Review | Into the Water, Paula Hawkins

33151805For Into the Water, Hawkins pulls back the tight focus she used in Girl on the Train and takes on the perspectives of an entire town responding to the mysterious death of one of their residents.

I absolutely loved Girl on the Train, with its tight, claustrophobic feel that constantly keeps the reader shifting on unstable ground, as the main character herself questions the things she sees. Into the Water didn’t come close to that level of impact. The multiple perspectives detached me somewhat from the story, and while Nel’s death is sad and mysterious, it never quite felt immediate nor urgent. Some of the characters were interesting, but the switching perspectives and multiple story-lines just made it confusing and kinda muddled at times.

Hawkins tries very hard to make this story bigger than it actually is, but doesn’t quite deliver on the epic proportions she seems to aim for. For example, the death occurs in the Drowning Pool, a spot along the river where multiple women have drowned in the past, and which Hawkins not-very-subtly links thematically to the Salem witch trials. Nel’s death, and the deaths of at least one other woman in the town’s history, are thus tied in some way to men’s fear of their power as women, and Hawkins’ descriptions of the drownings hammer us over the head with this point. Unfortunately, she doesn’t quite follow through on this theme. The actual motives for the murders are prosaic in comparison, and any connection to Salem fizzles out.

At its core, the story has promise — a troubled writer dies in a river, and her sister and daughter aren’t quite sure if she jumped or was pushed. Either option is linked to a story she’s working on that threatens to reveal deeply held secrets in her small town. Hawkins expands the scope dramatically, by introducing a large cast of characters and trying to hype up the “small town holds deep, dark secrets” trope. Unfortunately, the perspective is too wide for the “deep, dark secrets” to feel truly menacing, and while the townspeople are interesting, none of them are very actually memorable. The big reveal wasn’t as shocking as I’d imagined, and the villain is big and bad, but in a blunt hammer kind of way and nowhere near as chilling as the one in Girl on the Train.

Overall, it was not a bad book. The writing is good and the story is interesting. It just wasn’t as good as Girl on the Train, and I wish she’d employed a similar tight focus on this story. There was also one intriguing unanswered question (what did Lena do with the nail?).

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Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour | In a Dark, Dark Wood, Ruth Ware

23783496Within the first few chapters, I knew I was going to absolutely love this book. The stage is set for a classic Agatha Christie-style mystery: a group of strangers is brought together in a house deep in the titular dark, dark wood where there is no cell reception, no easy way to escape, and where the characters are all bound by dark secrets from their past.

In Ware’s take on this classic trope, the characters convene for a bachelorette party organized by a rather obsessive perfectionist maid of honour named Flo for her BFF Clare. The main character is Leonora “Nora” Shaw, who is surprised to be invited since she hasn’t spoken to Clare since a falling out years ago. She decides to attend anyway, and as any mystery lover can attest, this cannot end well. What follows is a hilariously awkward weekend with people who mostly can’t seem to stand each other, and then someone is murdered. The novel opens with Nora in a hospital bed, trying to piece together what had happened.

In a Dark, Dark Wood is a classic mystery thriller. I couldn’t put it down, and I felt compelled to keep reading not only to find out what actually happened but also to find out how the various relationships develop. There are some aspects that stretch belief somewhat, for example that a bad breakup when Nora was just 16, could still have this much effect on her ten years later (why hasn’t she moved on yet?!), and also some twists and revelations that felt more convenient that believable. The motive behind the crime also felt odd, and I almost wish Ware had set it up a bit more like Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley character, which will possibly help us understand better how someone’s psyche can be so messed up that murder seems a sensible response to this motive.

That being said, I absolutely loved this book. I’m a sucker for classic Agatha Christie whodunnits and I think Ware captures this feel wonderfully. The house in the woods is a perfect setting for such a creepy mystery, and I absolutely love the twisted interlocking webs of messed up relationships that drove this story forward. Finally, I think the cover is just beautiful.

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Author Q&A with Ruth Ware

  1. I love the classic Agatha Christie whodunnit feel. How much was And Then There Were None an influence on this book, and how much is Agatha Christie herself an influence in your writing?

I loved Christie as a teen – well, classic crime full stop, really – so it’s definitely something that was there in the back of my head. However it wasn’t really a conscious decision to channel those influences into In a Dark, Dark Wood, but when I’d finished writing it I handed it to my agent who immediately said “you know, this has a very Agatha Christie-ish feel” and I realised she was right, and Christie’s influence had definitely seeped through into the text. The reference to And Then There Were None in the text is my little acknowledgement of that!

  1. What inspired this story? Where did the idea come from?

The original seed was a conversation with a friend who said she’d never read a thriller set on a hen night and would love to read one. And I realised in that moment that I’d never read a thriller on a hen night either, and would love to write one! On the tube on the way home I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea, and eventually it became In a Dark, Dark Wood.

  1. Why do you think the name change (from “Lee” to “Nora”) is so important to Leonora? Why is Clare so insistent on calling her “Lee”?

Well, one of the themes of the book is identity and self-image, and the way we choose how we to appear to others. Often the person we are at school is radically different from the person we are when we grow up – and Nora’s name change is a way of her owning that, I suppose – acknowledging that she’s more than Clare’s best friend (Clare was the person who bestowed the “Lee” nickname on Nora and it’s something she’s ambivalent about.) I suppose for Nora, making people use her grown-up name rather than her teenage nickname is a way of asking them to acknowledge that she’s not the same person she was back then, whereas Clare is maybe trying to do the opposite – remind Nora of who they used to be to each other.

  1. Will you be involved at all in the motion picture adaptation? How well do you think your story will translate to screen?

I know that some writers adapt their own books for screen, but I can’t imagine doing that. I’m not sure I’d know how! I think (I may be biased!) that it could be a great film, it’s certainly very visual and I think the dark woods and the glass house could make a great setting. A lot of the action takes place in Nora’s head though, and the tension comes from inside her. You’d need a good actor and director to convey that.

  1. Clare pretty much ends up having the bachelorette party from hell. What has been your most memorable (good, bad or simply hilarious) bachelorette party experience?

I’ve not had any really hideous experiences myself, but I did have a lot of friends unburden themselves to me after they read the book. I think the worst anecdote I heard was a party where the stripper failed to turn up, so the bar tender offered to make a few calls and find a replacement. Eventually a guy turned up, but the first clue that all was not quite well was that he folded his clothes neatly as he removed them! There followed an excruciating quarter of an hour as he got naked. When he had finished he turned and put them all back on again and quietly left. It turned out that he was the bar tender’s nephew or something, and an accountant and had never stripped before!

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and thank you to Ruth for participating in the Q&A!

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Blog Tour and Contest

This review is part of the Simon Schuster Canada Perfect Pairing Blog Tour. Check out the full schedule below.

Also: nothing pairs up better with a book than a cup of coffee, so heads up on an awesome contest: Simon and Schuster Canada is giving away a set of books AND one year of free coffee from aroma espresso bar! Enter at readchillrepeat.com.

Summer Fiction Blog Tour

Blog Tour | All the Missing Girls, Megan Miranda

23212667Nicolette Farrell returns home after ten years to care for her aging father. Shortly after she returns, a young girl Annaleise, goes missing. This is particularly creepy for Nic as the reason she left in the first place was that her best friend Corinne had disappeared when she was about Annaleise’s age, and the story behind Corinne’s disappearance had haunted Nic, her brother Daniel and her ex-boyfriend Tyler all the years since.

All the Missing Girls is a thriller told in reverse. After Nic returns home (Day 1), we jump in time to Day 15, when the town is searching for Annaleise, and Tyler had disappeared. The story unravels in reverse, counting down from Day 15 all the way to Day 1, and slowly elements of both disappearances emerge.

The mystery itself is fascinating (what happened to Annaleise, and is it connected somehow to what happened to Corinne?) but the structure felt too gimmicky and left me feeling confused and impatient throughout. I was more interested in what happened after Day 15 and moving the story forward rather than inching back day by day only to be left with the same questions I had at the beginning of the book, namely what happens after Day 15? Often, the significance of conversations in one chapter will only be revealed in the next chapter, with an incident from the previous day, but I felt somewhat cheated because I already knew what would happen next. There were certainly surprises, and the big reveals at the end were satisfyingly surprising, but the impact was somewhat lost on me as it just made me want to think back to Day 15 and what could have happened after.

I’m also glad that Miranda does provide a bit of an epilogue to let us know how things turn out after Day 15. Part 3, with its urgency contrasted with a sense of bleak resignation, wasn’t quite a happy ending, but it felt right.

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Thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Blog Tour and Contest

This review is part of the Simon Schuster Canada Perfect Pairing Blog Tour. Check out the full schedule below.

Also: nothing pairs up better with a book than a cup of coffee, so heads up on an awesome contest: Simon and Schuster Canada is giving away a set of books AND one year of free coffee from aroma espresso bar! Enter at readchillrepeat.com.

Summer Fiction Blog Tour

Blog Tour | The Girls in the Garden, Lisa Jewell

27276357Eleven year old Pip, her thirteen year old sister Grace and their mother move into a cozy London neighbourhood flat where their neighbours have all grown up knowing each other. One summer evening, Pip discovers Grace lying unconscious and partially undressed in a hidden corner of the neighbourhood’s communal rose garden. The mystery around who did what to Grace drives the story, and Jewell takes us to the weeks before the incident and to the days in its immediate aftermath.

The Girls in the Garden is a gripping tale with a dark and twisty cluster of relationships among the neighbours. Jewell creates an entire cast of characters, and I admit that at times, it became a bit confusing to figure out the characters’ relationships and feelings towards each other. Grace and her peers are central to the story’s plot, and Pip is the narrator who observes everything, but the parents in the neighbourhood are just as entrenched in the developments. The attack on Grace somewhat mirrors a murder in the same garden years ago, and old suspicions and accusations surface.

Initially, the answer to the mystery seems obvious, even if the perpetrator’s identity is still to be determined. However, Jewell doesn’t give us the obvious. I found the reveal to be darker than I’d imagined, and the characters’ responses to the reveal made it even more disturbing. I felt like there was so much more to unpack in that reveal than we’re given, and I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about that ending. On the one hand, it felt deeply unsatisfying in its seeming neatness; on the other hand, I actually can imagine real people responding like this, particularly within a small, enclosed neighbourhood, and that itself is probably the darkest, twistiest bit of all.

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Thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Blog Tour and Contest

This review is part of the Simon Schuster Canada Perfect Pairing Blog Tour. Check out the full schedule below.

Also: nothing pairs up better with a book than a cup of coffee, so heads up on an awesome contest: Simon and Schuster Canada is giving away a set of books AND one year of free coffee from aroma espresso bar! Enter at readchillrepeat.com.

Summer Fiction Blog Tour

Review | Trust No One, Paul Cleave

23492648Jerry Grey, a crime fiction writer with Alzheimer’s, is convinced that the murders he wrote about are real, and that he is the one who committed them. The plot thickens when he learns of other murders not in his novels, ones he may have committed and forgotten about. Is Jerry a killer? Is he guilty of the murders he remembers doing, those he doesn’t remember at all, and those with victims he doesn’t even recognize? When he can’t even trust his own memory, how can he tell what is and isn’t real?

Paul Cleave’s Trust No One is a fantastic page turner that keeps you guessing and second-guessing yourself throughout. We see the story mostly through Jerry’s eyes, and so end up as uncertain as he is about what actually did happen. There’s an added layer of complexity with Jerry’s writer persona Henry Cutter, who isn’t a pseudonym so much as a frame of mind Jerry puts on when he writes his crime novels. The book includes excerpts from Jerry’s journal, chronicling events since he learned of his diagnosis, and whenever a situation gets too emotional, Jerry copes by turning the pen over to Henry. Is it possible that Jerry doesn’t remember the murders because it is actually Henry committing them? Midway through the book, a friend of Jerry’s named Hans steps in to help Jerry find the truth, and I was so caught up in the confusion around Henry’s potential role in the murders that I wondered if Hans was even real, or if he was simply another personality in Jerry’s psyche. (Jerry’s wife mentions not trusting Hans, but never actually talks to him directly.) We’re so entrenched in Jerry’s head that we experience how confusing his reality is, and it’s difficult not to slip into the paranoia and distrust Jerry feels towards everything and everyone around him. To me, that’s the sign of a great thriller, and kudos to Cleave for creating that effect.

The major hiccup for me was the ending, which confused me with all the big reveals. I’m a bit unclear about the motive and logistics behind some of the murders, and about whether or not one of the murders was a pure red herring or actually had a connection. It felt like there were so many twists and turns that they didn’t all quite fit neatly into the truth. The final chapter felt unsatisfying, though inevitable, and honestly I wish some of the characters (the police, the neighbour, the care facility staff) showed a bit more smarts throughout the novel than they actually did.

Trust No One is a heckuva thriller to dive into and immerse yourself in. Set aside a few hours to delve into Jerry Grey’s world and enjoy the ride.

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for a (signed!) copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Keeper of the Flame (A Crang Mystery), Jack Batten

25866583Crang is a criminal lawyer who is hired by popular hip hop artist Flame to shut down a blackmail scheme. Some offensive lyrics written when Flame was a teen have been discovered, and could destroy the clean-cut, Cary Grant type image Flame’s handlers are trying to cultivate, unless the performer ponies up eight million dollars. Crang’s investigation leads to an organized gang, murder and a subplot involving a porn video.

Keeper of the Flame is first I’ve read in the Crang series. Crang is a fairly old school wisecracking private eye, whose exploits usually lead him in hotter water than he’d originally planned. I like how he structures his fees according to his clients’ ability to pay — a retail worker gets charged a minimal fee for a fairly complex case, whereas a multimillionaire like Flame gets charged accordingly. I also like how Crang uses Flame’s fame to get things done; in one scene, a detective agrees to do Crang a favour only if Crang could get Flame to write personal messages on the Facebook walls of the detective’s daughters.

 

This is a fun read; it didn’t quite keep me flipping the pages madly, but I like the lighthearted tone and somewhat snappy dialogue. Toronto-philes may also delight in finding Toronto featured so prominently in the story.

Random aside – do any of the other readers keep thinking of Krang from the Ninja Turtles, or is it just me?

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Thanks to Dundurn for an advance reading copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Immortals, Jordanna Max Brodsky

25746707In The Immortals, the first in Jordanna Max Brodsky’s Olympus Bound trilogy, the goddess Artemis is now living in Manhattan as PI Selene DiSilva, who rescues female victims of abuse and punishes their abusers. When she arrives too late to save a murder victim, she vows to exact revenge on the murderer. Also on the hunt of the killer is Theo Schultz, the victim’s ex-boyfriend and a professor of the classics who notices that the murder has the markings of an ancient Greek ritual.

The Immortals is a nerdy fun read, a Greek mythology of The Da Vinci Code. Theo and Selene’s investigation reveals ancient artifacts, arcane rituals, and a series of murders that somehow have mythological significance. The Greek gods and goddesses at this point have left Olympus, and are fading in strength as their relevance to the contemporary world fades. Gods like Apollo (God of Art and Music) and Dionysus (God of Wine) are still going strong, but others like Selene as Goddess of the Hunt and Demeter as Goddess of the Hearth are fading away as hunting becomes less popular and the hearth is replaced by electric heating. Selene’s search for the murderer is complicated by her realization that she seems to be getting stronger with each death. Worse, her mother Leto is dying, and Selene must face the possibility that if this ritual renews the power of Greek gods and goddesses, the murders may be what is needed to save her mother’s life.

The murder mystery is fascinating, and I particularly geeked out over the scenes in the American Museum of Natural History. I also love the relationships between the characters — Selene’s pain at her mother’s impending death, and the estrangement between her and her twin brother Paul (Apollo) ever since an incident over two thousand years ago. (Readers more familiar than I with Greek mythology may know what happened; I found out a bit later in the book and found it fascinating.) There is also the attraction between Selene and Theo, which she feels the need to fight, partly because she has vowed to remain eternally chaste and also partly because of a long ago heartbreak with another man, Orion. Theo is just a total Robert Langdon type, who is sweet and dorky and prone to going into lecture mode when explaining particular aspects of the crime scene.

If you like Greek mythology, arcane puzzles and nerdy murder mysteries, The Immortals is definitely worth a try.

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Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.