Indie Book Reviews : The Wave at Hanging Rock

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In one of my Facebook groups, another author said he was doing a year of indie books. He was going to read only indie books for a whole year – at least that was my understanding of what he was doing. I liked the idea so much, I decided to run with it in my own way. I’m going to start up a series on my blog where I review independently published books that I think are just as good as any traditionally published book. You might wonder what my qualifications are to make such a distinction. In many ways, they are the same as yours. I don’t really think it takes someone with a degree or a career in critiquing books to determine if an independently published book is as good as a traditionally published one. Unless you live your life only by doing things others tell you to, you have your own ideas about quality entertainment. But it might help you to know my background if you’re trying to decide if my opinions have some value to you. 🙂

Aside from being an avid reader, for seven years I was a librarian. That meant I helped choose books that I thought card holders would enjoy, and kept the collection fresh with new titles, and removed the ones that didn’t do so well. In the course of that job, I read thousands of reviews and was trained on how to advise people on what types of books they might want to read next. In undergrad, I majored in Political Science and English. During my college years, I helped run my family’s small independent bookstore. Now, of course, I write my own books. 🙂 So, you can see, books are in my blood.

I mulled over how I would find indie books I wanted to review. I thought about accepting submissions, but the problem with that is I wouldn’t be able to promise the quality of every submission met with the standards I’ve set for the books in this series. Also, I just don’t have the time to read the numbers of books that would begin pouring in. With that in mind, I can guarantee you these will never be quid pro quo type reviews. I’m not trading for reviews of my own books. In fact, I won’t even be telling the authors I’m reviewing their books. This is just me passing along titles I think are excellent. I’ll try to do it as regularly as I can, so long as it doesn’t impact my own writing. I’ll come up with a more formal statement I’ll include at the beginning of each review, but for now, let’s get to it.

The Wave At Hanging Rock

The Wave at Hanging Rock is Gregg Dunnett’s first book, and it did rather well for a debut novel from an indie author on launch. I was curious after I read the blurb and decided to give the book a read. It gave me strong Gone Girl vibes from the tone and I enjoyed that book. I was not disappointed.

The book starts out with a bang, quite literally. One of the two main characters, Jesse, explains that his father died in a terrible, but stupid, accident. Building a homemade volcano in his yard, things went as wrong as they could possibly go, and it resulted in Jesse’s father’s death.

From there the book takes turns in perspective. Jesse’s chapters focus on his new life in Wales after his mother moved them from Australia to start fresh. Natalie’s chapters are told in third person and are a little different. Jesse’s chapters are very conversational and have a strong confessional feel to them, as if he’s unburdening all his personal woes onto the reader. He’s weaving the story of his life from his point of view. While Natalie’s chapters aren’t told in first person, it’s still primarily told from her perspective. You don’t get a peek into the thoughts of others around her, only into her own thoughts.

When you’re first introduced to Natalie, things seem very mild. Her husband is late and her mother-in-law is pestering her about when her old washer is going to be moved. It’s all very mundane. It takes a little while, but then the carefully placed dread starts to creep in.

As the story unfolds, that dread builds and builds until about two-thirds of the way through the book, it releases when you finally discover how the two character’s stories intertwine. Sometimes when you read a book like this, when that big reveal happens, the author, or in movies, filmmaker, needs another reason to keep you going. Sometimes, like in the case of the movie The Village, it doesn’t work. The attempt to keep the momentum of the first part of the story going is lost, and the dread dies and the story becomes overlong. But when it does work, like in a book like Gone Girl, and in The Wave at Hanging Rock, it’s a wonderful surprise. I was worried when the reveal happened, but Gregg Dunnett manages to snag you back into his world and care about the end of the book.

There are other things to admire about Dunnett’s prose than just his ability to write a thrilling story. I read a little about him and noticed he wrote for a surfing magazine for many years before he became an author. I’ll assume that means he’s a surfer, and that really shows. The lush descriptions of waves and oceans show he has a genuine love for the sport. It might be a little much for some – I’ll admit I started skimming a little when Jesse describes the most perfect set of waves ever – but if you’ve ever surfed even a little, I think there’s so much to appreciate in these moments of pure joy that are described in the book.

The story is very tightly controlled, so much so that I figured out the ending minutes before it unfolded. This isn’t a bad thing or a complaint. I think the best authors lace their work with clues that help the reader become a bit of an amateur sleuth as they work their way through a story.

For the most part I have nothing but praise for the book. There are a some editing errors, though, I’d argue that even in traditionally published work these days, that’s becoming more common. They weren’t terrible or numerous and I was able to breeze through the book without thinking about them too much. Only one thing, and this is truly a minor thing, stuck me up and had me thinking about it afterward. I won’t go into too many of the details for fear of spoiling any plot points in the book, other than to say I suspect police officers would need more than a couple packages of Tylenol doses to lead them down the route of suicide. This could have just been a problem with translation from the UK to American standard doses of Tylenol, but it sounded like they found the remains of six Tylenol and deduced suicide was on the table. Not to mention death by acetaminophen is absolutely horrific since it’s essentially death by liver failure. And then maybe I realize I just know too much about pills and that’s my problem, not the author’s. 😉

The book has an amazing number of reviews for a debut novel independently published. I think that’s no accident. It’s thrilling read and I stayed up way too late finishing it. One of the things you might notice is some people have complained about the ending. Apparently it’s gotten so much feedback, Dunnett felt the need to address it at the end of the book. As I mentioned, I knew what was about to unfold as it was unfolding, so the ending was very natural to me and made sense. My suspicion is these types of psychological thrillers often give people mixed feelings at the end. Gone Girl most certainly did, as the topic of the ending was hotly debated in numerous places. When I went to see Inception, when the end happened the man behind me clapped and made a delighted sound, while a good friend of mine told me how much he hated it.

Psychological thrillers fall into a category in fiction where a tidy ending is often not part of the plan. Generally speaking, I tend not to recommend these types of books to people who want everything wrapped up neatly by the end of a story. There’s nothing wrong with that preference any more than there’s anything wrong with preferring fantasy to science fiction, for instance. It’s just a preference for how you like your story to proceed. But if that is something that bothers you, you might want to pass on this.

Otherwise, I highly recommend The Wave at Hanging Rock. It’s a fantastic read that will keep you turning pages faster and faster until the very end. Until next time!

Bonus recommendation!

If you end up reading The Wave at Hanging Rock and become at all interested in surfing or in particular, waves, you might take a look at The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean. I’m a little obsessed with waves, surfing not as much, but waves, giant ones, I’m in awe of. This book goes into great detail about waves, and of course, surfers because they know so much about them. And here’s the world record 100 foot wave being surfed. Simply amazing.

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