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

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.

#BingeReading with Penguin Random House Canada

So I come home on the Friday of a long weekend, and at my door, I find this:

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In the box is an invitation to join Penguin Random House Canada in #BingeReading this weekend. And what a binge this will be!

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For fans of Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy, mark your calendars! Book 3 The City of Mirrors will be on sale this May 24th. I loved the first book so much that I took all 800 pages of its hardcover version around with me on the subway, and I can’t wait to revisit that world and find out what happens next.

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This has also got to be one of the coolest marketing pieces around. What better antidote to a busy workweek than one thousand, nine hundred and thirty-six pages of pure, unadulterated reading bliss?

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And just in case it’s past  my bedtime and I still can’t put the book down, they’ve even included a pretty in pink reading light!

And as if all this wasn’t quite enough of a bookish binge, I also happened to receive this book for review earlier this week:

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I adored the first book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (based on The Winter’s Tale), and Shylock’s infamous speech in The Merchant of Venice has long been my favourite Shakespearean monologue, so I’m really geeking out over this. (Also, I just discovered a video of David Suchet as Shylock delivering this very speech, so I’m just in total geek heaven right now.)

Thank you, Penguin Random House Canada for this beautiful #BingeReading package!

Now, if you will all excuse me, I think I’ll spend the rest of this long weekend wrapped up in a warm, cozy blanket, popcorn and candy at arm’s reach, and lost in the world of one among many good books.

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.

Review | City of the Lost, Kelley Armstrong

26869354Where would you go if you suddenly had to disappear? In Kelley Armstrong’s City of the Lostthere’s an isolated small town in the Yukon that provides such a sanctuary, hidden away by the forest and essentially self-sustaining. Casey Duncan, a detective who has killed a man, is less interested in escape than in ensuring that her best friend Diana is safe from her abusive husband. The town’s sheriff Eric Dalton needs a detective, so the town council agrees to take Diana on if Casey comes along.

A departure from Armstrong’s usual paranormal thriller, City of the Lost is a fairly straightforward murder mystery, a locked room puzzle in a town where everyone has a troubled past. There are shades of political intrigue, the possibility that the town council accepts bribes to allow dangerous criminals into town, and the threat of “hostiles” living in the surrounding forest. There is also a drug angle, with the mild-mannered town pharmacist allegedly suppling residents with a more potent version of a popular drug. And there is a series of murders with rather disgusting markers such as internal organs hanging from a tree. It feels very much like a big city police procedural, except with small town friendships and the added danger of the wild.

Armstrong can always be counted on for a good story, and City of the Lost is a solid example of that. It had a lot of good points — the romance was hot and I absolutely love that Casey is half Filipino-Chinese. This may sound like a backhanded compliment, or worse, condescending that I’m making a big deal of it, and I really don’t mean it to be. It’s just that I never really expect to see characters like me in popular fiction, so it’s always a thrill when I do. And it’s an even bigger thrill when the character is awesome like Casey is, and when her being Filipino-Chinese isn’t at all integral to the story, when it’s simply a throwaway piece of description, because it shows how effortless it can and should be to incorporate diverse characters into literature. Armstrong has always been great at having diverse characters, and I love that about her work.

I’m a huge Kelley Armstrong fan, and perhaps that’s why this novel fell somewhat short of my expectations. The mystery was good, but the search for the killer wasn’t quite as gripping as I’d hoped. I knew there was danger in the town, and the danger had turned somewhat personal with a character I liked getting killed, but the mystery somehow lacked urgency. I wasn’t flipping the page as fast as I could to get to the bottom of it. Contrast that to her earlier work The Masked Truth where I stayed up late to finish it, or the Cainsville series, where I was so intrigued by the mythology she’d created that I wanted to keep reading more.

The characters as well were likeable, but not so memorable that I absolutely need to read more of their stories. Armstrong creates good characters and her Women of the Otherworld series in particular is an example where her characters veritably crackle off the page. I didn’t quite get that crackle in City of the Lost, and in fact, when Casey was going on a rock climbing trip with a new close friend Petra, I had to flip back to remind myself who Petra was. Their first meeting confused me as well — Petra was part of a group that Diana had gone with to a bar, and while Casey initially seemed put off by the group, agreeing with Eric that they were the popular party kids Diana should probably avoid, she then becomes very good friends with them herself. It’s possibly a case of first impressions being a mistake, but the change in Casey’s perception seemed to have happened within the same page, which confused me.

All this to say that City of the Lost is a good book, just not as amazing as I look for in a Kelley Armstrong story. Perhaps I just prefer her paranormal fiction, or perhaps, as this is the first book in a series, Armstrong is still feeling out her characters and setting. Still, it’s a solid mystery thriller, and it’ll be interesting to see how the concept of this town will play out in future instalments.

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