Bruny by Heather Rose

I don’t know where to begin with this book. It was so wonderfully unexpected. A thrilling, outrageous and clever tale about family, politics, betrayal, deceit at the highest levels and the people who really pay for that – and all set in Tasmania. What’s not to love?

The book opens when a bomb explodes, almost destroying a new and ridiculously expensive bridge that has been built by the Tasmanian government using federal and international funds and which connects the beautiful island of Bruny to the rest of Tasmania via a six-lane roadway. Overkill anyone? Heralded by the sitting government as an essential piece of infrastructure that will invite more tourists and thus money to Tasmania and advance the island fair, there are many who doubt the efficacy and legitimacy of the project. Vested interests, splinter groups both combine and implode as debates over the bridge – especially now it needs to be repaired – escalate.

Enter Astrid Coleman, member of a famous political family currently working for the U.N., whose twin brother is not only the Premier of Tasmania, but her older half-sister is leader of the Opposition. An expert in conflict resolution, it’s believed Astrid will not only be able to pour oil over troubled waters by tempering the mood of those against the bridge, but prepare locals for the government’s solution (one backed by the Federal government) to ensure the bridge is repaired by the rapidly approaching opening date: by bringing in hundreds of Chinese workers.

Astrid arrives home to find not only the island and, particularly Hobart and Bruny in turmoil, but her family as well. Her father is suffering from dementia and quoting only Shakespeare, her mother is dying of cancer and while the family can come together and give the appearance of unity in their personal lives, in their professional, political lives, it’s a very different story.

Seeming to go along with her brother’s plans, when Astrid discovers what’s really going on, it’s game on. For what no-one knows is Astrid has her own agenda …

This novel is such a searing, intelligent and often funny (in that kind of I cannot believe this, but I sort of can way) read, I couldn’t put it down. The world and politics Rose constructs are utterly recognisable and just as infuriating and frightening. There’s a right-wing President in the USA who’s a buffoon, Brexit has caused long-predicted chaos, Australia is creating closer ties with China. Current prominent Australian political figures make an appearance – albeit with different names but not characters and you’ll have fun discerning who is who and enjoy Rose’s take on them. Not only is the politics scary and cause for despair (including the various groups who align with one side or the other and either represent or resist “progress” – mind you, Rose cleverly investigates this concept too – are they really resistant to progress or simply wanting to preserve the environment and the standard of living that comes with a pristine eco-system for the future? The answer is overt and satisfying – of course!), but the personal relationships in the novel are really well drawn as well. But, and maybe I am biased here, it is Tasmania and especially Bruny that shine. The locations are wonderfully drawn and even if you don’t know the area (I live in Hobart, so am very familiar with all the locales), you breathe the air, walk the streets, cross the channel with Astrid and the others, delight in and shudder at the quirkiness of (some) Taswegians, and become appalled at the entire project underpinning this novel – and that’s before the kicker twist.

Unashamedly political, but not one-sided, this is a great read that will have you suspending your disbelief and, hopefully, like me, enjoying every single word. Have already recommended it to everyone I know and bought multiple copies for gifts as well!

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Breakthrough by Michael C. Grumley.

This book, Breakthrough, by Michael C. Grunley, was such an unexpected and pleasant surprise. Yet again, I bought on the basis of a Kindle ad (they’re working for and on me!), taken by the premise of the book and the many, many good reviews – and I was not in any way disappointed.

A combination of action-adventure, sci-fi and techno-thriller, with a large cast, Breakthrough starts by seguing between different scenarios and different characters – from a nuclear submarine beneath the Caribbean, to Antarctica, the Pentagon and a research group studying dolphins and interspecies communication. Incredibly cinematic in style, the narrative holds your attention, gripping you by the throat at times, as the various locations and the people in them are slowly brought together, united by an amazing and potentially deadly revelation.

There are those closest to power who want to act rashly before all the intelligence required to understand what is happening to the world can be gathered. Instead of listening to experts and accepting that their solution presents an even greater and catastrophic problem, there are those who think they know better and refuse to heed any warnings, regardless of the consequences or who they might hurt in the process.

The race is then on to save the planet and the global population, not so much from an outside threat or the inevitable consequences of drastic climate change, but from their very own – people they trust to act in their best interests.

Fast-paced, engaging, with charismatic and relatable characters (including the dolphins!), this is a terrific book that was hard to put down. It was also difficult not to substitute certain characters for well-known figures in contemporary politics which served to add a particular frisson to the narrative.

Enjoyed this so much, I downloaded the sequel (yay! A sequel) and am enjoying it immensely too.

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Book Review: Thirst by L.A. Larkin

Thirst

Fortunate enough to be sent an ARC of Thirst, the second novel by Australian writer, LA Larkin, I spent a cold, rainy afternoon devouring this page-turning adventure in one sitting. While you could liken it to Matthew Riley’s Ice Station, I much preferred this and feel it’s more comparable, for various reasons, to Dan Brown’s Deception Point (set in the opposite pole), though fans of either writer would consume this original novel with pleasure.

Set in Antarctica in present times, Thirst is best described as an eco-thriller that has as its protagonist, the rebellious and solitary but very ethical glaciologist, Luke Searle. Part of an Australian team over-wintering at Hope Station on Pine Island Glacier (or PIG, as it’s known), a small group led by the headstrong Maddie Wildman, Searle is a brilliant researcher and expert not only on glaciers, but climate change and as it conveniently happens, radios.

The book opens with a countdown that reduces over the course of the story, adding to the tension created in the first chapter when hostile intruders accost two of the PIG team. With a blizzard threatening, a rescue party is sent out to account for the missing members and, it’s on the team’s return to base that Searle and Wildman’s abilities and trust in each other are put to a brutal and relentless test.

Segueing between Sydney, China and the Antarctic, the story is fast-paced and, despite some initially clichéd villains (cultural stereo-type warning issued), utterly gripping. The gradual unfolding of the main characters’ backgrounds creates a context for their current choices and later actions and adds a satisfying depth that’s often lacking in books in this ouevre.

Oft-times unpredictable, the action builds quickly and furiously and the descriptions of Antarctica add a chilling frisson (forgive the pun) that keeps you turning the pages.

Larkin clearly has a passion for the environment and a sound knowledge of climate change. The refreshing thing is that though the book can be didactic, the lessons offered do not sacrifice plot, story or characters, which remain strong and consistent throughout. The twists are not obvious and the cliffhanger endings to chapters keep you both guessing and reading.

My only criticism (and this may be because I received an ARC and not the finished book), is I feel a map of the glacier and surrounds would have been really helpful. In books of this kind where location is so important, I would have liked to ground the action and movements of the various groups within the cartography. But this is a minor point in an otherwise excellent addition to the genre.

Overall, this was a fast-paced and furious book that grips you from the first page, holds you in its icy thrall, and doesn’t release you until the nail-biting climax. A terrific read.

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