The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan is a debut novel set in Galway, Ireland. I was sent a copy of this book for review by HarperCollins Australia and it sat in my to be read pile for a while. When I finally picked it up, I was instantly hooked by the writing and expert plotting. The Ruin very much reads like it should be book ten from a well-established author instead of a debut. I read mostly crime thrillers rather than police procedural novels, but I’ve read enough of this genre to know that this is a high quality example.
The Ruin has been compared to the bestselling The Dry (probably because Dervla and Jane Harper both live in Australia) but I think it’s very different from The Dry.
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen is clever and very twisty. Coming off the back of reading The Woman in the Windowby A.J Finn, another psychological suspense thriller with an unreliable narrator, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this as much. But I did.
It’s hard to go into too much detail about this book as I don’t want to give anything away so I will quote the book’s blurb:
When you read this book, you will make many assumptions. It’s about a jealous wife, obsessed with her replacement. It’s about a younger woman set to marry the man she loves.
The first wife seems like a disaster; her replacement is the perfect woman.
You will assume you know the motives, the history, the anatomy of the relationships.
The Woman in the Windowby A.J. Finn is a compelling page turner which I pretty much inhaled in one day, thanks to the short, punchy chapters. I just kept reading ‘one more chapter’ and before I knew it I had finished the book. It’s another book with an unreliable narrator — these books are so popular these days — and was like a cross between Girl on the Train and Hitchcock’s Rear Window. I also thought there was a smattering of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine in there in terms of the main character struggling with depression and trauma alongside other things.
Without giving too much away, The Woman in the Window is narrated by Dr Anna Fox, a former children’s psychologist who suffered some trauma months ago and now has developed agoraphobia. She hasn’t been able to leave her New York house in ten months and exists on lots of prescription medication chased down with copious glasses of wine. Hence the whole unreliable narrator angle.
Watching her neighbours from her window is something of a past time. That and watching old black and white movies like Rear Window, Strangers on the Train and Vertigo. Continue reading →
Force of Nature is the just released second novel from Jane Harper, author of the hugely popular bestseller The Dry. The two books are linked by the same main character, Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk, but this book takes place six months later and in a completely new setting.
I previously wrote a review about The Dry which I enjoyed but thought was a bit over hyped. I came to reading Force of Nature without big expectations as sometimes second books from an author suffer the dreaded second book syndrome (i.e. are a bit disappointing). Well, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Force of Nature. It had an interesting premise that kept me intrigued and guessing all the way to the end. In some ways I liked it even better than The Dry.
Force of Nature is set in the rugged bushland of the fictional Giralang Ranges east of Melbourne. A group of five women go on a team building hike through the bush. But on the last day of the hike, only four women walk out. One of their group, Alice Russell, is missing. Continue reading →
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins was on my to be read list for quite a while. I picked it up a couple of times and then put it down as I found the first few chapters hard to get into. But eventually I ended up getting through it during a long car trip and it was a book that got better as it went along.
This follow-up book from the author of TheGirl on the Train was probably never going to measure up to its predecessor’s success so I went into reading this without huge expectations.
Set in a small English town, it starts with the death of Nel Abbott, a single mother of a teenage daughter, Lena. Nel was obsessed with documenting the many drowning deaths of women in the local body of water called the Drowning Pool. Following Nel’s death, her sister Jules comes to town to take care of her niece and to try to reconcile her complicated feelings for Nel. They were not speaking when Nel died.
As the local police investigate Nel’s death, there is debate over whether this was a suicide or something more sinister. It’s the latest in a string of deaths that took place in the Drowning Pool stretching back many years and everyone in the small town has a theory or something to hide.
One thing I found overly complicated about this book was the amount of characters and viewpoints. Usually you will read a book from a few characters’ point-of-view but this had a huge amount of characters. I often got confused about which character’s point-of-view I was reading. Also, none of the characters are particularly likeable so I didn’t exactly care what happened to any of them.
But I am glad that I persevered with Into the Water because once I had sorted out all the characters and different strands of the plot it did start to get interesting. I think you need to be in the right frame of mind to read this book. If you are wanting your next read to be easy, light and a page turner then this isn’t the book for you.
Verdict: A book that is a hard slog at first but worth getting to the end of.
What’s a book you read that was hard to get into but was worth finishing?
If you’re reading a crime novel set in a small Australian country town you can be sure of a few things: the story will take place against a harsh, unforgiving natural landscape; there will be a bevy of local characters with secrets to hide–from hard-drinking farmers to small town gossips; everyone will know everyone in town and there will be a couple of long standing feuds; and there will be something bad that happened in the past which is somehow connected to this latest crime. That’s not to say that these books aren’t a pleasure to read, I just often see this pattern.
Perhaps that’s why it took me so long to pick up The Dry by Jane Harper. It was the book on everyone’s lips in 2016, winning rave reviews from critics and racing up the bestsellers chart. Booksellers and book lovers embraced this debut and you would have had to be living under a rock to not have heard about it. It has also been optioned for the screen by Reese Witherspoon. Even now, The Dry is still picking up accolades, the recent being Jane Harper winning the British Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger award for the best crime novel of the year. Continue reading →
Gone Girlby Gillian Flynn starts with a wife going missing on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary. Amy is beautiful, talented and the daughter of two beloved children’s authors who based a series of books – Amazing Amy – on their perfect daughter. She is married to Nick, a former magazine writer who lost his job in New York with the coming of digital publishing and the folding of many traditional magazines. With his redundancy they can no longer afford their fancy New York life. They move to the town in Missouri where Nick grew up. There Nick opens a bar with his sister, using the last of Amy’s trust fund.
Amy is the perfect wife and on this their fifth wedding anniversary she has planned her traditional treasure hunt for her husband – only to go missing. Nick gets a call from a concerned neighbour when he is at work saying that the front door of Nick’s house is open. When Nick gets home he finds that there are signs of a violent struggle within the house and calls the police.
Gone Girl is told from Nick’s perspective from Day Zero of Amy going missing. What soon becomes apparent is that the cracks in his marriage were getting wider and wider up until Amy going missing. We get Amy’s perspective on the marriage in a series of diary entries starting back when she first met Nick. The giddiness of a bright new relationship wears away over time, especially when job losses, debt and financial problems start to weigh upon them.
Day Zero of Amy missing turns into Day One and then onwards. The police are doing all they can to find Nick’s beautiful wife. What soon becomes apparent is that Nick is far from the doting husband and Amy may not just be missing from their home but missing from the world of the living. The layers of the story peel back like an onion until you get to the truth. But the brilliant thing about this book is that you may think you are clever and know what is going on, only to have twist after twist leave you having no idea where the plot is taking you.
I can assure you that I have told you little of what unfolds in this book because I don’t want to ruin this fantastic psychological thriller. On goodreads I rated this book 5 stars and I am not alone in this assessment. This is one critically acclaimed bestseller that more than lives up to its promise of being a good read.
Now I am searching for my next brilliant read. Any suggestions?
Like with the Harry Potter series, I read The Casual Vacancy over the course of a few days. That’s where the similarities end. And that’s fine with me. I didn’t pick up the first adult book written by J.K. Rowling and expect it to be anything like her kids’ books. What I hoped for was a riveting read – and I got that in spades.
Set in the picturesque English village of Pagford, The Casual Vacancy follows the lives of various villagers: from self-important council members to dissatisfied housewives, troubled teens, and a teen girl from the local housing estate who for me is the heart and soul of this story.
It is not a spoiler to tell you that the story begins with a death. We know Barry Fairbrother for exactly two and a bit pages and then he dies. His death leaves a ‘casual vacancy’ on the Parish Council – an entity made up of two warring factions. The plot revolves around the filling of this seat and the impact of the sudden death of a man on the lives of many.
I purposely steered clear of reviews and commentary before reading this book as I wanted to be surprised. I was surprised. The publishers have marketed this as a ‘black comedy’, but I can’t say I laughed. Instead, I admired the characters Rowling has created. We all know people like the ones in this book. Most of them aren’t very likeable but that didn’t stop me admiring the way Rowling constructed them. The point-of-views of the various teenagers in this plot were spot on – from the teen pining after his ideal girl and despising his father; to another who doesn’t care who he hurts in his quest to be ‘authentic’; to a teenage girl who is the victim of a bully; and another teenage girl who is old beyond her years having to deal with a mother on and off drugs.
At first it is a little hard to keep up with all the different characters and sort out their various connections to each other, but then after a while it all slots into place. Some book critics have panned The Casual Vacancy for being an ‘attack on the middle-class’. Others have called it ‘bleak’. Yes, it is bleak – but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this story.
My advice is to read this book and make up your own mind. For me, this book with its troublesome characters and dark themes was a worthwhile read. I can’t wait to read what Rowling writes next.
Have you read The Casual Vacancy? What did you think?