Review: Into the Water

By Paula Hawkins

Genre: Thriller

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool . . .

This was a difficult book to rate. In the end, I had to give it four stars because it is very well-written, structured and plotted. And yet…

Here’s the thing. I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, it left me feeling quite down and a bit depressed. This is not the result I’m aiming for when I read fiction, especially on holiday. And yet…

Paula Hawkins is such a beautiful writer. From the very first page, she created a mood that was just perfect for this story. Dark, melancholic, with an air of menace and mystery. The village, the Drowning Pool, the river itself, all so real and so atmospheric. The characters, too, even though there are so many primary ones, are all such individuals that I quickly felt I knew them. Although, of course, we can never fully know anyone else, which is one of the well-developed themes of the novel. And yet…

There is a lot of darkness here, and a lot of abuse and violence, both in the present and the past. Not graphic in any way, but deeply disturbing, at least to me. And very little hope, even at the end, when I really needed it. Paula Hawkins doesn’t seem to think much of human nature, especially male human nature. And she doesn’t seem to believe there is much chance of us flawed creatures ever forming truly satisfying relationships, of any kind. I’m not saying she’s completely wrong, I’m just saying that I like a tiny ray of light with my darkness. Especially, as I said, on holiday.

And so, it’s a hard book to rate. Honestly, I think the quality of the writing deserves a full five stars, but my enjoyment level, apart from a bit of revelling in the prose, was probably closer to two. Four seems fair.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, no, I didn’t guess the solution, not totally, but it didn’t really feel like that kind of book, anyway. Less an intellectual puzzle and more an exploration of the things people do to each other and themselves, and why.

Have you read this novel, or Paula Hawkins’ other thriller, The Girl on the Train? What did you think?

Review: The Clockwork Detective

By R.A. McCandless

Publisher: Ellysian Press

Genre: Steampunk/ Fantasy/ Murder Mystery

Released: May 2019

Rating: 3 stars ⭐⭐⭐

Can I say first, what a gorgeous cover this is? It’s what first attracted me to this novel. And then the title and blurb were very intriguing, too:

Aubrey Hartman left the Imperial battlefields with a pocketful of medals, a fearsome reputation, and a clockwork leg. The Imperium diverts her trip home to investigate the murder of a young druid in a strange town. She is ordered to not only find the killer but prevent a full-scale war with the dreaded Fae. Meanwhile, the arrival of a sinister secret policeman threatens to dig up Aubrey’s own secrets – ones that could ruin her career. It soon becomes clear that Aubrey has powerful enemies with plans to stop her before she gets started. Determined to solve the mystery, Aubrey must survive centaurs, thugs, and a monster of pure destruction.

Sounds good, right? Fae in a steampunk world and a murder mystery. I haven’t read anything from R. A. McCandless before, so I don’t know how this compares to his other two novels, which are urban fantasy. All the ingredients are here, but they just didn’t add up to a tasty enough dish for me.

Aubrey is an engaging protagonist with an interesting backstory and solid detective skills. The clockwork leg is a stroke of genius. I think one of the problems is that I wanted more fantasy and science fiction wonder here. What I got felt more of a police procedural than anything else, despite the speculative elements. You could drop Aubrey into real world Victorian London, replace the druids with priests and the Centaurs with East End thugs and the first two thirds of the story would unfold in much the same way.

The final third begins with more supernatural happenings, but then devolves into so many pages of thinking and dialogue that it loses most of its momentum and tension. The ending wraps things up nicely, but again is too slow and extended.

I still think there are things here to enjoy, and I know that some readers have loved this novel, but it just scrapes in at three stars for me.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from #Netgalley, courtesy of Ellysian Press.

Review: Limited Wish

Impossible Times #2

Mark Lawrence

Publisher:   47 North

Edition:   Hardback, Paperback, Kindle, Audio

Release date:   28 May 2019

Rating:   4 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:

One choice. Two possible timelines. And a world hanging in the balance.

It’s the summer of 1986 and reluctant prodigy Nick Hayes is a student at Cambridge University, working with world-renowned mathematician Professor Halligan. He just wants to be a regular student, but regular isn’t really an option for a boy-genius cancer survivor who’s already dabbled in time travel.

When he crosses paths with a mysterious yet curiously familiar girl, Nick discovers that creases have appeared in the fabric of time, and that he is at the centre of the disruption. Only Nick can resolve this time paradox before the damage becomes catastrophic for both him and the future of the world. Time is running out—literally.

Wrapped up with him in this potentially apocalyptic scenario are his ex-girlfriend, Mia, and fellow student Helen. Facing the world-ending chaos of a split in time, Nick must act fast and make the choice of a lifetime—or lifetimes.

Game on.

My Thoughts:

Limited Wish is another really fun read from Mark Lawrence. Nick and his friends are back, along with two new characters: Helen, and a mysterious girl who keeps appearing and disappearing. I guessed who she was, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment. There are many parallels to the previous book, One Word Kill, which is also fun. Things are similar yet different, in interesting ways.

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Review: The Chalk Man

By C.J.Tudor

Genre: Thriller

Rating: 5 STARS

It’s been a long time since a book hooked me so quickly and so thoroughly from the first page. And I’m not sure I’ve ever given 5 stars to a straight thriller before. So there’s a recommendation for you!

The Chalk Man is the story of Eddie and his friends and is told using two timelines. In 1986 they are teenagers living in an English village, biking around together and using chalk drawings of stick figures as a kind of code for each other. Until something shocking happens. In 2016, Eddie returns to the village in response to receiving a drawing of a stick man in the mail. He soon discovers he has to figure out what really happened in the past before he can understand and survive what’s happening now.

It’s a great setup and Tudor handles it beautifully. Both timelines are fully engaging and I was on the edge of my seat more than once. The atmosphere of menace is so well done, without ever slipping over into cheap sensationalism.

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Review: The Silent Patient

Alex Michaelides

Publisher: Celadon Books

Release date: February 2019

Genre: Thriller

Rating: 3 stars

” Alicia Berenson writes a diary as a release, an outlet – and to prove to her beloved husband that everything is fine. She can’t bear the thought of worrying Gabriel, or causing him pain.Until, late one evening, Alicia shoots Gabriel five times and then never speaks another word.
Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber is convinced he can successfully treat Alicia, where all others have failed. Obsessed with investigating her crime, his discoveries suggest Alicia’s silence goes far deeper than he first thought.”

So goes the blurb. And it is an intriguing premise. Will Alicia speak? Why did she shoot her husband? Why is she silent? And so on. As I said, intriguing. So I was keen to read this one. Sadly, the execution didn’t live up to the premise. It’s not a bad book, just disappointing.

Here’s the first problem I had. When people start talking about “a twist you won’t see coming” in a thriller, you can’t help but imagine all the possible twists when you start reading it yourself. And then, if you have read many thrillers, yes, you will see it coming and probably from quite a long way off too.

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What I Read in April

April is autumn here. It’s a time to sit outside in the mellow sunshine with a book and a coffee and enjoy the turning leaves.

I read ten books in April, all fiction: eight novels and two novellas. And I didn’t abandon any of the books I started. It was a very good reading month, with ratings ranging from 3 stars to 5 stars, with an average of 4 stars for the month.

What I read (ranked from lowest to highest rated):

1. LEVERAGE IN DEATH (In Death #47) by JD Robb

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Crime Fiction, Futuristic, 3 stars

This brings me up to date with this series, but this one was a disappointment. In any long series, there will inevitably be highs and lows. It wasn’t a terrible book, but the characters seemed caricatures, each one just a set of their typical quirks and no more. The mystery wasn’t up to par, either, and the perpetrators and their motives just didn’t convince me. Still, a quick read with some fun to be had. Not recommended unless you’re already a fan and/or want to complete the series.

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Review: The Labours of Mrs Stella Ryman

(Fairmount Manor Mysteries #2)

Mel Anastasiou

Published by Pulp Literature Press

Release date: April 1 2019

Genre: Detective Stories, Humour

Eighty-two year old Stella Ryman has found an original way to soldier on through the difficulties of old age, lack of freedom, bad food and the sheer boredom of living in an aged care home. She has become Fairmount Manor’s resident amateur sleuth.

I love this concept, and it gets better, because Stella isn’t your usual detective. She is curious and resourceful, sure, but she doesn’t always remember just what she is trying to achieve. She is courageous and a bit of a rebel, determined to go wherever she wants, but she can’t quite recall where the dining room is. And sometimes she just needs a nap. Nevertheless, she is no tame old lady:

In this posture, she felt exactly like a teenaged juvenile delinquent. It was not a bad way to feel at eighty-two.

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