Force Of Nature by Jane Harper

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Length: 400 pages

Please note that the cover image leads to a universal Amazon buy link for the book

What they say:

FIVE WENT OUT. FOUR CAME BACK…

Is Alice here? Did she make it? Is she safe? In the chaos, in the night, it was impossible to say which of the four had asked after Alice’s welfare. Later, when everything got worse, each would insist it had been them.

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 landscape 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 – and Alice knew secrets. About the company she worked for and the people she worked with.

Far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell Falk a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. And as he delves into the disappearance, it seems some dangers may run far deeper than anyone knew.

The Review: From one set of women navigating a wilderness to this … erm, another group of women navigating the wilderness … (coughs).

So, to start, what a blurb, tells you everything needed to pull you in, and means I can tell you all about the book without worrying about spoilers, including the fact that it’s Alice that disappears, and it’s very much a case of did she leave or did something happen to her. The one thing I picked out of the book that still stays with me is that to start with one person called the name of Alice when they all found out she was missing, find that person and you find an innocent. Or are they all innocent? Or are none of them? (These ponderings are in no particular order, they’re just what I thought to myself, so don’t try to read into them!)

This was a book I’d left aside, firstly as I hadn’t read ‘The Dry’ which contains policeman Aaron Falk, and secondly because I’ve read so many crime/ thrillers set in vast wilderness that didn’t have the dialogue or storytelling to live up to the beauty the author could capture with their pen (well, computer, but I’m trying to soften this all a bit!). Actually I may as well start with Aarom Falk, because I’m afraid he was the only thing that didn’t work for me. I didn’t feel much for him or his past and wanted to get back to what was happening with the women every time he appeared. This is a pity as obviously there’s times the investigator reels you in as much as the story, but here it wasn’t the case. That being said the rest of the book was so good it just washed over me and I moved on.

The story is excellent because the group of girls work together as opposed to being real friends, so you get that politeness to start off with, because they don’t know each other that well, then the griping and little jibes as things go wrong, followed by all out fighting when everything falls apart and they struggle to find their way to camp.

There are some genius moments in this book including some excellent falsities that sent you totally on the wrong trail! I adored this book and gobbled it up, drinking in the different characters, their predicament and the amazing beauty of the wilderness they stumbled through . There are many people who are saying this is their book of the year to date and I can totally see why! Very much recommended and I’ll definitely get back to The Dry, which is on my Kindle. Thanks so much to Netgalley and Little Brown for the book in return for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5/5

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The Other Side Of The Wall by Andrea Mara

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 Length: 402 pages

Please note that the cover image leads to a universal buy link for Amazon

What they say:

When Sylvia looks out her bedroom window at night and sees a child face down in the pond next door, she races into her neighbour’s garden. But the pond is empty, and no-one is answering the door.

Wondering if night feeds and sleep deprivation are getting to her, she hurriedly retreats. Besides, the fact that a local child has gone missing must be preying on her mind. Then, a week later, she hears the sound of a man crying through her bedroom wall.

The man living next door, Sam, has recently moved in. His wife and children are away for the summer and he joins them at weekends. Sylvia finds him friendly and helpful, yet she becomes increasingly uneasy about him.

Then Sylvia’s little daughter wakes one night, screaming that there’s a man in her room. This is followed by a series of bizarre disturbances in the house.

Sylvia’s husband insists it’s all in her mind, but she is certain it’s not – there’s something very wrong on the other side of the wall.

The Review: I was very lucky to have read an earlier form of this book, as I’m blessed to share online space with Andrea Mara (a freelance journalist whose blog is the brilliant officemum.ie) in the Imagine Write Inspire writing group (come on, I had to!) , led by the most lovely Carmel Harrington, and was blown away that this was a debut. Enough about that, however. This book starts as every thriller should, in the middle of the night, with our lead character woken with a jump. After some time she looks out to see that there’s a child’s body floating in the pond next door, only, on further investigation, there isn’t. And so begins Sylvia’s story, where a series of happenings are making her wonder if there’s something going on with the new people next door, or whether it’s all in her mind.

We have multiple point of views here, as well as following Sylvia on her daily passage as a working mum. The author of this book has, as this is her forte, presented us with various mothers, there’s Sylvia, but there’s also Kate, who is a stay at home mum. I loved the lighter relief of their everyday routines, and the issues that arose with partners, relatives and work but was quickly reeled into the plights of various characters. I felt you were immersed time and time again in the everyday before a new build up started-something beginning to niggle at you before suddenly you were presented with a shock.

I was gripped by the back stories of the various characters (there’s a lot of jumping in terms of timelines, but I enjoyed the way it was done) and in particular that of Kate and her brother, Miller, which was the story that took over my mind both times (I couldn’t review until I had read it in its current form) I put the book down. I’ve probably told you before that my brother has AS and so every time I read about a character who is a little different it takes hold. The treatment of Miller really got to me and I started to feel that whatever we might learn he had done was justified (I know, I know!).

The storytelling was perfection, the descriptions excellent, and I’m always a sucker for multiple point of views and the fact that there were multiple mysteries to be solved too meant this suited me down to the ground. This book isn’t gory but there is the possibility of a few grimaces along the way, the idea of what one character does to another human being being a tough one to stomach. I will say that there was in particular one loose end that I would have enjoyed being tied up a little neater but it niggled at me at the time and then was quickly replaced with memories of other things that had happened. All in all a very atmospheric, memorable thriller (not listed as this on Amazon, is under sagas, literary and fiction?!) that rose to an excellent climax and is beyond beyond (done purposely!!) recommended.

Rating: 5/5

A Dog Like Lloyd by Jacqueline Sheehan

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Length: 304 pages

Please note that the cover image leads to a universal Amazon buy link for the book

What they say: Happiness can be found in the most unexpected places…

Roxanne Pellegrino’s world collapses when her husband dies unexpectedly, and overwhelmed by her all-consuming grief, she runs away for a new start on Peaks Island.

But her new life of solitude is interrupted when she meets Lloyd – a stray black Labrador with an equally unhappy past. As both slowly begin to heal, a remarkable friendship blossoms, and Roxanne will soon discover she’s not so alone after all…

The Review: Considering half of the volume of books I used to read were stories about dogs and horses (other half were Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell and John Grisham- bet you’d never have guessed!) I don’t read enough stories with pets and dogs as the subject matter. I figured this out the other week when my son came home with a Michael Morpungo book and it got me thinking back to how I’d fall into stories of loveable, honest pets that would give up their life to get back to their master, would save humans at the drop of a hat no matter how they’d been treated, or who were strugging to find ‘the one’ in terms of an owner.

This is the story of Lloyd. Lloyd had found ‘the one,’ but has somehow been separated from them, and has landed in the hands of the new Animal Control warden of Peaks Island, Roxanne. Roxanne is struggling after the loss of her husband, the lovely vet, Bob, who she feels she could have saved. It is a beautiful, rich story, and I found myself immersed in it, but was sometimes disappointed that it wasn’t told just a little bit more simply, that it had to be on a bit of a grander, more spiritual level, but this is just personal preference (you know at this stage I like them kept simple!).

Although Roxanne is very familiar with the animal world from being with Bob, we get to study and experience the warmth and vividness of the descriptions of the animals as she meets them in text and in real life and we learn so much, both in relation to what they are and their care.

There is also the story of Melissa, a teenager, who is also finding life tough and we wonder where the lives of the three (Lloyd being one), will cross over. Melissa’s story is a tough one, she is hiding an eating disorder, and at times I found it a bit difficult to read.

I adored Lloyd, the big black Labrador, who even told us his story at one point in the book, a piece I had most definitely been looking forward to. The descriptiveness of the rugged, wild surroundings was fantastic, as were the nuggets of information on different, unusual animals that came to them, and I found Roxanne’s actual journey to be well done too, although very sad in places. All in all it was a lovely, thought provoking read that will get me looking out more doggy tales! Thanks so much to Ebury Publishing for this book in return for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5