Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper - Australian crime fiction at its finest

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Force of Nature by Jane Harper
Released: 26th September 2017
Published by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Genre: Crime/Mystery
Source: Publisher
Pages: 384
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out 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 teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises. Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker.

Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case - in just a matter of days she was to provide the documents that will bring down the company she works for.

Falk discovers that far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. But does it include murder?
The Dry was hailed as the book of the year at the 2017 Australian Book Industry Awards, so any follow-up was bound to come under scrutiny to see how it compares. I'm happy to say that Force of Nature is addictive and atmospheric; suspenseful in a way that you simply have to experience for yourself.

In this book we get to know more about Agent Aaron Falk, a member of the financial crime division of the federal police. Like its predecessor, Force of Nature is at its core a 'police procedural' novel. But far from the constraints of the suburbs where a murder or missing person case can be solved with the aid of CCTV footage, or even the gossip from those in a rural town, out here in the fictional Giralang Ranges it becomes clear that the mystery behind Alice's disappearance will be more difficult to uncover. It's this added complexity of the rugged setting where the group of women begrudgingly set out on a company team-building expedition that brings the drama to the fore.

Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No-one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russel. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you.

Once again Jane Harper has excelled in conveying the essence of a sense of place. In the Australian bush she brings out the ghostly whispers of the trees and unsettling sounds of the wildlife with vivid clarity. Just as the women struggle to orient themselves in an unfamiliar environment which all begins to look the same, us readers are also led on a twisted path to the truth. Harper skilfully leaves crumbs along the way which ramp up the suspense and enormity of the situation where survival becomes paramount - from the discovery of a meagre pool of water to what could be the abandoned cabin of an infamous killer. What is only a few days of the doomed expedition stretches the entire length of the story thanks to the alternating perspective on the current investigation at hand. Each chapter ends on a 'mini-cliffhanger', a device which achieves exactly what it set out to do - make this a book you Can't. Put. Down.

There was a movement outside her sleeping bag and Beth stiffened. She couldn't tell what had made it - woman or wildlife. She lay still and by the time it disappeared, the word she'd been searching for had formed on the tip of her tongue, so real she could almost taste its residue. Feral. 

The characters are equally well-developed, where human nature is examined as people are pushed to the brink. The boiling pot of personalities, from Alice the self-assured narcissist to Bree and Beth who are sisters that could not be more different, morphs into a powder keg ready to explode. These tensions make the plot all the more compelling, brought together with taut prose that is matter-of-fact yet descriptive. When there's no telling if help is ever going to arrive, ethics are questioned as company politics transcend the office, becoming a different beast altogether. It would be easy for a story like this to turn into a merely pragmatic play-by-play of the events as they unfolded, but I liked how there was more heart to the investigation. Falk's connection to his father who also used to hike the trails in the ranges was an interesting touch, bringing some humanity back to a plot which  otherwise highlights its vices through characters that are teetering over the edge.


If you've enjoyed The Dry, you will LOVE Force of Nature. Nonetheless, this book should be recognised for its own well-deserved merits. Jane Harper isn't just an author to watch, she's one whose work has to be read - do that and you won't look back. 

#LoveOzYABloggers - Historical

Monday, 25 September 2017


Historical fiction is an all-time favourite genre of mine, and when it comes to Australian YA there are a few standouts which come to mind. The three that I've chosen to feature for this week's prompt are all from very different time periods, but they each capture the societies of their settings in a way which vividly takes you back to eras gone by.

The Raven's Wing by Frances Watts

Set in ancient Rome, our protagonist Claudia is bound by the duty to the family she hardly knows when she is summoned by her father. Plots and scheming ensue, and she must make some difficult decisions on what's more important - love or duty? It's a question which has featured many times over in fiction, but even here the conflict between the two is given a fresh twist which keeps it interesting for teen readers.

You can see my review for The Raven's Wing here

The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman by Jackie French

To be honest, I could have filled this whole post with ten or more Jackie French novels. I've gone on about the Matilda saga on here more times than I can count though, so it's time to change things up and give some of her other books time in the spotlight. This unique take on Shakespeare's life before he was the most famous playwright in history was a really interesting read. For her other Shakespeare-inspired works, I'd definitely recommend I Am Juliet and Ophelia: Queen of Denmark.

You can see my review for The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman here

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

And finally we come to a book set in Australia - 1930's Sydney to be exact. It has an underbelly vibe with the mob-warfare and gritty crime elements, but keeps it unpredictable with the ghostly undertones. The old-school slang places you right at the heart of this time, and I loved the inclusion of the map at the beginning. 

You can see my review for Razorhurst here

#LoveOzYABloggers is hosted by #LoveOzYA, a community led organisation dedicated to promoting Australian young adult literature. Keep up to date with all new Aussie YA releases with their monthly newsletter, or find out what’s happening with News and Events, or submit your own!

Waiting on Wednesday: Welcome back to the world of 'The Diviners'

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine where the participants tell their readers about an upcoming release they are waiting to read. This week I've picked Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray.

The Diviners are back and facing ghosts in this thrilling and eerie third instalment in the #1 New York Times bestselling series, set against the backdrop of 1920s New York City and the mysterious mental hospital on Ward Island.

1920s New York. Lights are bright. Jazz is king. Parties are wild. And the dead are coming. After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that nearly claimed two of their own, the Diviners are set to face off against an all-new terror. Out on desolate Ward's Island, far from the city's bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten - ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.

With terrible accounts of murder and possession pushing New York City to the edge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister forces invading the asylum - a fight that will bring them face-to-face with the King of Crows. Now, as explosive secrets from the past come to light and malevolent forces gather from every corner, love and loyalties will be tested, and the Diviners will find themselves in a deadly battle for the very soul of the nation.

Heart-pounding action and terrifying moments will leave you breathless in this third book in the Diviners quartet by #1 New York Times bestselling author Libba Bray.

First off, can we just admire that cover for a second? I was hooked from the very beginning of this series with The Diviners, and Lair of Dreams was definitely a sequel to impress. 1920s New York was never so dazzling...and dangerous.

Releasing 1st October 2017 from Allen and Unwin

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Spring TBR

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish. This week it's all about spring reads, and I'm showcasing my top picks for the season.

1. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

I have absolutely loved Kate Forsyth's other historical novels Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl and The Beast's Garden so the bar is definitely set high for this one. I know she always puts so much research into her work so I'll be looking to see how she incorporates fact into fiction.

2. Like Life by Lorrie Moore

I just reviewed Lorrie Moore's first collection of short stories Self-Help, and can't believe I haven't come across her work before. If that was anything to go by, this is going to be another satirical and darkly funny read. 

3. Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

The hype and early reviews for this one has left it showered in praise, so I'm eager to see the enchanting world come to life on the page. 

4. The True Colour of Forever by Carrie Firestone

The sound of this book with a focus on kindness is really sweet - the perfect YA contemporary read for spring.

5. From the Wreck by Jane Rawson

After reading Formaldehyde earlier in the year, I'm curious to see what weird and wonderful plot devices Jane Rawson has put into action here. 

6. Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

The world-building and pirates in this one have me curious, and if the story lives up to the glowing reviews I won't be disappointed.

7. No Way! Okay, Fine. by Brodie Lancaster

This memoir about pop-culture and feminism might be just the thing I need to be get back into non-fiction.

8. Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

With Voyager hitting the screens, it's high time I finally got to reading Drums of Autumn! Starting this may be an undertaking (it's another one over 1000 pages), but every time I start a book in this series the length seems irrelevant because they're so engaging.

9. Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

FINALLY the third book in The Diviners series! The 1920s with a paranormal twist and gripping mysteries have kept me hooked on these novels - I can't wait to see what's next in store for the characters.

10. No Filter by Orlagh Collins

You can't go past a lighthearted YA romance to read on a sunny afternoon, and this looks like something which would work nicely.

What books are you looking forward to reading this Spring/Fall?

Review: Self-Help by Lorrie Moore - A whip-smart collection on how (not) to solve life's problems

Monday, 18 September 2017

Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
Released: 1st May 2015 (original edition 1985)
Published by: Faber
Genre: Short Stories
Source: Library
Pages: 163
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Complicated, awkward, funny, cruel, heartbroken, mysterious; Self-Help forms an idiosyncratic guide to female existence which is just as relevant today as it was 30 years ago. These stories are modern America at its most real, with characters sharing thoughts and experiences they could have borrowed from our own lives.

This is how to deal with divorce, adultery, cancer, how to talk to your mother or become a writer, the Lorrie Moore way.
Self-Help is a delightfully ironic answer to the genre which the title comes from. The nine pieces here have narrators which are intelligent and very self-aware, with the reasons for their malaise clearly on display. For the reader, the solution may appear simple, the 'logical' response likened to something you may read about in (you guessed it) the 'self-help' section of a bookstore. However, what makes this so compulsively readable is Moore's insight that the answer to life's challenges are not so easy to come by; no matter how accurately one may recognise the flaws in their reasoning - the same self-destructive behaviour could inevitably occur all over again.

The first story 'How to Be an Other Woman' sets the tone for the other parodies on life-guides to follow, many told in second-person for full effect. The situation changes from 'other woman' to simply 'woman' embarking on a new relationship in 'How'. Mocking the cliches in the course of a romantic rendezvous is something achieved with the blackest of humour and I enjoyed every page.

Feel discovered, comforted, needed, loved, and start sometimes, somehow, to feel bored. When sad or confused, walk uptown to the movies. Buy popcorn. These things come and go. A week, a month, a year. - 'How'

In my personal favourite 'How to Become a Writer', Moore tackles the haughty disdain of an English literature professor and the students in his class in a way that puts it at the top of the list for both humour and accuracy.

In creative writing seminars over the next two years, everyone continues to smoke cigarettes and ask the same things: "But does it work?" "Have you earned this cliché?" These seem like the important questions. - 'How to Become a Writer'

It's not only a doomed love-life and literary institutions that Moore critiques, as in 'Go Like This' she delves into the life of a mother with cancer who wishes to take death into her own hands. The way that the author is able to adapt her style ever so slightly to still be funny but never completely out of order when taking on these sorts of situations is a useful skill.

I am getting into the swing of it. I tell them the cancer is poisining at least three lives and that I refuse to be its accomplice. This is not a deranged act, I explain. Most of them have known for quite a while my belief that intelligent suicide is almost always preferable to stupid lingering of a graceless death. there is silence, grand as Versailles. It seems respectful. - 'Go Like This'

Amid the razor-sharp commentary is always a phrase or two which reminds us of the humanity of these characters - they're not just fictional beings, but people who could just as well be someone you'd pass on the street. Even in 'To Fill' which ends the collection, what begins as a portrayal of a woman who wants nothing more in life than to steal money for the thrill of her material obsessions turns into a deeper investigation of her marriage and connection with her mother who has 'convinced herself she is physically and mentally ill'. Most importantly, all of these stories fit cohesively, and while each may relish in its own quirky charm there's no denying that there is a pinch of reality throughout.

I am becoming hugely depressed. Like last year. Just a month ago I was better, sporting a simpler, terse sort of disenchantment, a neat black vest of sadness. Elegant ironies leaped from my mouth as fine as cuisses de grenouilles. Now he darkness sleeps and wakes in me daily like an Asian carnivore at the Philly zoo. - 'To Fill'


It's been a long time since I've found an anthology this whip-smart and satirical. This is a book which crackles with wit, and an energy which makes you look forward to each quip to arrive on the next line. I've already lined up my next read from this author because I want more. 

{Blog Tour} Take Three Girls: Review & Author Interview with Fiona Wood

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood
Released: 29th August 2017
Published by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Genre: #LoveOzYA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 423
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
3 award-winning authors. 1 compelling book.

ADY - not the confident A-Lister she appears to be. KATE - brainy boarder taking risks to pursue the music she loves.
CLEM - disenchanted swim-star losing her heart to the wrong boy.

All are targeted by PSST, a toxic website that deals in gossip and lies.

St Hilda's antidote to the cyber-bullying? The Year 10 Wellness program. Nice try - but sometimes all it takes is three girls.

Exploring friendship, feminism, identity and belonging. Take Three Girls is honest, raw and funny.
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Take Three Girls provides an unflinchingly honest view into so many of the real issues facing teenage girls today. We've all heard about, or perhaps even experienced the pain and embarrassment which a slanderous post on social media can inflict. We see the everyday sexism and casual misogyny played out both in reality and through the media. We've felt the change in friendships as people's true colours come through, and found the people who make us realise where we truly belong.

From the pop-culture and music references to the even quicker spread of the rumour-mill thanks to technology, Take Three Girls reads as a story which is current and so relevant. How the girls handled relationships with their families and each other highlighted all the conflicts and contradictions which come up at that age. Sibling rivalries, plummeting self-esteem and the need to put on a 'mask' to be around the popular, snarky group were all topics explored with straight-up honesty. The failed relationships with guys who were never going to give them the respect any young woman deserves and coming to the realisation that knowing your-self worth is so important were some of the other key messages that came through.

Older me, please remember how great it felt to have real friends for the first time. Remember that it felt like something cracking open to give you the wider view, more oxygen. Remember that is also, contrarily, felt like a nest where you were comfortable and safe and restored. Remember that it felt so loose and free when you could let your guard down and stop performing that popular girl version of yourself.

It's the unlikely friendship that bloomed between Ady, Kate and Clem through the Wellness program that made this book such an amazing read. Seeing how they supported each other when each of them came to their own particular dilemmas was heartwarming, and an example of girls helping a sister out in the best possible way. While the revelation as to who was behind the 'PSST' site didn't exactly come as a surprise, I think what this book possesses so much greater substance beyond what was going on online. It placed a well-deserved spotlight on the strength of the girls to unite against the comments and prove that they were good enough and would be successful regardless.


Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood are three brilliant Aussie YA authors in their own right, and in this book they've brought together all that talent to create a feminist manifesto with heart.

Author Interview with Fiona Wood

What drew you to the idea of writing a book about the impacts of cyber-bullying? What is the main message you hope readers will be able to take from it?

Our starting point was more to write a book about an unlikely friendship, but the setting of cyber-bullying, and general online nastiness became important for the story. We were inspired by what seemed like a constant stream of stories in the media of misogynistic behavior directed to girls and young women in schools, universities, colleges and the workplace. We wanted to represent that reality, and we hope that one message readers take from the book is that if they are caught up in this type of bullying they are not alone, and it’s not their fault. 

How did the three of you decide to collaborate on this book? What was the best thing about writing with two other authors?

We were already friends who met to talk about writing and we thought it would be fun to write something together. We enjoyed the process enormously, although it did take a lot longer to finish than we had initially anticipated. For me, the best thing was working with two writers whose work I love so much. It was a great opportunity to gain insights into Cath’s and Simmone’s creative processes. And it made a welcome change from the usual isolation of writing.

How does Take Three Girls compare with the other books you’ve written – are there any similarities?

I’m interested in exploring the idea of feminism in my fiction. It plays a big part in Take Three Girls and it’s strongly present as a theme in both Wildlife and Cloudwish. Identity is another central theme in those two books and in Six Impossible Things. Both Van Uoc from Cloudwish and Ady from Take Three Girls are serious art students. Across all my writing I try to write an engaging contemporary narrative, told with a sense of humour, that also deals with some more serious social and political issues.

What is the best attribute of the character you wrote?

So, Cath wrote Kate, Simmone wrote Clem and I wrote Ady. I created Ady as a character who is just discovering how important her creativity is in her life, how much it is a part of who she is. She is learning to flex that muscle. That is a strong attribute that was fun to write, because when you write an artist, your also get to write their art, in Ady’s case, expressed through clothes and costume.

Do you have a favourite moment or quote which you think really captures the essence of the story?

There are so many quotes I could mention from all three characters, but one I like from Ady is, “Imagine slipping out for a full-moon midnight walk, just because you could. We’d start to swagger. We’d own the streets, own the night.”  

What advice would you give to other aspiring authors out there?

Read widely. When you read something you like, read it again to analyse exactly how the writer did it. Why, and how, does it work? The other thing is to finish your work. Good writing really happens in the rewriting, and it’s only when you have a complete draft that you can start the rewriting. 

Check out the other stops on the tour!

Review: Where the Light Falls by Gretchen Shirm - An artfully written portrait of a mystery

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Where the Light Falls by Gretchen Shirm
Released: 1st July 2016
Published by: Allen and Unwin
Genre: Mystery
Source: Library
Pages: 277
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Andrew, a photographer compelled by 'the honesty in broken things', returns to Australia when he hears that his former girlfriend has disappeared. By the time he gets back, no body has been found. He prolongs his stay in Australia to investigate her shadowy past, putting his current relationship at risk for reasons he barely understands.

At the same time he meets a damaged girl whom he knows will be a riveting subject for his new series of photos. As he struggles to make sense of his motivations, Andrew realises that photography has become an obsession predicated on his need to hold on to the things he has lost in his life. He finds himself re-evaluating his past and his art in this deeply moving and insightful debut novel from a rising star of Australian literature.
He felt suddenly alert. He was assessing the room for light, he realised. It was his automatic reaction to the world, to decide whether it would make a good photograph. He looked up through the staircase towards his own door. There was light seeping out beneath it. It was faint but warm; it was the light they lived by.

Where the Light Falls was an unexpected find for me - a book that had just happened to catch my eye at the library as I walked past it on the shelf. This is a gentle and poignant story which at face value is about a photographer returning to his home to find out what may have happened to his ex girlfriend. Delving deeper, Shirm has deftly explored this main character through his art, bringing to light the disillusionment of his current relationship and what it will take to find his true purpose in life.

This uneasy attraction he felt towards Kirsten, the way he had been drawn to her, he understood where it came from now. He had mistaken the deep sense of empathy he felt towards her for love.

The plot itself is intensely character-driven, revolving for the most part around Andrew's reaction to the news and how he begins to develop his photography through finding the perfect subject. He often seemed somewhat emotionally detached from the relationships in his life, and perhaps even selfish in his quest to further his career. While not entirely likable though, the author navigated his ethical dilemmas and pensiveness with prose which floated off the page. With a story such as this, there was no real 'closure' which I may have been craving, and some elements did perhaps 'tell' too much instead of simply 'showing'. Nonetheless, what I found so captivating about this book that kept me reading for hours was her prose which is so full of imagery, capturing every moment with an artist's eye. It is almost as if just as Andrew 'saw the world in terms that could be framed', Shirm also has the insight to employ just the right turn of phrase to convey emotions and ideas which could otherwise be left indescribable. I have only come across a few writers who are able to do this so well, and it's a skill which as a reader I admire. 

The library smelt of ageing paper. The ceilings were low and the light was fluorescent and sharp. As he walked deeper into the room it felt like a bunker, a place protected from the outside world. He had forgotten this about libraries - that, like galleries, they were places in which quietness is encouraged.


As I'm beginning to notice more clearly each time I come across an unexpectedly good read, it's the books you're not actively looking for which can turn out to be some of the best. I'm always excited to find a new Australian writer to try, and seeing how Gretchen Shirm's nuanced and purposive style came through has put me on alert for whatever she may release next. 

{Blog Tour} We That Are Left by Lisa Bigelow - Guest Post

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

We That Are Left by Lisa Bigelow
Released: 1st September 2017
Published by: Allen and Unwin
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher
Pages: 320
RRP:  $29.99
Amazon | iBooks | Booktopia
A moving debut novel about love and war, and the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, hope and despair.

Melbourne, 1941. Headstrong young Mae meets and falls head over heels in love with Harry Parker, a dashing naval engineer. After a whirlwind courtship they marry and Mae is heavily pregnant when she hears that Harry has just received his dream posting to HMAS Sydney. Just after Mae becomes a mother, she learns Harry's ship is missing. Meanwhile, Grace Fowler is battling prejudice to become a reporter on the afternoon daily newspaper, The Tribune, while waiting for word on whether her journalist boyfriend Phil Taylor, captured during the fall of Singapore, is still alive.

Surrounded by their friends and families, Mae and Grace struggle to keep hope alive in the face of hardship and despair. Then Mae's neighbour and Grace's boss Sam Barton tells Mae about a rumour that the Japanese have towed the damaged ship to Singapore and taken the crew prisoner. Mae's life is changed forever as she focuses her efforts on willing her husband home.

Set in inner Melbourne and rural Victoria, We That Are Left is a moving and haunting novel about love and war, the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, and how servicemen and women are not the only lives lost when tragedy strikes during war.

Guest Post from Lisa Bigelow - 'Searching for the Sydney'

I started writing this novel in 2003, partly in the hope of prompting action on the search for the Sydney that had been recommended in a Government enquiry four years earlier. Despite the enquiry recommending funding for a search, nothing had happened. In 2007, shipwreck hunters announced that they had found the wreck near the coast of WA. It turned out to not be true but the spotlight was again on searching for the Sydney. When David Mearns announced he was leading an expedition with WA Maritime museum and historians, like many others, I spent three weeks following the news.

News that they had found the wreck, brought mixed feelings; elation that the mystery had been solved, that the wreck was exactly where the Germans had said all along and there was no evidence of Japanese involvement, but disappointment that my grandmother hadn’t lived long enough to see the mystery resolved. The video footage taken of the ship — which is now a war grave and cannot be disturbed — is incredibly poignant; especially the image of two leather boots lying on the sand just outside the hull.

Check out the other stops on the tour!