Book review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens


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Title: Where the Crawdads Sing

Author: Delia Owens

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Corsair

Publication date: 8th November 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Celeste Ng, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

My review:

A touching tale of survival, hope and resilience, Where the Crawdads Sing was one of the bestsellers in the Historical Fiction genre in 2018 and rightfully so. There are so many aspects that make this book truly great and a special read to cherish for a long time.

Kya is a young girl, left to face life’s struggles alone after her mother walks away from her abusive father and her siblings soon follow the same path. The beginning of this book explores Kya’s strengths, weaknesses, fears and hopes in great detail and the reader is able to join her on this incredible journey of survival as she bravely faces each challenge. Aside from Kya’s unique character traits, the author successfully portrays the remaining minor characters as vital companions to Kya’s survival, from her close allies Jumpin’ and Mabel, to her first friend, Tate. Each character is so wonderfully developed and integrated in the novel that it becomes hard not to appreciate ones that we should dislike such as Chase Andews and his friends who label Kya as “the Marsh girl”.

Another element that makes this book stand out is the beautiful setting of the marsh and the effortless way in which the author depicts the smallest creatures and atmospheric surroundings of Kya’s home. Nature’s wonders are celebrated throughout this book as Kya learns how to take care of herself by making the marshland her habitat and discovers the hundreds of species that she shares her home with. Not only did I find this aspect educational, but also immensely powerful and engaging. Few books published in this genre have used the environment or countryside as a backdrop to the story line as it seems too complex to achieve or perhaps not suited to the plot. However, in Where the Crawdads Sing, the marsh is so alive that it almost becomes another character:

“Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”

On a final note, perhaps the most impressive literary element in Where the Crawdads Sing is the beautiful writing. The storytelling is mesmerising and I often felt unable to put the book down as I was so immersed in the plot. Words flow so naturally in this book and there were so many sentences and phrases that I wanted to bookmark and refer to later on. Few authors are able to create such a delightful setting and completely capture the reader’s attention and I found it remarkable just how powerful the writing was.

Where the Crawdads Sing is a celebration of nature and the strength that one needs to overcome tragedy and meet the challenges of life head on. A mixture of unique characters, compelling writing and a beautiful setting make this book a success and one that should be praised in all its forms. It is by far the most special book that I have read this year and one that I will be recommending to everyone around me.

Book review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin


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Title: The Immortalists

Author: Chloe Benjamin

Genre: General Fiction

Publisher: Tinder Press

Publication date: 9th January 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

It’s 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York’s Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. Four siblings, too young for what they are about to hear, sneak out to hear their fortunes.
We then follow the intertwined paths the siblings take over the course of five decades and, in particular, how they choose to live with the supposed knowledge the fortune-teller gave them that day. This is a story about life, mortality and the choices we make: is it better to live a long and cautious life, or to burn brightly, but for the shortest time?

My review:

The premise of this book left me pondering on so many “what-if” moments. Original and daring, the idea of four young children learning the date of their death and living with this knowledge seemed so fascinating that I immediately wanted to read on and find out how it will affect each one of them. The concept seemed unique and one that could develop in endless ways depending on the choices that each sibling makes and, after discovering how different each one is, I was certain that the plot would follow suit.

Several chapters into the book and I was already starting to doubt the concept and wondering why the author had decided to follow such a rigid path for these diverse characters. Klara and Simon both appeared as feisty and impulsive characters at first yet  the choices they made and the consequences of their actions seemed unexciting. I found it equally difficult to follow Daniel and Varya’s lives which at first appeared somewhat more compelling but turned out to be just as bleak as their siblings’. Fear, confusion and distress were the feelings that possessed their lives and unfortunately that compromised other exciting moments that they missed out on. Knowing when they would die but not how or why absorbed their lives completely, and understandably so, but the plot was ultimately lacking in positive emotions and the depressing nature of their paths weighed down the story line and weakened the concept in originality.

Although this book raised some thought-provoking and critical questions, I found the execution to be poor and the plot dull at times. I was disappointed with some of the decisions the characters made and would have enjoyed more diversity in the way they reacted to finding out when they would die. However, the issues covered were powerful enough for me to appreciate this book for what it is and it left a huge impact on me and my thoughts and reflections for a long time after I had finished it.

Book review: The Vanishing Season by Dot Hutchinson


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Title: The Vanishing Season

Author: Dot Hutchison

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Publication date: 21st May 2019

My rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Summary:

Eight-year-old Brooklyn Mercer has gone missing. And as accustomed as FBI agents Eliza Sterling and Brandon Eddison are to such harrowing cases, this one has struck a nerve. It marks the anniversary of the disappearance of Eddison’s own little sister. Disturbing, too, is the girl’s resemblance to Eliza—so uncanny they could be mother and daughter.
With Eddison’s unsettled past rising again with rage and pain, Eliza is determined to solve this case at any cost. But the closer she looks, the more reluctant she is to divulge to her increasingly shaken partner what she finds. Brooklyn isn’t the only girl of her exact description to go missing. She’s just the latest in a frightening pattern going back decades in cities throughout the entire country.
In a race against time, Eliza’s determined to bring Brooklyn home and somehow find the link to the cold case that has haunted Eddison—and the entire Crimes Against Children team—since its inception.

My review:

Most Thriller lovers are familiar with The Butterfly Garden and its incredibly unique setting. More than two years later and I still remember the electrifying sensation that I felt as I read that book which ultimately left me wanting more from this series. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the final book in the Collector series was soon to be published and immediately requested it on Netgalley. Unfortunately, this book left me feeling very disappointed at how the series ended and also confused at the dreariness of the setting and lack of plot. There were several key factors that caused my letdown and my main reasons for disliking this book.

Firstly, the author focused too much on the lives of the FBI agents and too little on Brooklyn’s disappearance. The spotlight was almost always entirely on the main leading investigator Eliza and her past, such as why she decided to take this job and what made her engagement fall apart. As much as I tried I couldn’t take a liking to her or any of the agents on the team and was simply not interested in any of their interactions. Some conversations felt forced and, although I liked the appearances of some of the girls from the Garden, the continuous references to them started to feel irrelevant after a while.

The plot slowly began to come together towards the second half when the team connects Brooklyn’s disappearance to that of several other little girls. I was glad to finally see some progress in the case and was hoping to join the team on a rollercoaster ride of solving this complex case. My main issue with this book was around this point when the team very quickly and almost without any research into anyone involved in Brooklyn’s life suddenly discovers the key figure that connects all the disappearances. The lack of investigation really diminished the thrilling element and I felt as if there was a sudden rush to find the perpetrator because the character development had been exhausted and there was no other way for the story line to progress apart from finding the kidnapper.

Other small points which I found irritating included the constant mixture of random Spanish sentences mixed with English speech as well as the almost too perfect ending. I understand the approach that the author was aiming for but the execution felt poor to me overall. Although I strongly recommend The Butterfly Garden to Mystery/Thriller fans, unfortunately there is not much from this book that I can rave about.

The Vanishing Season will be out to buy on 21st May.

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: The Night Before by Wendy Walker


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Title: The Night Before

Author: Wendy Walker

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher: St Martin’s Press

Publication date: 14th May 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

Laura Lochner has never been lucky in love. She falls too hard and too fast, always choosing the wrong men. Devastated by the end of her last relationship, she fled her Wall Street job and New York City apartment for her sister’s home in the Connecticut suburb where they both grew up. Though still haunted by the tragedy that’s defined her entire life, Laura is determined to take one more chance on love with a man she’s met on an Internet dating site.
Rosie Ferro has spent most of her life worrying about her troubled sister. Fearless but fragile, Laura has always walked an emotional tightrope, and Rosie has always been there to catch her. Laura’s return, under mysterious circumstances, has cast a shadow over Rosie’s peaceful life with her husband and young son – a shadow that grows darker as Laura leaves the house for her blind date.
When Laura does not return home the following morning, Rosie fears the worst. She’s not responding to calls or texts, and she’s left no information about the man she planned to meet. As Rosie begins a desperate search to find her sister, she is not just worried about what this man might have done to Laura. She’s worried about what Laura may have done to him…
 “

My review:

Many readers may not have heard of Wendy Walker but with her upcoming publication, The Night Before, I am sure that she will soon become a name to remember in the Psychological Thriller category. This book had all the right ingredients of an alluring and nail-biting thriller and I was lost in Laura’s world of confusion, distress and desperation. I was a little disappointed to find out that the author had decided to follow one of the latest trends in the industry with an unreliable female narrator but quickly warmed to Laura and her personality. The first few chapters flew by as I was immersed in her world and was keen to discover how her first date after the big break up would transpire.

I read the rest of this book in only one other sitting, eager to find out what had happened to Laura after she disappeared. Blaming her date seemed obvious but the rest of the characters involved appeared to be so distressed about her disappearance that it really left the field wide open for all other surprises. The author really delivered here as we were taken on a roller coaster of twists, riddles and mind games where all characters were involved.

Although I enjoyed the premise of this book, I was slightly disappointed with how it ended and in particular the way in which Laura’s disappearance was handled. At first the events seemed a little far-fetched, especially considering how the characters were originally portrayed, but it slowly started to make sense and all came together in the final few chapters. I would have preferred a different ending but looking back at all the hints the author left, I can understand why and how she chose to develop the plot the way she did. Tense, suspenseful and captivating, The Night Walker is a must read for all Psychological Thriller fans.

The Night Before will be out to buy on 14th May!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: Watching You by Lisa Jewell


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Title: Watching You

Author: Lisa Jewell

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Cornerstone Digital

Publication date: 12th July 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret. And everyone is watching you.
As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenage son Freddie—a prodigy with aspirations of becoming a spy for MI5—excels in observing people and has witnessed Joey behaving strangely around his father.
One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.
Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliam…

My review:

Watching You starts with one of the most enticing first chapters I’ve recently read in a thriller; a dead body is found in the kitchen of what appears to be the ideal family, viciously stabbed several times. We first hear from one of the protagonists, Joey, who is being interviewed by the police and Lisa Jewell’s fluid writing style really starts to show here. I was immediately compelled to read the next few chapters but was disappointed to find out that we are instead introduced to several other characters in this community in Bristol and the connections between these characters doesn’t start to become clear until around the halfway point of the book, by which point I was already starting to lose interest.

The main drawback for me was the lack of context behind the spying aspect. At one point it seemed that everyone was watching each other but the reason behind it was vague so I was frustrated that it assumed such a large chunk of the plot. Snippets of the crime scene and day of the death are slowly revealed through the police interviews, a clever backdrop to use, and by discarding characters one by one it is not too difficult to guess who the culprit is behind the murder, which made for a slightly disappointing and predictable conclusion.

Nevertheless, as with many other novels by this author, the best is left until last and her true talent shines in the last chapter. The ending is enough to put into perspective everything that we have learnt so far about these characters, especially one particularly deceitful and malicious character. Few authors are able to deliver such a strong ending despite the predictable murderer and the implications from the final words are enough to justify reading through the slow beginning. I would recommend Watching You to anyone who enjoys a slow burn thriller with a shocking ending, although I encourage others to try Lisa Jewell’s other novels first as the pacing is much stronger and the characters more refined.

Book review: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak


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Title: I Am the Messenger

Author: Markus Zusak

Genre: Young Adult

Publisher: RHCP Digital

Publication date: 1st January 2015

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“Ed Kennedy is just your less-than-average Joe who is hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. But after he single-handedly manages to catch a bank robber, he receives a playing card in the mail: the Ace of Diamonds. This is the first message. Four more will follow. But before this particular card game can end, Ed will be changed forever . . .”

My review:

Markus Zusak at his best! This book’s concept is hard to explain because it deals with so many beautiful and complex life issues that are difficult to summarise without giving too much away. However, just like other books by this author, it sucks you in from the very first page and it is clear from the ingenious first chapter that it will be another Zusak masterpiece.

What made this book so special for me was the perfect combination of friendship and community that becomes evident as we learn the objective of each message. Although at first each character appears to be plain, Zusak’s emphasis on how “sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference” is the key element that triggers such strong emotions and encourages the reader to sail through this book. The storytelling aspect is brilliant and the writing is truly one of a kind. He easily develops the short staccato sentences to fully strengthen the characterisation and his word choice is extremely careful so that the final result is a polished and beautifully written story.

Lovers of The Book Thief may at first struggle with this book because it has a completely different feel, however I strongly encourage to keep reading as the story develops into a unique and beautiful tale of how the most ordinary people can sometimes do the most extraordinary things.

Book review: And Then You Were Gone by R.J. Jacobs


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Title: And Then You Were Gone

Author: R. J. Jacobs

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Publication date: 12th March 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“After years of learning how to manage her bipolar disorder, Emily Firestone finally has it under control. Even better, her life is coming together: she’s got a great job, her own place, and a boyfriend, Paolo, who adores her. So when Paolo suggests a weekend sailing trip, Emily agrees—wine, water, and the man she loves? What could be better? But when Emily wakes the morning after they set sail, the boat is still adrift…and Paolo is gone.

A strong swimmer, there’s no way Paolo drowned, but Emily is at a loss for any other explanation. Where else could he have gone? And why? As the hours and days pass by, each moment marking Paolo’s disappearance, Emily’s hard-won stability begins to slip.

But when Emily uncovers evidence suggesting Paolo was murdered, the investigation throws her mania into overdrive, even as she becomes a person of interest in her own personal tragedy. To clear her name, Emily must find the truth—but can she hold onto her own sanity in the process?”

My review:

An unreliable narrator and hazy circumstances surrounding a disappearance seem to be a great recipe for success so I naturally had high hopes for this book. The first few chapters with Emily and Paolo at the cabin felt natural, the writing was concise and the plot promising. I was impressed with the great level of care and attention the writer put into Emily’s bipolar disorder as it is not an easy topic to discuss, yet it was still handled with a lot of sensitivity and thought. I rushed through the first few chapters as I was impatient to understand what had happened to Paolo and if he was still alive.

Unfortunately, the story line and plot were just to weak for me. I quickly started losing interest as more characters were introduced and the attention shifted to Paolo’s co-workers and research the main motive behind his disappearance. It was also around this point where Emily’s character traits started to emerge and I could not connect with her hastiness or impulsiveness to take dangerous measures so she could uncover what she believed to be a conspiracy. I understand that her interpretation of the events of the night Paolo disappeared were distorted due to her mental illness and praise the author on the way this idea was developed but I think this side of the story line could have approached in a different way while still engaging the reader.

The ending where the secrets were revealed was somewhat of an anticlimax because the author gave many hints throughout the book of the suspect so it was not difficult to assume who it was. Despite the strong beginning, this book had too many flaws for me to fully invest my time in reading it in several sittings. Instead I found myself stopping and starting over the course of a few weeks which happens rarely when I read thrillers. I would recommend it only to those looking for a slower paced thriller and would advise not to trust Emily’s reasoning throughout the book.

And Then You Were Gone is out to buy now!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.