Monday 14 November 2022

Book Review: WOLF PACK by Will Dean (Tuva Moodyson #5)



Author: Will Dean

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Read: September 2022

Expected publication: out now



Book Description:


A closed community

Rose Farm is home to a group of survivalists, completely cut off from the outside world. Until now.

A missing person

A young woman goes missing within the perimeter of the farm compound. Can Tuva talk her way inside the tight-knit group to find her story?

A frantic search

As Tuva attempts to unmask the culprit, she gains unique access to the residents. But soon she finds herself in danger of the pack turning against her – will she make her way back to safety so she can expose the truth?

Will Dean’s most heart-pounding Tuva Moodyson thriller yet takes Tuva to her absolute limits in exposing a heinous crime, and in her own personal life. Can she, and will she, do the right thing?

My musings:


Oh how I love Tuva Moodyson! This series is just getting better and better.


Tuva has had her fair share of tragedy and is still reeling from the incident that almost killed her lover and put her in a coma. She now feels like she has little to lose, which is perhaps the reason she throws herself headlong into trying to solve another mystery, consequences be damned. A young woman has gone missing up near the mysterious Rose Farm, and no one is talking. It’s the sort of challenge Tuva cannot resist, even if it puts herself in danger.


With Tuva, Dean has created a strong, enigmatic, kick-ass female character who has not only overcome adversity (Tuva is deaf), but also never shies away from setting injustices right. Supported by a cast of weird and wonderful characters, and a remote, small-town setting, this series never disappoints. Over the previous four books, we have become very familiar with the small forest town of Gavrik and its inhabitants, and they all make a disappearance here. Whether it’s the creepy wood-turning sisters you’ve been hoping to catch up with, or the whiff of Tammy’s amazing cooking, Dean makes sure they are not forgotten.


I felt sad for Tuva in this one, because part of her bravery and determination not to back down reflects her inner loneliness after the tragedy that stole the love of her life from her. So perhaps this is the reason this book seemed more melancholy to me than its predecessors, even though it’s a solid mystery with lots of action and nail-biting scenes where Tuva puts herself in danger. For me, it’s the characters and the setting that make this series so irresistible, though of course I’m not knocking the well-plotted mystery that holds it all together (which I won’t go into here because it’s best to delve in blind for maximum surprise value).


The Tuva Moodyson series remains one of my favourite crime series and one I can’t get enough of. I hope that we will see a lot more of Tuva in future.


Thank you to Netgalley and Oneworld Publications for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Sunday 13 November 2022

Introducing my favorite book of 2022: THE WINNERS by Fredrik Backman (BEARTOWN #3)



Author:  Fredrik Backman

Read: November 2022

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!

My musings:


I would give this book 100 stars if I could!


If I thought that Beartown ripped out my heart and broke it into a million pieces, then Backman’s latest instalment in the series just ground them to fine dust. At least now I know to stock up on tissues before starting any of his books!


I don’t even know where to begin with a review because it’s difficult to express how much I loved this book. After the three Beartown novels, I almost feel part of the community. I’m not sure how Backman does it, but his characters are so well drawn that they are totally real to me. Often, characters remain a hazy outline, but this cast is as vivid in my mind as people I have known all my life.


With the Beartown themes of community, parenthood, coming of age, friendships and the fine threads that connect us all to one another, there wasn’t many tissues left in the box by the time I finished reading. Backman’s writing resonates deeply with me, as do his characters.


THE WINNERS is set 2 years after the events in BEARTOWN, and we get to find out how all our favourite characters have fared in that time. There are a few surprises in store, but one thing has not changed – the rivalry between the two hockey clubs of Beartown and Hed. As someone who knows nothing about hockey and isn’t particularly sports orientated, even I soon realised how much the sport reflected the hopes and dreams of the community, and was swept away by their love for the sport. As hockey gets embroiled in the political power games of influential people trying to make Beartown and Hed’s animosity work in their favour, the simmering tension is about to erupt into violence. With the constant foreshadowing in the story, I knew that something terrible was about to happen, which had me torn between reading quickly to find the answers and savouring the story. Backman injects so many snippets of insight and wisdom into his stories that touched me deeply, drawing out emotions that are often repressed or overlooked.


I can confidently say that THE WINNERS is my favourite book for 2022 and one that I will revisit again when the open wounds in my heart are no longer so raw and I can savour the fine details I may have overlooked. Please note that this is not a stand-alone novel and needs to be read in the right order of the Beartown series to make sense and to get the full value out of this wonderful tale. I loved every minute of it and was sad to say good-bye to characters who feel like good old friends – I will miss them. A truly wonderful book! If you haven’t discovered this series yet, what are you waiting for?

Thursday 10 November 2022

Book Review: FOUND OBJECT by Anne Frasier



Author:  Anne Frasier

Publisher:  Thomas & Mercer

Read: June 2022

Expected publication: out now




Book Description:



Culpable in an exposΓ© gone tragically wrong, investigative journalist Jupiter Bellarose takes her boss’s advice: head back to her hometown for a fluff piece and get her world in balance. But in Savannah, the past is waiting.

Twenty years ago Jupiter’s mother, actress and celebrated beauty Marie Nova, was murdered, leaving many in her wake: Jupiter’s father, who has erased memories of his wife’s murder with alcohol. The matriarch of the cosmetics company who helped make Marie a star—and who takes every opportunity to reopen old wounds. Then there’s the fragile cop with blood on his hands, and the killer whose confession no longer seems convincing.

With so many lingering questions, Jupiter must revisit the grisly event that has influenced every decision in her life. Maybe her homecoming will bring closure.

My musings:


The past catches up with a young investigative journalist when she returns to her old hometown, revisiting the memories of her mother’s brutal murder, in this intriguing mystery by Anne Frasier.


Jupiter Bellarose suffers the same consequences as many of her fictional protagonist counterparts when she is forced to face her childhood demons and return to her old hometown. Perhaps Jupiter has a more compelling reason than most to stay away, seeing that she was the one who first stumbled across the horrific crime scene, seeing her own mother Marie Nova decapitated in their home’s front yard. Who would ever want to revisit those memories? But after her last disastrous assignment, Jupiter needs a break, and visiting her father seems like a good idea at the time. Of course, as soon as she arrives, old memories come crashing down on her, facing her to confront her demons. Now an adult used to investigate and analyse clues, Jupiter realises that some things regarding her mother’s death don’t add up. And she starts asking questions …


FOUND OBJECTS drew me in straight away and I was thoroughly intrigued by the horrific mystery surrounding Marie Nova’s murder. I also really liked Jupiter as a main protagonist. With the right balance of past trauma and the inquisitive mind of an investigative journalist, her motivation for getting answers seemed genuine and she was well fleshed out to be believable and sympathetic. Having witnessed her mother’s murder gave Jupiter a vulnerable side that made me root for her the whole way, and I was as eager to get answers as she was.


As with many small-town mysteries, everyone seemed to be hiding something, including Jupiter’s father. Flashbacks to the past gave some background regarding Marie Nova, whose character was just as intriguing as that of her daughter. This was my first book by the author, and I enjoyed her writing style, especially her characterisations of the whole cast, making it impossible not to get emotionally involved. Perhaps there were a few too many plot twists towards the end, stretching credibility, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it kept me interested. 




FOUND OBJECTS will appeal to readers who enjoy small-town mysteries driven by scarred protagonists whose past is about to come crashing down on them. There are lots of secrets and lies and plenty of plot twists. If you are able to suspend disbelief a little bit, then I can thoroughly recommend this book.



Thank you to Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.


Reading from my TBR pile: small town mysteries


EXILES by Jane Harper


I have been (not so) patiently waiting for another Aaron Falk novel, and finally it is here! Of course I had to rush out and get it as soon as it hit the shelves. Harper has once again chosen an atmospheric setting for her novel, this time in a picturesque wine growing region of SA. As usual, her descriptive writing transported me straight into the landscape, and I could picture it all vividly, yearning to be part of the cosy dinners and glasses of wine Aaron enjoys with his friends.

Despite the idyllic landscape, it’s not all peace and happiness here, because at the heart of the story lie two unsolved mysteries: the hit and run of a respected local accountant, and the mysterious disappearance of a young mother at last year’s wine fair. Even though the deaths have been ruled unconnected, in a small town like Marralee everyone is related or connected in some way. Falk, who is visiting to attend the christening of his good mate’s son, cannot help but observe different people’s reactions to the anniversary of the young woman’s disappearance. And of course Falk’s sharp mind immediately picks up a few discrepancies along the way …

EXILES follows in the vein of Harper’s previous novels – slow burning, character driven and atmospheric. The clues are metered out carefully, for the reader to slowly join together the dots just as Falk does, and yet I was still surprised by the final reveal, which is why I am not a detective! I enjoyed the insights into Falk’s personal life just as much as the unravelling of the mystery, and whilst I hope that he will finally find companionship and happiness, I am also loathe to let him retire back into the ether of fictional characters. I hope this is not the last we will see of Falk!




Reid is a PI investigating a suspicious car crash for an insurance company, which brings him back to his old hometown of Manson, a place he had vowed never to revisit. When his investigations unearth a connection to the cold case of two missing local teenagers, he suddenly comes face to face with some of his own demons that made him leave town all those years ago.

Pomare usually writes a good mystery, and THE WRONG WOMAN was no exception. I really enjoyed Reid’s POV and felt that he made a good main protagonist who carried the story well and had just enough baggage to make him interesting, but not too much to make him the stereotypical tortured detective type. I admit that I initially struggled with the character of Eshana, who didn’t quite ring true for me. However, as the story progressed, it offered enough mystery and suspense to keep me intrigued and forget about my misgivings.

I can’t say much more without giving anything away, just that some of the final reveals were sinister and troubling but provided me with a satisfying finale that tied up all loose ends. A quick, intriguing story that made for perfect weekend reading. If you like small town mysteries and people trying to solve a cold case, then you can’t go wrong with this one.


TREASURE & DIRT by Chris Hammer


I believe that Chris Hammer’s latest novel has been published under the title OPAL COUNTRY overseas, which perhaps gives a better description of what this book is about. Set in the opal fields in outback NSW, it focuses on the investigation into the death of an opal miner, found crucified in his own mine in Finnigans Gap. This time it is not Martin Sarsden who delves into the mystery but homicide detective Ivan Lucic from Sydney, aided by local policewoman Nell Buchanan.


In typical Hammer style, the novel is gritty and atmospheric, intricately plotted and with more threads than grandma’s Persian rug. There’s conspiracy and politics, money and power, crossing and double crossing, and the ruthlessness and desolation that characterises a small mining town in the middle of nowhere.


Whilst I love Hammer’s descriptive writing, I’ll be totally honest with you to say that I found the plot a bit too convoluted in the end, with too many characters and side stories to keep track of. Don’t read this if you want a light, relaxing weekend escape. However, if you want atmosphere, then you’ve come to the right place. Hammer captures it all: the heat, the flies, the suspicion among miners, the bleak and barren outback landscape. Everyone here has a past and a secret (or two), including our detectives, and we will get to find out about all of them.


I loved the atmospheric setting and found it authentic (having had a few friends who have mined opals in similar places), and the mystery surrounding the dead man’s past was intriguing. Towards the end, there was a bit too much politics and double crossing for me, but perhaps I should not have read it between night shifts, when my brainpower is at its lowest ebb. If you have enjoyed the Martin Sarsden series, then you will most likely like TREASURE & DIRT in all its gritty glory.


Wednesday 9 November 2022

Reading from my TBR pile: 5-star book alert!

5-star reviews are the hardest to write, because how could I do a book justice that has given me such pleasure and touched me so deeply? So I am going to keep these short and sweet and urge you to pick them up and judge for yourself!

STAY AWAKE by Megan Goldin


There is a good reason why Megan Goldin is one of my favourite thriller writers. I think that THE ESCAPE ROOM is still one of my all-time-favourite books and one that stands out from the rest, but her latest book is not far behind. It only took a few pages into STAY AWAKE to find myself utterly absorbed by the disjointed reality of Liv’s world.


I love thrillers that rely strongly on the doubt cast on the main protagonist’s mental state. Liv, a traumatised woman who forgets everything that has happened to her as soon as she falls asleep, is a perfect candidate to star in that category of unreliable narrators. With every plot twist, I admired the author for being able to create such an intricate, multi-layered and challenging novel without ever losing credibility. Every time I was briefly concerned that a thread would be left hanging or would stretch credibility too far, I was soon reassured by the background detail that made it all perfectly plausible and tied things up nicely in the end.


Liv’s world is like a crazy kaleidoscope of disjointed images and unanswered questions that consumed me until I had reached the end and finally found out the answers. It was lucky that I read this book on holidays, because I was loathe to put it down. With a perfect blend between action and mystery, Goldin again delivers a psychological thriller so carefully constructed that I never had a chance to guess the culprit – all my theories were totally wrong. I loved every minute of this novel and can’t wait to see what Goldin will come up with next.

WRONG PLACE WRONG TIME by Gillian McAllister


Can you stop a murder after it has already happened? This may seem like a silly question, until you get lost in Jen’s reality after she witnesses her teenage son committing a heinous crime. But when she wakes up the next day, her family act as if nothing is wrong. Just as Jen thinks she has suffered a horrible nightmare or some psychological breakdown, her gaze lands on the calendar – and she finds out that it is now the day before yesterday.

This premise may sound very confusing, but I guarantee you that it is one of the most original stories I have come across this year. Can a mother’s love be strong enough to create a time-loop, allowing you to go back to the past to try and prevent a terrible thing from happening to your child? Jen is about to find out.

WRONG PLACE WRONG TIME is not your typical time travel story. It’s also a most unusual mystery, since it investigates the cause of the crime going back to its origins. As Jen goes further and further back in time, she will uncover a lot of things she never knew about her family. I loved everything about this book, and it kept me totally spellbound until I found out the answers. Despite warnings from other readers that the story would be too confusing to follow on audio, I thoroughly enjoyed my audio version and was so engrossed that I had no trouble at all with the unusual timeline.

Time travel books require a lot of skill to stay believable, and I am happy to report that McAllister has nailed it. Not only was her story utterly intriguing, but it also touched my heart, just as Diane Chamberlain’s THE DREAM DAUGHTER did (where a mother time travels to the future to find a medical cure for her child’s heart condition). I was so taken by it that it was a no-brainer it would end up on my favourites list. One of the cleverest, most original books I have read in a long time, exploring the boundaries of a mother’s love and how far she would go to save her child. Beautifully written and intricately plotted, I fully recommend it to everyone who is looking for a thriller that stands out from the fray.



I read this book ages ago, but at the time I was left so emotionally drained that I could not find adequate words to review it. DAMNATION SPRING is the sort of atmospheric, character driven novel that makes its way right into your heart until its characters feel like real life people.


Set in the 1970’s, the novel explores the fate of a magnificent forest from the perspective of the people living there – the tree loggers whose livelihood depends on it, and the infancy of the environmental movement, recognising the forest’s value as well as the damage done by the poisons used by the logging companies for exfoliating the trees. Now, in 2022, we may think that this is a no-brainer, but Davidson explores both sides with such insight and compassion that each voice has value, and the reader gets an insight into both worlds. With the advantage of hindsight on my side, I really appreciated the different perspectives presented, who signal a significant shift in thinking in that era, and the obstacles faced by people trying to be open minded and fight against the power of the logging companies that are fixated only on profit.


There were many moments when the novel struck a chord deep within me, especially the brave women fighting for their families and the fate of the trees. I even shed a few tears, and had the worst book hangover that prevented me from reading anything else for a while.


DAMNATION SPRING is the type of book that stays in your mind long after the last page has been turned, especially its emotional imprint. I loved the way it challenged me to understand various points of view and offered an insight into a life totally foreign to me. I also loved the descriptive writing, which captured the scene so beautifully, both people’s lives as well as its forest setting. The book will appeal to readers who love a slow-burning story rich in detail, emotion and description that will carry you off to another place.

Tuesday 25 October 2022

Reading from my TBR pile: a hint of the supernatural


THE BOOK OF COLD CASES by Simone St. James


Only Simone St. James can strike exactly the right balance between a cold-case mystery and a ghost story, and I enjoyed both elements immensely. Shea Collins’ passion is crime, especially unsolved cases that still cast a shadow long after the media has lost interest. A medical receptionist by day, Shea spends her nights looking into unsolved murder cases on her true crime website “The Book of Cold Cases”. When she gets the opportunity to interview Beth Greer, the woman suspected of having committed Oregon’s infamous 1977 “Lady Killer Murders”, her excitement is hard to contain. Little does Shea know that the can of worms she is about to open will have far reaching consequences for both Beth as well as herself…


As is St James’ hallmark, her murder mystery was spiced with an old, haunted mansion and a very unforgiving ghost who does not take kindly to being disturbed. I loved the dynamics that developed between Beth and Shea and the way we slowly got to uncover each woman’s deepest secrets. I could never have predicted Beth’s!


The supernatural element added something unusual to this cold case mystery and set it apart from other crime novels on the market. It’s not easy striking just the right balance between reality and the otherworldly, but St James manages that just fine. Listening to the audio version with my noise cancelling headphones on made me become so engrossed in the story that I had goosebumps.


THE BOOK OF COLD CASES will appeal to readers who enjoy a solid murder mystery with a spicing of the otherworldly. There is a fair bit of ghostly activity going on here, so a little bit of suspension of disbelief is called for. I particularly enjoyed the haunted house setting, which St James does so well, and the time travel to the 1970’s. A perfect Halloween read!


GIRL IN ICE by Erica Ferencik

Ever since reading THE RIVER AT NIGHT, I have greedily devoured everything Erica Ferencik has written, and I was eagerly awaiting the publication of GIRL IN ICE. If you love a bleak, claustrophobic, remote setting, then it doesn’t get much better than this, because the author has chosen the Arctic Circle as the backdrop to her latest book.

Linguist Val Chesterfield is still mourning the tragic death of her scientist twin brother on a remote outpost in Greenland when she receives an intriguing invitation by her brother’s boss. A little girl has been found in the ice, and no one can understand her language. Would Val consider travelling to this remote place to see whether she can communicate with the child? Despite being terrified of travel, Val accepts, realising that this could be the opportunity to put some of her demons relating to her brother’s death to rest.

GIRL IN ICE turned out much darker than Ferencik’s previous books, offering a disquieting mix of genres, from mystery to suspense to speculative fiction with elements of horror that made my skin crawl. Aided by a claustrophobic setting and Val’s own demons, the story took on a decidedly sinister turn when it was disclosed that the little girl Val has travelled to see has been thawed out of the ice – alive. Whilst not exactly in the league of the zombie apocalypse, the hint at the “undead” and its implications, as well as other dystopian elements created a tense, foreboding setting that really got under my skin.

I just wish that I could have liked Val a bit more as a character. Whilst her anxieties and insecurities added an element of the unreliable character, I would have liked to see a strong lead tackling the sinister elements head-on, which may have added to the suspense rather then getting bogged down in Val’s thought processes. I am also finding that this trend of neurotic female characters who are medicating themselves is getting a bit tired. It reminded me of a novel I read earlier in the year, THE DARK (by Emma Haughton), with almost identical themes.

That said, the mystery of Sigrid and the remote setting kept me reading eagerly to find out the answers, and even though the ending was somewhat luke-warm, the overall reading experience was satisfying. Whilst this is not my favourite Ferencik book, it’s definitely worth grabbing when you’re in the mood for some armchair travel to a cold, remote and forbidding landscape that hides a sinister secret.




I’m not sure why I thought it would be a great idea to choose a spooky book for my weekend reading, because man, this story was bleak! True, it did deliver plenty of goosebumps on the spooky front, but I am struggling to find some sort of joy in life again after this hopeless, sad tale.

Twenty-five-year-old Elsie has narrowly escaped spinsterhood by marrying the handsome and enigmatic Rupert Bainbridge, only son and heir to a large country estate. Their life together is cruelly shattered by Rupert’s untimely (and extremely suspicious) death, seeing a pregnant Elsie travel to the country manor husbandless to take over the reigns of a resentful bunch of servants and villagers. As promised, the old mansion delivers all the haunted house tropes: a locked attic door hiding terrible secrets, an old nursery that comes to life only when Elsie enters, and a bunch of creepy wooden figurines termed the “silent companions”. After being haunted by these spectres, Elsie tries to find some answers in an old diary her cousin has unearthed in the attic, which may explain some of the bumps in the night. However, the house has not finished with Elsie yet …

I’m not quite sure how to rate this book. On one hand, it was deliciously spooky, with the silent companions popping up where you least expect them and making their menacing presence known. On the other hand, there were few rays of sunshine to be had, so take a good dose of anti-depressants before reading this one! Rupert is not the only one who bites the dust in this story, nor is his death the most gruesome of them all. And as for poor Elsie’s fate – well, I can’t give away any spoilers, but karma really has it in for this girl. I discovered that I like my spooks delivered with a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, or perhaps I am just feeling fragile?

All in all, THE SILENT COMPANIONS will deliver if you love a spooky old mansion that oozes menace and tension out of every window. It also covers two separate timelines that come together to explain most (if not all) of the sinister happenings on the estate. But the book is best not attempted when you’re feeling low, because there is little hope left for any of its characters. Just be warned … A spooky, desolate read with Gothic vibes for the not-so-faint at heart.


Monday 17 October 2022

Book Review: ALL THAT’S LEFT UNSAID by Tracey Lien



Author:  Tracey Lien

Publisher:  Harlequin Australia

Read: July 2022

Expected publication: out now




Book Description:


Just let him go. These are the words Ky Tran will forever regret. The words she spoke when her parents called to ask if they should let her younger brother Denny out to celebrate his high school graduation with friends. That night, Denny—optimistic, guileless, brilliant Denny—is brutally murdered inside a busy restaurant in the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta, a refugee enclave facing violent crime, an indifferent police force, and the worst heroin epidemic in Australian history.

Returning home to Cabramatta for the funeral, Ky learns that the police are stumped by Denny’s case: a dozen people were at Lucky 8 restaurant when Denny died, but each of the bystanders claim to have seen nothing.

Desperately hoping that understanding what happened might ease her suffocating guilt, Ky sets aside her grief and determines to track down the witnesses herself. With each encounter, she peels back another layer of the place that shaped her and Denny, exposing trauma and seeds of violence that were planted well before that fateful celebration dinner: by colonialism, by the war in Vietnam, and by the choices they’ve all made to survive.

Alternating between Ky’s voice and the perspectives of the witnesses, Tracey Lien’s extraordinary debut is at once heart-pounding and heart-rending as it probes the intricate bonds of friendship, family, and community through an unforgettable cast of characters, all connected by a devastating crime. Combining evocative family drama and gripping suspense, All That’s Left Unsaid is a profound and moving page turner, perfect for readers of Liz Moore, Brit Bennett, and Celeste Ng

My musings:


ALL THAT’S LEFT UNSAID is one of those books that starts off as a mystery but then ends up being so much more, leaving you emotionally exhausted at the end of it. If a book haunts my thoughts long after I turned the last page, I know that it has struck some deep emotion with me somewhere.

Ky, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, returns to her childhood home in Cabramatta after the violent death of her younger brother Denny Tran, killed at a local restaurant. Even though the murder happened in front of dozens of witnesses, everyone claims not to have seen anything, and the police investigation has come to a dead end so far. Dealing with her own grief and the heartbreak Denny’s death has caused her parents, Ky starts asking questions – someone just had to have seen who killed her brother. So why is no one talking?

Even though ALL THAT’S LEFT UNSAID centres around a murder, it is more than just a mystery. In her debut novel, Lien explores what it’s like to be an immigrant in Australia – and to be the child of immigrant parents. It is also an exploration of grief and guilt that transcends race and culture – because parents grieving for their child speak a universal language that is understood with the heart rather than words. The mark Denny’s death left on his parents broke my heart, especially as they are trying to get answers and find justice in a culture that is foreign to them, with many barriers standing in their way. Ky, on the other hand, also has burdens only a child of immigrant parents can understand. On top of her own grief, she juggles her parents’ expectations, the role of the “good child” she was cast into, the problem solver and translator, the one that got out and made a better life for herself.

The social commentary on immigrant life in Cabramatta thirty years ago was an eye opener for me, and added a lot of depth to the mystery. I loved the way Lien included other narrators in addition to the voice of Ky, our main protagonist. One character in particular really spoke to me and made me forge a deeper emotional connection to the story than I would have otherwise done.




In summary, dealing with the struggles of immigrant life in Australia, inter-generational trauma, grief, guilt and the way children of immigrant parents feel torn between two cultures, ALL THAT’S LEFT UNSAID was a mystery with a powerful message that really touched my heart. If you love Celeste Ng’s or Amy Tan’s books, then you should definitely read this one.



Thank you to Netgalley and Harlequin Australia for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Thursday 13 October 2022

Small Australian town settings - 3 new books to get excited about


WAKE by Shelley Burr


Small, remote Australian towns are among my favourite settings for crime novels because they create a claustrophobic element that adds tension to an already emotionally charged story. With the fictional town of Nannine, Burr has created not only an authentic Australian atmosphere but also all the elements that make for a cracking good read. The simmering tension and hidden malice in the small town secrets that make up every remote, isolated settlement made this tale unputdownable.

The town has almost managed to paper over its cracks when private investigator Lane Holland arrives, eager to shake out a few secrets related to the disappearance of young Evelyn McCreery’s disappearance nineteen years ago. Initially reluctant to let Lane into her life, Evelyn’s sister Mina is still hopeful that some new truths may be revealed that help solve the mystery that has defined her life.

And thus the stage is set. What follows may not be new, but it is written well, slowly following clues and unearthing new information. What added to the mystery was Lane’s own motivation for coming to Nannine, which provided a refreshing perspective to the cold case investigation.

I thoroughly enjoyed WAKE and was surprised to hear that this is the author’s debut novel. I am sure that we haven’t heard the last from Shelley Burr and look forward to finding out what she will come up with next.


DIRT TOWN by Hayley Scrivenor


What was the last book that totally took you by surprise? Since I read A LOT of thrillers, I’m often disappointed by predictable endings. Well, I am very happy to say that Scrivenor totally blindsided me! 

DIRT TOWN follows in the wake of a spade of atmospheric, small-town Australian thrillers that delve into missing persons cases. Here, it is a young schoolchild who fails to return home after school and is eventually found buried in a shallow grave just out of town. In a place where everyone knows one another, it is hard to believe that a child killer is on the loose. 

The story is being told through various POVs, including two of the 12-year-old victim’s friends, her mother, the police detective investigating the case and the collective of the town’s remaining children (referred to as “we”), which brought some interesting insights into the case. As you can appreciate with a case of a dead child, the story was sad and tragic, with that melancholy air that also characterises a lot of Australian crime fiction. Child characters’ POVs often don’t ring true for me, but Scrivener nailed it with the voices of both her young protagonists, who appeared authentic and believable with their 12-year-old view of life and death. I also loved the way the author portrayed the dying small town and the way its residents clung to life there, trying to make things work. 

Hayley Scrivenor is an exciting new voice in Australian fiction, and I can’t wait to read more from her in future!


THE WHISPERING by Veronica Lando


If you love your thriller with a slight spicing of the supernatural, then THE WHISPERING should definitely be on your list (disclaimer: for those of you who love a good dose of spook, this may be a bit too mild). As an added bonus, it also features a delicious small town Australian setting in a remote region just as a cyclone is about to hit. With all those elements adding tension, this story was a definite must-read for me. 

Callum Haffenden is an investigative journalist who – just like thousands of mystery protagonists before him – falls into the trap of returning to his old hometown to help with the investigation into the mysterious death of one of his childhood friend’s son. OF course, Callum has plenty of his own secrets and demons, and we will learn in the course of the book why not many people are excited to welcome him back into their fold. 

I mentioned a supernatural element, which was one of the main reasons I was instantly drawn to the premise of the book. In the vein of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, a cluster of boulders in the vicinity of the town has been the cause of many a local legend, and linked to the disappearance and death of a few locals in the rainforest. Amongst the town’s children, it is well known that the “whispering” may lure you to your death, so they have taken to wearing small friendship bracelets with bells to drown out the boulders’ siren song. I won’t give any more away, because this was one of the best aspects of the book, albeit one I thought could have used a bit more to create a spookier vibe (I am not easily spooked these days, so it takes a bit to raise my goosebumps). 

I was very quickly drawn into the story, even though I thought that aspects of it could have been edited a bit more to move the story along at a better pace. I also had a few issues with credibility, for example the fact that if you’ve been an amputee for 30 years, you would have adapted much better to living with this reality than Callum has. A few other things grated a bit, but all in all the mystery central to the story kept me reading eagerly to find out the answers. Mostly, I loved the remote atmospheric setting, despite the fact that this must have been the slowest ever cyclone to approach a town and the worst prepared locals ever in Australia, flitting about the countryside despite the storm and the flooding (I have been through several natural disasters and believe me, you would not merrily drive around as a Cat 5 cyclone hits your town). Oh, to be able to suspend disbelief! 

But don’t listen to my moaning. THE WHISPERING will appeal to readers who love a remote atmospheric setting and a small-town mystery where everyone has something to hide. There were quite a few surprises in store and the premise of the mysterious boulders was most intriguing. Just like a strange mix between PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK and THE DRY, THE WHISPERING is a worthy recipient of the 2021 Banjo Prize.


Wednesday 21 September 2022

Book Review: BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME by Jaqueline Bublitz



Author:  Jaqueline Bublitz

Publisher:  Atria / Emily Bestler Books

Read: August 2022

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!



Book Description:


This is not just another novel about a dead girl.

When she arrived in New York on her 18th birthday carrying nothing but $600 cash and a stolen camera, Alice Lee was looking for a fresh start. Now, just one month later, she is the city's latest Jane Doe, an unidentified murder victim.

Ruby Jones is also trying to start over; she travelled halfway around the world only to find herself lonelier than ever. Until she finds Alice's body by the Hudson River.

From this first, devastating encounter, the two women form an unbreakable bond. Alice is sure that Ruby is the key to solving the mystery of her life - and death. And Ruby - struggling to forget what she saw that morning - finds herself unable to let Alice go. Not until she is given the ending she deserves.

Before You Knew My Name doesn't ask whodunnit. Instead, this powerful, hopeful novel asks: Who was she? And what did she leave behind? The answers might surprise you.


My musings:


It’s wonderful how the books that will most affect you emotionally somehow find their way to you. When I was first invited to read BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME, the book hadn’t even been on my radar but its premise intrigued me. “this is not just another novel about a dead girl” is an apt description of Jacqueline Bublitz’s  debut novel, because it is unlike any other story I have ever read.

We know from the beginning that Alice Lee, the narrator of the story, is dead, telling us about her fate from beyond the grave. The catch was that I hadn’t counted on how Alice would reel me in, show me the world through her eyes and utterly break my heart in the process! Then there is Ruby Jones, who arrives in New York City on the same day Alice does, with just as much baggage and just as many hopes and dreams for a better future. The one thing that will link the two women together is Alice’s death, because it is Ruby who will find her body, and who will not be able to put the unidentified dead girl out of her mind.

BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME captures the essence of being alive, trying to make a mark on the world. Alice Lee, the riverside Jane Doe, the unidentified victim of a brutal murder, is not ready to be forgotten, lost among all the other nameless girls out there who have never gotten justice. Her life has been cruelly robbed just as she was forging a new bright future for herself. But how do the dead get justice, how can they make themselves heard? Ruby, the jogger who finds Alice’s body, could have simply moved on with her life, filed the experience away, tried to forget all about it. Instead, she becomes obsessed with finding out more about the dead girl she found on the riverbank that horrible rainy day. A life has been taken, and Ruby cannot let it go. Just like that, a connection is formed between two strangers, one dead and one alive.

If I had any doubts about a narrator telling her story from beyond the grave being able to touch me emotionally, I was soon swept away by Bublitz’s beautiful prosaic writing and the emotional insights she offers on every page. Both Alice and Ruby are flawed in ways most readers will be able to relate, from a time they too tried to find their place in the world. Alice’s mix of street smarts and innocence immediately got under my skin and I found myself caring deeply for her, which opened doors to emotions deeply buried and not often explored. It’s always the sign of a great book if it has the power to make you cry, and this book certainly hit hard.  My heart shattered into a million pieces the moment Alice’s life was stolen from her, and I couldn’t stop reading until the story reached its finale.




BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME is a poignant, beautifully written and emotionally charged book about connection, grief and new beginnings that shot an arrow deeply into my heart and lodged there. It is one of the best books I have read this year. Don’t miss it!



Thank you to Netgalley and Atria / Emily Bestler Books for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.