mystery

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.

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Ranty Roundup – February

Well February seemed to fly by.  I had a really good reading month, but a not so good blogging month – but I’ll just smile and be happy that the reading slump is not only over, it has been decimated! I read 11 books in Feb, which is probably a record for me, especially considering I didn’t read for a whole week while I was away. My favourite book was certainly The Call of the Wild by Jack London – I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did. An honourable mention must go to Stuart MacBride’s Logan McRae series – I’ve read six of his novels over the past two months, and they are some of the longest mysteries I’ve encountered, but I’m in love – with Roberta Steel.

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Onto personal matters, I’ve been having issues with my right eye (I’ve been unable to watch TV or be on the computer for more than an hour at a time) and the many doctors I’ve been seeing have no idea what is wrong. They have just said I have to deal with the discomfort and pain and hope that my vision doesn’t get any worse – I’m already at the point that the right eye is useless, the left eye does all the work. That has put a dampener on my life, but certainly meant I got lots of reading done!

Uni goes back during March, and I’m finally getting to see the light – one more year of study and then I can look forward to full time teaching. However, it also means that I am going to have less time to read this month – I’ve got a good buffer on my Goodreads goal of 52 books in 2015, so I’m not going to pressure myself to read too much. However, as I can’t watch TV, most of my spare time will be spent with a book. I’ve also gone back to working nights, which gives me about two hours of reading time each night, so I’m hoping to read 6 books during March.

 

Total Books Read in February – 11 books

The Forsaken – Ace Atkins – 4 stars

Flesh House – Stuart MacBride – 3 stars

Blackwattle Creek – Geoffrey McGeachin – 3 stars

The Call of the Wild – Jack London – 5 stars

San Francisco Night – Stephen Leather – 3 stars

Rules of Honour – Matt Hilton – 4 stars

Blind Eye – Stuart MacBride – 3 stars

The Lawless Kind – Matt Hilton – 3 stars

Dark Blood – Stuart MacBride – 3 stars

Shatter The Bones – Stuart MacBride – 4 stars

Death Force – Matt Lynn – 4 stars

 

Continuing Reads

Sandakan – Paul Ham – 250p in

 

March TBR (more a suggestions list besides the top three)

Finish Sandakan – Paul Ham

Fire Force – Matt Lynn

Shadow Force – Matt Lynn

Start Vampire Academy series

Start Sniper Elite series

 

Bloggy Stuff

Well, I’ve decided to set myself a couple of goals to do with the blog and share them. I’ve got some excellent opportunities this month, for starters I am going to go see Geoffrey McGeachin’s talk on Thursday at Adelaide Writer’s Week, so I will hopefully give a recap of what that experience is like – I’ve reviewed all of his Charlie Berlin series on this blog and they have certainly become a favourite of mine.

I am also going to make it a habit to do mini reviews – I’ve been thinking that I need to write massive reviews of every book I read, and then scaring myself from actually doing the review (do I actually have enough to say about this?) so instead I’m going to aim at once a week having a feature where I review the book(s) I’ve read – in 100 words. If I find I have more than 100 words, I can publish it as a standalone, otherwise, it will go in my weekly wrap up.

Finally, I am thinking of tackling Ulysses during the next Bout of Books – would anyone out there be interested in doing this with me? (please!?) Or even just offer advice (besides the advice my sister gave me: Run away! Run, run FAR AWAY!) of the best way to tackle this?

So hopefully there is more happening on this blog this month, and hopefully I don’t break down and cry when all my uni work starts rolling in! For all those who stuck it out to this conclusion – you deserve cookies (but I can’t bake, so what you deserve and what you get are two different things).

 

Book Review: Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride

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Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride, 2007, paperback from library, 594p

 

In the past couple of months I have experienced a profound reading slump, and the Logan McRae series can get all the credit in pulling me out of it. I’ve been immersed in a thrilling and strange world, (all this talk of sleet and cold confuses Aussies, you know?) and I have slowly been making my way through the first couple of novels in the series – Cold Granite and Dying Light. I purchased Cold Granite because it was on sale on ibooks for $0. Such a good/bad promotion, because I then brought Dying Light full price on ibooks – the first time I ever spent money on that platform.

McRae is a wonderful character, and he is surrounded by an interesting and diverse cast who never disappoint in delivering a witty one liner or putting foot to mouth in front of their superiors. I like that there was a lot of background introduced during Cold Granite, it wasn’t as if the character simply ‘started’ with the first book – he had exes, issues with bosses and favourite drinking holes.

My primary issue with these books is that they deal with a darker content then I am used to – rape and murder primarily. I love reading the novels, but then need to focus on something a little fluffier in between. And you know that the book is dark when you consider average murder mysteries and thrillers to be fluff. With MacBride’s books you also get your monies worth, most of these books are in excess of 500p – and packed full of action, not simply McRae figuring things out in his head, often a lot of the ‘detective work’ occurs by other policemen and women, and McRae is there, and they work in a team. I like that. It is very different to the lone wolf hero that seems to be prevalent in many of the books I read.

This review is technically about the third novel – Broken Skin. I really enjoyed this book, found it interesting and enjoyed the case as well as the personal lives of the characters. Also, it discussed a few things I have a little bit of a history with – and it treated those topics with respect. The humour was still there, and I like Logan a little more each book I read.

I find the writing to be very easy to follow – certainly no purple prose here. Some people might be turned off by this, but personally, it helps me to immerse into the world, when there is a simple approach taken to storytelling.

I’ll certainly read the rest of the series, and hopefully catch up at some time this year.

BOB11: Day One update

Well, yesterday I got some decent reading in, I had uni in the morning but then got home and started the new Spider Shepherd book, and didn’t stop reading until I finished the darn thing. I also finished off the last 80 pages of 1984 at uni – I was hoping to finish before the readathon started, but ended up reading it during.

I was quite happy because I managed to check out peoples blogs, but didn’t spend too much time on the net – that was my downfall last BOB.

Reading Progress:
1984 – last 80p
White Lies – 384p

Total Pages = 464

Today’s challenge – The Book Monster’s Scavenger Hunt! I had fun doing this one, and I realised I picked three books written by Stephens – It was a coincidence, I promise!

 challenge 1

Challenge #1
1 Starts with a B – Beat by Stephen Jay Schwartz
2 Has been made into movie – Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter (was made into the movie Sniper)
3 Favourite series – Hard Landing by Stephen Leather (#1 in Spider Shepherd books)
4 Collection of poems/short stories – 100 Best Loves Poems edited by Philip Smith
5 TBR book – No Going Back by Matt Hilton

Today’s plan:

The Great Gatsby – 120
No Going Back – 360
Participate in a challenge
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Oz Book Review: St Kilda Blues by Geoffrey McGeachin

 

ImageSt Kilda Blues by Geoffrey McGeachin, Netgalley, published 28th May 2014, 304p

Overall enjoyment rating: 8 out of 10 possible golden stars.

A serial killer’s work goes unnoticed until Detective Berlin is on the case in this third spine-tingling Charlie Berlin novel.

It’s 1967, the summer of love, and in swinging Melbourne Detective Sergeant Charlie Berlin has been hauled out of exile in the Fraud Squad to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl, the daughter of a powerful and politically connected property developer. As Berlin’s inquiries uncover more missing girls he gets an uneasy feeling he may be dealing with the city’s first serial killer.

Berlin’s investigation leads him through inner-city discothèques, hip photographic studios, the emerging drug culture and into the seedy back streets of St Kilda. The investigation also brings up ghosts of Berlin’s past as a bomber pilot and POW in Europe and disturbing memories of the casual murder of a young woman he witnessed on a snow-covered road in Poland in the war’s dying days. As in war, some victories come at a terrible cost and Berlin will have to face an awful truth and endure an unimaginable loss before his investigation is over.

St Kilda Blues is Geoffrey McGeachin’s seventh book and third in the Charlie Berlin series. The first Berlin novel, The Diggers Rest Hotel, won the 2011 Australian Crime Writers Association’s Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction with the follow up book, Blackwattle Creek, also winning the Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction in 2013 – summary shamelessly stolen from Goodreads.com

 

I’ll come out and just admit it now – if Charlie Berlin wasn’t a fictional character I would stalk him. I’d follow him around and watch him do his thing – solve crimes and engage in general acts of heroism. Berlin feels real, and his interactions with the other characters makes for riveting reading. The strangest thing about my stalker urges is that I was introduced to this series with book three, normally I much prefer to read books in order.

The plot of St Kilda Blues is enjoyable and well structures, although it is formulaic. There was not much mystery as to why the killer was, although it was amusing to watch Berlin tell all the other policemen that they were doing it all wrong. The use of photography throughout the book was excellent, and I enjoyed learning something I have no clue about.

McGeachin weaves themes of war and history through St Kilda Blues effortlessly, and uses Berlin’s veteran history to further the story. I was also captivated by Berlins struggle through what would today be termed PTSD. The period that this book is set in, the Vietnam War, free love and drug use are all well-handled and provides a colourful canvas for the mystery that builds.

One of my favourite aspects of St Kilda Blues is its vibrant depiction of Melbourne. Although I live in Adelaide (unashamed croweater), the familiar things in the novel made me very happy. The Arnott’s biscuit truck stood out, as did the fact that they drove around in Commodores and Fairlanes. Also, the constant references to the AFL was fine by me – at least I know something about the sport. All of this is something that I find I miss out on in foreign novels, and I only realize that I am missing it when I read a book set in Australia.

I will certainly be picking up the previous Berlin books – I just purchased The Diggers Rest Hotel on Kindle for free, so I certainly am not complaining! I just hope that it is as good of a read as St Kilda Blues.

Book Review: Lastnight by Stephen Leather

ImageLastnight by Stephen Leather, Kindle Edition, January 2014, Hodder & Stoughton.

Jack Nightingale #5

A killer is murdering Goths with relish – skinning and butchering them. The cops aren’t getting anywhere so Jack Nightingale’s nemesis, Superintendent Chalmers, asks him for help.

Nightingale discovers that the murdered Goths had one thing in common: a tattoo connected to the secretive Satanic child-sacrificing cult called the Order Of Nine Angles.

As Nightingale closes in on the killers, the tables are turned and he finds himself in the firing line, along with his friends and family. The Order will stop at nothing to protect their secrets and Nightingale realises that there is nothing he can do to protect himself. Nor can he run, for the Order has connections across the world. It leaves him with only one way to stop the carnage – and that’s to take his own life . . .
   -Book description by Amazon.com

Overall Enjoyment Rating: 7 gold stars

I was excited to read the latest Jack Nightingale novel, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Leather has woven the world of Nightingale into a very entertaining and dangerous place, filled with gangsters, Satanists and cops. The trouble he gets himself in is usually paranormal in nature, but also criminal.

The series has been built nicely and all the characters are well rounded and real. Jack is a hero like no other, part hardboiled chain smoking P.I., part spell casting wizard – he makes me want to smack him and then hug him all at the same time. My favourite character would have to be Proserpine and her faithful collie, and I was so happy when she popped up! I would adopt that dog in a heartbeat if I wasn’t so sure it would eat me for breakfast.

Of the Jack Nightingale series, the previous book rated a 10 star review from me, and I lauded it to the heavens, and was hoping this book would gain the same reaction. The main reason it didn’t was the start seemed to be very slow – Jack going around and talking to the families and getting the first clue seemed to drag on, but once I got to 50% through, there was no stopping me. However, that first part of the book did deter me momentarily. Also, the paranormal aspect was introduced so much later in this novel than others, and I really do like seeing Jack navigate his way around a world he doesn’t understand.

I really hope there is a follow up novel, and that Jack isn’t really well… Dead. Please, don’t be dead. Hell wouldn’t be a good place for Jack, because I think they would punish him by forcing Jack to quit smoking and I can’t imagine Jack without his Marlboros.