Review: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone – Felicity McLean

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone

Felicity McLean

Harper Collins Publishers Australia

Fourth Estate

ISBN: 9781460755068

 

Description:

We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song and when one came back, she wasn’t the one we were trying to recall to begin with.’

 

So begins Tikka Molloy’s recounting of the summer of 1992 – the summer the Van Apfel sisters, Hannah, the beautiful Cordelia and Ruth – disappear.

 

Eleven and one-sixth years old, Tikka is the precocious narrator of this fabulously endearing coming-of-age story, set in an eerie Australian river valley suburb with an unexplained stench. The Van Apfel girls vanish from the valley during the school’s ‘Showstopper’ concert, held at the outdoor amphitheatre by the river. While the search for the sisters unites the small community on Sydney’s urban fringe, the mystery of their disappearance remains unsolved forever.

 

Brilliantly observed, sharp, lively, funny and entirely endearing, this novel is part mystery, part coming-of-age story – and quintessentially Australian. Think The Virgin Suicides meets Jasper Jones meets Picnic at Hanging Rock.

 

 

My View:

Outstanding!

 

If evocative, tension packed mysteries are your thing than don’t miss reading this book.

 

Felicity McLean captures the age of the characters, the idiom and the culture of the 90’s effortlessly – or makes it seem effortlessly.

I was glued to the pages, holding my breath, hoping for a positive outcome. There is so much tension packed into every observation, every comment, and every moment.

 

This is compelling, haunting and thought provoking. I loved every minute of this read.  Is this the best read of the year? I think so. It is a book that will stay with me for a long time.

 

Review: Good Girl, Bad Girl – Michael Robotham

Good Girl, Bad Girl

Michael Robotham

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 9780733638053

RRP$32.99

 

Description:

From the bestselling author of The Secrets She Keeps, the writer Stephen King calls “an absolute master…with heart and soul,” a fiendishly clever suspense novel about a dangerous young woman with a special ability to know when someone is lying—and the criminal psychologist who must outwit her to survive.

 

A girl is found hiding in a secret room in a house being renovated after a terrible crime. For weeks she has survived by sneaking out at night, stealing food for herself and two dogs that are kept in the garden. The nurses at the hospital where she is taken call her “Angel Face” because she won’t tell anyone her name, or her age, or where she came from. Maybe she is twelve, maybe fifteen, or somewhere in between. She doesn’t appear on any missing person’s file, or match the DNA of any murder victim.

 

Six years later, still unidentified, the same girl is living in a secure children’s home with a new name, Evie Cormac, when she initiates a court case demanding the right to be released as an adult. Psychologist Cyrus Haven is sent to interview Evie and decide if she’s ready to go free, but Evie Cormac is unlike he’s anyone he’s ever met. She’s damaged, destructive, and self-hating, yet possessed of a gift, or a curse, that makes her both fascinating and dangerous to be with—the ability to tell when someone is lying. Soon he is embroiled in her unique and dangerous world, his life in utmost peril.

 

Cleverly constructed, swiftly paced, and emotionally explosive, Good Girl, Bad Girl is the perfect thrilling summer read from the internationally bestselling author David Baldacci called “the real deal.”

 

 

My View:

This is very much a character based narrative and Michael Robotham has provided us with two more wonderful protagonists to follow, Cyrus Haven and Evie.

 

Steadily paced with interesting back stories (and more to be revealed) about both leads this is a book that will leave you wanting more. More back stories, more about the mystery, more about the relationships, more about Cyrus and Evie’s future…just more please 🙂

 

 

 

 

Review: Asylum – Jack Adams

Asylum

Delaney & Murphy #1

Jack Adams

Atlas Productions

ISBN: 9780994182203

 

Description:

Something happened here. Behind these walls, in these rooms, on the grounds, at the river. The inmate sketched it all – fine lines. See there, in the negative space, the truth in the pencil strokes. Then he was gone.

Joe was their friend; the man they spoke to through the wire fence of the Lunatic Asylum, and 10-year-old best friends, Nathan Walker and Adam Murphy, knew he wasn’t insane. Then, one day, Joe was gone. Now hitting their thirties—jobs and divorces in their wake—ex-cop, current P.I. Nate and psychiatrist Adam decide to share office space and a receptionist. That’s when the letter arrives advising them that they have received ‘Expectations’. A quaint, old-fashioned bequest delivered by a solicitor which amounts to an inheritance for two boys – left by Joseph O’Connell, a missing-believed-deceased former patient at the River Park Lunatic Asylum.

 

My View:

This is a fantastic debut by Australian author Jack Adams, characters are well developed and empathetic, issued are presented in shades of grey, the locations are rich in detail and very visual. I particularly like how this narrative gives voice to the experience of the disenfranchised, those with illness/mental illness in the community and highlights the huge impact that non-judgemental friendship can have on an individual.  And then there is the mystery.

 

A mystery recounted by reflections of two time periods, the not so long ago past and the current times, this is an enlightening read.

 

I cannot wait to see what Jack Adams writes next – it’s hard to believe this book is his debut, it is written with such skill.

 

 

Review: Shoot Through – J M Green

Shoot Through

J M Green

Scribe Publications

ISBN: 9781925713848

 

Description:

Stella Hardy, the wisecracking social worker, is back to tackle crooked private contractors, an exotic cattle scam, and a delicious Mushroom Jalfrezi.

 

All Stella Hardy wants is a romantic country getaway with her artist boyfriend, Brophy. Instead, she must head to the Athol Goldwater Agricultural Prison (aka Arsehole Bogwater) to visit her jailbird brother, Ben, and sort out some ‘urgent’ family paperwork. But Stella has barely set foot in the prison when a prisoner, Joe Phelan, is found dead.

 

Before she knows it, Stella finds herself tasked, against her will, with investigating Joe’s suspicious death away from the eyes of police, including her best friend, Detective Phuong Nguyen. Her old nemesis Minister for Justice Marcus Pugh is pressuring her from above to save his election-year bacon, and Joe’s old friend and former gang member, Percy Brash, is providing a much more chilling form of pressure from below, promising to reduce her to mush and bone fragments if she doesn’t give him the name of Joe’s killer, and soon.

 

As the clock counts down, Stella becomes embroiled in a story of corruption, conspiracy, and high-tech cattle-wrangling, all while trying to manage her brother’s pregnant girlfriend, Loretta, get to the bottom of Brophy’s increasingly strange behaviour, and evade the murderous intentions of a shadowy mercenary. And then things get really crazy. It’s Stella’s last hurrah, and she’s going out with a bang.

 

My View:

This is most definitely on my list of Best Reads of 2019.

 

Stella Hardy is a protagonist I have embraced since the first book, Good Money (not literally but if I met her creator I would give her a big hugJ and thank her for creating this wonderful character and series). I love Stella’s sardonic, wise cracking demeanour, her depth of understanding of the Australian socio-political scene, her honest observations, her complicated life…even her age. It is refreshing to find a protagonists that is so grounded, mature and relatable.

 

Corruption, crime, mystery and romance… this book has it all. In a year of fabulous 5 star releases J M Green can hold her head high.

 

Stella Hardy I miss you already.

 

 

 

Review: The Chain – Adrian McKinty

 

The Chain

Adrian McKinty

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 9780733642517

 

Description:

You just dropped off your child at the bus stop.

A panicked stranger calls your phone.

Your child has been kidnapped.

The stranger then explains that their child has also been kidnapped, by a completely different stranger.

The only way to get your child back is to kidnap another child – within 24 hours.

Your child will be released only when the next victim’s parents kidnap yet another child.

And most importantly, the stranger explains, if you don’t kidnap a child, or if the next parents don’t kidnap a child, your child will be murdered.

 

You are now part of The Chain.

 

My View:

It’s been a long time since I have been filled with such dread and apprehension when reading; McKinty’s realistic protagonists inspire empathy and solidarity, the decisions they are forced to make leave you quaking in dread. There is no heavy handed, gratuitous accounts of violence yet the simple horror of the situation is enough to make the bravest reader cringe in fear.

From the very first page you will be captivated, hi jacked by the compulsive narrative, considering the “what if’s” and placing yourself in the margins of the page, experiencing firsthand the smell of fear that emanates from within. There was a point where I felt I could not read on, I could think of no way out, I had no hope for the characters I quickly had bonded with. I sat for a while and considered turning the page. Nervous apprehension powered me on, I needed to know what came next.

It was not what I thought….phew….I could continue reading (no spoilers here).

 

McKinty is a masterful storyteller who has crafted a book that will mesmerise and keep you enthralled until the very last page. Impressive, addictive reading, you really will be glued to the pages. This is the book that everyone will be talking about. Read The Chain and join the conversation.

 

Review: Wakenhyrst – Michelle Paver

Wakenhyrst

Michelle Paver

Harper Collins Australia

Head of Zeus

ISBN: 9781789540604

 

Description:

By the bestselling author of Dark Matter and Thin Air, an outstanding new piece of story-telling, a tale of mystery and imagination laced with terror. It is a masterwork in the modern gothic tradition that ranges from Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker to Neil Gaiman and Sarah Perry.

 

“Something has been let loose…”

 

In Edwardian Suffolk, a manor house stands alone in a lost corner of the Fens: a glinting wilderness of water whose whispering reeds guard ancient secrets. Maud is a lonely child growing up without a mother, ruled by her repressive father.

 

When he finds a painted medieval devil in a graveyard, unhallowed forces are awakened.

 

Maud’s battle has begun. She must survive a world haunted by witchcraft, the age-old legends of her beloved fen – and the even more nightmarish demons of her father’s past.

 

Spanning five centuries, Wakenhyrst is a darkly gothic thriller about murderous obsession and one girl’s longing to fly free.

 

 

My View:

Creepy gothic suspense where madness reigns supreme.

Wakenhyrst is a gothic feminist tale (is that such a genre or just the mantle I read this book with?) that oozes a chilling miasma of menace and madness. Superstition, religion and misogyny rule and life for a sensitive and intelligent female child is harsh, restrictive and lonely.

 

This character driven narrative offers an antagonist you easily abhor (the father Edmund Stearne) and Maud (the daughter) is the protagonist that you admire, empathise with and cheer on… Megalomania is Edmund Stearne – he is a tyrant, superstitious, self-obsessed, a sex manic, controlling and vile and ugly  – his beliefs, though extreme ( I hope) mirrored those of a society that held women in contempt and treated as (not very valuable) possessions. This was a very interesting study of attitudes and superstitions of the time.

 

The fens provide an eerie backdrop to the repressive madness that ruled Wake’s End. However I was expecting more, I felt the horror element lacked vitality. Creepy, eerie, repressive and yet fascinating sums up my emotional response to this narrative.

 

PS Loved the cover art.

 

 

Review: Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia Owens

Hachette Australia

Little Brown Books

ISBN: 9781472154651

 

Description:

A novel about a young woman determined to make her way in the wilds of North Carolina, and the two men that will break her isolation open.

 

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. She’s barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark.

 

But Kya is not what they say. Abandoned at age ten, she has survived on her own in the marsh that she calls home. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life lessons from the land, learning from the false signals of fireflies the real way of this world. But while she could have lived in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world–until the unthinkable happens.

 

 

My View:

This narrative is gently, softly spoken, yet powerful, immersive and surprising. Themes of Domestic Violence, resilience, prejudice, love and murder float softly across the page bumping chaotically against one another, leaving no marks.

 

This is the debut fictional novel for Delia Owens who has previously co-authored three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as wildlife scientist in Africa. I bet she can draw too – she writes like an artist – I imagine her work in watercolours and pastels – gentle, floaty, soft and vibrant.

 

Despite the violence that punctures this novel I am overwhelmed by the protagonist’s sense of curiosity and resilience. Her studies of nature are sublime…I can imagine the books she wrote. I can picture the illustrations. I feel her loneliness, I applaud her ingenuity and strong survival instincts.

 

This book is so many things – it is a haunting portrayal of domestic violence, guilt, prejudice and entitlement yet is equally a study in resilience, of nature, of environment and enduring love. And it has a wonderfully surprising ending – what a fantastic twist! For reasons I cannot identify it left me feeling light, weightless… happy…and surprised. I look forward to reading more from this author.