendless deaf and mute janitor who sees, but cannot speak of the horrors he sees.

“He doesn’t know what it is about this city, the way it swallows up anything kind and good.”

The story is slow-burning but suspense laden with a layered plot as Clara and Lily are drawn into the orbit of a serial killer. The writing is evocative, even lyrical, though what it describes are bleak scenes of desperation, poverty, addiction, and violence. Please See Us focuses on the vulnerability of women, particularly to men who seek to exploit and control them.

“We talked about what it meant to be a woman, to be looked at all the time, judged and measured and punished in a thousand different ways every day…”

Gritty, dark and compelling Please See Us is an assured debut novel.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Review: Thrill Me by Lynette Washington (Ed.)

 


Title: Thrill Me: Suspenseful Stories

Author: Lynette Washington (Editor)

Published: April 4th 2020, Glimmer Press

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Glimmer Press

++++++

My Thoughts:

Thrill Me is a provocative short story collection contributed to by thirty-one Australian storytellers, edited by Lynette Washington, the owner of Glimmer Press.

The thirty-five original stories within this anthology aim to surprise, provoke, shock, or scare the reader in imaginative ways. They push the boundaries of the traditional thriller, eschewing cliche’s while still eliciting the heightened emotion that characterises the genre.

I found a handful of stories to be particularly affecting, including Mrs Meiners Has Gone to Get Chalk by Stephen Orr, featuring a classroom of bewildered children, and Top Deck by Doug Bray, whose ending makes a splash (or not as the case may be). Not unexpectedly, there were a few tales that didn’t resonate with me for one reason or another but are sure to capture another’s imagination

Offering a variety of thrills and chills to suit a wide audience, Thrill Me is entertaining reading.

The Authors: Katherine Tamiko Arguile | Joanna Beresford | Carmel Bird | Doug Bray | Ben Brooker | Lauren Butterworth | Elaine Cain | Brid Cummings | Kate Shelley Gilbert | Ashleigh Hardcastle | Alys Jackson | Michelle Jäger | Riana Kinlough | Melanie Kinsman | Gay Lynch | Amy T Matthews | Rachael Mead | Susan Midalia | Ruairi Murphy | Stephen Orr | Cameron Raynes | Caroline Reid | Fiona Robertson | Andrew Roff | Polly Rose | Justine Sless | Angela Sungaila | Reg Taylor | Alex Vickery-Howe | Sean Williams | Jonny Zweck

++++++

Available from Glimmer Press or Wakefield Press

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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Review: Precious You by Helen Monks Takhar

Title: Precious You

Author: Helen Monks Takhar

Published: March 23rd 2020, HQ Fiction

Status: Read April 2020, courtesy Harlequin Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

A thoroughly modern psychological thriller Precious You by Helen Monks Takhar is a disturbing story of obsession, betrayal, and revenge.

When 41 year old magazine editor Katherine Ross first meets her new intern Lily Lunt, she is both drawn to, and distrustful of, the bright, ambitious 24 year old. Already struggling with feelings of irrelevancy Katherine suspects that Lily wants her job, but Lily wants much more than that. Lily wants everything.

Unfolding from the alternating second-person perspective of Katherine, and first-person narrative of Lily, Precious You twists and turns as the two women engage in a sinister power struggle. I was never quite sure whose perspective of events was the most trustworthy, and Takhar skilfully nurtures that element of doubt.

Their complicated dynamic is well portrayed, and if you are inclined to choose a side in the war between these two women, you’ll quickly be disabused of the idea that either deserves to win. As the story unravels so do their darkest secrets, and Katherine and Lily have more in common than you might suspect.

Takhar’s exploration of female identity, toxic friendships, family dysfunction and the generational divide is surprisingly thought provoking. While both characters represent extremes, their thoughts and experiences are often relatable, from Katherine’s mourning for her lost youth (and looks), to Lily’s Millennial sensitivities.

There is plenty of tension sustained through the novel as the rivalry between Katherine and Lily intensifies, and I felt compelled to read to the end to not only see how far each would go, but learn the truths both are hiding.

While a little melodramatic, I found Precious You to be an intense, and thrilling read.

++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Review: Red Dirt Country by Fleur McDonald

 


Title: Red Dirt Country

Author: Fleur McDonald

Published: March 31st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Red Dirt Country is Fleur McDonald’s third book to feature Detective Dave Burrows, and the sixth in which he appears, but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.

Several months after his undercover assignment chasing cattle thieves in North Queensland led to him being shot, Dave is relieved that he has finally been given the go ahead to return to work, gaining his dream job with the Perth Livestock Squad. His very pregnant wife, Mel, is not. Torn between his love for his family, and his passion for his job, Dave may be forced to make some difficult choices.

Dave’s first case in Western Australia partners him with his new chief, Bob Holden. Livestock is being stolen from an Aboriginal owned station, and the thefts are stirring up long held rivalries, spilling out across the community. While the identity of the culprits are easy to guess, I enjoyed the way in which the investigation unfolded. Bob and Dave work well as partners, with the senior proving to be a capable and canny, if not wholly traditional, mentor.

The case allows McDonald to explore the historical and current issues related to Aboriginal managed stations. I felt for Kevin, torn between his Elder’s warnings, and his own judgement. It’s disheartening that prejudice and resentment persist along racial lines, and the author captures that well.

McDonald also alludes to the continuing drought which places pressure on farmers, along with other common stressors like inheritance, and stock sale prices. Her knowledge and experience of farming ensures the authenticity of the setting, and her characters.

Ramping up the tension in the novel is Dave’s impending appearance at the trial of the crooked cop unmasked during the undercover North Queensland investigation. Bulldust, the mastermind behind the theft ring who has yet to be apprehended, is determined to avenge his destruction, and the threat he poses to Dave, and his family, is edging closer.

If you have read McDonald’s contemporary novels in which Dave has a role but does not feature, you will know how the relationship between Dave and Melinda pans out. In Red Dirt Country, Mel, heavily pregnant and suffering bouts of high blood pressure, is worried about Dave’s safety, and resentful of his return to work. Dave loves his wife, and children, but knows he wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I felt that McDonald portrayed the feelings of both Dave and Mel sympathetically, there is no easy solution to the issue that divides them.

With its engaging mystery and authentic rural setting, I enjoyed Red Dirt Country, and the (sort of) cliff hanger has me anticipating the next instalment.

++++++

 

Available from Allen & Unwin *RRP AUD $29.99 Read the first chapter

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Fiona MCDonald reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

Review: Sheerwater by Leah Swann

 

Title: Sheerwater

Author: Leah Swann

Published: March 20th 2020, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

When a light plane crashes by the side of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, Ava, a former emergency rescue worker, feels compelled to stop and render assistance. Leaving her two young sons, Max and Teddy, safely locked in the car with strict instructions to remain, she and and another passerby bravely pull the pilot and two frightened children from the wreckage moments before it explodes. When emergency services arrives Ava makes her way back to the car only to find it empty.

Alternating primarily between the perspectives of Ava, her estranged husband Laurence, and their oldest son, 9 year old Max, Sheerwater is a harrowing tale, skillfully executed by Leah Swann.

Ava’s fear for her missing sons is visceral, her confusion and anxiety building as the police question her every word. Laurence’s attempts to reframe the narrative are infuriating, and an all too familiar reflection of recent current events. Max’s courage is heartbreaking as he tries to care for and protect his four year old brother, Teddy.

The prose is lyrical and evocative, portraying nuanced character and emotion. Vivid imagery conjures a sense of place, no matter the setting.

Though there are a few elements I felt were perhaps out of place, they didn’t detract from my interest. Unfolding over a period of three days, the pace is intense, and the increasing tension utterly gripping. I was left shattered by the ending.

Both beautiful and brutal, Sheerwater is a compelling read.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

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