Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts

Friday, November 16, 2018

Mini-Reviews: The Whodunnit Edition

Guess Who by Chris McGeorge (2018)

TV detective Morgan Shepard wakes up in a hotel room with five other people - and a corpse in the tub.  If he can't figure out which person in the room killed the man in the tub, they will all die.

When I first read the blurb for this book, I immediately thought of the Saw movies.  And it kind of started out like that, opening immediately with Sheppard and the others waking up and discovering the body.  I wondered who they all were, if they were randomly thrown together or if there was some connection, and if any of them were lying.  Interspersed through the narrative are flashbacks to Sheppard's childhood and it becomes pretty apparent who is setting him up.

While I enjoyed the first half of the book, my interest began to wane as the initial mystery is replaced by another.  I thought the writing was good, though, and the relatively short chapters kept the pace moving quickly.  I rolled my eyes a bit near the end, though, when (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) Sheppard and the villain come face to face and instead of taking out Sheppard immediately, the villain proceeds to monologue his entire motivation and plan.  Come on, villain, you know how that's going to work out for you!  3.5 stars


The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (2018)

Aiden Bishop has 8 days to find a killer.  The catch?  The day of the murder will keep repeating itself until he solves it, and each day he will wake up as a different guest in the crumbling mansion he's found himself in.  He will only be free once he solves the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle.

This was a highly imaginative and unique locked-room mystery.  Not only does the main character have to solve the murder, but he will see it from the viewpoint of several other people staying at the estate.  Each "host" felt distinct; some were cunning and intelligent, while others had more physical prowess.  Aiden has to learn to use the strengths of each one without letting them overwhelm him.

Turton did a brilliant job creating the atmosphere; I felt so immersed in the story and the setting, which was a good thing because this book really needs your attention.  It's so easy to miss little things.  And then there's a huge twist at the end that will totally change the way you look at the story and, for me anyway, leave you with more questions than answers!  4 stars

Friday, October 27, 2017

2017 Backlist Reader Challenge: October Roundup

I used this month to make one final push to finish the last three books on my TBR for the 2017 Backlist Reader Challenge, hosted by Lark at The Bookwyrm's Hoard!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)

Rebecca is the classic story of a newly-married woman who realizes that her husband's late wife is still a huge presence in their home.  I'm not sure why it took me so long to read this book; it has so many elements I like.  For some reason, I thought this was going to be scarier or even have a ghostly element, but it didn't.  However, I still loved it.

I identified a lot with the unnamed narrator.  She is so socially awkward, even going to great lengths sometimes to hide from visitors to her home.  And she has a very vivid imagination, creating entire scenarios and conversations in her head.  She is timid and shy, but by the end of the book, she has really come out of her shell.  I felt so bad for her during the course of the story, when everyone keeps comparing her to her husband's first wife, Rebecca - even to her face!  It was kind of rude!

Two other characters really stood out for me - the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (this woman was seriously mental) and Manderley itself, the stately home owned by the narrator's husband.  The descriptions of the house and surrounding grounds, although a bit long-winded at times, helped create a vivid picture in my mind, and I really felt Rebecca's presence, from the way certain rooms were decorated to how the servants ran the estate.

At times early on the story felt a bit slow, but as more secrets were revealed, the pace picked up quite a bit and I found I couldn't put it down!  4 stars

The Nature of the Beast (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #11) by Louise Penny (2015)

In the 11th installment of the series, the search for a missing child leads to an almost unbelievable discovery in the woods near Three Pines. When the body of young Laurent is found, at first it seems like an accident, but Gamache realizes that the child has been murdered, and it may have something to do with the enormous weapon they find in the woods.

Gamache and the residents stumble on the Supergun, a larger-than-life weapon designed with enough power to shoot projectiles into space.  It sounds a bit ridiculous, but it's actually based on a true story, according to the Author's Note.  It was interesting to see how Penny broadened the focus of the story and introduced many new characters.

There is a subplot involving a play to be performed by the residents of Three Pines.  The play, as it turns out, was written by a serial killer, and there is an interesting debate on whether they should continue on with the play: should plays or books be judged by their writers?  Or should readers separate the two and just focus on the merits of the work itself?

As always, Penny's writing is amazing.  She has such a talent for subtlety and elegance.  I love how she doesn't come right out and tell the readers everything; she lets us draw our own conclusions, based on the mood of the scenes and the words she's carefully chosen.  4 stars

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)

I really wanted to love this book; it's such a beloved story, it takes place during WWII, and it's about a little girl's love for books - all these things should have made this a fantastic read for me.  But guys, I could NOT get into this story, and I DNFed it at page 150. 

Unpopular opinion time.  The writing style did not work for me; it felt so choppy.  I didn't feel like the story was going anywhere, or that there was even much of a plot.  It just felt like a bunch of anecdotes strung together.  And the language used was often too poetic.








So that's it!  Challenge completed!  At the end of the year, I'll have a wrap-up of the challenge, the books I loved, the books I didn't, and what I learned.

Friday, September 29, 2017

2017 Backlist Reader Challenge: September Roundup

Here are some mini-reviews for my latest reads for the 2017 Backlist Reader Challenge hosted by The Bookwym's Hoard!

The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #10) by Louise Penny (2014)

In the 10th installment of the series, Armand Gamache has retired from the Homicide Division to Three Pines.  Resident Clara Morrow asks Gamache to help find her husband Peter, who failed to return home after a year-long trial separation.  Their search takes them deep into the psyches of artists and across Quebec.

I have to admit, this is the first time in the series that I wasn't completely enthralled.  Peter Morrow is one of my least favorite characters, so I really wasn't taken with the idea of an entire book centered around finding him.  Although the writing was incredible, as always, sometimes the story got a bit too cerebral for me and I found myself skimming.  Until the last 40 pages, when a murder mystery came out of nowhere and was quickly solved.  And the last chapter left me unexpectedly emotional.

Some other things that helped save the book for me were the descriptions of the Quebec wilderness and the secondary characters that came to the forefront in this installment, Ruth and Myrna.  Penny showed a different side of Ruth, and I enjoyed hearing more from Myrna.  3.5 stars

Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Outlander #8) by Diana Gabaldon (2014)

This book has been sitting on my shelf for probably two years.  For the most part, I've been enjoying the Outlander series, but the books are so long and such a commitment - I'm not going to lie, it took almost two months to read this book.

Like the previous books, there were a lot of storylines going on.  It was interesting to read about these characters in the context of the American Revolution.  Seeing real historical figures pop up and interact with Jamie and Claire was kind of fun, plus a part of this book takes place in New Jersey, so it was fun to read about places I recognized.

Brianna and Roger have their own issues in the 20th century, namely that they believe someone has kidnapped their son and taken him to the past.  This storyline had me on edge; I mean, how would they ever know where and when he was taken to?  I really could have done without so much of the character of William, Jamie's illegitimate son, who finally finds out the truth about his parentage.  William and his other family members just don't really interest me as much. 

Gabaldon's writing is, as always, flowing and easy to read.  I think she is quite proud of the fact that Claire is a doctor, but fewer gruesome scenes of medical emergencies would have been better.  If I didn't know that Gabaldon was working on the next Outlander story, I would have thought this would make a perfect series ender.  4 stars


The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison (2012)

Ben needs to get his life back on track after a devastating accident, so he trains for a job as a caregiver.  He finds a position with Trev, a young man with muscular dystrophy, and the two end up taking a road trip to visit Trev's father.

It's hard not to feel bad for Ben when you find out what happened to his family, and I was rooting for him in this new job, and friendship, with Trev.  It was interesting to see the juxtaposition between Ben and Trev's father, and I could understand why Ben wanted to give Trev's father the benefit of the doubt, even though he left his family after Trev was diagnosed. 

I haven't read a lot of road trip books, so this was a nice change for me.  The characters they meet along the way fill out the story nicely and add even more heart to the book.  I also enjoyed Ben's droll sense of humor as he slowly pulls himself together.  This book was made into a movie on Netflix, and since I watched that awhile ago, I read the whole book with Paul Rudd's voice in my head!  4 stars

Friday, July 28, 2017

2017 Backlist Reader Challenge: July Roundup

Here are some mini-reviews for my latest reads for the 2017 Backlist Reader Challenge hosted by The Bookwym's Hoard!

The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #8) by Louise Penny (2012)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache travels to a remote monastery in the Quebec wilderness when the monastery's prior/choirmaster is found murdered.  Although this was a cool mystery (the suspect list is limited to the other 23 monks living there, the focus on Gregorian chants, and the vow of silence taken by the monks), sometimes it was a little hard to follow the religious terminology, at least for me.  I really had to concentrate on abbot v. prior, etc., because the monastery was split between the two spiritual leaders.

This installment of the series was a really interesting character study of these men who joined this monastery - how they came to be there, their roles in this mini-society.  But as always, I was drawn to Gamache and his second-in-command, Beauvoir.  I feel like we saw a side to Gamache that we hadn't seen before, especially when his superior, the Superintendent, comes to the island supposedly to help with the investigation.  Extra layers were also added to Beavoir's character, as he is now (secretly or not-so-secretly) dating Gamache's daughter, and he is still struggling from the after-effects of the foiled terror plot from a couple stories ago.

Even 8 books into the series, I still find Penny's writing to be magical - it's comforting yet suspenseful, building the mystery while never losing focus on the characters.  I feel like something big is coming in the series, and I look forward to the next installment.  4.5 stars

How The Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #9) by Louise Penny (2013)

Another masterful installment from Louise Penny.  Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is back in Three Pines to investigate the murder of a friend of a Three Pines resident.  That friend turns out to be quite a famous person, although she had kept her true identity hidden for many years.

As interesting as this mystery was, I felt the bulk of the novel was devoted to increasing problems in the police department.  Gamache's team has been dismantled and he begins to suspect that things are more than what they seem.  As he uncovers major corruption, he's not sure who he can trust, but he knows he needs help.

The way Penny builds tension is just amazing - I could not put this book down. I felt like I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to find out what happened to all the characters.  I loved how Penny incorporated the residents of Three Pines into the big scandal at the police department.  She really seamlessly brought together these two elements in a way that felt genuine.  4.5 stars

Friday, May 26, 2017

2017 Backlist Reader Challenge: May Roundup

It's time for another round of mini-reviews for the 2017 Backlist Reader Challenge hosted by Lark at The Bookwyrm's Hoard!

The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker (2011)

I wanted to read this book after we watched the movie Whisky Tango Foxtrot with Tina Fey, based on this memoir.  On the other hand, I don't really like memoirs and the Middle East is not an area I know a whole lot about, so unfortunately, I couldn't really get into this book.

Part of the book describes what life is like for a journalist living in a foreign country and part of it is a current history of the political situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan - but I felt like I didn't get enough of either.  A lot of the political stuff went over my head; so many names and groups, and part of that is my fault for being so uninformed.  The personal parts of the book focused too much on the night life and illegal alcohol sought out by Barker and not enough on the stories she was writing.

I couldn't connect with Barker at all.  She went into this experience so unprepared.  She had rarely traveled outside the US before taking on this assignment and knew very little about the culture and politics of the area when she arrived.  Even after years of living there, she still couldn't grasp basic concepts on how to dress.  She often came across as naïve and judgmental and apparently had no problem punching men in the face.  I felt there was a level of disrespect when dealing with political figures (such as calling them by their first names) and I was left with a poor view towards Afghan and Pakistani people in general.  2 stars


The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell (2004)

I really thought I was going to like this one - the son of an English nobleman is taken hostage during an invasion by Danish Vikings in the 9th century.  Unfortunately, this turned out to be a DNF for me about 50% through.  I didn't understand the main character's motivations.  Although the child was not particularly happy with his father, he seemingly easily adopts the Viking lifestyle and religion with barely a second thought, and the Viking that captured him just seemed way too nice and treated him as another son.  The writing was dense, heavy, and somewhat bland.  When I found myself skimming more than reading, I knew it was time to stop.

A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #7) by Louise Penny (2011)

A woman is found murdered in the garden of Clara and Peter Morrow in Three Pines, after a celebration for Clara's art show.  The woman turns out to be an old friend of Clara's, but they hadn't spoken since a falling out many years before.

I enjoyed this installment of the series, although it felt like there was a lot going on.  The main mystery was about the murder of Lillian Dyson.  Because she used to be an art critic, several characters from the art world were introduced.  However, as interesting as it was to learn about art and the lives and temperaments of artists, this mystery almost seemed secondary to the other storylines in the book.  I felt like this installment really dove deep into the lives of characters we've known since the first book.  Always a bit tenuous, we finally see the breakdown of Clara and Peter's marriage.  It was hard to read about Peter's jealousy regarding Clara's recent success, after years of being the more renowned artist.

The detectives are still dealing with scars, both emotional and physical, from the terror attack that took many of their colleagues' lives.  Jean Guy isn't doing so well and is now separated from his wife, having fallen in love with someone new and surprising, and he doesn't quite know what to do with his feelings.  Gamache is changed, as well, from the slight tremors in his hand to how he leads his team.  I really loved the character development in this book, and it made me want to quickly get to the next installment to see what happens.  4 stars


Friday, April 28, 2017

2017 Backlist Reader Challenge: April Roundup

It's time for another round of mini-reviews for the Backlist Reader Challenge!  I think I'm making pretty good progress - I've read 12 of the 26 books on my TBR for this challenge, so I'm about 46% done!

The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave #1) by Rick Yancey (2013)

A teenage girl searches for her brother when they are separated after an alien attack decimates Earth's population.

I'm always up for survival stories like this, whether it's a natural phenomenon like an avalanche or something more science fiction-y, like an alien attack.  I'm always interested to see how people change and adapt.  In this case, Cassie was a great main character - just an average teenager before the alien arrival, she becomes a street-smart, resourceful survivor.  That is, until she meets Evan Walker, and then she becomes a ball of mush more concerned about the chocolate-y color of his eyes. 

I enjoyed the parts of this book that were gritty and intense and emotional - Cassie's desperate search for the last living member of her family, her younger brother, and Ben's indoctrination into an army that he thought would be fighting against aliens, not for them.  Unfortunately, the book suffered a bit when it came to the romance portion, which I felt was unnecessary.  It would have been enough for Cassie to gain an ally without having the two of them fall in love for no reason.

There are lots of POVs in the book, which I liked because it allowed me to see the invasion from many sides.  I didn't think it was confusing at all; it was pretty easy to figure out who was talking.  All in all, this was a good (but not great) and fast-paced read.  3 stars
                                                                                                                      

Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #6) by Louise Penny (2010)

In the 6th installment of the series, Inspector Gamache is in Quebec, trying to recover from a terrorist plot, when he is asked to join a local investigation of the murder of an amateur archaeologist.

This was my favorite book of the series so far.  Three separate story lines kept the pace fast.  The main storyline involved the murder of an archaeologist trying to find the remains of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec.  It was an interesting mystery and I learned a lot about the tense history between the French and English in Quebec. 

The second storyline brought us back to the murder of the Hermit in Three Pines from the last book.  Olivier had been convicted of the murder, but his partner Gabri was not convinced of his guilt.  Gamache, too, is now feeling uncertain about the outcome of that case, and he sends his second-in-command to Three Pines to do some subtle investigating.  I had a feeling this story wasn't over!  And this time, the outcome is very surprising!

But my favorite parts of the book were the flashbacks to something that happened off-page, between this book and the previous one.  One of Gamache's detectives is kidnapped, and the team finally realizes it is part of a much larger terrorist attack.  I don't want to give too much away, but this storyline was so tense and heartbreaking; I teared up a few times.  There's an underlying sadness that permeates the whole book, as Gamache tries to heal both physically and emotionally.  You can just feel the guilt weighing heavily on him.  5 stars
                                                                                                                                  
 
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2015)
 
With each book I read of hers, Taylor Jenkins Reid is quickly becoming one of my new favorite authors.  In Maybe in Another Life, two parallel stories take place, sparked by a decision made by Hannah Martin - should she go home with her best friend, or stay awhile longer with her ex-boyfriend?
 
This concept isn't new - there are movies with this plot device and at least one book that I've read (The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver).  But Taylor Jenkins Reid does it so well that I didn't mind it.  Her stories are very relatable and the writing just resonates with me.  It's not over-the-top or too flowery or poetic - it's just straightforward good writing.

The decision Hannah makes sets off two very different paths for her.  Almost immediately, things happen that will drastically change her life.  But, as different as things are, there are some things that remain the same - her deep friendship with Gabby and a thawing of the distant relationship she has with her family in London.

Like with her previous books, the author touches on deep topics - the "what ifs" in life, is there such a thing as a soul mate, and how much of our life is predetermined by fate.  Without giving too much away, I like that each story ends with Hannah in similar yet at the same time very different places in her life.  I think it shows that there are some things we are meant to do, but that in other areas, we choose our own way and could be just as happy with any outcome.  4.5 stars



Friday, March 31, 2017

2017 Backlist Reader Challenge: March Roundup

It's time for another roundup of mini-reviews for the 2017 Backlist Reader Challenge!

The Brutal Telling (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #5) by Louise Penny (2009)

Inspector Gamache is back in Three Pines, investigating the discovery of a body in the bistro owned by Three Pines resident Olivier Brule.

I really enjoyed this installment of the series.  I loved being back in Three Pines, surrounded by the usual cast of characters, plus a few new ones (although Ruth is starting to get on my nerves a little - she's just too odd!).  It always surprises me how involved the townsfolk are in the investigation and how Gamache just tells them every little detail - whatever happened to "no comment, it's an ongoing investigation"?  Also, is it bad that one of the things I like best about these books are the descriptions of food?  I get so hungry while reading!

Anyway, Gamache and his team investigate the murder of a hermit, who no one seems to know.  The hermit's treasure trove of priceless artifacts in his cabin was a nice touch, and so interesting to read about some of the pieces.  My love for Gamache grows with each novel, from his dry humor to his trust in his team, especially when he allows new members to prove themselves.  Olivier is the chief suspect the entire novel, and he really doesn't help himself by constantly lying - doesn't he know better by now, knowing Gamache?  The conclusion to the novel seemed too obvious, so I'm not totally convinced this is the end of this mystery! 4 stars
                                                                                                                          

 An Echo in the Bone (Outlander #7) by Diana Gabaldon (2009)

The seventh installment in the Outlander series, this book features the continuing adventures of Jamie and Claire in America during the Revolution.

Gabaldon has added a huge amount of characters since the first book, and this book also features major storylines from John Grey and his stepson, William, and Brianna, Roger, and their kids.  I could have done without so much John Grey/William, especially William.  I think there are companion novels that delve more into their stories, but as I've never read them, I felt like I was missing something.

I enjoyed the Brianna/Roger storyline more than I thought I would; now that they've gone back to the 20th century, it's interesting watching them adjust to their new lives but still remain connected to Claire and Jamie, particularly through letters that somehow miraculously survived.

Unfortunately, with so many characters and storylines, things just get a bit muddled and confusing, trying to keep track of everything.  Gabaldon's novels are obviously well-researched, but sometimes I feel she spends too much time on Claire's medical procedures at the expense of major plot points, particularly a major event involving Jamie that happens near the end of this book.  This could have been expanded upon and the fall-out really explored; while it will most likely be referenced in the next book, it seemed to be dealt with too quickly and too easily.  3 stars

Sunday, February 26, 2017

2017 Backlist Reader Challenge: February Roundup

I'm making pretty good progress on my titles for the 2017 Backlist Reader Challenge.  Here are my mini-reviews for February!

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2014)

Lauren and Ryan decide to take a year off from their marriage to decide if they can salvage their relationship.

I love stories about marriage and relationships, because they make me think about my own life.  I was immediately drawn into this novel because Lauren and Ryan met at the age of 19 in college, which is when and how I met my husband, as well. 

The book mainly focuses on Lauren's journey; we see snippets of Ryan's through draft emails he has written to Lauren.  I liked Lauren as a main character, but I think I liked the supporting characters around her more.  We got to know her family really well, and they show Lauren that marriage is not the only type of relationship out there.

Like Reid's Forever, Interrupted, this story brings up a lot of thought-provoking issues.  When you've vowed to love someone forever, what happens if you fall out of love?  How hard should you try to get it back?  Is it inevitable that romance will fade over the years?  Why are we sometimes so afraid to ask our partners, the person we share everything with, for what we really want or need?

The story is very readable, honest, and relatable.  It's more contemplative than action-filled, so sometimes it felt a bit slow, but overall I really enjoyed it!  4 stars
                                                                                                                                                      

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny (2008)

Book 4 in the Inspector Gamache series, in which Inspector Gamache and his wife vacation at an inn, along with a family there for a reunion.  Gamache is drawn into the family when someone is found dead.

This installment of the series is a little different in that it takes place outside of Three Pines, but no worries - a couple of Three Pines residents end up being part of the family coming together for the reunion.

Penny's writing is, as always, cozy, comforting, and warm (even though it's a murder mystery).  The murder almost seemed secondary to me in this one, with the focus more on a character study of the family and their drama.  There were no likable members of this family; they purposely say and do things to hurt one another.

We also got to know Gamache a bit better.  I love his relationship with his wife and their banter.  Penny worked in information about Gamache's past, particularly his parents, which was interesting but also felt a tiny bit shoe-horned.

The murder "how" was quite ingenious, although the "why" was a bit weak.  Looking forward to the next installment!  4 stars
                                                                                                                      

The End of Normal: A Wife's Anguish, A Widow's New Life by Stephanie Madoff Mack (2011)

A memoir by the daughter-in-law of Bernie Madoff, telling her side of the story of finding out about Madoff's Ponzi scheme and the family's reaction, including her husband Mark's suicide.

Mack gives an intimate look at how the Madoff family imploded after Bernie was arrested and convicted.  It was difficult to read how Bernie's sons' lives were ruined, even though they had nothing to do with their father's crimes, but what was worse was how their family was torn apart at a time when they could have come together as victims of the deceit.  Even their mother was no longer welcome in Stephanie's home, because of how she seemingly chose her husband over her children.

Unfortunately, I didn't feel the sympathy for Stephanie that I think she was seeking when she wrote this book.  It is devastating that she lost her husband and their children lost their father.  However, she often came across as self-centered and spoiled.  At times she seemed to focus too much on how Bernie's crimes personally affected her, instead of how her husband was coping with the betrayal.  She claims they had a perfect life before the scandal, but there were obviously big issues in their life, including a difficult relationship with Mark's ex-wife.  Stephanie talks about other family members in the book, but includes details which I felt were unnecessary and hurtful.  Also, her constant references to every little thing she was buying when she should have been carefully watching her money was off-putting.  3 stars.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Review: The Woman in Cabin 10

The Woman in Cabin 10
Ruth Ware
Published June 30, 2016
From New York Times bestselling author of the “twisty-mystery” (Vulture) novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, comes The Woman in Cabin 10, an equally suspenseful novel from Ruth Ware—this time, set at sea.

In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong… - from Goodreads
I've been looking forward to this book for a couple months.  The premise sounds so terrifying - a guest on a luxury yacht is the sole witness to a woman being thrown overboard in the middle of the night.  I mean, you're trapped on this boat in the middle of the sea and you know your suspect list is limited to the people on board with you - and if it were me, I'd also be seasick!

Lo Blacklock is a travel journalist assigned to cover a luxury cruise for a week.  In The Girl on the Train-style, Lo is somewhat of an unreliable narrator.  Just a couple days before she leaves on the trip, her home is burgled and she is injured by the intruder.  So when she gets on the yacht, she is already jumpy and anxious, plus from the start she admits that she drinks too much and too often, including to help her sleep.  And mixed with her anti-anxiety/anti-depressant pills?  Not a good combo.

Lo goes to the head of security, who casts doubt upon her story - no one is staying in the room where the alleged attack took place, and none of the guests or crew match the description of the woman Lo saw in the room earlier in the day.  Lo even starts to question what she actually saw.

It's hard to review a book like this without giving too much away.  I did enjoy the twist, although it maybe dragged on a bit too long.  Interspersed throughout the book are newspaper articles and emails from Lo's family and friends which indicate that Lo disappeared sometime during the cruise, so I was intrigued to see what would happen when those two points intersected.  A couple things I didn't care for her were that an ex-boyfriend of Lo's just happened to be another guest on the cruise (seemed a little too convenient) and though the boat is small, there is a rather large cast of secondary characters to keep track of.  The story did get a bit repetitive at times, as well.

3.5 stars: Overall, I liked this book!  It was a really quick read - I finished it in a day.  If you enjoy thrillers, give The Woman in Cabin 10 a try.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Review: The Hourglass Factory


The Hourglass Factory
Lucy Ribchester
January 1, 2015
London, 1912.

The suffragette movement is reaching a fever pitch, and Inspector Frederick Primrose is hunting a murderer on his beat. Across town, Fleet Street reporter Frances “Frankie” George is chasing an interview with trapeze artist Ebony Diamond. Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly-laced acrobat and follows her to a Kensington corset shop that seems to be hiding secrets of its own. When Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, Frankie and Primrose are both drawn into the shadowy world of a secret society with ties to both London's criminal underworld and its glittering socialites.

How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory? From newsrooms to the drawing rooms of high society, the investigation leads Frankie and Primrose to a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined.
- from Goodreads
What a strange book!  Two main storylines collide during the novel: Frankie George, a reporter, is searching for a trapeze artist (Ebony Diamond) who vanishes in the middle of a show while Inspector Primrose, assigned to the suffragette beat, is investigating a murder.  Frankie George seemed a bit cliché - she wants to be a journalist but none of the men around her take her seriously; she wears pants; she drinks too much.  I think Inspector Primrose was my favorite character - he just wants to do his job and go home to his wife, but he is hindered by incompetent police officers.  Frankie and Primrose are surrounded by a huge cast of characters, some well-drawn, some not, some with ridiculous names (really, Twinkle?).

The plot suffers from too many ideas.  It's almost as if the author, in trying to establish the historical setting, threw in every reference to the time period she could, among many other ideas as well.  The women's suffrage movement in England, a Jack the Ripper-style murder, a reference to the sinking of the Titanic, plus a trapeze artist, more information about corsets than I ever needed to know, bombs made from a deck of playing cards... Each of these devices certainly made the novel that much more entertaining, but the mystery suffered, becoming too convoluted, and the ending was quite bizarre and unbelievable at times. 

It's not that I didn't like the book - I did, or at least I'm pretty sure I did.  Although long (almost 500 pages), the story moves along quickly, and I was interested to see the big reveal that the book was leading up to.  The book was good, but not great.  It kept my interest, although I did find myself skimming certain areas.

3 stars: A quirky, entertaining read that is overly long and complicated in some parts.  I'd recommend this to readers who have an interest in early 20th century London.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Review: Where They Found Her


Where They Found Her
Kimberly McCreight
Published April 14, 2015
At the end of a long winter, in bucolic Ridgedale, New Jersey, the body of an infant is discovered in the woods near the town’s prestigious university campus. No one knows who the baby is, or how her body ended up out there. But there is no shortage of opinions.

When freelance journalist, and recent Ridgedale transplant, Molly Anderson is unexpectedly called upon to cover the story for the Ridegdale Reader, it’s a risk, given the severe depression that followed the loss of her own baby. But the bigger threat comes when Molly unearths some of Ridgedale’s darkest secrets, including a string of unreported sexual assaults that goes back twenty years.

Meanwhile, Sandy, a high school dropout, searches for her volatile and now missing mother, and PTA president Barbara struggles to help her young son, who’s suddenly having disturbing outbursts.

Told from the perspectives of Molly, Barbara, and Sandy, Kimberly McCreight’s taut and profoundly moving novel unwinds the tangled truth about the baby’s death revealing that these three women have far more in common than they realized. And that their lives are more intertwined with what happened to the baby than they ever could have imagined. - from Goodreads
Kimberly McCreight's 2013 novel Reconstructing Amelia was one of my favorite reads from last year, so I was excited to read another mystery from her.  While I enjoyed this book, it unfortunately did not live up to the magic of McCreight's first novel.

The story is told from three points of view.  Molly is a reporter at the local paper.  She normally doesn't do hard news, so when she is assigned the story after the body of an infant is found, it presents many challenges, the biggest of which is how she will cope following the loss of her own baby a couple years before.  Barbara is the wife of the police chief and is struggling with her young son's disturbing change in personality.  And Sandy is a high school dropout with an unreliable mother.  One thing readers will quickly learn is that everyone in this small college town is connected, in ways both big and small.  Sometimes the connections seemed a little too convenient and a little too forced.

I think McCreight did a good job in creating three distinct characters.  Although Molly is the main character, Barbara is the most well-drawn.  She is a very involved parent, and she refuses to hear any criticism about her son and his odd behavior.  She's also very tough on her teenage daughter.  She's quick to point out faults in others, such as in the way she seems overly-critical of other mothers.

The main mystery in the book revolves around the body of the infant found near the college campus.  Whose baby is it, and how did it get there?  I would have been satisfied with just this one mystery, but Molly's digging uncovers other secrets involving the local college, and there are also flashbacks to an accidental death involving some of the adult characters when they were in high school.  I sometimes felt like there was too much going on; there were too many concurrent stories, and while they are linked because of the people involved, they didn't necessarily have much to do with each other.  I also felt the resolution to the main mystery of the baby's death was cliché and disappointing.

However, I thought this book was well-written and readable.  The chapters were fairly short, which kept the story moving.  The story wasn't necessarily suspenseful, but there were a lot of twists, turns, and revelations.  I also enjoyed the mixed media approach - like in Reconstructing Amelia, McCreight makes use of more than just the standard narrative, weaving in articles written by Molly, comments on the articles from Ridgedale residents, journal entries, and transcripts from therapy sessions. 

3.5 stars: Although it doesn't have quite the suspenseful spark of the author's first novel, I think fans of Reconstructing Amelia will enjoy this story about the secrets of a small town.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Review: Before the Fall


Before the Fall

Noah Hawley

May 31, 2016
On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha's Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul's family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together. - from Goodreads
Before the Fall tells the story of a mysterious plane crash over the Atlantic and its aftermath.  What caused the plane to crash?  Foul play? Terrorism? Mechanical failure?  Many of the characters had secrets - David Bateman, the owner of the plane and a media mogul, was facing a potential scandal at his company; the co-pilot was not supposed to be on that flight; passenger Ben Kipling was about to be arrested.  Was someone being targeted?  I think the author does a decent job of laying out several possibilities.

The chapters move back and forth between the present day and flashbacks to the characters' earlier lives and what happened to each on the day leading up the crash.  I can see how the author was trying to establish each character and set up possible motives for the crash, but I didn't really like the flashbacks at all.  Most of the flashbacks were completely unnecessary with details that added nothing to the story.  Sometimes they just felt forced and really out of place; reading about the pilot's unorthodox childhood or how the lead investigator's marriage fell apart 10 years ago, for example, took me out of the story.

A big focus of the book is on the media and how they sensationalize news stories, with really no regard for the truth sometimes.  Bill Cunningham, a news anchor at David Bateman's company, is the worst offender.  He spends hours on-air, postulating wild theories on what might have happened.  He also uses unethical and illegal techniques to get information.  Scott is the target of many of the news stories: who he is, why he was on the plane, his heroic swim to save the young boy.  For someone like Scott, who mostly lives off the grid, it is almost overwhelming to have such attention on him, both good and bad.  I think at times the author was trying too hard to be cerebral about some issues, and it didn't really fit with the tone of the novel.

I don't really want to say too much about the ending and give away the mystery; suffice to say, it was disturbing.

3 stars: A good idea gets bogged down by the details, but I would recommend to fans of mystery novels.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Review: The Leaving


The Leaving

Tara Altebrando

June 7, 2016

Six were taken. Eleven years later, five come back--with no idea of where they've been.

Eleven years ago, six kindergarteners went missing without a trace. After all that time, the people left behind moved on, or tried to.

Until today. Today five of those kids return. They're sixteen, and they are . . . fine. Scarlett comes home and finds a mom she barely recognizes, and doesn't really recognize the person she's supposed to be, either. But she thinks she remembers Lucas. Lucas remembers Scarlett, too, except they're entirely unable to recall where they've been or what happened to them. Neither of them remember the sixth victim, Max. He doesn't come back. Everyone wants answers. Most of all Max's sister Avery, who needs to find her brother--dead or alive--and isn't buying this whole memory-loss story. - from Goodreads
I've been eagerly waiting for this book to come out for a couple months - the cover is so creepy, and the synopsis drew me in even more.  The story begins with the five teenagers being released and covers the two weeks immediately following their return as they try to adjust to their "new" lives while trying to remember what happened to them.

The book is told from the points of view of three characters - Lucas and Scarlett, both kidnapping victims, and Avery, the sister of another boy who was taken.  I liked seeing both sides of the story, those taken and those left behind.  Scarlett's chapters often feature interesting formatting, like words printed in the shape of a circle, which reinforces how confused she was after returning.

Lucas and Scarlett desperately want to know why they were taken, where they've been for the past 11 years, and why they were released.  They realize they have some random partial memories and skills they acquired growing up, and they use these, plus clues they believe they left for themselves, to conduct their own investigation.  The book moved along so quickly that I had to keep reminding myself to slow down and really take it all in.  When the true reason behind the kidnapping was finally revealed, I was surprised, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.  I felt the explanation was actually kind of plausible, considering the world we live in, and it made sense.

The writing and the book sometimes seemed simplistic at times, and I could have done without the love triangle between Scarlett, Lucas, and Avery.  Avery often times seemed both obsessed and childish - not my favorite character.  However, I thought the book was engaging and suspenseful and also displayed some really interesting family dynamics.

4 stars - Gripping read.  For those who love a good mystery!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Five Mysteries to Keep You Up at Night


When I'm reading a really good mystery, I'm guilty of losing sleep, running late to work, ignoring my husband... all for the sake of finding out WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.  Here are five of my favorite mystery novels:

   

 

  1. The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins): Rachel sees something shocking from her seat on the train, but her unreliable memory is a hindrance to the police investigation.  I definitely lost some sleep over this one!
  2. The Distant Hours (Kate Morton): While trying to find out more about her mother's time billeted at Milderhurst Castle, Edie stumbles upon an even bigger mystery involving the sisters who reside there.  Kate Morton's writing is beautiful, and the ending of this book is incredible.
  3. Still Life (Louise Penny): Inspector Armand Gamache investigates a murder in an idyllic Canadian town.  This book is the first in a series and kind of reminds me of an Agatha Christie novel.
  4. The Scent of Rain and Lightning (Nancy Pickard): When the man convicted of killing Jody's father is released from prison, questions arise about what really happened the night her father died and her mother disappeared.  Tension builds through flashbacks, leading to an ending I didn't see coming.
  5. Reconstructing Amelia (Kimberly McCreight): A mother tries to find out what really happened on the day her daughter committed suicide.  A great read told from the mother and daughter's alternating points of view.
Do you have any recommendations for a great mystery novel?