Tag Archives: book review

Force of Nature

This book was part of either a Christmas present or birthday present (I can’t quite remember) that I finally got around to reading. I hadn’t heard a lot about this particular story, but the author’s previous novel “The Dry” received a lot of acclaim so I was keen to see what all the fuss was about.

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“Force of Nature” by Jane Harper is a crime thriller about a corporate bonding activity gone wrong. Five women the same company go on a weekend hike together in a fictional Australian mountain range.  Chairwoman Jill, senior staff Alice and Lauren, Bree and her twin sister Bethany. However, when only four return at the end of the weekend, a full-scale search is launched with police, emergency services and volunteers to find missing Alice. Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk arrives at the ranges to assist with the search, but he has a particular interest in Alice’s welfare. She’s a key informant in an investigation he’s conducting, and the story that she was separated from the others suddenly isn’t sounding so convincing.

The first thing to say about this book is that it is actually kind of a sequel to “The Dry” (which I didn’t realise) and although I think it is OK as a standalone novel, there are some character-building aspects to Aaron that I felt like I missed out on a bit started from this book. Nevertheless, Harper does an admirable job of immersing the reader in the wilderness, and I particularly enjoyed how she used torrential rain to set the mood throughout the book. I also liked how she connected the events in the present with Aaron’s past.

However, I found the premise of this book so unbelievable that I simply couldn’t settle into it the entire way through. First of all, no corporate team-building company would ever leave five inexperienced hikers in the wilderness without a radio or a satellite phone for a weekend. It was just completely unrealistic that any company would be insured for that kind of activity without an emergency plan. If someone fell and broke their neck, there was absolutely no mechanism for them to call for help. Basically they had to get from point A to point B, and if they didn’t after 3 days, then the company would come looking for them. The man who runs the Executive Adventures program, Ian Chase, just seems so bumbling and incompetent compared to the incredibly organised and safety-focused people I have met who run programs like Outward Bound in real life. The fact that there was simply no contingency plan really made the premise difficult for me to accept, and unfortunately this ended up tainting the rest of the story.

I can see what Harper was trying to do in exploring the intricacies of female work, family and friend relationships by putting five women in a high-stress situation. This book definitely passes the Beshdel Test. I particularly liked Alice’s backstory and discovering more about what was going on in her personal life. However, Lauren’s and the twins’ stories felt a bit more clunky, and Jill just didn’t really get a fair shake of the stick. Ultimately I was much less interested in the catty, shallow behaviour of the women and far more interested in Aaron’s story, which (not having read the preceding book) was possibly the point.

Ultimately, this book didn’t grip me in the way one wants to be gripped by a thriller. A title like “Force of Nature” is a big one to live up to, and at the end of the day, I would have liked something a bit more hard-hitting, gritty and deep. I did like Aaron quite a lot though, and I am tempted to go and give “The Dry” a crack.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Mystery/Thriller

The Stone Sky

This is the third book in the series, so if you haven’t started it yet, you might want to go back to book one or book two.

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“The Stone Sky” by N. K. Jemisin is the third book in the “Broken Earth” series, a science fantasy series about a woman called Essun whose world is crumbling around her, literally. Her mentor Alabaster is gone. Her daughter Nassun is lost. The comm Castrima is in tatters, with nothing left but desperate people. The season is upon her and while the angry earth rages around her, she is no longer able to draw on her power as an orogene to still it without risking losing herself completely.   However, Essun can’t help thinking she has never been able to save anyone. She has been tasked with the impossible: to try to save this broken Earth.

This is a series of truly epic proportions. While the second book maybe felt like it suffered a little from sequelitis, spending a lot of time setting the scene, this finale was definitely much more high octane. Jemisin’s imagination seems to have no limits, and she uses the whole planet to tell her story – a story that has been told over and over throughout humanity’s history, and is told again in a new yet familiar way.

I think the only thing about this book that is a bit hard to deal with is that everything is just so important and monumental all. the. time. I appreciate the scale of this story, but sometimes the dialogue felt like everything was dripping with such significance and so oversaturated with italics that it sometimes was a bit hard to tell what was really significant, and what was only kind of significant.

Anyway, this truly is an incredibly original series and I’m glad I spaced it out and savoured it over a longer period of time. When fantasy is so full of the same old elves and dwarves and orphan boys with incredible secret ancestry, this series was such a breath of fresh air. Even though it’s set in a world so different from our own, it resonates, and what else can you ask from a book?

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy

Heart of Brass

If you listen to my podcast, you might recall that a couple of episodes ago I interviewed local Canberra author Felicity Banks about interactive fiction and her project “Murder in the Mail“. A while ago, by coincidence, my partner bought me a copy of her book at CanCon, completely unaware that Felicity and I had already been chatting!

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“Heart of Brass” by Felicity Banks is the first book in her pre-Federation Australian steampunk series “The Antipodean Queen”. The story is about a young upper class Englishwoman called Emmeline whose family has a lot of secrets but not much money. One of those secrets is that Emmeline, a keen inventor, has a steam-powered heart made of brass. When her attempts to save her family’s financial situation through a strategic marriage go very awry, Emmeline is sent to the colonies on the last convict ship and finds herself in Victoria. In this strange new land, she realises that she has a lot more freedom and opportunities than she perhaps had at home, but also has a lot more enemies.

This is a very fast-paced book full of action and intrigue. Banks introduces a very diverse range of characters that give a really holistic sense of the kinds of people who made their way to Victoria during the gold rush. This steampunk book involves a little bit of magic, and I really enjoyed the subtlety of Banks’ magic system and the way people can interact with metal. I think that it worked really well in a steampunk setting, and particularly well in a goldrush setting. I liked the way that people tapped into the properties of metal and used them to express themselves and enhance themselves in the clothing that they wore.

Now, I absolutely have to mention something about this particular book that really made it enjoyable for me. At the end of the book is a short choose your own adventure-style story called “After the Flag Fell” about a true historical figure called Peter Lalor, but set in Banks’ own steampunk reimagining of the Eureka Stockade. This was such a fun and cleverly done little story, and I was flipping through trying to achieve all the goals and collect all the items with absolute delight.

I think maybe the only thing I found a bit challenging in this book is that there is a lot going on, and Emmeline and her two new companions Matilda and Patrick are on the run for the majority of the book. Sometimes this made it a little bit difficult to keep up with all the action, but I think for people who really enjoy adventure fiction, this isn’t going to be much of an issue.

A fun story with an especially fun choose your own adventure bonus at the end, Banks’ novel is a fresh look at Australia’s history and blows apart some of the dark areas of our past with explosions, metal and lots and lots of steam.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, interactive fiction, Signed Books

The Anti-Cool Girl

Content warning: mental illness, addiction, suicide ideation. 

My experience of this book was a bit different to my usual reviews because I didn’t read it, I didn’t listen to it as an audiobook per se, but I listened to it as a podcast called “Mum Says My Memoir is a Lie“.

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“The Anti-Cool Girl” by Rosie Waterland is deeply personal memoir about Waterland’s experiences growing up in a dysfunctional family plagued by mental illness, addiction and poverty. Waterland chronicles her sometimes hilarious and sometimes deeply painful memories from birth up until just before publication. Although Waterland’s mother Lisa’s alcoholism had prevented her from reading the book when it first came out, Lisa has since sobered up and is ready to challenge Waterland on some of the things depicted in the book. On the podcast, each episode begins with Waterland narrating a chapter from the book and then Waterland and her mother Lisa spend the rest of the episode discussing the events of the chapter, especially around whether Waterland’s recollections are correct.

I think it’s difficult to separate out the book from the podcast because so much of podcast is the book, so this is going to be a kind of combined review. Waterland is a very funny writer, and has a exaggerated, self-depreciating sense of humour that balances out the more serious parts of the book. Waterland is also unflinchingly honest about her feelings and experiences, sometimes in quite shocking (and refreshing) detail. This book is overall an incredibly telling insight into Australia’s care and protection system, the public housing system and the mental health system. Rosie also shares her personal experiences with depression, suicide attempts, bullying and weight gain and then her remarkable success in her writing.

When I first started listening to this podcast, hearing Waterland read a chapter of her book, my initial judgment was that her mother Lisa was a terrible mother whose alcoholism traumatised her children. I think that if I had read the book by itself, that would have remained my judgment the entire way through. However, having Lisa participating in the podcast and responding to each chapter did lead me to think that Waterland was perhaps not always the most reliable narrator, especially in the chapters about her younger years. It also gave me a lot more empathy for Lisa and a better appreciation of her own struggles. However, where the facts aren’t completely clear or when some of the subject-matter gets a bit dark, you can count on Waterland to bring the mood back up with a joke or an embarrassing story about herself, even if it’s a bit embellished.

This is a powerful, hilarious and insightful book that is given a whole new layer of depth through this unconventional storytelling platform. I think the book is good, but the podcast is excellent and it is a very rare opportunity to listen to frank conversations between an author and her subject-matter: her mum.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Non Fiction

Saga Volume 7

I’ve been following this graphic novel series (by Brian K. Vaughn and illustrated by Fiona Staples) for a while, so if you want to see what I’ve written about earlier volumes you can check them out here, here and here.

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In my last review, I said that I liked Volume 6 a bit less than the other volumes. I’m very sad to say that I think despite starting out all guns blazing, Saga is on a downward trend. If you’re going to kill off main characters, you need to replace them with something of equal or greater value. Unfortunately, I’m just not loving the replacements. It’s such an action-intensive series that, especially with these volumes only coming out every 9 months or so, it’s a bit hard to keep tabs on everything that’s going on. I think maybe it’s also crossed the line from being wild and irreverent to actually quite maudlin.

Anyway, look, I’ll probably keep reading these, but I’ve definitely lost a bit of my enthusiasm after the last couple of volumes. It’s still hard-hitting, but maybe not as fun.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Graphic Novels, Uncategorized

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls

I had been waiting for the right time to read this book, one that I had gotten by way of a Kickstarter some time last year and that came with a gorgeous signed bookplate sticker, and finally the time had come. After days of heatwave, the evening had cooled down enough that I could snuggle in bed with a cup of tea and one of my bestie’s homemade chocolate chip cookies. I’d just come back from seeing the new Disney movie Moana, my dog was coming in occasionally to say hello to me, and in the background was the white noise of a fan and my boyfriend admonishing his randomly assigned teammates in Overwatch over voice chat. The mood was well and truly set.

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“The Secret Loves of Geek Girls” is an anthology compiled and edited by Hope Nicholson. The book contains non-fiction stories, comics and essays by over 50 creators (including Margaret Atwood) all about being a geek girl in love.

You never really know what you’re going to get when you back a Kickstarter project, but the final product of this book was much more than I had hoped for. It is a real celebration of women’s creativity, passion, intelligence and eloquence. I was really impressed at the diversity of voices that emerged from these pages and I felt their heartbreaks as my own heartbreaks. As somewhat of a geek girl myself, I knew about a lot of the fandoms (though the Dr Who references and any game that wasn’t a single player RPG was a bit lost on me). Some of the stories were much stronger than others, and I loved Minas TirithFanfiction, F/F, angstCherry and Montreal, 1993 the most. Some of the artwork in here is spectacular, and some a little less so.

This is an inclusive, well-considered collection of stories by geeky women for geeky women who are looking for everything from something nice to flick through through to dating advice and, most of all, solidarity.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Graphic Novels, Non Fiction, Signed Books

The Essex Serpent

I got an advance reading copy of this book courtesy of Harry Hartog in Woden. It’s been sitting on my to-read list for a while, and when one of the store assistants asked me what I thought of it last time I was there, I thought I’d better get a wriggle on.

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“The Essex Serpent” by Sarah Perry is a historical novel set in Victorian England. Recently widowed Londoner Cora Seabourne finds herself, her son Francis and his governess/her best friend Martha bourne, well, to the sea to continue her mourning in fresher air. Taking up residence in the Essex town of Colchester, Cora’s friends insist on writing her a letter of introduction to meet William Ransome, the vicar of nearby village Aldwinter. An aspiring naturalist, Cora finds herself entranced by the little town’s “Trouble”, rumours of the Essex serpent and the sinister mischief attributed to it. Cora becomes more and more involved in the village and the vicar’s family, forgetting her husband and his doctor, her close acquaintance whom she fondly calls the Imp.

There is no doubt that Perry is a strong writer and her book is rich in research and imagery. She combines elements of Victorian devoutness, its fascination with the macabre, and its yearning for scientific knowledge with great finesse. It’s an original story with Perry’s own style interwoven with classic Victorian language that makes this book feel unique yet familiar. The characters were true to their times, but written in a way that the reader had a more modern insight into their lives, sexualities and abilities. It felt like all the pieces were there for a great novel, but for some reason I just wasn’t hooked. Maybe the gothic undertones of this novel would have suited a bitter winter better than the 30°C days I’ve been having the last week. The chapters just seemed to stretch on, and I longed for the beautifully succinct letters as interludes between them. Maybe the romantic and cryptozoological tension simply just wasn’t enough to carry the story the whole way through. Maybe the characters were just a tad too human to fall in love with.

An interesting and well-written book, if a little meandering for my taste. However, I think someone who was passionate about the Victorian era and historical fiction will probably enjoy this.

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Filed under Advanced Reading Copies, Historical Fiction