The Girl who Lived – By Christopher Greyson

The Girl Who LivedRating: 

Synopsis2Ten years ago, four people were brutally murdered. One girl lived. 

No one believes her story. 
The police think she’s crazy. 
Her therapist thinks she’s suicidal. 
Everyone else thinks she’s a dangerous drunk. 
They’re all right—but did she see the killer? 

As the anniversary of the murders approaches, Faith Winters is released from the psychiatric hospital and yanked back to the last spot on earth she wants to be—her hometown where the slayings took place. Wracked by the lingering echoes of survivor’s guilt, Faith spirals into a black hole of alcoholism and wanton self-destruction. Finding no solace at the bottom of a bottle, Faith decides to track down her sister’s killer—and then discovers that she’s the one being hunted. 

How can one woman uncover the truth when everyone’s a suspect—including herself? 

From the mind of Wall Street Journal bestselling author Christopher Greyson comes a story with twists and turns that take the reader on a journey of light and dark, good and evil, to the edge of madness. The Girl Who Lived should come with a warning label: Once you start reading, you won’t be able to stop. Not since Girl on the Train and Gone Girl has a psychological thriller kept readers so addicted—and guessing right until the last page.

My reviewDamn!! This was so entertaining !!!

Some of the reasons I liked the book:

1) Had a huge cast of characters but it never felt… overwhelming??? Thank goodness, the author didn’t go down the multi-POV though… (that was one of the main issues I had with another bestseller whodunit this year).

2) It was pretty well-plotted murder-mystery, with enough smokescreen and red-herrings for you to be invested in… And even if you guess the WHO in the whodunit early on (like I did), the WHY is still enough for you to keep flipping the pages. And it is still a lot of fun, to have those li’l nuggets of “truth” about the characters unraveling slowly.

3) What was probably supposed to be the “quieter” moments – Faith’s support group meetings – actually added to the main plot, instead of being something that you would just like to skip.

What could have been better:

1) The dialogue writing during the big revelation. It was kind of… uh.. stilted? I mean.. it literally felt like I was reading :

Person A – HAHA, Yes I am EVIL and I DID everything.

Person B – Oh yes, why am I not surprised.. of course it was you.

It kind of.. stripped the characters of nuance.

2) Faith’s cycle of believing/disbelieving people of their innocence/guilt through the second half of the book felt so rushed, and hence, unrealistic at times..

3) I would have liked it if the support groups and therapy sessions were shown in better light.. I mean, yes, I get it, we see the story through Faith’s lens.. and the reasons she has to distrust everyone and everything are plenty.. but it is just that… there is way too much sarcasm thrown at support groups, therapy psychiatric counselling that… it just didn’t sit well with me… The author did try to balance it out by having some other characters talk about how it helped them though..

Overall impressions I would definitely recommend the book, if you want to enjoy a good, ol’ murder mystery, that is fast-paced, with creepy stalkers and set in a small town with a large cast of suspects.

 

 

Advertisements

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.

Summit Lake – By Charlie Donlea

9781942111061Rating:

Buy links:
Hardcover
Kindle
MP3 CD

Becca Eckersley is young, beautiful twenty-something law student. With good grades in school and a father who is an accomplished attorney with glitzy social connections, she looked all set for a great life and career ahead. Until she is found murdered in her family vacation home at Summit Lake. Who killed her? What was the motive to kill someone who seemed to have a regular, mundane college life? Kelsey, an investigative crime reporter is sent to find out. As she digs deeper, the search for truth turns out to be more than just another job assignment..

I was pretty excited to win this book in the giveaway. Both the cover and the synopsis caught my attention. It has all the basic elements which I have almost come to regard as my comfort food in murder mysteries (especially in the past couple of years) : Narrative – alternating between past (Becca) and present (Kelsey) timelines. A murder of a young woman in a quaint picturesque small town being investigated by an out-of-towner young woman who is a crime reporter with her own past demons to deal with. So when I said “more than just another job assignment”, I meant, it ends up being an almost cathartic experience for her. Kelsey is sent by her boss to Summit Lake so that she can get away for a while and stop reliving a traumatic experience that occurs a few weeks ago. Initially, she thinks the assignment is just a “fluff piece” meant to provide distraction for a few days, but she is soon invested in the case, both emotionally and out of curiosity.

I felt the whole investigative proceedings were too simplistic and easy. I mean, Kelsey hardly broke into a sweat. Everyone was eager to go out of their way to provide her information and risk getting into trouble. She easily befriends a coffeehouse owner and a doctor who always seemed to know someone who knew something which could help her. I wondered why couldn’t the police solve and close the entire case earlier because it seemed that easy. I also didn’t connect much to the characters and their interactions. Usually, the past narrative featuring the victims helps us understand them better, but I didn’t feel that I knew or understood Becca any better. We are told she has a tendency to unknowingly send guys the wrong signals about her feelings but that’s the problem. We are told everything instead of .. well..just dwelling on or getting a chance to delve more into the person’s mind. More pages on Becca, her thoughts, either in the form of monologues or “diary entries” (or any other narrative device) would have helped. The book works fine as a murder mystery but lacks heft as a psychological thriller. So moving to the stronger aspects, the story moves at a brisk pace and never meanders into unnecessary subplots.  I finished it within three days and was quite taken aback by the big revelation (never saw it coming!). I wonder whether my familiarity with this kind of setting and genre was the reason I had some other expectations, and maybe that’s why I was a bit underwhelmed with some parts of the book. But overall, it is a pretty good whodunit, and I would definitely recommend it if you haven’t read many in this genre. I think you will enjoy it a lot more than I did!

*Note: I received this book from the publisher via the Goodreads giveaway programme. Thank you Kensington Publishing!*

 

 

The Silkworm – By Robert Galbraith

Rating:

When Leonara Quine approaches private detective Cormoran Strike to find her husband, he is quite glad to take it up. He is fed up with running surveillance operations involving wealthy embezzlers and cheating couples. And Owen Quine’s disappearance doesn’t seem too complex to solve. After all, Mrs. Quine is sure he is sulking in some writer’s retreat and just needs Strike to get him back home. But as Strike digs further, it becomes apparent that there is something murky about this disappearance. None of his colleagues or friends seem to know where he is. And no one is particularly fond of him either. And everyone is worried about whether he will go ahead with his threat of releasing his next book, with or without a publisher. Because that book is vile, libellous and macabre work of erotic fiction with thinly veiled references to real people – authors, publishers and editors. When Quine is finally found – badly mutilated, disemboweled and very much dead, Strike has to find out which one of them took the phrase “Life imitating art” to a whole new level.

Halfway through the book, I realised that I have to not just pay attention to the book but also the book within the book authored by Owen Quine: Bombyx Mori (aka the silkworm’s scientific name) so that I don’t feel lost when the mystery starts unravelling. Not to mention all the timelines and what happened on which day (which is important to keep track of in any well-plotted murder mystery). I spoke about paying close attention to Bombyx Mori because that holds the key to the entire plot – its characters and how Quine chose to reference and depict all the real people through them.

And damnnnn , the plotting.. Rowling is soo good at his. (Okay, so before I proceed further, I will call the author by Rowling in the review, and not Galbraith, because that just feels weird. I will index this review under Galbraith though) I don’t remember the finer details of Cuckoo’s Calling, but I do remember feeling underwhelmed by the book overall, and found it difficult to erm…. adjust to the idea that JKR has proceeded to writing something non-HP .. (haven’t read Casual Vacancy) .. But this time around, I am more .. uh.. prepared. And Silkworm is definitely a lot more cleverer, intricate and rounded. Almost every character introduced is somehow used to make the mystery knottier, and this makes it so much fun to take guesses!! There are some comments and observations made on publishing, indie works, e-books and the less than flattering opinions female authors have to face about their writing skills and commitment. Considering the well-known story behind why “J.K Rowling” is the name which finally appeared on the book covers, it does seem like something she quipped based on personal experiences. And the reference to struggling writers self-publishing semi-pornographic and fantasy-erotica fiction did make me chuckle a bit.

The running arc about Strike’s famous father, the reflected fame, his narcissistic ex-flame and his army background continued in this book. But what took more space were his secretary and unofficial partner in surveillance Robin and her fiancée Matthew’s tiffs regarding her work with Strike.  A considerable amount of pages were about Robin trying to change Matthew’s opinion about her boss and her future career plans. If you aren’t really interested in what happens with Robin and Matthew, it is a bit distracting from the main plot. However, I guess Rowling is setting this up as a long term background arc, and it will be interesting to see where this goes from here. I hope it doesn’t take the clichéd route of Strike and Robin getting together romantically… but it does seem to be on the anvil sometime in the later books. And may I add that I have warmed up to Strike in this book. Well, okay, a li’l bit more than from Cuckoo’s Calling. I have found him a bit impersonal and inaccessible otherwise. But I guess it is a “thing” about detective fiction in general. You can’t spend too many pages fleshing out and spotlighting people’s feelings and background stories. If I do think about it, Rowling has done a good job balancing things out by giving Strike opportunity to muse and vent about things in his past, even if privately.

As I have said earlier in my blog, I do love reading good old-fashioned and no-frills PI mysteries. So I would definitely recommend Silkworm!!

Buy links:

The Silkworm – Kindle
The Silkworm – Paperback
The Silkworm – Hardcover

So with this review, I end my first year in blogging.. (technically less than six months though J ) .. I have had a wonderful time reading and writing about books, and discovered a whole new world of online world of book blogging and learnt quite a few “blogging lessons” along the way..

Looking forward to more reading and blogging next year. Wish you all an amazing 2016!!

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Rating:

I loved Gone Girl, and for a long time I was under the impression that it was Gillian Flynn’s debut novel. It was much later that I discovered she had authored two other books prior to that, the first one being Sharp Objects. And you can see her flair for writing psychological thrillers and twisted characters in her first book too.

Sharp Objects starts with Camille Preaker , a small-time crime beat reporter assigned by her boss to dig up the story of what seems to be the beginning of a serial killing spree in Wind Gap, her hometown. Two young girls killed in two years, and both of them are well, toothless when their bodies are discovered. Yup, their teeth are plied out by the murderer, every single one of them.  Sounds like a pretty solid premise to base a decent murder mystery, right?  Well, midway through the book the case just felt like a crutch to explore the three main characters and their dysfunctional relationship – Camille, her mother Adora and half-sister Amma who she has never properly met till date. When Camille gets back to Wind Gap after ages, she is forced to stay with Adora,  Amma and Alan Crellin, her step-dad, so that she can increase her chances of networking and picking up quotes from old neighbours and friends. It ends up proving a bit counter-productive though, as her mom isn’t really pleased or supportive of her daughter’s assignment. The local police, assisted by a Kansas City detective, Richard Willis, aren’t forthcoming either.

As you read about Wind Gap, it’s history and folks; you get the feeling that there is something seriously off about the place. It just feels so suffocating and claustrophobic. And at the very least, quite disturbing. We the readers, of course, view that through the microcosm of Preaker/Crellin household.

Camille is damaged and recovering and loss of her sister and emotional abuse years ago, something she still grapples with and can’t make sense of – Did her mother love her? Did she love her younger sister more than her? Why has she always been so distant with Camille at home, though she is perfectly capable of pampering and nurturing to keep up appearances in the society?

Camille lashed out in her teens, by taking part in debauchery and cutting words into her skin. A decade later, she commits herself into a psych facility to wean away the cutting habit. But her stay in Wind Gap begins to take a serious toll on her as old memories, dormant resentment and hurt resurface. At one point she senses herself being sucked back into her old life with her mother, controlling, dominant and .. forceful mollycoddling. Even more unsettling is the new addition into the family charade, Amma, who at thirteen,  acts younger than her age at home, to get Adora’s attention, but acts out more than her age at school and everywhere else in town. She has a vicious streak and through her, we meet her gang of girls, all unapologetic about bullying, drugs, flaunting sexuality and just general meanness. Amma takes the cake though.

Adora literally treats Amma as a pet doll, and when Camille enters the picture, she isn’t sure how to treat this new development.  Camille can’t figure out Amma either. And to be honest, neither could I. So when, Amma seems to warm up to Camille, and has this candid conversation with her, where she admits she gets a real kick out of hurting people, you realize at that point that, both are, in a weird way, two sides of the same coin. Just that Camille went onto hurting herself.

So how did Camille and Amma end up turning into the people that they are? We also get a whiff of rumour about Adora’s mother being a cold, emotionally distant person. Is it a case of abuse handed down from two different generations and manifested in different ways?

So what about the murder mystery, you ask? Well, Flynn handles that too in parallel, but with lesser finesse than what she exhibited in Gone Girl.  The last few pages were convincing but rushed.  At 250 pages, this book makes for a crisp, sharp read. But if a few more pages would have smoothened those li’l frayed edges….

A B C Murders

Rating:

A series of murders. Well, quite literally .. an alphabetical one. A killer is on the prowl, murdering people, random people, with seemingly no sane motive. The only method to the madness : people murdered in an alphabetical order of their names and town : Mrs. Ascher in Andover, Miss. Barnard in Bexhill and Sir Clarke in Churston. At the scene of each crime, the murderer leaves an ABC railway guide next to the body. Before each murder, Hercule Poirot receives a letter addressed to him, revealing the name of the town and date when the murder is going to take place; taunting and challenging him to stop the next murder.

Can Poirot, with the help of his old friend Captain Hastings (and part first-person narrator of this story) and the detectives from Scotland Yard out-wit the murderer? Or will he end up running through all the letters of the alphabet?!!

The narrative occasionally breaks from the first-person account of Captain Hastings to third-person account of Alexander Bonaparte Cust, who seems to be not of sound mind; and is in possession of the railway guides.

Who is Mr. Cust? Is he related to the crimes?  Is the story more of a why-dunit than a whodunit? Or is there something more than what meets the eye?

It has been years since I have read or re-read an Agatha Christie novel and it felt quite nice to read a good old-fashioned murder mystery, without the trappings of the modern day aids in crime fiction. Deductions made only by analysis, observations, and conversations with the relatives, friends and acquaintances of the victim. I loved the little eccentricities of Poirot and Hasting’s exasperation and impatience with them. Their interactions were endearing!!