Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper - Australian crime fiction at its finest

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Force of Nature by Jane Harper
Released: 26th September 2017
Published by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Genre: Crime/Mystery
Source: Publisher
Pages: 384
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.

The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises. Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker.

Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case - in just a matter of days she was to provide the documents that will bring down the company she works for.

Falk discovers that far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. But does it include murder?
The Dry was hailed as the book of the year at the 2017 Australian Book Industry Awards, so any follow-up was bound to come under scrutiny to see how it compares. I'm happy to say that Force of Nature is addictive and atmospheric; suspenseful in a way that you simply have to experience for yourself.

In this book we get to know more about Agent Aaron Falk, a member of the financial crime division of the federal police. Like its predecessor, Force of Nature is at its core a 'police procedural' novel. But far from the constraints of the suburbs where a murder or missing person case can be solved with the aid of CCTV footage, or even the gossip from those in a rural town, out here in the fictional Giralang Ranges it becomes clear that the mystery behind Alice's disappearance will be more difficult to uncover. It's this added complexity of the rugged setting where the group of women begrudgingly set out on a company team-building expedition that brings the drama to the fore.

Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No-one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russel. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you.

Once again Jane Harper has excelled in conveying the essence of a sense of place. In the Australian bush she brings out the ghostly whispers of the trees and unsettling sounds of the wildlife with vivid clarity. Just as the women struggle to orient themselves in an unfamiliar environment which all begins to look the same, us readers are also led on a twisted path to the truth. Harper skilfully leaves crumbs along the way which ramp up the suspense and enormity of the situation where survival becomes paramount - from the discovery of a meagre pool of water to what could be the abandoned cabin of an infamous killer. What is only a few days of the doomed expedition stretches the entire length of the story thanks to the alternating perspective on the current investigation at hand. Each chapter ends on a 'mini-cliffhanger', a device which achieves exactly what it set out to do - make this a book you Can't. Put. Down.

There was a movement outside her sleeping bag and Beth stiffened. She couldn't tell what had made it - woman or wildlife. She lay still and by the time it disappeared, the word she'd been searching for had formed on the tip of her tongue, so real she could almost taste its residue. Feral. 

The characters are equally well-developed, where human nature is examined as people are pushed to the brink. The boiling pot of personalities, from Alice the self-assured narcissist to Bree and Beth who are sisters that could not be more different, morphs into a powder keg ready to explode. These tensions make the plot all the more compelling, brought together with taut prose that is matter-of-fact yet descriptive. When there's no telling if help is ever going to arrive, ethics are questioned as company politics transcend the office, becoming a different beast altogether. It would be easy for a story like this to turn into a merely pragmatic play-by-play of the events as they unfolded, but I liked how there was more heart to the investigation. Falk's connection to his father who also used to hike the trails in the ranges was an interesting touch, bringing some humanity back to a plot which  otherwise highlights its vices through characters that are teetering over the edge.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you've enjoyed The Dry, you will LOVE Force of Nature. Nonetheless, this book should be recognised for its own well-deserved merits. Jane Harper isn't just an author to watch, she's one whose work has to be read - do that and you won't look back. 

#LoveOzYABloggers - Historical

Monday, 25 September 2017


Historical

Historical fiction is an all-time favourite genre of mine, and when it comes to Australian YA there are a few standouts which come to mind. The three that I've chosen to feature for this week's prompt are all from very different time periods, but they each capture the societies of their settings in a way which vividly takes you back to eras gone by.

The Raven's Wing by Frances Watts

Set in ancient Rome, our protagonist Claudia is bound by the duty to the family she hardly knows when she is summoned by her father. Plots and scheming ensue, and she must make some difficult decisions on what's more important - love or duty? It's a question which has featured many times over in fiction, but even here the conflict between the two is given a fresh twist which keeps it interesting for teen readers.

You can see my review for The Raven's Wing here

The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman by Jackie French

To be honest, I could have filled this whole post with ten or more Jackie French novels. I've gone on about the Matilda saga on here more times than I can count though, so it's time to change things up and give some of her other books time in the spotlight. This unique take on Shakespeare's life before he was the most famous playwright in history was a really interesting read. For her other Shakespeare-inspired works, I'd definitely recommend I Am Juliet and Ophelia: Queen of Denmark.

You can see my review for The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman here

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

And finally we come to a book set in Australia - 1930's Sydney to be exact. It has an underbelly vibe with the mob-warfare and gritty crime elements, but keeps it unpredictable with the ghostly undertones. The old-school slang places you right at the heart of this time, and I loved the inclusion of the map at the beginning. 

You can see my review for Razorhurst here



#LoveOzYABloggers is hosted by #LoveOzYA, a community led organisation dedicated to promoting Australian young adult literature. Keep up to date with all new Aussie YA releases with their monthly newsletter, or find out what’s happening with News and Events, or submit your own!

Waiting on Wednesday: Welcome back to the world of 'The Diviners'

Wednesday, 20 September 2017


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine where the participants tell their readers about an upcoming release they are waiting to read. This week I've picked Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray.

The Diviners are back and facing ghosts in this thrilling and eerie third instalment in the #1 New York Times bestselling series, set against the backdrop of 1920s New York City and the mysterious mental hospital on Ward Island.

1920s New York. Lights are bright. Jazz is king. Parties are wild. And the dead are coming. After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that nearly claimed two of their own, the Diviners are set to face off against an all-new terror. Out on desolate Ward's Island, far from the city's bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten - ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.

With terrible accounts of murder and possession pushing New York City to the edge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister forces invading the asylum - a fight that will bring them face-to-face with the King of Crows. Now, as explosive secrets from the past come to light and malevolent forces gather from every corner, love and loyalties will be tested, and the Diviners will find themselves in a deadly battle for the very soul of the nation.

Heart-pounding action and terrifying moments will leave you breathless in this third book in the Diviners quartet by #1 New York Times bestselling author Libba Bray.

First off, can we just admire that cover for a second? I was hooked from the very beginning of this series with The Diviners, and Lair of Dreams was definitely a sequel to impress. 1920s New York was never so dazzling...and dangerous.

Releasing 1st October 2017 from Allen and Unwin

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Spring TBR

Tuesday, 19 September 2017



Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish. This week it's all about spring reads, and I'm showcasing my top picks for the season.


1. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth


I have absolutely loved Kate Forsyth's other historical novels Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl and The Beast's Garden so the bar is definitely set high for this one. I know she always puts so much research into her work so I'll be looking to see how she incorporates fact into fiction.

2. Like Life by Lorrie Moore


I just reviewed Lorrie Moore's first collection of short stories Self-Help, and can't believe I haven't come across her work before. If that was anything to go by, this is going to be another satirical and darkly funny read. 

3. Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend


The hype and early reviews for this one has left it showered in praise, so I'm eager to see the enchanting world come to life on the page. 

4. The True Colour of Forever by Carrie Firestone


The sound of this book with a focus on kindness is really sweet - the perfect YA contemporary read for spring.

5. From the Wreck by Jane Rawson


After reading Formaldehyde earlier in the year, I'm curious to see what weird and wonderful plot devices Jane Rawson has put into action here. 

6. Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser


The world-building and pirates in this one have me curious, and if the story lives up to the glowing reviews I won't be disappointed.

7. No Way! Okay, Fine. by Brodie Lancaster


This memoir about pop-culture and feminism might be just the thing I need to be get back into non-fiction.

8. Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon


With Voyager hitting the screens, it's high time I finally got to reading Drums of Autumn! Starting this may be an undertaking (it's another one over 1000 pages), but every time I start a book in this series the length seems irrelevant because they're so engaging.

9. Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray


FINALLY the third book in The Diviners series! The 1920s with a paranormal twist and gripping mysteries have kept me hooked on these novels - I can't wait to see what's next in store for the characters.

10. No Filter by Orlagh Collins


You can't go past a lighthearted YA romance to read on a sunny afternoon, and this looks like something which would work nicely.

What books are you looking forward to reading this Spring/Fall?

Review: Self-Help by Lorrie Moore - A whip-smart collection on how (not) to solve life's problems

Monday, 18 September 2017

Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
Released: 1st May 2015 (original edition 1985)
Published by: Faber
Genre: Short Stories
Source: Library
Pages: 163
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Complicated, awkward, funny, cruel, heartbroken, mysterious; Self-Help forms an idiosyncratic guide to female existence which is just as relevant today as it was 30 years ago. These stories are modern America at its most real, with characters sharing thoughts and experiences they could have borrowed from our own lives.

This is how to deal with divorce, adultery, cancer, how to talk to your mother or become a writer, the Lorrie Moore way.
Self-Help is a delightfully ironic answer to the genre which the title comes from. The nine pieces here have narrators which are intelligent and very self-aware, with the reasons for their malaise clearly on display. For the reader, the solution may appear simple, the 'logical' response likened to something you may read about in (you guessed it) the 'self-help' section of a bookstore. However, what makes this so compulsively readable is Moore's insight that the answer to life's challenges are not so easy to come by; no matter how accurately one may recognise the flaws in their reasoning - the same self-destructive behaviour could inevitably occur all over again.

The first story 'How to Be an Other Woman' sets the tone for the other parodies on life-guides to follow, many told in second-person for full effect. The situation changes from 'other woman' to simply 'woman' embarking on a new relationship in 'How'. Mocking the cliches in the course of a romantic rendezvous is something achieved with the blackest of humour and I enjoyed every page.

Feel discovered, comforted, needed, loved, and start sometimes, somehow, to feel bored. When sad or confused, walk uptown to the movies. Buy popcorn. These things come and go. A week, a month, a year. - 'How'

In my personal favourite 'How to Become a Writer', Moore tackles the haughty disdain of an English literature professor and the students in his class in a way that puts it at the top of the list for both humour and accuracy.

In creative writing seminars over the next two years, everyone continues to smoke cigarettes and ask the same things: "But does it work?" "Have you earned this cliché?" These seem like the important questions. - 'How to Become a Writer'

It's not only a doomed love-life and literary institutions that Moore critiques, as in 'Go Like This' she delves into the life of a mother with cancer who wishes to take death into her own hands. The way that the author is able to adapt her style ever so slightly to still be funny but never completely out of order when taking on these sorts of situations is a useful skill.

I am getting into the swing of it. I tell them the cancer is poisining at least three lives and that I refuse to be its accomplice. This is not a deranged act, I explain. Most of them have known for quite a while my belief that intelligent suicide is almost always preferable to stupid lingering of a graceless death. there is silence, grand as Versailles. It seems respectful. - 'Go Like This'

Amid the razor-sharp commentary is always a phrase or two which reminds us of the humanity of these characters - they're not just fictional beings, but people who could just as well be someone you'd pass on the street. Even in 'To Fill' which ends the collection, what begins as a portrayal of a woman who wants nothing more in life than to steal money for the thrill of her material obsessions turns into a deeper investigation of her marriage and connection with her mother who has 'convinced herself she is physically and mentally ill'. Most importantly, all of these stories fit cohesively, and while each may relish in its own quirky charm there's no denying that there is a pinch of reality throughout.

I am becoming hugely depressed. Like last year. Just a month ago I was better, sporting a simpler, terse sort of disenchantment, a neat black vest of sadness. Elegant ironies leaped from my mouth as fine as cuisses de grenouilles. Now he darkness sleeps and wakes in me daily like an Asian carnivore at the Philly zoo. - 'To Fill'

FINAL THOUGHTS

It's been a long time since I've found an anthology this whip-smart and satirical. This is a book which crackles with wit, and an energy which makes you look forward to each quip to arrive on the next line. I've already lined up my next read from this author because I want more.