Quickie book review #4 Don’t go into the mountains…

KYLE PERRY – The Bluffs

“Jasmine felt Madison squeeze her arm affectionately, and she turned with a smile, patted Madison’s leg, snuggled closer. I hate you so much bitch, she thought.”

Jasmine Murphy and her friends are about to embark on a year 10 camp into the mountains. The destination is the Great Western Tiers National Park in Northern Tasmania, place of legend and folklore of the infamous ‘Hungry Man disappearances’ of 5 girls in 1985.

The mystery of the folklore comes into the present day as they head off on the hiking trip… and out of it comes more questions, secrets, twisted relationships, hidden motives and betrayal than any ‘hungry man’ from the forest can poke a stick at.

Gripes: None, other than it finished! I noted with amusement some common small-town mystery character tropes… the out-of-town detective with a secret, the local drug-lord, corrupt cop, etc.

Pros: EVERYTHING ELSE! I’m calling this my book of the year so far. There is a particular eeriness about this novel that keeps the voyeuristic reader wanting to turn page after page despite the dark themes. After reading Christian White’s front cover review, the blurb, and then that Hungry Man poem, I was honestly shitting bricks, this former lover of ghost and horror movies now turned wimp after motherhood.

But this novel is so, so much more, thank God. Sure it’s crime, but it’s also YA, mystery, small-town secrets (oh the secrets!) and supernatural, with an amazing analysis of the small-town psyche and the various characters that present, entwined in a beautiful sadistic plot of BONE BROTH.

We witness the story unfold through many characters eyes, and this brings the plots and secrets forward to the point that it becomes physically impossible to put the book down. There are so many surprises and secrets all the way to the end, making it a simply brilliant work of fiction.

Note first impressions and initial words said – they provide clues. A great Shawshank feel in it too, for those who are fans of the redemption movie.

Also, sequel potential? I can’t wait!

Quickie book review #3 Melbourne murder re-imagined

KATHERINE KOVACIC – The Portrait of Molly Dean

“But now as thoughts of murder and missing files chase each other around my head, I realise something: I’m completely hooked.”

Alex Clayton is a Melbourne art dealer, with a strong hunch that a portrait of a woman who was murdered in the 1930s will fare her well come resale time. As she sets about finding out more about the subject of the portrait, Molly Dean, she is sucked into a tale that leads her deeper and deeper to expose the truth about what really happened all those years ago.

The first Alex Clayton mystery novel by Kovacic re-tells the real-life story of Melbourne woman Mary “Molly” Dean, who was brutally murdered in the 1930s in St Kilda. She uses fictional characters and motives to reimagine what might have happened.

This is possible, because the case remains unsolved to this very day. Nothing spikes interest like an unsolved murder, right? Just ask the creators of all those successful crime podcasts. There is clever interplay between the world of Molly Dean’s 1930s in the days and weeks leading up to her death, and the ‘current’ 1999 day of art dealer Alex Clayton.

Gripes: Not many. I chuckled at the convenient entrance of some people in the story to allow Alex to re-hash the details with someone else, i.e. her mother calling her.

Not a gripe, but amazed to find the words sanitiser and toilet paper within the first 6 pages of each other, and I kid you not, corona is on page 85… This was published in 2018. 😮

Pros: Cleverly executed, I mean you know the ending, well that of Molly Dean’s anyway as you begin to read… yet knowing this and still wanting to know what happened? Well, it’s crime genre, and you have to know who done it, even if it is a fictional whodunnit, right? Despite not being a major art buff and art is definitely a dominant theme, I was hooked early on.

I also loved the nod to various Melbourne locations. We’re taken to places such as Luna Park and Flinders Street Station, and let’s face it in this day of lockdown we can live vicariously, right? Albert Park Lake, Toorak, and inner-city Melbourne are all made mention of.

Molly never got her closure, she still hasn’t in real life, so it’s a kind tribute when people try to settle it for her. When we recreate the past, however fictional, we try to work things out for the sake of those involved, but more so for ourselves. It brings a peace and closure to the story, and provides a voice for those that can speak no more.

For mystery and crime buffs, you can find out more about Molly Dean if you google podcasts and books on the subject.

Quickie book review #2 Amelia in all of us

ERIN GOUGH – Amelia Westlake

“Bios are bullshit.”

For my next ‘quickie’ book review I bring to you a former winner of the coveted Hardie Grant Egmont award, the Ampersand Prize, and with it her second book, Amelia Westlake.

Will Everhart and Harriet Price couldn’t be any more different. Will goes against the mainstream, battling against the establishment as much as she does symmetrical haircuts, while Harriet is the picture perfect high-achieving student, as blonde as she is bouncy on the tennis courts.

A sudden shared goal brings them together to shed light on some unfair treatment being dished out at their prestigious all-girls school.

But they need a ruse, and they can’t use their real name… enter their personal work of fiction, Amelia Westlake, a so-called student at Rosemead Grammar.

It’s a high school whodunnit, only we know whodunnit and we’re waiting for the penny to drop for the powers that be. I love being part of the know. And they go from girls barely able to stand each other, to working well together, to really working well together!

Gripes: Very few, this book was superbly written and grabbed me at every chapter. Minor things like a Nancy Drew/Jessica Fletcher type reveal when the secret is revealed and we get a massive info dump, kind of made me cringe, if only a little.

Continuity piqued my interest when Harriet needs to look up Will’s house address from the school contact list, but the thing is, she’s already been there. Compare pages 192 and 236. I’m a stickler for details.

Pros: This book has so much character. Will and Harriet are so varied in their life, personalities and styles, that it’s impossible to believe you will love them both… and yet you do, so so much. This YA explores so many teenage issues and topics of class, race, same-sex relationships, discrimination, and world issues, while maintaining that really teen-centric vibe and keeping it light and on the pulse all the way through. Very current, and very diverse. I can see the lengths gone to tie up every possible loose end, and the work apparent in doing that makes me stand up and do a standing ovation.

Also, Gough’s ability to write herself out of difficult situations without relying on the deus ex machina, is impressive indeed. I was scratching my head thinking, how will she get from here, to there?

But she did.

One more quote, I can’t leave it at just one.

“Star signs are a loud of crap, but I’m willing to bet she’s a Leo.”

Must read for context. 🤣🤣

Quickie book review #1 Unexpected and expected things

MORGAN MATSON – The Unexpected Everything

For my first of my ‘quickie’ book reviews I bring you this YA novel from Morgan Matson.

Andie is a 17 year-old whose life is planned to perfection. At the surface level all seems ideal – she has a pre-med summer program lined up at a prestigious university, her future career prospects look good, she has the best friends a girl can have, and her Dad is a prominent congressman.

But when a scandal rocks their world, she has to readjust her entire way of seeing out her summer, the people around her, and her world. Insert the most amazing and happy-go-lucky season of her life… but as it ends will all the good around her end too? Will she revert back to her old self, or take her learnings into her new future?

Gripes: There is heavy overexplaining throughout, teenage cringy/typical at parts and some chapters, particularly the first half of the book, were sooo long, I wondered how the hell they weren’t divided up into two.

Pros: It deals with the whole gamut of teenage experience, from broken down family, friend conflicts, boy lust and love, issues of identity and fears of failure. It has it all, and it has real heart too.

This YA novel aligns itself with the type of books I used to read growing up, but despite the happy and hopefulness present, it is also surprisingly real, not everything tied up in a neat little bow. This initially impressed me, but pondering on it I felt there could have been more closure with some plot points, especially seeing as it isn’t a series. Maybe that’s why it bugs me, I want to see them again, to check in and see what they’ve done since.

BANG. When you like the characters, you know it’s a win.