Review: The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence

Title: The Lost Girls

Author: Jennifer Spence

Published: Simon & Schuster January 2019

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

I had made some assumptions about this novel, based mostly on the cover and title. I was expecting a fairly standard novel of mystery involving a missing girl or two, but what I discovered was a compelling and unique story using one of my least favourite tropes – time travel.

It is 2017 and sixty three year old Stella Lannigan is making her way home from a night out when she realises that her surroundings seem somehow changed. Baffled, she wonders if she absentmindedly took a wrong turn, but the landmarks are familiar, just not quite… right. Stella slowly realises that she has inexplicably stepped into the past, it is 1997, and as she stands outside her former home, she watches her forty three year old self step out of the front door.

What would you do if you had the chance to change a moment from your past, to rewrite your history, and avoid inevitable tragedy? Stella knows she will do whatever she must to subvert her daughter’s fate.

The concept of time travel is, as I have said, one of my least favourite devices in film and literature. It’s either presented in a too simplistic, or convoluted, manner. In The Lost Girls, Spence uses it in a way that made sense to me. As Stella insinuates herself into her family, posing as her own long last aunt, she subtly attempts to manipulate the future, but destiny, it seems, is not as malleable as it may appear.

There is also a traditional mystery, with a missing girl at it’s heart, which is central to the story.

I’m loathe to say much more, lest I inadvertently spoil your own future reading of this novel . Suffice it to say, The Lost Girls is a poignant, intriguing ,and captivating read I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

 

+++++

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Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

Title: The Dry {Aaron Falk #1}

Author: Jane Harper

Published: Macmillan, May 2016

Status: Read March 2019

 

My Thoughts:

Credited with sparking new interest in Australian rural crime novels, The Dry was published in 2016 to international acclaim, winning multiple awards, with the movie adaptation, to star Eric Bana, currently in production. 

After a twenty year absence, Aaron Falk reluctantly returns to his hometown, the small drought stricken community of Kiewarra, to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke Hadler, accused of slaughtering his wife and daughter, before turning the gun on himself. Falk is now with the Federal Police, investigating financial crime, and at the request of Luke’s parents, who are desperate to find an alternative answer to such a heinous crime, agrees to go over the farm’s business records. While the accounts prove to be fairly straightforward, it is inconsistencies in the details of the crime that bother Falk.

The Dry is an atmospheric novel, evoking the dusty desperation of small farming towns struggling with drought and the myriad of consequences it has both economically and socially. Tempers are short, attitudes are anxious, and secrets fester In the heat.

The mystery at the heart of The Dry is well plotted, and revealed at an even pace. Harper effectively builds and maintains tension, even where the past and present intersect. I admit to being a little piqued by one thread of the story that was resolved but felt unfinished.

Guilt is is a major motivation for Falk’s investigation. His real reluctance to return to Kiewarra stems from the tragic drowning of another childhood friend, in whose death Aaron, and his father, were unfairly implicated. Driven out of town by the victim’s father, a vindictive bully and drunk, the community is no more welcoming on his return. It makes for an interesting character, struggling with both interior and exterior conflicts.

The supporting characters are well drawn, though perhaps not terribly nuanced. It’s actually the absent characters, Luke and Ellie, that are the most dynamic.

An impressive debut, I found The Dry to be an evocative and compelling crime novel. I am looking forward to reading the second book featuring Falk, Force of Nature.

——————————

The Dry is available from Macmillan Australia 

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Review: Darkest Place by Jaye Ford

 

Title: Darkest Place

Author: Jaye Ford

Published: Random House Feb 2016

Read an Extract

Status: Read on February 08, 2016 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I should have known better, being familiar with Jaye Ford’s previous novels. I picked up Darkest Place at 2am to read a few pages before bed and didn’t put it down til I finished the last page, just minutes before my husband’s alarm woke him for work at 5am.

After enduring years of guilt, heartbreak, and regret, Charlotte Townsend has finally found the strength to leave her past behind. In a new town, with a new apartment, and a new name, Carly has enrolled in college and is looking towards her future, but three days into her new life she wakes to find a stranger in her bedroom. When the police answer Carly’s call for help, they find no sign of the man and assure her it was likely a crime of opportunity. Though shaken by the intrusion Carly refuses to let the incident destroy her fledgling confidence…until then it happens again, and then again.

Darkest Place is an absorbing tale of psychological suspense. The tension builds slowly, gathering momentum until you realise you are holding your breath in anxious anticipation.

“She wants to scream. It’s building in her chest. Trapped there, scratching at her lungs as though her ribs are the bars holding it back. She hears breathing. Not her own. Deep and unhurried. It whispers across her face like a warm cloth. It turns her skin to ice. She lashes out. Hits, twists, kicks. She sees it in her mind, feels it in her muscles. But it doesn’t happen. She doesn’t move. Neither does he. She sees him now. A shape in the darkness. Above her, black and motionless. He is watching. She watches back. Fear roaring through her bones, pulse thumping in her ears. Her voice is wedged in her throat now and choking her. No. Something else is squeezing, pushing down, making blood pound in her face. Warm hand, hard fingers. She doesn’t want to see. Doesn’t want to feel. She shuts her eyes. Waits. “

Carly is a complex character, and given her emotionally fragility, I was never quite sure if I could trust her perception of events as the story progressed. The police certainly have their doubts about the reliability of her reports, and Carly’s psychiatrist offers a rational opinion that could explain her experiences, but I was sympathetic to her distress.

“She caught sight of herself in the mirror. Hair a mess, face tear-stained. Dark-ringed, pale, wild-eyed. And she spun away, the image burned onto her retinas. Distraught, panicked, confused. She looked like Charlotte. No, worse than that. She looked crazy.”

I have to admit I was ambivalent about the ending, though it works within the context of character and story, I didn’t find it wholly satisfying, though I can’t really reveal why I feel that way without the risk of spoilers. Nevertheless, there is closure and a sense of triumph and hope.

Darkest Place is Ford’s fifth novel and I would say her best to date. Clever, thrilling and gripping.

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Also by Jaye Ford reviewed at Book’d Out


Blog Tour Review: All That is Lost Between Us by Sara Foster

 

Title: All That is Lost Between Us

Author: Sara Foster

Published: Simon & Schuster AU Feb 2016

Status: Read from February 03 to 04, 2016 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

All That is Lost Between Us is a compelling modern domestic thriller from Sara Foster.

Unfolding from the perspectives of the four members of the Turner family, it is a story about guilt, secrets, betrayal and loyalty.

Seventeen year old Georgia Turner, high school student and champion Fells runner, is preoccupied by a secret she can’t share, not even with her best friend and cousin, Sophia.
Anya is frustrated by her inability to connect with her increasingly withdrawn daughter who spurns both her concern and affection, as does her husband, Callum.
Callum, mired in unspoken resentments, has thrown himself into his voluntary work with the local Fells rescue team, and taken solace in the attentions of a younger colleague.
When Zac accidentally discovers a shocking photo hidden in his sister’s bedroom, he is at a loss as how to best deal with his discovery.

A hit and run incident involving Georgia and Sophia is the catalyst that drives the members of the Turner family to the brink of crisis. As suspicion grows that the actions of the unidentified driver was deliberate, Foster builds the tension as secrets begin to collide.

One of the main themes Foster’s story thoughtfully explores is the vulnerabilities of family. Emotional distance has frayed the bonds between husband and wife, parent and child, in All That is Lost Between Us. The strained relationships are sensitively and realistically portrayed, disconnected, they are each vulnerable in the crisis and struggle to bridge the gap to offer each other the support they need.

Georgia’s angst is well drawn, her increasingly fraught emotional state is believable as she obsesses over her secret with the self absorption of youth.
I empathised strongly with Anya, it is difficult to let your children pull away from you, to find the balance between encouraging them to make their own choices, and protect them from their inevitable mistakes. My oldest daughter is 19 and I too feel as if she is “breaking off a piece of my heart and taking it with her.” as she forges her own life.

Set in England’s Lake District, Foster’s descriptions of the landscape are vivid and evocative. The rugged beauty of the Fells, its craggy peaks and forested valleys and sheer cliffs, also reflects the changeable emotional states of the characters.

All That is Lost Between Us is a captivating read I’d recommend to both an adult and mature young adult audience.

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Review: Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar

 

Title: Summer Skin

Author: Kirsty Eagar

Published: Allen & Unwin Feb 2016

Status: Read from February 01 to 02, 2016 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Summer Skin offers a ‘girl meets boy’ story, a typical trope in YA/NA fiction, but author Kirsty Eagar has stripped back the common artifice of the construct to present a love story that honest, unique and relevant.

I found Jess to be a particular refreshing character for the YA/NA genre, though a mess of contradictions, she reflects a realistic young woman still figuring out that life and its challenges are rarely black and white.

Mitch challenges Jess in interesting ways, at first glance he is everything Jess despises – an arrogant rugby playing sexist pig, and she holds tightly to that initial assessment, which she often uses as an excuse and justification throughout their relationship for her own behaviour, even as she learns that Mitch is a much more than that. They both struggle to define their relationship in terms of both their own identities, and each other.

There is real depth to this novel beneath the humor, mischief, drunken revelry, dress up balls, and instagram poses that exemplifies campus life. The author explores modern day feminism and how its meaning varies between individuals, illustrated by the differing attitudes and opinions of Jess and each of her close friends, Farren, Leanne and Allie. She captures the conflict many young women face when negotiating issues of lust, sex and intimacy in the age of the hook-up culture. Eagar also touches on several relevant issues affecting today’s young adults including the use, and abuse of social media, the way in which porn distorts attitudes to sex, the risks of speeding and drink driving, but she never preaches.

Aimed squarely at a mature young adult/new adult audience, Summer Skin is smart, funny, sexy and thought-provoking. There is nothing typical about it.

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Also by Kirsty Eagar

@ Goodreads

Review: Numbered by Amy Andrews & Ros Baxter

 

Title: Numbered

Author: Amy Andrews & Ros Baxter

Published: Harlequin MIRA AU Jan 2016

Read an Extract

Status: Read from January 26 to 29, 2016 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

‘Where are the damn tissues?’ is what I wrote when I finished Numbered by authors Ros Baxter and Amy Andrews.

When twenty nine year old Poppy Devine finds a lump in her breast she decides to get a jump on her bucket list, and surprises herself by crossing off three items in one day – Number one: Jump out of a plane, Number ten: Have sex with a stranger, Number twelve: Eat a Mexican meal.

Numbered is an emotive story, the tragedy of Poppy’s terminal diagnosis can’t fail to tug at the heart strings, but it is ultimately a celebration of life as Poppy with the support of her best friend Julia and no-longer-a-stranger ‘Ten’ (aka Quentin Carmody) endeavour to fulfil her bucket list before her time runs out.

Most of the story is told from the alternating perspectives of Julia and Quentin. Julia is both furious and devastated when her best friend is diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer and is determined that Poppy will beat it. In the meantime she will do everything she can to ensure Poppy has whatever she wants, she just doesn’t think that Poppy is making a wise choice in keeping Mr-Rock-God-Surfer-Boy-Football-Legend around. Twenty two year old musician/short order cook Quentin Carmody has never had a relationship that has lasted longer than a few weeks but he’s found something special with Poppy, both in and out of bed, and he’s determined not to let her go.

Numbered is as much a story about they way in which Julia and Quentin cope with Poppy’s inevitable death, more perhaps, than it is about Poppy’s courageous last days. I loved Julia’s feisty spirit and take no prisoners attitude, and the way in which Quentin sees past Poppy’s illness. Both strong personalities, Julia and Quentin want what is best for Poppy but they don’t always agree on what that is or how to make it happen. The bickering between them is often hilarious, providing much needed light relief, but is clearly edged with the pain and grief they feel.

Beautifully written with heart and humour, Numbered is a poignant yet life affirming novel about friendship, love, hope, grief and redemption, a wonderful read that will likely leave you smiling through your tears.

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Review: It’s.Nice.Outside. by Jim Kokoris

 

Title: It’s.Nice.Outside

Author: Jim Kokoris

Published: St Martins Press December 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from January 02 to 03, 2016 — I own a copy  (Courtesy the publisher)

My Thoughts:

“Everyone is waiting for us in Charleston, South Carolina. That’s a long way. We’re going to drive there. Isn’t that fun? Isn’t that crazy? Mom thinks I’m crazy for doing this. I’m starting to think I’m crazy for doing this, and we haven’t even pulled out of the driveway. Isn’t that crazy? Yes, sir, it sure is. Yes, sir.”

John Nichols is driving cross country with his son Ethan to attend his eldest daughter’s wedding. He once dreamed of taking aimlessly to the open road, but this trip requires factoring in Ethan’s restlessness, frequent meltdowns, bathroom breaks and stops for pickles at Cracker Barrel. Born with an extra chromosome resulting in global cognitive delays, Ethan is essentially a nineteen year old toddler and though John fiercely loves his son, he is exhausted by the demands of caring for him.

Little of John’s life has turned out as he expected, at 57 he is an ex-basketballer player, ex-author, ex-philanderer, ex-husband, ex-high-school English teacher’ but now John has an ‘Overall Plan’. Phase I is getting to the wedding on time, Phase II will be a little more complicated.

Jim Kokoris’ fourth novel, It’s. Nice. Outside. is a funny, honest and moving novel about family, love, regret, joy, doubt and hope.

The trip is fraught with emotion, reflection and re-evaluation, beset by crisis when Karen’s wedding is cancelled, contention when youngest daughter Mindy joins them, and chaos when John finally reveals his Overall Plan to his ex-wife. John is convinced he is doing the right thing for his son, for his family and as he admits, for himself, but letting go maybe the thing that tears them all apart.

“I kept thinking that if we stuck together, we would eventually get to where everything was going to be fine. That we were going to make it, all of us. We were going to arrive someplace together and be fine…. A happy ending”

I laughed loudly at Stinky Bear (“a sassy, horny little teddy bear, full of insightful and often…outrageous comments about life, love, and the state of the civilisation.” and was moved by John’s frustrations and angst. Primarily though I felt compassion for the family’s very real struggle to determine what is best for Ethan.

Kokoris’s dialogue is sharp and snappy and the interactions between the various characters ring true. The author’s sense of comedic timing is impeccable, clever and hilarious, though also often dark and acerbic. Well crafted, the pace of the story is great and events unfold naturally.

I was really impressed by It’s.Nice.Outside. for Kokoris’s wit and candor and the insight into a complicated family dynamic.

 

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Review: Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew

 

Title: Recipes for Love and Murder {Tannie Maria #1}

Author: Sally Andrew

Published: Canongate Books September 2015

Read an Extract

Status: Read from November 27 to 30, 2015   – I own a copy

My Thoughts:

“Recipe for Murder
1 stocky man who abuses his wife
1 small tender wife
1 medium-sized tough woman in love with the wife
1 double-barrelled shotgun
1 small Karoo town marinated in secrets
3 bottles of Klipdrift brandy
3 little ducks
1 bottle of pomegranate juice
1 handful of chilli peppers
1 mild gardener
1 fire poker
1 red-hot New Yorker
7 Seventh-day Adventists (prepared for The End of the World)
1 hard-boiled investigative journalist
1 soft amateur detective
2 cool policemen
1 lamb
1 handful of red herrings and suspects mixed together
Pinch of greed
Throw all the ingredients into a big pot and simmer slowly, stirring with a wooden spoon for a few years. Add the ducks, chillies and brandy towards the end and turn up the heat”

Recipes for Love and Murder is a delightful mystery set in Klein Karoo, South Africa from Sally Andrew.

Tannie (Aunty) Marie is the Klein Karoo’s Gazette recipe columnist, but with recent budget cuts affecting the small three person newspaper, she is also tasked to take over the role of Agony Aunt. It’s a job Tannie Marie takes seriously, dispensing wisdom, and recipes, to suit any situation. However it is a letter from ‘Bereft Woman’ suffering at the hands of her abusive husband that greatly worries Tannie Marie, and when she learns of her death she is determined to see justice is done.

Sprinkled with Afrikaans words and phrases Andrew creates such a wonderful sense of both place, and character. Marie relies on her colleagues, and friends,  Hattie and Jessie to help her investigate the murder, and meets a slightly over protective but well meaning, and handsome, detective.

Despite the delicious appeal of the recipes in this story, Andrew explores some sensitive issues, such as domestic violence, of which Marie was once a victim, PTSD, homosexuality and of course, murder..there is not just one but two by the end of the book, plus a kidnapping and a near miss for Tannie Marie.

While similarities can be drawn between this book and Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Lady Detective series set in Botswana, Recipes for Love and Murder has its own distinct charm, and I hope to read more from Sally Andrew.

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Review: After You by JoJo Moyes

Title: After You {Me Before You #2}

Author: JoJo Moyes

Published: Penguin AU September 2015

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Status: Read from November 23 to 26, 2015   – I own a copy

The long-awaited sequel to the worldwide phenomenon Me Before You.
Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. And when an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.
In a church basement, with the motley crew of the support group Moving On, Lou attempts to kick-start her life again. And when she meets strong, capable Sam Fielding things seem like they are going in the right direction. This is until a figure from Will’s past appears out of the blue . . .”

My Thoughts:

Review to come

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A thought about: The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

 

Title: The Natural Way of Things

Author: Charlotte Wood

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2015

Status: Read from October 26 to 27, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in an abandoned property in the middle of a desert in a story of two friends, sisterly love and courage – a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted.

She hears her own thick voice deep inside her ears when she says, ‘I need to know where I am.’ The man stands there, tall and narrow, hand still on the doorknob, surprised. He says, almost in sympathy, ‘Oh, sweetie. You need to know what you are.’

Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in a broken-down property in the middle of nowhere. Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be there with eight other girls, forced to wear strange uniforms, their heads shaved, guarded by two inept yet vicious armed jailers and a ‘nurse’. The girls all have something in common, but what is it? What crime has brought them here from the city? Who is the mysterious security company responsible for this desolate place with its brutal rules, its total isolation from the contemporary world? Doing hard labour under a sweltering sun, the prisoners soon learn what links them: in each girl’s past is a sexual scandal with a powerful man. They pray for rescue — but when the food starts running out it becomes clear that the jailers have also become the jailed. The girls can only rescue themselves.

My Thoughts:

A thought provoking, provocative novel that explores a chilling near-future dystopia drawn from the realities of contemporary society for women. Beautifully written but deeply disquieting.

 

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