Your Preview Verdict: Ash Mountain by Helen FitzGerald

Your Preview Verdict: Ash Mountain by Helen FitzGerald

Fran thought she’d never return to Ash Mountain but her dad has become ill, her relationship is over, and she hates her dead-end job in the city anyway. In a blistering summer, childhood memories prick at her fragile self-esteem as old friendships and rivalries are renewed and new ones forged. But the tumult of her home life is the least of her worries, because a bushfire is roaring towards Ash Mountain and the town’s long-held secrets will soon be exposed in the carnage.

Ash Mountain is a uniquely Australian domestic noir – warm, blackly funny and a powder keg of accumulated tension. Vividly portraying small-town life, and a woman and a land in crisis, this is a disaster thriller you will never forget.

Read some great reviews from our Preview readers here:

Few books have ever made me cry but ‘Ash Mountain’ certainly did. What started as a darkly funny story soon turns deadly serious. Single mum Fran returns to her hometown to care for her aging father. Being home brings up Fran’s unhappy childhood memories. The town’s hidden secrets begin to be exposed, and all the while a devastating bush fire is heading towards the drought-ridden community. This story highlights a few disturbing themes but I still highly recommend it. Thanks to Better Reading for my ARC. Sharah, QLD, 5 Stars

This was my first introduction to the author, Helen Fielding & I was quite blown away. The story centres around Fran Collins, a 44yr old mother of two, returning home to look after her ailing father. Upon her return, she’s forced to confront traumas from her past including abuse. Being situated in a small Australian town you gain insight into the intriguing characters that dwell there especially with the interwoven perspectives contributed throughout the book. The jigsaw timeline paints a vivid picture of life in Ash Mountain which also adds to the sense of foreboding leading up to the catastrophic event. This is a really well-written book that stirred up several different emotions as I was reading it & I was definitely hooked right up to the gripping end. I am really looking forward to reading more from Helen Fielding. Wendy, WA, 5 Stars

Ash Mountain is a gripping, firecracker of a read that is relentless in its hold on the reader, it is slow-burning at the beginning with its description of the various characters of a fictitious but oh so familiar small country town, but picks up its pace as you read on, with the hidden side of the wounds many endure in small country towns brought out into the open and exposed to all… Which spans over the years and numerous characters of the small community of Ash Mountain which includes scandals, joys, tragedy, heartache and throughout the book a growing sense of some type of impending doom as a fire looms, threatening the residents of the town and all that lies within … there is eventual heartbreak in the ending but also somewhat of a sense of hope for the town and its inhabitants which rises like a Phoenix from the ashes… an unforgettable, explosive and thought-provoking read… I will not forget this in a hurry and it is a firm favourite due to its unique quality of drawing a reader in and not letting go, even after the fire is over… Ellen, SA, 5 Stars

The start of this novel, packs a punch, the description of the wall of fire bearing down on Fran as she runs to find her daughter, is so visual I could completely feel and imagine it. This was a very emotional read, at the beginning, I found the first chapters a little hard to follow, but soon I was absorbed completely in the story. It jumps back and forth between past and present, back to when Fran was a teenager and her experiences that played a major role in her future. This small town has a dark underbelly, which we get a real feel for as the story unrolls. The family relationships were complicated and Fran’s return to Ash Mountain dregs up many feelings. After reading this I wrote that this book was unputdownable and it certainly was, the ending, well, I won’t spoil it, but you are in for one hell of a ride. Claire, WA, 5 Stars

I feel like I read Ash Mountain in a single breath, by the time I finished I was emotionally gasping for air. This darkly humorous, intense, jarringly realistic story will leave you stunned. Fran has returned to Ash Mountain to care for her house-bound father. Amidst navigating memories of the past and old frenemies, Fran is also co-parenting her teenage daughter, adjusting to divorce and trying to provide a quality of life worth living for her dad. And then the scorching summer heat becomes deadly as bushfire races towards the tiny, underprepared bush town. For a book of less than 300 pages, Ash Mountain is jam-packed with tension, secrets, drama and devastation. I found the timeline jumps added a depth of understanding and anticipation to the story that unravelled with exquisite timing. The diversity of characters with their own flaws and dreams was beautiful. Ash Mountain is a story that will stay with you for a long time to come. Helen Fitzgerald’s way of describing scenes in such heart-wrenching detail will sear certain images in your mind and heart forever. Michelle, NSW, 5 Stars

Ash Mountain is a sharply insightful, thrilling read critiquing contemporary small-town life and attitudes against a backdrop of natural disaster. Helen FitzGerald masterfully creates rural Australian life, with all its pitfalls and strengths of a tight-knit, insular community. Her black humour is the perfect foil for the weighty topics of sexual assault and the building crescendo of devastation wrought by bushfire. This is a book for our times in many ways, touching on critically important issues in a smart, snappy and relatively short read that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Lisa, SA, 5 Stars

This novel is haunting, thrilling, dark, funny and devastating . The main character of this novel is Fran, a daughter and a mother of two, a son Dante, aged 29 years and we find out later that he was conceived when Fran was still at school and was raped. Her daughter Veronica ( Vonny ), is now a 15-year-old teenager. Her father Vincent, is indigenous. He and Fran co-parented the same way they had cohabited, as kind and reliable friends. Fran has left the city and her dead-end job to return to Ash Mountain, having vowed in the past to never go back. But her father is ill, bedridden, and needs care. He has a nurse who attends to him and Dante lives next door. But Fran has been contacted that he is deteriorating. Thus begins this awesome book, a disaster thriller, recounting lives, loves and history during this blistering summer. Unbeknown to all, a bushfire is roaring towards Ash Mountain, about to expose the town‘s long-held secrets in the disaster and carnage left behind. Edith, SA, 5 Stars

I was surprised that Helen FitzGerald now lives in Glasgow as she evokes the terror of the recent Australian bushfires so powerfully. ‘Ash Mountain’ isn’t just about a bushfire though – it’s a multilayered story about family, small-town life, relationships and rivalries. There’s humour and horror, love and dreadful abuse all told with a distinctly Australian accent. There are plenty of twists, changing focuses and a searing climax. A most engaging read. Penny, VIC, 5 Stars

I thoroughly enjoyed Ash Mountain (thanks for the preview copy Better Reading) – there’s an earthy darkness to this suffocating story. Fitzgerald pieces together a simple plot with complicated artistry. We move through time, and from one character to another: and his imagined town could be some many small towns – the complex cast representing so many wrongs in Australia. 11/10 would recommend Cathy, VIC, 5 Stars

Thank you Better Reading for the opportunity to read Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald. I really enjoyed this book! I just wanted to hurry to the end, to see what’s going to happen, but not let it end!!! Fran was the main character who has moved back to her home town. I found her funny, witty and relatable. A monstrous fire comes through the town with devastating results. There’s mystery with each character and a town full of secrets. Highly recommend. Judy, NSW, 5 Stars

Honestly, I’m surprised at how good this book is! I loved the characters and even the concept of the book was awesome! Zhyesha, WA, 5 Stars

I couldn’t put this book down. The arrival of the fire interspersed with flashbacks to the past made this a gripping read until the very end. The description of the typical country town, its characters and how they affected Francesca, the main character, were all totally believable. It is saved from being an exercise in emotional psychology by the quirky nature of the characters and the brisk pace that it’s written in. The fire itself is as dramatic and realistic as only Australian bushfires can be. Great read! Lina, VIC, 5 Stars

Ash Mountain – The joys and tears of family, friends and exes are all told in this outstanding book. Dealing with feelings of the past and present, childhood friends, enemies, boarders and bushfires!! What a roller-coaster of a read!!! Karen, WA, 5 Stars

What a novel! It spans the stories of three generations but at the same time is so cleverly relative to modern-day issues. It is an emotional journey as the characters weave their way into your heart, covering many confronting topics including ones of devastation and heartbreak. This book evokes much emotive reflection, and this is due to the true genius of the writing and where the story takes you individually. You are lead through a mirid of human experiences, which connects to a range of life and social issues as the characters’ stories are widened. The suspense builds dramatically, and the complexities of characters create an intriguing mix, as it intertwines back and forth through time. It is high suspense as we reach the denouement in the final chapters. This book is extremely cleverly planned, and details are crafted with precise expertise. Congratulations are in order for Helen Fitzgerald who cannot be confined to any one genre when describing this book – it has a lot of everything and is one great read. This confirms to me she is surely one of Australia’s top writers. Cathy, QLD, 5 Stars

Helen Fitzgerald has masterfully woven multiple challenging themes into one compelling and ultimately tragic story. I love a fast-paced, short book. One that grips you for an entire afternoon because you have to know how it all comes together. Helen achieves this by not wasting a single word; within just 270 pages she layers historical crimes relevant to the modern setting, giving a haunting and devastating impression to the overall story. How this one region has been dealt blow after blow through the years gives all her characters depth, and a sense of bigger, global issues at play. Part domestic noir, part disaster thriller, Ash Mountain poignantly reflects 21st century Australia and the crises faced across the nation. With beautiful empathy, Helen deftly incorporates Australian dark humour to offset the reader’s discomforts with confronting themes. This book is full throttle. It took my breath away and has sat with me for several days. Just when I think I’ve processed everything it threw at me, I realise new levels of genius, and can only congratulate Helen on an exhilarating, relevant and accessible story that I believe will be told again and again. Danielle, NSW, 5 Stars

This is a story that begins at the end. A fire is raging through a rural Australian town, people and animals are running for their lives. Before we discover the aftermath of the fire Helen Fitzgerald takes us back in time. Years back in time, as we gradually learn about the novel’s characters and the forces and life events that shaped them. Told with razor-sharp wit that as times will have you chuckling out loud – or at the very least grinning – the book is also peppered with instances of heartache and tragedy. Fitzgerald pulls no punches as she exposes abuse, misogyny and an institution rotten to the core. Reading through the lens of the Me Too movement, we are however granted some hope. Comparisons are drawn between societal and peer expectations relating to the sexuality of a young woman 30 years ago, and the more liberated, enlightened and accepting milieu today. The book explores different types of relationships – parent and child, plutonic relationships, romance, lust, the resurrection of long-dormant emotions, friendships, and the love held for a couple of grumpy old ostriches thrown in for good measure. Kate, VIC, 5 Stars

Ash Mountain was easy to read with interesting characters and relevant if at times sad storylines. While the ending was brutal, I felt that it was indicative of small-town Australian life in the bush. Gai, NSW, 5 Stars

Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald Wow! This book was a roller coaster ride! I felt my heart racing as I read the final chapters. The author takes the reader on a journey, slowly piecing together the story, then gaining momentum before reaching a peak and taking the reader crashing down with the final events of the book. It is a book that explores some deep issues with dark humour and a mismatch of characters, who you quickly become attached to. It portrays events that seem quite possible in a small country town. Fran has returned to her small country town to care for her invalid father just as a bushfire is racing towards the town. Some town secrets are exposed as we take a closer look at her past through her relationships with her children, old friends and partners. I initially found the timelines bouncing around, was intriguing but a little hard to follow, then it all came together really well. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the book. Kim, NSW, 5 Stars

What a great story. I loved the relationships Fran had with Vonny and Dante but I was looking to see if she had a real relationship with the Captain. I was hoping that she was going to expose the Preist and Nun but the Priest burning was just as good. The only thing I didn’t like was that the chapters jumped around too much from the present then back 30years. I would be engrossed in a chapter then it would not flow on to the next. All in all a great book. Annette, VIC, 5 Stars

A cleverly written book, Ash Mountain starts off the day a raging bush fire is heading towards the small rural town of Ash Mountain, with the final chapter bringing the book to a harrowing end. Throughout the book, tension builds evoking the true horror of an Australian bushfire and the devastation it brings to this small close-knit community of 867. You feel the heat, destruction, fear, panic, smoke and human suffering through the written word. The central protagonist is Fran Collins, a single mother of two returning home to care for her ailing father. The story moves through three time periods giving the reader great insight into the machinations of the characters we are introduced to and their connections. There are many secrets, regrets, tensions and abuses that have shaped the residents into the adults they have become. Even a shocking crime is exposed and there are moments of joy and humour woven throughout the book. Highly recommend. Ilona, VIC, 5 Stars

I love books about strong women and this certainly is one. Fran, the main character is resilient and courageous facing multiple challenges. It has a timely theme of sexual abuse by both individuals and institutions and how people deal with this. A novel that lingers and makes you think about what we all face in life. Loved it! Jenny, VIC, 5 Stars

What A Gripping And Thrilling Story!!! Action! Action! Action! Had Me On The Edge Of My Seat All The Way Through! The Characters Just Immensed In Their Heart Breaking Honesty! Very Dark And Emotional! A Brilliant Read! A Must Read! I Thoroughly Enjoyed And Loved It! I Certainly Will Be Looking Forward To Helen Fitzgerald’s Next Thrilling Read! An Author I Certainly Will Be Following!!! Noeleen, WA, 5 Stars

This book surprised the hell out of me, after the first few pages I was a bit confused and thought I can’t get into this book but I persevered and started it again. Wow lucky I did it sucked me right in, it was sad, happy, and scary I could not put it down, read it in 2 days, made me laugh and made me cry. Fantastic read. Michelle, VIC, 5 Stars

Bushfire is something that strikes fear and dread into the heart of every Australian, and this book captures the horror and helplessness of the experience. This is by no means the only traumatic event in the book though, so be prepared for some terrible dark goings-on. The story is told in three timelines: the day of the fire, the days leading up to it and 30 years prior, when our main character Fran was a teen growing up in the small country town of Ash Mountain. We learn that she’s come back to take care of her invalid father and returning has brought back memories from her youth she’d rather forget. As Fran runs into the people she knew back then old hurts are reawakened, misremembered memories resurface and new shocking discoveries are made. Everything that feels slightly wrong seems to revolve around the town’s exclusive boarding school and the local Catholic Church. Exploring issues such as teenage sex, pregnancy and motherhood, paedophilia in the clergy, death and grief, relationships and caring for an ageing parent; this book packs a lot into its relatively short page count. I found the writing style quite blunt, and at times even a bit vulgar – but did actually warm to its no-nonsense, “call a spade a fucking shovel” tone by the end. Fitzgerald is a fabulous writer, and when I could feel the heat from the flames of the bushfire whilst sheltering in place with her characters, I knew that Ash Mountain was a good read indeed. Recommended if you enjoy contemporary Australian fiction with a dark, unsettling undertone. Sarah, QLD, 4 Stars

Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald was a thought-provoking, darkly atmospheric and tense story to read. Some of the scenes were written in such a horrific way that it will take time for me to forget. Well written and gut-wrenching especially the water tank scene. Set in a small rural town called Ash Mountain in Victoria a raging bushfire is heading its way and catastrophe strikes. Fran is forty-five, her father has had a stroke, her relationship is over and she has come back home to Ash Mountain to care for him. Fran hates her hometown, her firstborn Dante was born there when she was just fifteen and he still lives there now at almost thirty. Her daughter Vonny is sixteen and she visits only at weekends as she lives with her father the rest of the time. News that Dante’s biological father will be in town complicates life for Fran as well as the news of Vonny’s new love interest, Fran also has found a love interest of her own. There’s also a heinous crime tucked away in her mind that has haunted Fran and it’s resurfaced. I found the last part of the story very confronting and distressing, but I also found the story unputdownable! The narrative counts down the days ahead of the bushfire and also goes back to Fran’s past. A well-written story of family, friendships and loss with a perfect blend of absolutely interesting characters and touches of humour. The author sure knows how to set a scene. Gloria, SA, 4 Stars

The story of a woman (Fran) who returns to the home town she hated due to family reasons – reminds me of something similar that happened to me. Fran feels a bit like she is being pulled back to her childhood, and definitely feels the stress and the reasons why she disliked it so much and reminds her why she was so desperate to leave. The characters are full of surprises, the writing makes you feel like you are on the rollercoaster with Fran, and almost everyone that lives in Australia can relate to the threat of bushfires. A good read that kept me wondering what would happen next. Kerrie, NSW, 4 Stars

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this book, and as I read it, I wasn’t sure how to process it, there were themes in there that I wasn’t sure how to place with others within the book, but ultimately it wasn’t until I had read the last page, and wow what an ending that I was able to process what I had read. As time has gone on since I have read it, I find it keeps going over in my mind, and now 3 weeks after finishing it, I feel I can write a fair review. This is not like anything I have read before, it was a slow read for me, it seemed to just chug along, but then towards the end, it all comes together, and Helen brings everything to a climax. I’m glad I have read this because it will make me stop and process what I’m reading in the future and try and understand what the author is telling me not just what I am reading. This was a slow burn, but the end packed a big punch. Danielle, VIC, 4 Stars

I love Australian fiction, and having grown up in regional Victoria I found many aspects of Helen’s book very relatable. It was interesting to read in the author’s note about breaking away from the ‘UK thriller’ label – I hope she writes more Australian settings. Initially, I didn’t love the structure, but it grew on may, and worked well to reach the dramatic and deeply distressing finale. I couldn’t sleep for several hours after the final chapters! Anusha, VIC, 4 Stars

Thank you to #BRPreview for my copy of Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald. The novel begins with a sense of foreboding as a bushfire threatens the fictional rural Victorian town of Ash Mountain. Largely told from the point of view of Fran, returned to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, events leading up to the fire are revealed in chapters that oscillate between the present and thirty years prior, when Fran was a teen in the 80s. It becomes apparent people in the town are harbouring secrets and the author richly portrays the characteristics of the town and its inhabitants, both of which seem unaffected by the passing of time. Whether you love or hate them, Fitzgerald’s characters are authentic, the language and setting uniquely Australian. The author highlights the good and bad of country towns; a tight community but one where gossip spreads as fast as the fire which looms throughout the novel. Ash Mountain includes dark and topical themes along with romance, humour and skilful dialogue, culminating in a denouement that left me stunned. With its references to 80s culture, the novel has a nostalgic feel. I found it immersing and relatable. Melissa, VIC, 4 Stars

I have always enjoyed reading books based in Australia, I could envisage a small country town and many of its residences, many of whom we would know. The hardships and sorrows they face being on the land and the community that often come together when trauma prevails. The main character Fran heads back to the town she grew up in to help her ailing father. She comes across many residences she knew all those years before. The buildings and surroundings were still familiar, as were the town folk. The book is intriguing, yet easy to read. It is effortless to follow the past and present scenarios throughout the book. Each chapter bringing all the questions and answers together, resulting in a memorable ending. Cheryl, VIC, 4 Stars

What an intense read! I found the first half a bit slow but the second half was full-on and worth the wait. The story will stay with you forever. A real haunting read. Meg, SA, 4 Stars

This book was like watching a disaster movie without knowing that you are. Set in a country town in Victoria, we know throughout the story that there is a fire that takes place, but do not understand the gravity of that fire until the final chapters. Much more character development than a disaster movie- many arcs are cut short with the reader left wanting to know more: but I think this is representative of what happens when a natural disaster such as this one strikes a community. The main character Fran was very likeable and brought some humour to an otherwise sad and somewhat morbid story. Overall I enjoyed the read and would rate it 4/5. Thanks, Better Reading! Michelle, SA, 4 Stars

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to everyone. It is a thriller with dark humour that lifts it above other books. Fran returns to her hometown after many years away in the height of summer to care for her father. It was a place she thought she would never return to. The book moves between the current day and back to earlier days before Fran left town, revealing a bit more each time. The book has humour, surprises you and is a thriller that keeps you glued to the story until the very last page. I felt like I was on a roller coaster. Fran’s relationships are portrayed realistically and as we learn why she never wanted to return to the town we also see an acceptance of things as they are and a realisation that they can’t really be changed. This is a book that I won’t forget in a hurry – it left a lasting impression on me and the bonus of being set in Victoria, my home state, with a bushfire raging that serves to remind us that nature can’t be tamed. I love Helen Fitzgerald’s writing and can’t wait to read her other books. Janine, VIC, 4 Stars

This is the first of Helen Fitzgerald’s I have read and a couple of chapters in I really wasn’t sure. Then all of a sudden- wham! I’m invested, pages turning furiously as I race to find out who survives the out of control bushfire and the fallout of long-buried secrets are revealed. You will find typical Australian humour in this story and from protagonist Fran, who struggles to muster any enthusiasm when returning to her rural home town. Through a series of timelines, we learn from Fran’s reluctance to return and how events from her childhood continue to bubble to the surface in unexpected ways. Definitely, a thumbs up from me! Nat, VIC, 4 Stars

THIS BOOK NEEDS A MASSIVE TRIGGER WARNING PRINTED ON THE FRONT AND IN THE BLURB Do not read if Black Saturday feels too recent or you are affected by the child sexual abuse by the clergy for the last several decades. This book contains horrific descriptions of death by bushfire and the aftermath of finding the bodies, as well as excerpts from real triple zero calls that were made by people once known to myself, since deceased on Black Saturday. That being said if you are somehow able to detach yourself emotionally from this narrative, it is thrilling and yes, darkly funny. Poor Fran, she has been a victim of Ash Mountain her whole life and now she is back once more to reopen those old wounds – with her invalid father, dead mother’s belongings, teenage half Indigenous daughter and grown-up son and two elderly ostriches. It’s absurd. It’s really really sad. It will tear your heart out for all of the victims of child sexual abuse and bushfire. These things ruin lives. These people are survivors. Claire, VIC, 4 Stars

Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald was filled with thrilling, suspenseful and intriguing moments. It kept me on the edge of my seat, wondering what would happen next. The devastation, pain and loss were entwined amidst writing that was so deep and haunting with resilience felt throughout. Each character played an important role as the story evolved and we learnt more about them. Haunting and spine-chilling, it is a read that is truly one of a kind. Kylie, QLD, 4 Stars

Oh wow, what an emotional read! The first half of this book is a little slow going as it builds the details of many different pieces of the storyline but the second half had all the feels. Deep concepts are depicted in this book, including small-town gossip and secrets, a sick father, rape, pedophilia and more, all while a raging out of control bushfire roars toward the small town of Ash Mountain. I did feel that because there was so much going on, it took away a little from gaining a deep connection to some characters and part of the storyline. But, even so, the last half of this book had me on the edge of my seat, fighting away tears as I rode an emotional rollercoaster. It is DEVASTATING!! The detailed cinematic way the bushfire is described broke my heart and I did not expect this book to end so sadly. Overall, it was a horrific and utterly heartbreaking ending but the story also made me laugh and I adored the characters, their families and their quirky friendships. It was a unique, realistic and solid read. Chryssie, QLD, 4 Stars

Fran returns to her home town of Ash Mountain to care for her sick father. In this small town, she discovers secrets in the church and is faced with the dilemma of what to do. This book covers the controversial topic of pedophilia while also keeping it a bit lighter with other topics. I enjoyed this book and liked that it built up to the finale. Well written and quite a quick and easy read. Thanks to Better Reading for this copy to read and review. Renee, QLD, 4 Stars

“Ash Mountain” is an emotional and thrilling rollercoaster of a story. It explores some of the prejudices experienced in small-town Victoria, which having grown up in a town not much larger than Ash Mountain I could associate with and understand. This helped me to form a strong attachment to the main character Fran. I enjoyed how the book was written from a hurt, dark, sarcastic, often confrontational point of view that pulls you in from the beginning. However, I was disappointed with the way a lot of themes were touched on but not explored fully which for me makes some aspects of the story feel lacking in satisfactory conclusions. The way in which the chapters jump back and forwards days before the firestorm and 30 years to explain Fran’s personal history in the small town keeps the storyline moving and captivating. Fitzgerald has written in such a visceral way that I can actually see Ash Mountain forming in my mind and the harrowing description of the firestorm hitting the town is very powerful. ‘Ash Mountain’ is definitely a book I can see myself reading again. Jamye, VIC, 4 Stars

Ash Mountain is fast-paced, thrilling and strangely funny. Such a wide range of emotions from laughter to shock to fear and sadness, and written so well in easy language that evokes the small-town location. The strong opening chapter is on the day of the bushfire and from then on the story jumps in time from 30yrs ago telling both the main character Fran’s backstory and the town’s, to the lead up to the bushfire beginning 10 days earlier when Fran arrives back in her hometown to look after her elderly father. The family banter is funny and real, but there’s also a lot of dark humour in the bookmaking it a roller coaster of a read. Serious subjects like child abuse by the Catholic Church, the behaviours of boarding school students from sexism to racism and bullying in general, and suicide not to mention the incredible bushfire are also what made this such a deep and emotional experience. Janelle, NSW, 4 Stars

The storyline was perfect for Australian readers as we all understand the perils of bush fires. I had some difficulty in the constant jumping of timelines as I feel it detracted from the central story but if you keep the main characters in the forefront of your mind, then the story really pops. I felt it was “typical Aussie” in language, which I enjoyed and it will be interesting to see its popularity in the international market. Well done Helen FitzGerald. Shirley, VIC, 4 Stars

Ash Mountain is a book that makes you think. It tells the story of small-town mindsets. The stories about the Catholic priests doing unspeakable things to children had me cringing. But the fire that came through the town was like a huge cleansing. It was a different kind of read for me but I’m glad I did. Jodie, NSW, 4 Stars

Another brilliant book by Helen Fitzgerald. It immediately invoked all of my own memories and emotions returning to the small town where I grew up to care for my elderly mother with my teenage son in tow who was less than impressed to be there. In fact, it would resonate with everyone navigating caring for both parents and adult children while establishing and maintaining friendships and relationships. I was a little disorientated at times trying to understand all the relationships due to the book jumping between timelines. It will also deeply resonate with all those people who have experienced devastating bush fires and the gruesome reality of human loss. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Kerry, WA, 4 Stars

Ash Mountain is an interesting book to read. It follows a family over three generations, living in a tiny bush community. It identifies typical living in the c o entry, with “secrets that everyone knows, but are not always spoken. And in the midst of returning to look after her ailing father, the community is hit by a huge bushfire! Brought back reminders of the major fires we had in 2019. A good read. Anne, NSW, 4 Stars

Great page-turner filled with suspense! Can’t wait to read more like this from Helen FitzGerald! Brodie, VIC, 4 Stars

I did enjoy Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald as a quick read, quite an emotional thriller with a tragic theme, yet also interlaced with humour. Characters covered such important issues as sexual abuse, sexuality, family loyalty/duty and even death. The raging bushfires, still at the forefront of many minds in Australia were so well described it planted me right amongst the terror, despair and destruction. This book is a worthy read, and another fabulous novel by Fitzgerald, author of The Cry. Thanks to Better Reading for giving me the opportunity to preview. Dani, NSW, 4 Stars

“Ash Mountain” by Helen Fitzgerald Thank you to Better Reading and Affirm Press, Australia, for an ARC of this book by Aussie author, Helen Fitzgerald Having enjoyed the ABC series “The Cry”, based on a book by Helen Fitzgerald, I was really looking forward to reading this book – and I was not disappointed. I found the book unputdownable and I read it over a couple of days. The book is a disaster thriller set in a fictional town in rural Victoria, with the disaster being a bushfire. The story is told in 5 parts – (1) The Monument (2) The Oval (3) The Vestry (4) The Water tank (5) The Tree – as well as multiple timelines. As the story progresses we learn about Fran’s past, including the trauma she has tried hard to forget, and which explains why she hates the small town of Ash Mountain so much. The story opens on Australia Day in the present time – the day of the bushfire, but other chapters go back to 30 years ago when Fran was a teenager in the town, as well as forward to the day of the fire. Since the reader knows right from the start that there is a bushfire coming, this gives a sense of foreboding which adds to the dark atmosphere of the novel. The final chapter brings the book full circle as it describes the day of the fire. The description here is wonderful and I could hear the crackle of the flames and smell the smoke, as well as feel the fear and the heat as I continued to read. The book dealt with some very serious issues such as suicide, sexual abuse by clergy, bullying, teen pregnancy, dysfunctional relationships, the keeping of secrets and firestorms and so was quite dark and horrifying at times – but also sprinkled with humour and lighter moments. I particularly loved the mention throughout the book of various songs from the ’80s which were popular in my youth and which brought back happy memories and made me feel quite nostalgic. I thoroughly recommend this book which I gave 4 stars and look forward to reading more books by this author. Ruth, WA, 4 Stars

An immensely powerful, terrifying, heartbreaking read. My heart was in my mouth as the fire rages towards the town and the fate of each character becomes clear. It’s horrifyingly effective writing – drily humorous, but tragically realistic. It took a while for me to get into the flow of it and figure out what was going on, but once I was settled in I was hooked. There is SO MUCH going on in this small town, with events that have been simmering away for more than 30 years coming to a head as a sudden, devastating fire destroys the town. This is not an easy read – indeed the writer admits she had made it intentionally upsetting – but it is an important one as we, as a nation, must face the traumatic events in our past and the potentially catastrophic circumstances of our future. Katrina, TAS, 4 Stars

Set in a small country town in Victoria where everyone knows everyone and generally all their business, this is a story of Fran, a bushfire and the many layers that make up small-town life. Fran left Ash Mountain to get away from memories and now she is back. with her daughter. Her relationship is over, she hates her job in the city and her daughter, who came with her, is distant and moody. While she resents having to move back she knows her father won’t leave his home, can’t look after himself and needs constant care. All the old memories come flooding back and friendships, good and bad, are renewed. The town hasn’t changed much and before long, the town’s secrets begin to unravel as a raging bushfire bears down on the town leaving devastation in its path. The book tells the story through alternating chapters from the past to the present counting down days to the bushfire. For a book that touches on some big issues, it is easy to read. You become absorbed in the story of the bushfire and the lives of the characters. Kris, WA, 4 Stars

ASH MOUNTAIN by Helen Fitzgerald does a great job in weaving together several seemingly disparate stories: A woman forced to confront her past after returning to her hometown to care for her father. A small town of people who will band together to help one another but complicit in keeping town secrets. A town facing the threat of bushfire; a far too often occurrence in Australia today. This book took me on an emotional rollercoaster ride. I laughed. I got angry. I felt hope. I felt fear and devastation. The story is often written so subtlety; every sentence counts. Fitzgerald does an excellent job in portraying the thoughts of not only her characters but the reactions of the land to the current climate and the fire that is coming it’s way. The characters are often quirky, offbeat and outlandish, but they are rooted in reality. I have read several books where a bushfire forms part of the story but none have stayed with me like I know this book will. The experiences of escape and survival are harrowing. ASH MOUNTAIN is the first of the author’s books I have read. I will certainly be reading more of her work. M, NSW, 4 Stars

I initially found this book hard to get into I think due to trying to keep up with the triple timelines. My persistence paid off ten-fold because this was one raw, brutal and dark witted book, full of tension that had a powerful effect and was totally unputdownable. Portraying a disastrous situation in an authentic way that made you feel like you were in this situation as a character of the book yourself. Fran is in her forties, a single mother of two who has returned to Ash Mountain to look after her disabled father with her daughter Vonny. Her son Dante is her first-born child who she had when she was living at home aged fifteen who still lives in Ash Mountain. As a bushfire rages towards Ash Mountain, we alternate with three timelines of Fran’s life: thirty years before the fire, the ten days counting down to the fire and the day of the fire. Being back in Ash Mountain brings back past experiences and we are taken on a journey of her emotions and heartache from the past to the present. A highly emotional book with a character-driven plot, unique in its storytelling and completely absorbing. Mandie, SA, 4 Stars

A bushfire event is almost a given in a book titled Ash Mountain, but before reaching the anticipated climax the storyline is a slow and ominous burn, told primarily through the eyes of the principal character, Fran. It weaves its way through several timelines as Fran reflects on her life growing up in a small country town, and relationships with her father, school friends, teachers, villagers and now, as a forty-something adult returning to care for her dad, her children. Sexual assault, bullying and climate change are all featured issues that allude to the growing divisions and disconnects between Australia’s urban and rural communities, and our society as a whole. As dark brooding tensions build, along with increasingly oppressive heat, so do long-held secrets of the community’s past that threaten to burst open to reveal the uncomfortable truths that must finally be faced. Although the title foreshadows the shocking finale, and flicking between timelines is sometimes confusing, it’s a fast-paced and well-written novel that deftly and confidently handles complex social issues. Fran retains her sense of humour as she navigates her way through the chaos and challenges of her life seeking answers, and finally finding happiness. Anne, TAS, 4 Stars

Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald was an easy to read afternoon delight. It is a fresh and sweet story and will keep you hanging until the very end! Rhonda, QLD, 4 Stars

I initially found it difficult to get into Ash Mountain due to the plethora of characters that are introduced through the POV of main protagonist Fran and the multiple jumping storylines between past and present. It was slightly confusing at first, but it was a great story once I got a handle on it all. There are two main narratives told throughout this book; the portrayal of the authentic country town vibe, where everyone knows everyone, yet terrible scandals are kept closely guarded and a bushfire that suddenly sweeps through Ash Mountain, which was terrifyingly realistic and highly distressing. The fire is a stark reminder that it will mercilessly obliterate everything in its path; both lives and properties, with no care for the trouble or triumphs occurring within the towns it descends upon. Unfortunately, I found it hard to be emotionally invested in the main protagonist Fran and the other characters, yet upon reflection, post read, I can appreciate the great read that Ash Mountain is as a whole. Christine, VIC, 3 Stars

Three timelines form an overview of Fran’s life when she returns to her old home town, which hasn’t changed despite several decades have passed. Reconnecting with the past, Fran can’t avoid revisiting old friendships and rivalries, secrets, and bad memories of loss and hurt. The author’s skilful descriptions of life in a small rural town are colourful and absorbing while the raging bushfire is so authentic and very relevant to the current climate of natural disasters in Australia. Helen Fitzgerald’s depiction of Fran, a very spirited character, is strong and has impact, but the timeline can be sometimes disconnecting and on the whole, Ash Mountain can be quite a difficult and depressing read. Mary, SA, 3 Stars

When you read the blurb on the back of a book, you think you have an idea of what you’re in for. Not so with Ash Mountain. This is a ride! A fast, wild, unexpected ride. Ash Mountain is like that new person you meet with the foul mouth, the crass behaviour and the dark humour. One minute they make you cringe (did they really just say that?), the next minute they make you laugh, and by the end of the encounter, there’s something so unbelievably refreshing about having met such a unique individual that you know you’ll remember them for a long time to come. Helen Fitzgerald has written a book with attitude and spunk, and one that masterfully takes you to serious places without lingering too long, but still long enough to confront you, make you uncomfortable and leave you thinking. Yes, this is – as the blurb suggests – a book about a fire that engulfs a small town without warning and with devastating consequences, but it’s also a story about growing up in a remote community, broken families, sexuality, race, crimes of the clergy, serious illness and death. And we get all of this in just 270 pages. I read this book in one night. And while I didn’t personally love it (I didn’t hate it either), I suspect many lovers of contemporary literary fiction will find this a rare treat. Eynas, SA, 3 Stars

I read Ash Mountain written by Helen Fitzgerald. Whilst I enjoyed the story I struggled with the out of sequence jumping from one time to another pre the fire. It was an easy read however I would have enjoyed a bit more depth to the characters. Pip, VIC, 3 Stars

A quick read that triggered lots of emotions. I laughed at the various Grandfather on stick outings and stoner Face and Finger Dancing. The description of when the fire hit (especially Rosies’) and its impact on the characters bought home memories from Black Saturday. The chaos, running on adrenalin, the worry about family. I enjoyed the book’s insights into small-town life and Frans’ narration of the characters and story. A fitting ending, to wrap up a pacy book. Stephen, VIC, 3 Stars

Ash Mountain is a small Victorian country town. A terrible bushfire hits the town and causes destruction. The themes of rape and child sexual abuse, plus the destruction of the fire made it a hard story to read. It is described as “darkly funny” but I didn’t find it amusing. Julie, NSW, 3 Stars

This is an unusual depiction of small-town life, with the simultaneous theme of a woman in crisis and the land around her in crisis too! Fran is fed up with everything and goes back to her childhood town to look after her dad. She’s mixed up and her past just can’t help but pop up. Again and again. At the climax of the story, Helen Fitzgerald’s description of the bush fire that sweeps through the town is quite simply a brilliant piece of writing, with the woman in crisis and the land in crisis meeting head-on. It’s a compelling read and one that will have you trying to work out what will happen next. But keep guessing as there are a lot of twists and turns in this book. Chris, VIC, 3 Stars

Struggled with this one a bit. Found it a bit impenetrable in the first half, always having to flick back a few pages to work out who a character was, to put together a timeline and work out what was going on when. It also felt like a lot of in-jokes I wasn’t a part of. Had to Google a few terms and names to see if I was missing something. A few of them were Australian things I haven’t encountered yet but some of them remained largely impenetrable. Overall I felt the story got fairly gripping after about the mid-point and it flew by after that but I felt like I’d had to do a lot of legwork. Characters were introduced poorly, leaving me to backfill details in retrospect and I always felt like I was intruding on a private conversation. I didn’t grow up in a small town but there was a weirdness to the way people picked up so easily after 30 years of not seeing each other that surely can’t be accurate. It was an interesting, very quick read for me but not 1000% sure it was worth it. Richard, VIC, 3 Stars

3.5 Stars This was a book of two halves for me. I found the first half hard to read and very confronting at times The second half … tension mounts and I found myself caught up in the situation. Experiencing the danger and heartbreaking events unfolding around me and dragging me along to the heart-pounding climax. A very different book indeed. Sue, NSW, 3 Stars

Ash Mountain is a novel that reverts back and forth through time, told via different character’s perspectives. The town of Ash Mountain has a lot of hurt to deal with. One of its former residents, Fran, has returned to care for her elderly unwell father, and she is faced with memories that aren’t all good, all around the time that a bush fire heads towards the town. This was a rather depressing read, with themes of abuse, but it also had moments that highlighted the bonds of a small town. Michelle, VIC, 2 Stars

Thank you to Better Reading for allowing me to review this book. The novel touches on all sorts of themes ranging from relationships to child abuse and bushfires. Initially, I couldn’t really warm to the book, I found it to be very scattered, constantly going back and forth but towards the end of the book, it became a bit more appealing. Most of the characters were rather dysfunctional and didn’t really appeal to me however I did feel for Fran and all that she went and was going through. The devastation of the bushfire was quite engrossing. A unique story. Danielle, VIC, 2 Stars

Set in a small country town in Australia, Ash Mountain tells the story of what happened thirty years ago and the impending bush fire happening now. Old memories surface and dark secrets are revealed as the bush fire wreaks havoc on the town. The author says she set out to upset people as she believed the story should be upsetting. She succeeded. Christina, NSW, 2 Stars

Thank you to Better Reading for the copy of Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald. I really struggled with this book – I felt the story was disjointed & there were so many storylines’s going on that the characters were not very well developed & it was hard to follow who was who. The most interesting part of this book was the description of the bushfire destroying the town which was vivid & sad. Lisa, QLD, 2 Stars

I did not find this book easy to read or follow, jumping forwards and backwards in time. I don’t think the author successful in that approach, it was not smooth and did not make the book easy to read. The characters all seemed very one dimensional and I could not identify a real theme to the book. The narrative didn’t seem to lead much of anywhere or have a point, and the ending was extremely rushed. I also didn’t find the writing particularly evocative. It’s a shame as the story had good bones, but it just didn’t seem to come together. Wendi, VIC, 2 Stars

Ash Mountain is set in a small Australian country town. It deals with uncomfortable and confronting themes of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic Church, racism and homophobia, as well as a devastating bushfire. Single mum Fran has returned to her home town to nurse her invalid father. Her adult son still resides there and she brings her teenage daughter. The story begins with the fateful bushfire day and then jumps back and forth in time to when Fran was a teenager and the events that define her life. I found the story slightly confusing to start with as people, places and events are unexplained. It’s as though the reader is dropped in halfway through, rather than the beginning. The style of writing takes a bit of getting used to. I’m not sure the time jumping was always successful as there are plotlines left hanging which are later revealed but not as impactful as they could have been. The sexual abuse plot came to a resolution of sorts but, for me, a disappointing one. Overall, a dark and at times disturbing read, but this was what the writer intended, as she notes in her acknowledgements. Karlie, SA, 2 Stars

I really wanted to like this but found the plot so confusing…way too much jumping around between times and characters. I’m so so sorry, but I couldn’t finish it. Maybe just not my cup of tea…but thank you so much for the book. Leanne, NSW, 1 Star

I personally found the storyline hard, with a lot of character and time jumping, I struggled to stay with the story, and eventually gave up at chapter 19, however that’s not to say it’s a good or bad book, it just wasn’t for me, I look forward to receiving and reading and reviewing more books, thank you. Charlene, NSW, 1 Star

This had a lot of promise but it didn’t deliver. It seems like the author is incorporating all the most current issues of bushfires, indigenous people, teen pregnancy, homosexuality and paedophilia all in one family. There were the makings of a great story but with so many issues none of them was actually addressed and I was left wanting The characters were not at all likeable which I could deal with if she actually delved into them in more depth All in all very disappointing. Leanne, SA, 1 Star

I wish I could have finished Ash Mountain but I couldn’t, the characters were not likeable or relatable, the storyline was not easy to follow and nothing grabbed me to pull me to want to keep reading. 40 pages in and I had, had enough. Shayla, NSW, 1 Star


Gripping Australian Domestic Noir: Read an Extract of Ash Mountain by Helen FitzGerald

Review | Extract

22 February 2021

Gripping Australian Domestic Noir: Read an Extract of Ash Mountain by Helen FitzGerald

    A Small-Town Disaster Thriller: Read our Review of Ash Mountain by Helen FitzGerald

    Review | Our Review

    22 February 2021

    A Small-Town Disaster Thriller: Read our Review of Ash Mountain by Helen FitzGerald

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        Publisher details

        Ash Mountain
        Helen FitzGerald
        Affirm Press
        Crime Fiction
        23 February, 2021


        Fran thought she’d never return to Ash Mountain but her dad has become ill, her relationship is over, and she hates her dead-end job in the city anyway. In a blistering summer, childhood memories prick at her fragile self-esteem as old friendships and rivalries are renewed and new ones forged. But the tumult of her home life is the least of her worries because a bushfire is roaring towards Ash Mountain and the town’s long-held secrets will soon be exposed in the carnage. Ash Mountain is a uniquely Australian domestic noir – warm, blackly funny and a powder keg of accumulated tension. Vividly portraying small-town life, and a woman and a land in crisis, this is a disaster thriller you will never forget.

        Helen FitzGerald
        About the author

        Helen FitzGerald

        Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of ten adult and young adult thrillers, including The Donor (2011) and The Cry (2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and is now a major drama for BBC1. Helen worked as a criminal justice social worker for over fifteen years. She grew up in Kilmore, Victoria, Australia. She now lives in Glasgow with her husband.

        Books by Helen FitzGerald


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