australian author

Review: Off Reservation by Bram Connolly

Off Reservation by Bram Connolly, Paperback, Allen & Unwin, July 2017, p. 336. RRP: A$29.99

4.5 stars

Off Reservation is the second book that follows Australian Commando Captain Matt Rix on his adventures. I read the first book in the series, The Fighting Season, last year when it was just released and it was one of my favourite books of 2016. Needless to say, I have been waiting for the follow up to Bram Connolly’s debut novel with bated breath.

In Off Reservation, Matt Rix finds himself in a world of bother after a training exercise goes wrong and he ends up being booted from the team and gets himself involved in an international terrorism plot. Rix is sent out on to watch escaped Taliban Commander Faisal Khan, and things just get more complicated from there.

Off Reservation is action packed and a thrilling read. The plot is interesting and kept me guessing until the very end. Connolly writes taut and exhilarating scenes that race from one crisis to the next, that were fresh and different to most military thrillers currently published. There is real authenticity to Off Reservation, although the plot is far fetched and unlikely to happen, Connolly writes with such ferocious pace that you are locked in for the ride and you don’t question that these events could happen. The dialogue in Off Reservation is believable and punchy, and the Australian accent can really be heard when these Australian men are talking to one another, which is fun.

The characters in the Matt Rix series are great, and I love the character of Rix. He’s strangely relatable and doesn’t read as a cardboard cut-out action figure. Rix isn’t perfect, and he sometimes misses important clues and doesn’t always sort everything out himself. He’s certainly fits the mould of Special Forces protagonists, but he’s not a carbon copy of well known characters.

There is a romance subplot in Off Reservation, which is normally a turn-off for me when I am reading military thrillers, so I approached the novel with some trepidation. However, this subplot was not on the nose, and the conclusion of this plot was one of my favourite aspects of Off Reservation. 

I recommend that fans Chris Ryan, Andy McNab, Brad Thor and Vince Flynn pick up a copy of The Fighting Season, the first novel in the Matt Rix series. Read that excellent novel first, and then graduate to Off Reservation. The only reason Off Reservation did not rate 5 stars is that it is too short. I could have done with more description and buildup to the climax of the novel, to make the thrills even more intense. Bram Connolly has the makings of a epic military thriller series in his protagonist Matt Rix.

Buy The Fighting Season here. 

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the review copy of this novel. 

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Review: The Way Back by Kylie Ladd

The Way Back by Kylie Ladd, Paperback, Allen & Unwin, July 2017, 316p. RRP: A$29.99.

4 stars

The Way Back by Kylie Ladd is a quintessentially Australian novel, and an interesting break from the genres of book that I usually find myself reading and reviewing. I wouldn’t have picked up this book ordinarily, but I am excited to have the opportunity to read a novel that can really provoke that Australian feeling that I find so rare in a novel.

Charlie Johnson is thirteen and obsessed with horses. She goes out for a ride on her leased pony, Tic Tac, and when only the horse returns, the police, SES and townspeople all kick off a search of the massive area where she and her friend had last been seen. When Charlie returns, things are obviously different for her, and her family also needs to adjust to life once she has been returned. All of this is covered on the blurb, and one of my main complaints with this novel was that I knew she was going to return home, a spoiler that lessened the stakes. If I hadn’t known she makes it home, I would have been more concerned and invested in seeing what happens to her as her life was in danger.

I’ve already called this novel  a ‘quintessentially Australian novel’, so it should be no surprise that the setting is primarily Australia – a rural area of Victoria, it seems. There is something relaxing reading about familiar settings, and it makes the clash between the idealistic location and the horrible events of the novel even more jarring. I found the same when I watched the movie Snowtown a couple of years ago: familiar settings make for bone chilling thrills.

Charlie Johnson, the protagonist of this novel, is well drawn and relatable. She had interests, school, and conflicts with friends that really went a long way to build up her character. As the novel progresses, you see her growing and having to adapt to the way her world has been tilted. Ladd does this subtly but slowly, and builds up those changes in character well.

The other characters in this novel are somewhat weaker, you get a feel for Charlie’s mum and dad, although the most interesting character, for me, was Dan, and I felt like his character development was a missed opportunity. As far as characterisation goes, his character travelled the furthest from his starting point, but we are just told that happens and are not really let into the how. If this novel was another 50 pages longer with more information on how Dan was dealing with his sister’s disappearance (and then the aftermath), I think this could be a stronger novel. However, other readers may have had different opinions on that, and maybe Dan’s struggle wouldn’t be as interesting to others.

The Way Back is quite different to the novels that I usually read, crime thrillers and classics, and I have presumed it is a contemporary novel with some crime and thrilling themes. Don’t open this book expecting a police procedural, and don’t expect there to be any suspense. As I stated earlier, the blurb has already killed any possible suspense. The interesting aspect of this novel is really the emotional fallout for both Charlie and her family. It was good to see how the family might react to an abduction, while the emergency services search for a missing girl. There is an event half way through the novel that made no sense – the main detective who had spent countless hours searching for Charlie disregards a tip that comes in. He doesn’t pass it on to the people still searching or follow it up in anyway, and that really did jarr me. Considering the time and effort that had been put in, it seemed out of character. So, if you are wanting a tight novel about the search for a missing girl, this book isn’t for you.

If you want to go on an emotional rollercoaster with Charlie and her family, Kylie Ladd certainly delivers in No Way Back. I’d recommend this novel for people who enjoy easy-to-read writing with heavy , dark themes. This book does explore some messed up things, but does so in an interesting and engaging manner. The Australian setting really is the icing on the cake. I look forward to seeing what Ladd writes next.

Thank you, Allen & Unwin, for the review copy of No Way Back.

Review: Promise by Tony Cavanaugh

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Promise by Tony Cavanaugh (Darian Richards, #1), Trade paperback from library, March 2012, 327p.

4 out of 5 stars.

I reviewed previously:
Kingdom of the Strong (Darian Richards, #4)

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump recently, and even the latest book from a favourite author couldn’t drag me from my hole. The slump wasn’t all bad, as I wrote lots (just for a friend, nothing serious), caught up on some TV shows and helped a family member through a small crisis. Eventually I decided it was time to pick up a book again, and I decided to read Promise by Tony Cavanaugh. I’m glad I did – it dragged me from my slump kicking and screaming.

The fifth book in this series, Kingdom of the Strong, was published last year and made it into my Top 15 of 2015. I decided to go back and start this series from the start, in the hopes of a new release this year. One of the things that sets the Darian Richards series apart is the setting – the Sunshine Coast in Australia. As an Australian, my family holidayed in Queensland, and often on the Sunshine Coast so the descriptions of the setting are particularly vibrant to me.

Promise is a tightly written, plot driven serial killer thriller with one of the creepiest killers creating chilling havoc on every page. The baddie is hilarious and strange (letting me know he got his duct tape on special at Bunnings for 3.99) with a ritual and system to killing that made me feel quite ill. The killer reminded me of the serial killers that used to feature in Matt Hilton’s Joe Hunter novels, and there are some other similarities between these two authors. However, Cavanaugh goes more the police investigation route as opposed to the vigilante.

It would be remiss of me to review this book, or any book in this series without talking about Darian Richards – Promise sets him up as such an interesting and complex character. He’s a hard-bitten ex-cop who just wants to be left alone, but can’t really leave the cop’s investigation alone either. He’s conflicted, and has a strange relationship with 92 Berettas and the women in his life. Cavanaugh has done a wonderful job building a fabulous lead character, that I want to follow over multiple books.

This leads me to one of my few complaints about this book – the background characters are weak. Casey, Maria, the police officers and Detectives all seem like caricatures of actual people. I wanted to scream at how many times Darian thought something along the lines of ‘female cops are smarter than male ones,’ I get it, you want me to think of Maria as being intelligent – and I can’t because what you make her do is stupid half the time. It’s this kind of ‘telling’ and not ‘showing’, especially when they are at odds with one another that pains me. I don’t even have an opinion on Casey yet, because he just seems wishy-washy. I know that Casey and Maria especially become strong, fleshed out characters by the fourth book, so I’m happy to run with it.

The ending was good, if a little dissatisfying, and certainly left me hankering for the next book in the series. I have book three (The Train Rider) already waiting for me, but need to get my hands on #2 first!

Oz Book Review: Digger’s Rest Hotel by Geoffrey McGeachin

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Diggers Rest Hotel by Geoffrey McGeachin, 2010, kindle ebook, 336p.

Quite a while ago I read the third book in the Charlie Berlin series, St Kilda Blues, and reviewed it. After my overwhelmingly positive experience with that book, I picked up the first one, Diggers Rest Hotel, on kindle. It was strange for me to read a first in the series after reading a later book first, I feel like I have missed out on some of the character development that McGeachin executes so well.

In Diggers Rest Hotel Charlie Berlin is certainly an unliked detective, which is similar to St Kilda Blues, but in his debut outing, he has yet to really prove his skill in solving crimes. Throughout this book, you get to see Berlin become enthralled in his case, and juggle being in an unfamiliar environment and a new romantic interest.

Like last time, one of my favourite parts of the Berlin series is the authentic Australian feel – so much of the small town revolves around AFL, which is very accurate, even today. I read so much British and American fiction that when I visit Berlin’s Australia I get a little bit angry – why don’t I read more Australian fiction? Why isn’t there more thrillers set in Australia? I’m to blame, I pick up an established British author over a little known Australian one, and I should be doing the opposite.

I’ve got the second book in this series from the library, and am looking forward to visiting my own country once again – and hopefully I can refrain from getting too angry in the process.

Oz Book Review: My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

119042My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, paperback, 1901, 280p

I was expecting and preparing to hate this one. There are few books that are on the assigned reading lists at uni that I love, but this semester I am doing a topic all about adaptions – which features a couple of books I really wanted to read, one of my favourites and a couple I was dreading. My Brilliant Career was definitely one of the last category. As you can see by my rating, however, it was a surprise! The only problem was I had already prepared all the scathing remarks to be made in tutorials, throwing around words like pseudo-feminism, and roasting the obviously romantic storyline.

Now I have had to eat my words (and my akubra) because I really liked this novel. Miles Franklin was a master of setting a scene (and she was only 16 when she wrote it). My Brilliant Career invokes the feels of the bush – the real bush – better than any other work I have read. I also identified with Syb’s love of reading, and she made me realise I have a major gap in my reading – I have read only one or two bush poems in my life.

Sybella is a strange character and certainly there were moments that I hated her naiveté and ignorance, so much so I wanted to hit her over the head with a bonnet, but most of the time I found her captivating, interesting and inspiring.

My favourite part of the book – and the reason why it differs from so many other works like it – is the ending, which without spoiling it, is quite unexpected and brilliant. You have been forewarned, this is not a book for the traditional romance reader. I would, however, recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre or any reader who wishes to experience some of Australia’s great literary history. Miles Franklin definitely has a place on the list of Australian greats.

Oz Book Review: Exit Wounds by Major General John Cantwell

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Exit Wounds by Major General John Cantwell, paperback from library, Oct. 1 2012, 374p

Overall enjoyment rating: 9 out of 10 stars

As a country boy from Queensland, John Cantwell signed up to the army as a private and rose to the rank of major general. He was on the front line in 1991 as Coalition forces fitted bulldozer blades to tanks and buried alive Iraqi troops in their trenches. He fought in Baghdad in 2006 and saw what a car bomb does to a marketplace crowded with women and children. In 2010 he commanded the Australian forces in Afghanistan when ten of his soldiers were killed. He returned to Australia in 2011 to be considered for the job of chief of the Australian Army. Instead, he ended up in a psychiatric hospital.

Exit Wounds is the compassionate and deeply human account of one man’s tour of the War on Terror, the moving story of life on a modern battlefield: from the nightmare of cheating death in a minefield, to the poignancy of calling home while under rocket fire in Baghdad, to the utter despair of looking into the face of a dead soldier before sending him home to his mother. He has hidden his post traumatic stress disorder for decades, fearing it will affect his career.

Australia has been at war for the past twenty years and yet there has been no stand-out account from these conflicts—Exit Wounds is it. Raw, candid and eye-opening, no one who reads this book will be unmoved, nor forget its imagery or words. – Stolen from Goodreads.com

 

This book broke my heart. While reading the last third of the book I pretty much cried the whole way. It wasn’t what I expected, usually military accounts make for dry reading, but Exit Wounds is a whole different kettle of fish. Major General John Cantwell has written a memoir that is full of action, bravery and emotion. By laying himself bare he has given the soldiers he served with a differing opinion, one that says that mental illness isn’t something to be shoved to the side, that it is not a sign of weakness – it is a disease.

Exit Wounds is split into four sections – The first Gulf War, The Second Gulf War, the Middle East area of Operations (mainly Afghanistan) and a very small final section back home in Australia. John’s wife also write two chapters that add a different angle, often pointing out things that Cantwell is too proud (often not wanting to blow his own horn) to admit. She also discusses the things that she thinks are important.

The first section of the novel – the First Gulf War – is action packed, on the front lines account of combat while attached to the British Military. It gets the adrenaline pumping and allows an insight into Cantwell as an officer, but also his humanity and humour. There is also the introduction to the beginning of his battle with mental illness.

The second section of the novel – in Iraq – is interesting in its comparisons with the first, this time he has a more senior role and makes decisions that influence larger groups of troops. He works hard, so unbelievably hard! This part of the novel introduces the John that we come to know by the end of the novel, one battling against the odds.

The Middle East Area of Operations follows Cantwell in a role with even more responsibility, and the guilt and situations he finds to put upon himself makes me cry. The deaths of the Australian Diggers is overwhelming, and the recounts are described in a factual, but emotionally hard hitting way.

The final part of the book – especially the chapter named Exit Wounds – is where the book really comes into its own. Cantwell is forced to make some very difficult decisions, and as always, he puts the Army and the Diggers first. His battle with PTSD is virulent and it is heartbreaking to see someone who is a hero be wracked with guilt. I would certainly love to meet John Cantwell to shake his hand and thank him for his service, but this book has reminded me that there isn’t enough recognition of what our Servicemen and women go through for our country. Regardless of the reasons we went to war, regardless of political posturing, we need to be behind our troops, not only when they are in a combat zone, but also when they are home.

Oz Book Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, Paperback from library, 1st May 2013, 352p.

Overall Enjoyment Rating: 8 stars from 10!

In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.

Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’ spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul. As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’ ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she?

Based on a true story, Burial Rites is a deeply moving novel about personal freedom: who we are seen to be versus who we believe ourselves to be, and the ways in which we will risk everything for love. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, where every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others? Shamelessly stolen from Goodreads.com

 

I was blown away by Burial Rites, which is a fantastic novel that explores the execution of Agnes Magnusdottir, a woman condemned to death as a murderess. I’ll be honest, the topic and the setting are not favourites of mine, but I found this story to be addictive.

The characters were intriguing, and I found myself in love with Margret, who was such a wonderful and vibrant character – such a good contrast to Agnes, another character that simply came to life. There were quite a few characters to follow, and I did find the way the surnames and nicknames worked at times to be confusing – also the huge amount of men named Jon – I couldn’t keep them straight in my head at the beginning and during the middle of the novel.

For me, the true brilliance of Burial Rites is the way that Kent slowly but skilfully changes my opinions on nearly all of the characters at some stage. Agnes begins as a cold hearted murderess but emerges into a woman who I sympathise with. The priest evolves from a green young priest who has no idea of what to say and feeling unable to help Agnes, into accepting that anything he can offer is better than nothing, and that his duty is to Agnes and not himself or the state.

I would have liked to have more of an insight into the politics and legal side of the proceedings – I would have liked to know more about what went on at Agnes’ trial, but Kent focuses on what Agnes is facing after the trial and her sentencing. Obviously, there is more emotional payout by focusing solely on families and the condemned. To be honest, if I want to know more about the politics and legal side, I should just pick up a non-fiction account – and now I am going to have to run to the library and see if there are any non-fiction accounts in English.

The reason I picked up Burial Rites to read was because Hannah Kent is (was?) a post-grad student (and undergrad) at Flinders University, where I’m currently enrolled. It’s nice to think that we have shared the same courses and know the same flinders people. I am grateful that she attended Flinders, or else I may never have picked up this amazing book!