Into the Water – By Paula Hawkins

Into the WaterRating:

Synopsis2 A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

My reviewPaula Hawkins’ second book, relies a lot on the history of the small town forming the story’s setting for the haunting feeling that permeates throughout the book. This, along with almost a dozen narrators, is what provides the book with much of the smokescreen for what ultimately is a fairly simplistic resolution to the murder mystery.

Getting into the story does take some time, especially with so many narrators. It did throw me off a bit because I am not used to reading multi-PoVs that are more than 3 or 4. But with each narrator came a small but significant chunk of jigsaw pieces to the main puzzle at the heart of the plot and I am just glad that I actually caught onto and remembered all the minute details. Into the Water had what, in my opinion, makes the best kind of whodunits – where you guess the answers to some of the “smaller” questions based on what the author feeds you but are still stumped by the final revelation.

I loved the The Girl on the Train and I guess it is natural to have high expectations from the authors’ second books after their fab debuts. Into the Water is no TGotT – I felt the latter was definitely more character-driven with an alcoholic as the primary unreliable narrator. However, with Into the Water, I just felt that the large number of narrators somehow ended up inhibiting the author from actually devoting time to SHOWING how the people in the community felt about or got along with each other before and after the two successive deaths in their town. One of the main characters, Jules, who is actually the first narrator and who being one of the dead women’s sister, is at the heart of plot, didn’t make any impression on me at all. This was despite all the flashbacks we get about Jules and her sister in their teens. I actually found the backstory through the flashbacks more powerful and somehow connected with the younger Jules more than the present-day one – despite her transformation from someone who was ambivalent about her sister’s story or her niece’s emotional well-being to someone who finally starts making an effort. I connected more with her niece Lena’s frustration at her aunt and everyone around her who were trying to “meddle” into her mom’s and best friend’s deaths instead of believing her convictions that they were suicides.

The book has a dark, unhappy cloud shrouding it the whole time, but you don’t have any time to dwell on any particular mood because of all the frequent narrator changes. Though that is a good thing in terms of keeping the pace of the novel from dropping, the flipside of it was that some of the emotional moments didn’t make much of an impact on me. There were deaths, families grieving, a funeral, estranged families and a doomed love story but none of them moved me all that much. However, if you loved Hawkins’ writing in her first book, and if you are up for a good murder mystery; I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this. If I have to compare between the two, this one was definitely cleverer.

 

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Holding Smoke – By Elle Cosimano

Holding Smoke Rating:

Note : I received an ARC of this book via Veronica’s blog giveaway. Do check out her lovely blog here.

Synopsis2John “Smoke” Conlan is serving time for two murders but he wasn’t the one who murdered his English teacher, and he never intended to kill the only other witness to the crime. A dangerous juvenile rehabilitation center in Denver, Colorado, known as the Y, is Smoke’s new home and the only one he believes he deserves.

But, unlike his fellow inmates, Smoke is not in constant imprisonment. After a near death experience leaves him with the ability to shed his physical body at will, Smoke is able to travel freely outside the concrete walls of the Y, gathering information for himself and his fellow inmates while they’re asleep in their beds. Convinced his future is only as bright as the fluorescent lights in his cell, Smoke doesn’t care that the “threads” that bind his soul to his body are wearing thin-that one day he may not make it back in time. That is, until he meets Pink, a tough, resourceful girl who is sees him for who he truly is and wants to help him clear his name. 

Now Smoke is on a journey to redemption he never thought possible. With Pink’s help, Smoke may be able to reveal the true killer, but the closer they get to the truth, the more deadly their search becomes. The web of lies, deceit, and corruption that put Smoke behind bars is more tangled than they could have ever imagined. With both of their lives on the line, Smoke will have to decide how much he’s willing to risk, and if he can envision a future worth fighting for.

My review I havent read too many YA books which just have that slight touch of paranormal. The few I have read recently have been disappointing especially a couple of them which are about mind-body-soul because the book somehow ends up reading like religious fiction instead of what was promised in the synopsis. Thankfully, Holding Smoke not just lives up to what is promised in the cover blurb, but also exceeds it by miles.

No aspect of the book threatens to eclipse the other – the murder mystery complements beautifully with the human stories of the inmates. That’s a rarity in mystery books with a sizeable secondary cast – where sub-plots often tend to test your patience and make you question their need. But here, you actually do enjoy and empathize with everyone – with all their background stories that have been added cleverly into the book through Conlan’s paranormal power. I loved all the prison scenes, there was no unnecessary amped up melodrama but yet it is so effective – whether it is the counseling sessions or the power play in the yard. I feel like this is probably one of the biggest strengths of the book – to never lose sight of the fact that this is a juvenile rehab and NOT an adult prison. No matter how “hardened” they might be because of the circumstances, their vulnerabilities as teens are always bubbling beneath the surface.

I loved how we got the background story of how Conlan ended up in the detention center. The author takes her time to build it up gradually – whether it is the details of the fateful day or nuggets from his earlier difficult years with his abusive father. Conlan’s life is a template of childhood degraded, a present devalued and a future lost – A future that had a college degree and a well-paying job.  This is also the story shared by a lot of characters at the center. Of course, if you are lucky you might have an empathetic warden or a counselor taking an interest in you and reinforcing the belief that you can finish your education and making something of your life once you get out. But no inmate seriously believes it.

There is no romance in this book. What Conlan and Pink have between them is more of a strained-friendship-with-romantic potential and that’s a good thing because both have a lot of things going on in their individual lives. Pink is practical and gosh – just so gutsy! Not some wannabe badass. Conlan initially seeks her out because he needs her help but later does start valuing her and respecting the life she leads. He also feels like he is losing out on someone important to him when turns her away at one point in the story. Despite his feelings for her, I liked how Conlan never turns reckless in using his paranormal ability just to meet her.

I really liked the murder mystery though I guessed the “who” halfway through the book. But I think it is more due to the fact that I have gotten pretty good at guesswork than anything else. I couldn’t guess the “why” though. I also liked all the red herrings the author used and explained in the final pages. The only issue I had is probably the presence of another girl – Vivian – in the story. I felt like the book didn’t really need her. I think any other existing character(s) could have contributed whatever she did to the story. But it is a pretty minor gripe and well, I understood why she was there once I read the Author’s Note in the end. (Do read that once you finish the book!!! You will find some great personal insights there.)

There is an epilogue that I felt was not required. I got my closure even without that. Well, with or without the epilogue, it was such a bittersweet conclusion and an immensely satisfying one.

[Blog Tour: Review+Giveaway] – Loreena’s Gift by Colleen M. Story

Rating:

Buy Links:

Amazon –  ( Kindle      Paperback)     ~   Barnes & Noble  ~  Book Depository  ~  Chapters Indigo

*Note: I received a print copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review for iRead book tour*

Synopsis:

A BLIND GIRL’S TERRIFYING “GIFT” ALLOWS HER TO REGAIN HER EYESIGHT–BUT ONLY AS SHE FERRIES THE RECENTLY DECEASED INTO THE AFTERLIFE.

Loreena Picket thinks she knows herself. A blind young woman who lives with her uncle, a reverend at a small-town church, she’s a dutiful niece and talented pianist for the congregation.

But they’re both hiding a terrible secret. Loreena can kill people with the touch of her hand.

While her uncle sees her as an angel of mercy, helping usher the terminally ill members of his flock into the afterlife, Loreena has her doubts.

Torn between doing her uncle’s bidding and the allure of the fleeting moments when her eyesight returns on the journey to the other side, Loreena cooperates with her uncle until her troubled older brother returns to town. When she reveals her power by saving him from a local drug dealer, she is drawn into a sinister and dangerous world that will test the true nature of her talent and force her to consider how far she is willing to go to survive.

An exciting debut that crosses fantasy and literary fiction,Loreena’s Gift is a thought-provoking meditation on life and death and what ultimately lies beyond this world.

My Review:

When we first meet Loreena, she is walking back from the Church to her uncle’s home. The opening scene does establish a lot of things about her. With the best of intentions, her uncle has provided her with quite a sheltered life revolving around playing the piano at the church. We soon learn that this is just partly him being protective about her. Well, maybe he would have been more open about her exploring the world a lot more once she became an adult if not for the fact that along with reaching adulthood,  she also ends up with “poisonous hands”. When she accidentally kills the gardener, her uncle decides that he can take her help to relieve the terminally ill people of his congregation out of their misery. Maybe, this can be Loreena making amends for her sin of killing a perfectly healthy, innocent man.

The author’s idea of the afterlife is pretty interesting. To be honest, I didn’t know that there would be so many references about the Church and the almighty. I don’t read Christian fiction so I was wondering whether the whole book was going to be filled with religious references. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and the concepts of heaven and hell are discussed in a way that is probably relatable irrespective of whatever faith you subscribe to. In a weird, morbid way, it was actually kind of fun to see what kind of fate is waiting for the different people Loreena ends up killing.

The story is told in third-person but mostly from Loreena’s POV. So, the author does a really good job of walking us through her shoes by not making us see but “feel” and “hear” what’s happening – there is a lot of description about the footsteps and flooring and weather.

The drive was long, but the air still smelled of rain, and it came in fresh through the front vents.

-Pg. 192

The ground was soft, her flat shoes sinking into the dirt with each step.

-Pg. 194

A series of events leads Loreena right amidst a gang war between two groups trying to wrest control of a small town. She is captured by one group and blackmailed into killing their rivals in exchange for her brother’s safety. It was interesting to see her introspecting after she causes each death and whether the person deserved the scenario of heaven/hell that waited for them.

I just couldn’t get into the whole cloak-and-dagger and crime aspect of this book though. It was way too predictable and none of the deaths surprised me either. I could see what went down in the final few pages even before I finished 1/4th of the book.  As stated by the synopsis, the book is about life, death and what lies beyond; told by metaphorically using the fantasy element of a girl “literally” walking people into their afterlives. I think that was a really cool idea and one of the book’s stronger suits. But the book also has quite a lot of “crime fiction” as the backdrop. I found this aspect of the book a bit half-baked and just very… linear.

I liked the book though. It had a different concept and well, if you want to read the book more for its transcendental ideas, then you would probably enjoy it a lot more than I did.

Book Trailer:

About the author: 

Colleen M. Story
Colleen M. Story writes imaginative fiction and is also a freelance writer, instructor, and motivational speaker specializing in creativity, productivity, and personal wellness. Her latest novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” was released with Dzanc Books April 12 2016. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” is a North American Book Awards winner, and New Apple Book Awards Official Selection (Young Adult). She is the founder of Writing and Wellness (writingandwellness.com) a motivational site for writers and other creatives.

Connect with the author:

Website  ~ Twitter

Check out all the tour stops! : 

July 18 – Cheryl’s Book Nook – review / author interview / giveaway
July 18 – Bound 4 Escape – review
July 19 – Writing Pearls – review
July 19 – Jayne’s Books – review
July 20 – Young In Rome – review
July 20 – And the Buck Starts Here – review
July 21 – Writers and Authors – book spotlight / guest post
July 22 – Corinne Rodrigues – review
July 22 – 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too! – review / giveaway
July 25 – A Bookaholic Blog – review
July 25 – Nighttime Reading Center – review / author interview / giveaway
July 26 – JBronder Book Reviews – review / guest post
July 27 – T’s Stuff – review / guest post / giveaway
July 27 – Book reviews nature photos and everything in between – review
July 28 – Sahar’s Blog – review
July 29 – Life as Leels – review
July 29 – The Autistic Gamer – review
Aug 1 –    Bookishly Devoted – review
Aug 1 –    Olio By Marilyn – review / author interview
Aug 2 –    Heidi’s Wanderings – review / giveaway
Aug 2 –    Bookaholic Banter  – review / author interview / giveaway
Aug 3 –    Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers – review
Aug 4 –    The Travelogue of a Book Addict – The Book Drealms – review / giveaway
Aug 4 –    bookmyopia – review / giveaway
Aug 5 –    Svetlana’s Reads and Views – review
Aug 5 –    Jessica Cassidy – review / author interview / giveaway

Giveaway!

Win a signed copy of Loreena’s Gift. One winner will also get a $15 Amazon GC (Open int’l). Click on the link below to enter the giveaway:

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The Book Thief – By Markus Zusak

Rating:

I usually try staying away from reading reviews apart from skimming through the hardcover blurbs, so I didn’t know much about this book. I knew it has been a regular on the top ten bestseller list and that it was about a young girl living in Germany under Nazi regime. I assumed it would be something on the lines of The Diary of Anne Frank and since I hadn’t read much fiction set on WW2 in Germany, I thought I would give this a try.

It might sound a bit morbid but having “Death” as the narrator works quite well for this book. And when I do think of it, who else or what else can witness the ramifications of a war from all perspectives?  Ahh, perspective. That is quite an underlying theme in this book. I have to say, I expected the book to be told from the perspective of the Jews. But this book really isn’t as much about the Jews as it is about Germany as a country and how its people viewed the war and Hitler’s propaganda against the Jews and Communists. How many truly believed in it and how many just went along with it because standing up for the oppressed would mean severe consequences for themselves and their families.

The narrator focusses on Liesel and her life in the town of Molching, Munich.  Sent away by her mother, Liesel finds a home in Himmel Street, the poorer part of Molching, with her foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann. She commits her first act of accidental thievery before landing on Himmel Street, when she picks up a handbook on grave-digging at her brother’s funeral.  Later she steals more books, salvaging them from book-burnings and breaking into the library of Ilsa Hermann, the mayor’s wife. Soon the books become a source of comfort and distraction, as she shares them with her Papa Hans. Hans isn’t that proficient at reading either, but with his limited knowledge helps Liesel read through the books and ponder over the unfamiliar words. And at its core, this story is about that – the power of words. How words which can create something so beautiful as books, can also be used by one man to brainwash and control the minds of an entire nation. When Papa brings home Max, a Jew and hides him in the basement, the Hubermanns lives takes the turn of .. well, walking on a tightrope every single day. This is when Liesel is forced to grow up and take responsibility of keeping a secret. From everyone, including her best friend Rudy. Over the course of time, Max ceases to be just a secret in Liesel’s life and becomes a very dear friend.  It is during this time that Liesel truly understands and appreciates her Papa’s strength of character, her Mama’s resilience. In trying to keep another person alive. To provide shelter in stealth. To provide food when they are barely managing to scrape through pieces of bread and pea soup everyday.

The writing is beautiful and unconventional. Markus Zusak uses liberal amounts of symbolism, facts screaming out like headlines in boldface, and even imagery. My favourite sequence in the book is when Max makes a sketchbook of his life and gifts it to Liesel for her birthday. To make the sketchbook, he uses the pages of Mein Kampf after painting them white, thereby covering his tormentor’s words and supplanting his own.  Zusak shows books having a therapeutic effect on both Max and Liesel who are frequently haunted by dreams of their past. Liesel copes by reading and Max.. by writing.  Somewhere along the way, she begins to pen down her thoughts too.

The lighter and fun moments of this book come mostly from Liesel and Rudy’s soccer matches, their stealing escapades (books and food) and his attempts to try and be her hero and get a kiss in return. I didn’t like him much initially, but the character grew on me, after the few times he stood up for Liesel and another friend. There were times I wondered whether his “rebellion” against a Hitler Youth Group leader was idiocy, but maybe , just maybe, sometimes it takes a bit of “stupid courage” to effect some change.

There were a lot of sub-plots and Ilsa Hermann’s chapter in Liesel’s life was one of them. Probably the encounter that gave Liesel the biggest gift which helped her get through daily threats of bombing and raids – free access to a library full of hundreds of books. Wracked by the death of her son in WW1, Ilsa spends her days grieving and living as a recluse. Liesel inadvertently helps Ilsa face her loss and come to terms with it.

This is a pretty satisfying read for most part. However, I do feel Zusak got a bit carried away with the “headline-style notes” used by the narrator throughout the book.  I found it slightly distracting and unnecessary at times. However the biggest dampener was Death revealing a major plot spoiler half-way through the book. I like a certain degree of unpredictability when I am reading, and maybe that’s why I didn’t feel too pleased when I read the book’s final pages. And I think somewhere I yearned to read more about what happens to the characters later. I didn’t get the feeling of closure that I would have liked.