Review: 99 Red Balloons – Elisabeth Carpenter

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: Two girls go missing, decades apart. What would you do if one was your daughter?

When eight-year-old Grace goes missing from a sweetshop on the way home from school, her mother Emma is plunged into a nightmare. Her family rallies around, but as the police hunt begins, cracks begin to emerge.

What are the secret emails sent between Emma’s husband and her sister? Why does her mother take so long to join the search? And is Emma really as innocent as she seems?

Meanwhile, ageing widow Maggie Taylor sees Grace’s picture in the newspaper. It’s a photograph that jolts her from the pain of her existence into a spiralling obsession with another girl – the first girl who disappeared… – via Goodreads

I don’t know. This book. I really thought it was going to be so more than it ultimately was, and so many people raved about it. I should have known from early on it wasn’t going to be my jam. I just felt it in my bones, and yet I foolishly soldiered on. The completist in me. Pfffffff.

Right off the bat, the characters. Oh. My. Gosh. I resented them all. The only one that was nice was Jim, the only one I didn’t mind reading about. It also didn’t help at all that none of the characters ever had their own voice. Which is frustrating as hell because every chapter is from someone else’s perspective, and the only person you can distinctly pick out from the pages is Maggie. This was really maddening. Like really, really frustrating. Not liking any of the characters didn’t help at all, because I couldn’t give a damn about their situation, the present, the past, nothing, and this book is all about that.

I was also not a fan of the writing – it was really stinted and didn’t flow nicely. The story gets told, but it comes across as erratic, and the plot twist that comes along later is not delivered super smoothly at all, it is something you sort of wonder about, especially with the plot device that the author is deliberately trying to shove down your throat, so insistently that eventually you are wondering if she would be so bold as to be so honest.

I did not appreciate the chapter division – like the perspective from a multitude of characters. This style can work for some books, but it didn’t really work here, and I think that is primarily because the characters all ran into each other, there were no major differences between them, and it was hard to keep track of who was who as they all sounded the same. Also, all the characters being equally messed up, selfish and overall meh contributed toward this. 99 Red Balloons also felt like it was going around and around in circles, not really going anywhere – it felt like an awfully long read. I feel it could have been a lot shorter than it ultimately was.

Anyway, I don’t think I need to state the obvious that I wasn’t bowled over by this. Seems a lot of people liked it, but it just didn’t work for me. Not the worst book I read this year, but it was really generic for me at the end of the day. I would say skip, but that is just me.

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Review: I Know Where She Is – S.B. Caves

I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS: On the tenth anniversary of her daughter Autumn’s abduction, Francine receives an anonymous note containing just five words: I KNOW WHERE SHE IS

When a young woman approaches her the next day claiming to have sent the letter Francine wants to dismiss it as a cruel, twisted joke.

But the stranger knows things that only Autumn would know.

It soon becomes clear that Francine must go to dark places in order to learn the truth about her child’s kidnapping.

She will discover that danger comes from unexpected sources. She will do things she never imagined herself capable of.

But will Francine get her daughter back – or is it too late? – via Goodreads

You know, I picked this out a while ago, but never got to it. I recently decided to give it a go, and I had just finished Jaycee Dugard’s A Stolen Life, and drew so many parallels between this fictitious world and her horrible experience. Not because I was supposed to, but Dugard’s story was so fresh in my mind, the concept of snatched kids returning after all that time, hence the link for me, I suppose, because they aren’t really alike aside from that.

Right off, I would like to say that there are absolutely no likeable characters in this book. Francine, our main peanut and perpetually grieving mother, is just… meh. I understood the concept of her, and I felt for her, but this does not mean that I had to like her. And I didn’t. Next up in her permanently exasperated husband. Sure, another character I understood and felt for, but again didn’t like. Not to mention all the other characters peppered throughout this novel, none of them with actual stories, none of them real characters, but there to move the story along. While that was hollow at times, it also served the purpose really well that the only two characters who actually really meant anything were Autumn and her mother, for better or worse.

I think the concept was decent, and you know, nobody wants to think of the ugly world we live in, and that some seriously sick, nasty stuff really does happen. This book hits on that, but there are a lot of things that remain vague and never detail out, and are never explored in more depth. For instance, the pregnant girls, where the babies go, who raises them, how much more of this could possibly go on, how extensive it is, how the cops are involved but nobody is saying anything – so many loose ends. Still, you are drawn in and the story hooks you pretty early on.

I Know Where She Is wasted no time in getting started and barrelled along throughout the time I read it. It was also a quick read, and I think the flow of it helped a lot for that, too, and it quite well written. Even with its flaws, it is an engaging read, one you would like to know what happens, and what has happened, although you might not get the most satisfactory answers in those quests. But the story is good, Autumn is the only decent character, and it all comes together alright. I see that many people enjoyed this more than I did, but I think it might just have been the fact that I expected more from the conspiracy and brutality of it all, and a more well thought-out read than was ultimately delivered. Still, not a bad read, especially if you want something fast that has dark sections to it.

Review: The Collector – Nora Roberts

SYNOPSIS: When professional house-sitter Lila Emerson witnesses a murder/suicide from her current apartment-sitting job, life as she knows it takes a dramatic turn. Suddenly, the woman with no permanent ties finds herself almost wishing for one. . . .

Artist Ashton Archer knows his brother isn’t capable of violence—against himself or others. He recruits Lila, the only eyewitness, to help him uncover what happened. Ash longs to paint her as intensely as he hungers to touch her. But their investigation draws them into a rarified circle where priceless antiques are bought, sold, gambled away, and stolen, where what you possess is who you are, and where what you desire becomes a deadly obsession. . .  – via Goodreads

Psssssssh, let’s talk about The Collector. This is hands down one of the most forgettable books I have ever read. In my life. If you need further proof, Natasha (who has read damn near all of Nora Roberts’s work and remembers 99% of it) cannot for her life recall having read this, even though she freaking reviewed it! This has been a source of amusement for us for quite some time now.

Okay, now moving along from the best part of this book (which is having a real laugh with my bestie about how ridiculously forgettable this read is), there is nothing else to really redeem it. Seriously, it is not like you pick up a Roberts novel expecting a super thrill or to find the meaning of life, they are good for light entertainment, but this book is so lazy it is unforgivable. I promise you, the plot if beyond preposterous, the writing is just messy, let’s not forget the array of generic, bland characters crammed into the book, and ultimately a super lacklustre romance makes for a bland read. I think when I saw the title, I was thinking blood and guts and bone and gore. Probably because I read The Bone Collector shortly before this one, possibly also because I read too much icky stuff to think like an art collector :/ Judge me, whatever.

Bland, and frustrating at times. My biggest frustration is, of course, Lila, our main peanut. For one, she is grating. Really. She just irritated me, and then there is Ash, who is just as frustrating, and when they get together, it is super trying on the soul. Consent, as always, is an issue here. He snaps his fingers, she must obey. He wants, he gets. Yap, yap, yap. The men are always such control freaks in Nora Roberts’s books, and it is not sexy. It also annoys me how the women are always “strong and independent” until a man rolls up and then suddenly she is a damsel. Something that really worked on my last nerve is that Ash has a troubled relationship with his father. That is between them. Instead, when his father is being a real piece of work and Ash has calmly decided it is up to his father to be nice or piss off, that nuisance Lila speaks up and condemns Ash for his decision. People that get all involved in family drama they know nothing about and judge harshly should just shut the fuck up. What do you even really know about the situation?

Another thing that made me cringe is Lila’s constant obsession with money. She was so vocal about it, and it was awkward. Like shut up! I don’t want to read about those things, because it came across as embarrassing/preachy, instead of a fact of the character. Argh. Also a pity how much Russian history could have been worked with here and been so much more thrilling, but it wasn’t. I suppose one thing to be happy about is that this luckily is not one of Roberts’s fuck fest novels, so there is that.

The Collector is a wasted affair, and so lacklustre and empty. It feels like a filler and reads like one, too. It also really, truly won’t stay with you after the fact, and the sloppy, generic writing is an awful flaw here. At least it is a quick read…

Review: Don’t Let Go – Harlan Coben

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: Suburban New Jersey Detective Napoleon “Nap” Dumas hasn’t been the same since senior year of high school, when his twin brother Leo and Leo’s girlfriend Diana were found dead on the railroad tracks—and Maura, the girl Nap considered the love of his life, broke up with him and disappeared without explanation. For fifteen years, Nap has been searching, both for Maura and for the real reason behind his brother’s death. And now, it looks as though he may finally find what he’s been looking for.

When Maura’s fingerprints turn up in the rental car of a suspected murderer, Nap embarks on a quest for answers that only leads to more questions—about the woman he loved, about the childhood friends he thought he knew, about the abandoned military base near where he grew up, and mostly about Leo and Diana—whose deaths are darker and far more sinister than Nap ever dared imagine. – via Goodreads

Alrighty, right off the bat, this was a super quick read, so it hooks you very early and keeps you busy throughout, the pace barrelling along at a breakneck speed, never really slowing down. It’s a thrilling little story that is well written and doesn’t waste your time dawdling around.

The characters are not particularly fleshed out or robust, but that doesn’t hurt this in the least. Nap is the most important, and he is a character we get to know more than the others purely because the story is being told by him and the conversations he has in his head with his dead brother Leo. Then there is his best friend, Ellie, who is only really his best friend, and never becomes real. Augie is also a peripheral character, but important to Nap, and so, like Ellie, he becomes important to us.

There were many leaps and bounds that the story took, but nothing too outrageous. You hang in for the ride, filled with twists and turns every step of the way. I do think that a lot of the humour fell flat though, which is unfortunate. It came across as trying to be smarter and sharper than it was, and just didn’t get really well. While there aren’t a lot of super likable characters in this, there is an interesting story. Conspiracy? Murder? Secret clubs? Obsession? So many boxes ticked for me, so naturally I was on board.

Don’t Let Go is a book that hustles and bustles along, a busy little read that zooms by before you even know what’s happened. It reads easily enough and has a story that will keep you hooked from the get-go. It won’t linger long after you have read it, and will not change the way you think about things, but that does not detract from the fact that the read is entertaining as all hell. If you are looking for a quick, gripping thrill of a ride, this book definitely meets that criteria.

Review: The Coffin Dancer – Jeffery Deaver

Lincoln Rhyme #2

SYNOPSIS: NYPD criminalist Lincoln Rhyme joins his beautiful protege, Amelia Sachs, in the hunt for the Coffin Dancer–an ingenious killer who changes appearance even faster than he adds to his trail of victims. They have only one clue: the madman has a tattoo of the Grim Reaper waltzing with a woman. Rhyme must rely on his wits and intuition to track the elusive murderer through New York City–knowing they have only forty-eight hours before the Coffin Dancer strikes again. – via Goodreads

Alrigthy then folks, let’s get on with this series! I recently read the first one after putting it off for so many years (don’t you dare judge me, my To Read list is so daunting I sometimes just stare at my Kindle wondering where I will go next on my reading journey, and then just keep staring). I loved it, and I just knew that I had to keep on with it and see where it all went. Well, the follow up to The Bone Collector certainly does not disappoint!

Lincoln Rhyme returns in style, and certainly has more drive for living than he did in the first one. Apparently the Bone Collector drew him out of his depressive shell, and reuniting with Sellitto and acquainting with Sachs is the best thing that could have happened to him. I truly enjoy Rhyme’s mind, and was again drawn into this book and fascinated with our main man being a C4 quadriplegic. Sachs, too, is a character I thoroughly enjoyed. They both had actions in this book that felt a little jarring to the characters we have been presented with up to this point, but oh well.

Percey Clay is a character that really peeved me in the beginning, and not just because I am attached to Sachs and love the interactions between her and Rhyme (that dynamic is fascinating). No, I had beef with how incredibly selfish Percey was, and then she was lauded as being to brave. No, being pigheaded does not necessarily make you brave. Ugh. But on the opposite side of her, we have Roland Bell and Fred Dellray to read about, and they are both characters I thoroughly enjoyed.

I always appreciate reading the interactions between Rhyme and Thom, they are like family, and Thom does not put up with Rhyme’s temper and neglect of his body, and the two are quite close. This is never more clear than when Thom is proud of Rhyme’s accomplishments and how much he (Rhyme) is enjoying his new gadgets, etc. It’s adorable. Then there is the realtionship between Sachs and Rhyme, and I really like it because it is not a romance as you would think of it – that fire is there, don’t get me wrong, but they have immense amount of respect for one another and both push each other, which I like. I did not like the insane jealousy plot that was put in here, it felt a little forced and silly.

The Coffin Dancer was another smart, worthy nemesis for Rhyme to track, and it was quite an intense journey. The Coffin Dancer is as twisty as you would expect, which totally works, and kept me hooked. The plot barrels along, proving that Deaver is quite a deft writer. There are some niggles and issues here, to be sure, but for the most part this is a super entertaining read.

Overall, The Coffin Dancer is a solid follow up for Lincoln Rhyme, and this series has certainly hooked me with these two books. I am really looking forward to reading more on this. The books so far have proven to be smart and well written, two things I appreciate in a book.

Review: The Innocent Wife – Amy Lloyd

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: Twenty years ago Dennis Danson was arrested for the brutal murder of Holly Michaels in Florida’s Red River County. Now he’s the subject of a Making a Murderer-style true crime documentary that’s taking the world by storm – the filmmakers are whipping up a frenzy of coverage to uncover the truth and free the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice.

Samantha may be thousands of miles away in Britain, but she is as invested in Dennis’s case as any of his lawyers. Perhaps even more so, as her letters to the convicted killer grow ever more intimate. Soon she is leaving her life behind to marry Danson and campaign, as his wife, for his release.

But when the campaign is successful, and Dennis is freed, events begin to suggest that he may not be so innocent after all. How many girls went missing in Red River, and what does Dennis really know?  – via Goodreads

Obviously this premise was going to speak to me. I am fascinated with the whole death row thing, as well as the women who marry these men there. Surreal, crazy stuff. I very briefly skimmed this synopsis and gave it a shot, and I have no regrets.

The Innocent Wife is an extremely absorbing read. It gets cracking really quickly, and doesn’t waste your time. The plot pacing is a little all over the show because it starts with a bang, and while it remains engrossing, the middle section feels a little all over the show. That does not hurt the read though, as it is engaging and a super fast read. I really enjoyed the premise of this one (I mean we have all watched documentaries about convicted murderers/wrongfully convicted folks and everyone has an opinion on the death penalty), and felt at times it was a little predictable, but not too often, so it makes for a super immersive read.

Sam is a character who initially comes across as insipid and weak, and then when you see later is actually a hot mess in life. She is a particular brand of strange, because she pushes people away, has a super mean streak that bubbles to the surface from time to time, is super jealous and she lives in her head and shuts out the world. She also made Dennis her life, her whole world, and that is just sad. The relationship between Dennis and Sam is an odd one, and he is a cruel bastard to her at times, but she, too, is just weird. They are not particularly well suited for one another, and yet you want to read all there is to read about their twisted romance.

I did like the way that the book was structured, skipping between a book that was written about Dennis Danson and the accusations levelled against him, as well as letters between him and Sam, and then to what is going on between them in real life. It definitely works to keep up suspense. The book is really well written and lingers with you when you (sadly) have to go about your day to day (read: job that pays your bills) activities. I just wanted to read!

I am impressed that The Innocent Wife is Amy Lloyd’s first novel, and will most certainly be keeping my eyes peeled to see what else she comes up with in the future. I would say that this book is well worth the read!

Review: It – Stephen King

SYNOPSIS: To the children, the town was their whole world. To the adults, knowing better, Derry, Maine was just their home town: familiar, well-ordered for the most part. A good place to live.

It was the children who saw – and felt – what made Derry so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, IT lurked, taking on the shape of every nightmare, each one’s deepest dread. Sometimes IT reached up, seizing, tearing, killing . . .

The adults, knowing better, knew nothing.

Time passed and the children grew up, moved away. The horror of IT was deep-buried, wrapped in forgetfulness. Until they were called back, once more to confront IT as IT stirred and coiled in the sullen depths of their memories, reaching up again to make their past nightmares a terrible present reality. – via Goodreads

Man, oh man! I have been itching for a Stephen King novel for some time now recently (ask Natasha, I have been putting off rereading 11/22/63 – it will happen sometime soon), and decided the other day screw it, let’s do It, what with the movie coming and all. I spent a chunk of September reading this because, aside from being a massive book, it takes time to hit a rhythm, but when you do it flows. My problem? Reading snatches of it on the tube every day (when I change three times) is not conducive to slipping into a rhythm.

Now, on to the book. Right off the bat, Stephen King is a master storyteller, someone who can really weave a tale to draw you in, and It is no exception. After each character is introduced to us, you rapidly develop an understanding of their personalities, and can easily discern each from the other – they all have a distinctive voice. The book serves as a constant reminder for the phenomenal character building King can do – each one of these kids brought something to the table with them. Bill, Eddie, Richie, Mike, Ben, Beverly, Stan, each of them had something unique going on.

It skips between 1957 and 1985, and the stories unfold concurrently, which I think is great. You see the encounters come as they are adults, and you make the discoveries with the adult versions of these kids as they make them, and I liked that bit of storytelling. The friendship between these kids is great, too.  I truly enjoyed how this is a book about growing up, friends, fears, reality, abuse, hopes and dreams – heck, just know it has a lot of themes it deals with, and plenty drama. It also goes from that and delivers all the gore, blood and guts you could hope for in the final third of the book – you get your blood and you get a story with heart, so it is a pretty good double whammy.

I had some issues at times that there was some waffling (it can happen in a King novel), and there was a really questionable cop out ultimately with Tom Rogan (for reals?! After all that?!) and Henry Bowers, and I really wanted answers about what happened to Mike Hanlon’s family farm, considering his dad worked real hard on it and made some smart financial decisions for Mike. That being said, there was way more to like about this than not. I thoroughly enjoyed the world building King got into here, too. What a crazy ride!

It is interesting and put together well, and keeps you engaged throughout. It is quite a story and it is engaging. It deals with a multitude of themes, and handles them all rather deftly. I would highly recommend It. It is a long journey, and I felt a little lost after completing this leviathan read, but I enjoyed it. Thoroughly.