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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The Solar War (The Long Winter #2) A.G. Riddle

If anyone knows how to write a page-turner, it’s A.G. Riddle. The second book, The Solar War, in what’s turned out (frustratingly, as I thought I was coming to the end of the story at 2am only to discover that wasn’t the case!) to be a three-book series (there’s a third book, a novella, coming out in November which should conclude the tale), is thrilling, gripping and a very satisfying follow-up to the first book, Winter World.

Commencing a short time after Winter World finished, The Solar War opens with our erstwhile heroes, James and Emma now parents, and while the earth they fought to save has gone, its geo-political boundaries and the power bases forever altered, and the decimated population packed into camps in order to survive, the war with the Grid isn’t over.

Struggling with their altered reality and what it signifies for the future, the survivors search for others. But, it’s not until the discovery of three huge asteroids on a collision course for earth, that James, Emma and the team at Camp Seven understand that they’ll never be safe. The Grid and the entity draining power from the solar system won’t stop until humanity is utterly annihilated.

Just when it looks as though they might have a chance for a different kind of future, an old threat returns which may yet prove greater than anything an alien species can throw at them.

Once again, the writing in this eschatological narrative is taut and paced tightly. The themes of catastrophic climate change (even if induced by an outside force) resonate, as does the “enemy within” trope – how humanity can be its own worst enemy – and that there’s no accounting for what people will do to ensure their own survival, as well as love, loyalty and the strong bonds of friendship and family. The characters, while sometimes bordering on cartoon-eseque in their villainy (I’m thinking of James’ nemesis) or superhero-ish in their valour (the appropriately named “James” who is Dr Marvel, James Bond and Iron Man rolled into one borders on impossibly amazing), they also manage to be relatable most of the time. As a consequence, you root for them and their worries or despair, as well as their joy when things turn out right. You ache for their grief and their growing awareness of how fast the solar clock is ticking. The book is a terrific escapist read and yes, you have to suspend your disbelief and enjoy the ride, but isn’t that the point of this type of fiction, if not all?

For anyone who enjoys science fiction, thrillers, escapism and end-of-the-world narratives, this is series is for you.

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Catalyst by Michael C. Grumley.

Another terrific instalment in what’s fast becoming one of my favourite action-adventure, techno-thriller series ever. Add to that a dose of science fiction and eminently readable prose, engaging characters and a terrific plot, and this is a recipe made in reader heaven.

 

Commencing about two weeks after the events in book #2, Leap, Catalyst has the intrepid group determined to protect an amazing discovery – at any cost. But when other parties not only become involved but demonstrate the lengths they will go to ensure the prize is theirs, the group comprising of John Clay, Steve Cesare, Alison Shaw and her colleagues as well as Deanne, Dulce, Dirk and Sally begin to wonder if the sacrifices required are worth it.

 

Nail-biting at times, with heart-warming (and breaking) moments, this is a wonderful read that has an OMG finish.

 

Can’t recommend highly enough. I have downloaded book 4, but am saving it as I don’t want to finish this series too quickly!

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The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Firstly, I want to thank BookShout and William Morrow for providing me with a galley copy of this fabulous debut novel, The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn.

Secondly, what a ripper of a read.

Arising out of the same oeuvre as the spate of “girl” books (Girl on the Train, Gone Girl etc), replete with their unreliable narrators, who are arch manipulators, alcoholics and liars etc., The Woman in the Window relies on many of the tropes these books used. However, not only is there a “woman” at the heart of the story, with a complex psychology and history, who happens to be a highly qualified child psychologist with a PhD but, importantly to the plot, structure and ambience of the novel, she’s also a black and white movie buff, her preferred genre being Hitchcockian thrillers. More on that shortly.

Dr Anna Fox is, for reasons that eventually emerge, housebound. Suffering from agoraphobia, she is also far too reliant and irresponsible with prescription drugs and wine and has poor personal hygiene. Separated from her husband and daughter, she is also without a support network, unless you can call her psychologist, occupational therapist, tenant in the basement and those she manages in an online group a support. When she’s not in her various chatrooms or playing chess online, Anna spends her days calling her husband and daughter or viewing her neighbourhood through her windows, camera in hand so she can use its powerful lens to really observe the goings on in the world she’s currently rejecting.

When she witnesses something terrible, the tight, closed domain she’s created starts to unravel and she begins to doubt – not only the life she’s created and the few people she’s allowed to enter it – but herself. But, as a fabulous line in the book declares, “It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening….”

Or is it?

That’s the central question facing Anna and, in turn, the reader.

Though the core plot takes a while to kick off, this is not a dull book, nor does it have a slow start. Right from the outset, the reader is drawn to Anna and her claustrophobic environment. We learn to see the world and others the way she does before that too is overturned. Not only is Anna, a difficult, clever, self-depreciating woman who is at least honest with herself some of the time, eminently likeable, but you quickly root for her and feel a sense of protectiveness as her bland existence quickly becomes so very sinister.

Though the underlying notion of the book isn’t original, there’s no doubt the execution – and the characters that enact it – is. Superbly drawn though the various characters are, for me the use of old movies is what sets this novel apart. They function not only as a brilliant device that works as foreshadowing and even analepsis, but also to add flesh to the bones of specific scenes. References to fabulous old films like Rear Window, Rope, Birds and so many others, mean they too become characters in the novel, explicit scenes playing in the background or quotes from characters driving the narrative forward, adding to the building tension, making parts of the book almost gothic. There were times I was holding my breath while my heart knocked against my ribs, so well done was the atmosphere – the clever use of the movies and memories of those and their chilling soundtracks as well, adding a frisson.

Overall, once I really lost myself in Anna’s tale, I couldn’t put the book down.

I am not surprised it is being optioned as a film. Cinematic in execution and delivery, it’s crying out for the same treatment the films it plays such serious and celebratory homage to are given.

An outstanding book that readers of Girl on the Train, The Girl Before, Gone Girl, Girl Last Seen etc will devour, but also anyone who enjoys a good, well-written thriller and page-turner.

 

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The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

29540038Reading all the hype around Shari Lapena’s debut novel, The Couple Next Door, I was expecting a sort of Gone, Baby Gone of Dennis Lehane fame… Only, this isn’t in the same league.

Described as a thriller and using different points of view, it tells the story of young, married couple, Anne and Marco Conti, who leave their baby in her crib while they attend a dinner party at their next-door neighbour’s.  With a baby monitor on the table and checking on their daughter, Cora, every thirty minutes, what could go wrong?

When they return home worse for drink to find their baby, well, gone, panic erupts. Police are called and an investigation ensues. As hours turn into days and suspicion falls on the distressed parents and every aspect of their lives and those closest to them are forensically examined, more than skeletons and motives for the crime tumble out of the closet. Skeletons that some would do anything to ensure stay buried…

I had great hopes for this book. A fantastic and uncomfortable premise that resonates in the real world (think the poor McCanns) and which preys on deeply held fears – the idea that someone could be so cold and ruthless as to steal into your home and not only violate that sanctuary but take your beloved child – is a chilling basis for a novel. The writing is mostly taut and the first part of the book maintains a great pace. But at some point, it not only became a little repetitive (the number of times Cora is referred to as “fussy”, how often we’re told Anne doesn’t trust her husband, adores her father, how wealthy her parents are, how it’s her mother’s money, how much her parents hate Marco, are just some examples), but a bit convoluted as well. You also reach a point where you stop caring about any of the characters except Cora. In some ways, for all we learn about the characters, they’re a little two-dimensional, a bit too shallow, but perhaps that’s the whole point.

In the end, I was speed-reading to finish, especially once the “reveal” happened and the guilty were exposed. I just wanted to get to the end. The twists when they happened were often implausible or too convenient and you have to wonder why someone would go to such awful lengths to do what they did… We’re only given a very superficial reason and it doesn’t sit well. I also found the ending a bit staged for my taste – staged and predictable – but in the sense I was thinking, “oh, don’t let character C do THAT to character D… Oh, you did…” But again, this was a book that was morally very grey so rather than be disgruntled about lack of depth of characters or even an obvious plot point, I prefer to see it as a commentary on the type of people and society and a deliberate construction on the part of the author.

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