Monday, 28 April 2014

Book Review | The Never List by Koethi Zan

It should never have happened to them. Two girls who were so sure that nothing bad could ever touch them and all because of The Never List; the document which lists everything dangerous to never do. Never get into a car with strangers being the number one rule. And yet both friends end up chained in a basement for three years and are subject to torture, psychological mind games, and everything in-between. Eventually they escape, and yet they are all haunted by the experience. The protagonist, Sarah, makes up her mind to revisit her past in order to move on with her future.

I'm really not sure how to feel about this book. On one hand, it's well written and engaging. I foud it to be a very quick read. On the other, there are quite a few spelling and grammatical mistakes that I noticed, the plot was incredibly predictable, and I found the whole thing pretty unbelievable. I just cannot tell if I enjoyed this book or not. I'll explain thoroughly.

The main character, Sarah, has suffered from severe PTSD, agoraphobia and depression since she escaped. She doesn't go out at all; works from home, orders food and groceries in, doesn't entertain anyone besides her psychiatrist. And yet, despite her severe mental trauma, just because she decides to go out she manages to overcome everything and even get on a plane to a different state. I think it's almost offensive to those who suffer with such severe agoraphobia who can't go outside just because they will themselves to or want to go out. Mental health doesn't work that way, and that makes this story unbelievable. Instead of relating to the character, you feel infuriated by her. It seems like the author only includes her PTSD symptoms when it's convenient to her, and the rest of the time it's barely even mentioned.

The big twist at the end was predictable. I knew what would happen before I even started reading the book, just by reading the prelude. This made the ending a bit of a let down. I was expecting something to happen, and the tension kept building and building and building, and then at the end it just sort of... fizzled out to nothing. Maybe this was because it was expected. Maybe it was because it was poorly written. Who knows.

This book, however, was a real page turner. I never knew what to expect or what was going to happen. I got through it quickly because I could barely put it down. Despite knowing the big reveal at the end, there were still some unexpected twists throughout the novel which I liked. I also liked the fact that the author never described the torture in detail. This really built the tension because your mind really is your own worst enemy. You always imagine things worse than they are, and I think this creates the "edge of your seat" tension in your mind. I think the torture was handled well and respectfully.

The novel overall was written well, and Zan really does have potential to be a fantastic writer. This was the first novel she has written and you can tell, but there is obviously great potential here for her to become a wonderful psychological thriller writer. She uses language well and to her advantage, and can manipulate scenes fantastically. Zan also has a natural talent for explaining just what her characters are thinking. Despite the solid lack of character development, you can tell that Zan plans her characters and sticks with their personalities right through to the end.

Overall, despite the obvious flaws, I did enjoy this book and think Zan has the potential to become a wonderful writer in time.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Book Review | The Poor Man's Guide to Suicide by Andrew Armacost

A big thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for granting me this copy in exchange for an honest review.

A touching tale about a man who lost the will to live, but gradually grained the will again. Wesley is a depressed, twice divorced prison guard with two children he barely sees. He's only just making ends meet and feels like everyone else is better off than him, so separates himself from his friends and society. And yet there is hope for the future in he most surprising of ways.

This is a very different read for me. Honestly I'm still not quite sure what to make of it. I requested it because I thought it looked like a black humour read and I was interested in something a little lighter than the thrillers I usually read. This definitely fit that bill.

The way it's written is interesting; it's very crude, with talk about porn and masturbation and drugs. It all goes into vivid details and is very blunt in it's portrayal. I'm not sure whether I enjoyed this aspect or not. Sometimes when reading what's written my eyes sort of widen in surprise, and sometimes it has me chuckling to myself because of the dark humour within. This book is definitely for adults only.

Instead of building up slowly to the big turnaround at the end, it seems that the first 2/3 of the book are depressed Wesley, complaining about anything and everything, and then suddenly everything is fine again and he's not depressed anymore and whatnot. It seems like everything just turns around with little to no explanation at all.

Despite its flaws, however, I found this book a very interesting read. It caught my attention and had me giggling to myself in quite a few places. I learnt to feel for Wesley and I believe Armacost built up the character development well. I liked that I didn't quite know what was going to happen or who was going to end up with who. It was a very unique read and I appreciate the fact that Armacost has written something that has never been done before.

There were a few grammatical errors, and some tense issues that bothered me. For example, the past tense of "drag" is not "drug", it's "dragged". These are just some minor issues, and since my copy was before it was proofread and edited I hold out hope that these grammatical errors are going to be fixed before publication. Just a few little niggling errors that I saw.

Overall, this was an interesting book and the author's voice is once I haven't ever read before; however there were some faults with the novel as previously mentioned. That is why I gave this book 3 stars overall. Armacost has potential to be a wonderful author, and I'm intrigued to see some more books from him. I believe I'll be watching closely and picking up his other works when they appear.

A very interesting take on life, and a unique voice. 3 stars.

* This book was sent to me for free through the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Book Review | Ruthless by Steven F. Freeman

I've been incredibly lucky as my copy was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

"A heartless killer ambushes and guns down ex-mobster Jay Mancini. Days later, the killer disposes of Mancini’s live-in girlfriend in cold blood. Desperate to identify the culprit, Jay’s niece Chelsea convinces work colleague and amateur detective Alton Blackwell to help investigate the seemingly run-of-the-mill professional mob hits."

After reading Nefarious and absolutely loving it, I was really excited to pick up the next book in the series, and this certainly didn't disappoint! If anything, I actually preferred it to the first one in the series. I think my favourite thing about Freeman's writing is the structure of the books. The chapters are quite short and choppy, which I think makes it very easy to read and engaging. You find yourself saying "oh just one more chapter" and before you know it, you've finished the book because you just don't realise you're even reading it. With longer chapters, sometimes they tend to drag on and by the time you've finished a chapter, you just want to put the book down and go and do something else. This is not the case for Freeman.

He writes beautifully and gives you just enough detail to keep you reading and yet not enough for you to figure out "whodunnit" before the end. Then the big reveal happens and suddenly it all makes sense. I feel like Freeman is a master at always leaving you wanting more. From start to end, I could barely put my ereader down. Then my ereader broke and I just knew that I had to continue reading it, so I actually went through the trouble of sending it to another device and whatnot, just to finish it. 

I love the fact that the crime scenes are described respectfully. There's not much gore or crudeness, and certainly nothing over the top that needn't have been there. There's no comments about gruesome body bits missing or the depth of the blood splatter or something. It's just a pure, true mystery and nothing is handled disrespectfully. I believe this proves that you can have a wonder of a crime thriller without disgusting people with unnecessary blood, guts or gore. My respect goes out to Freeman for that.

The plot is engaging, I fell in love with all of the (incredibly well developed) characters, and I loved seeing Alton and Mallory's relationship flourish as the novel went on. It's also nice to see that no character ever behaves out of their own personality or ability. No one is a wonderful, does it all, superhero. It's a true, real, gritty novel full of suspense and mystery. Freeman has done it again, and produced a wonderful crime thriller. I cannot WAIT to get started on the third in the series.

It was a joy to read, and I recommend the entire series to anyone and everyone. You've done it again, Freeman, and I give you my highest regard.

* This book was sent to me for free through the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review | A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton

With Sharon Bolton being my favourite author, I couldn't believe my luck when I was granted the opportunity to read an ARC of her latest Lacey Flint novel, courtesy of both the publishers and NetGalley. I'd like to give my deepest thanks to them both for the opportunity.

Convinced she'd put the treacherous events of the past behind her, Lacey Flint feels at home now living on a house boat in a little creek off the Thames, working once again in uniform but now for the "river police", as described within the book by a particularly colourful character. And yet if you know Lacey Flint at all, you will know that trouble always finds her. This book is no exception.

I've said it before and I will say it again, Sharon Bolton is the absolute supremo of psychological thrillers. Her novels throw you around left and right, up and down, and every direction in between, until you no longer know which way you'er even meant to be standing. I think, for me, the thing that makes her novels the most terrifying is the fact that they're real. They could genuinely happen. And the fact that they could happen quite plausibly makes the thought of the plot absolutely spine chilling. Throw into this mix an ending that you will never in a million years see coming, not because it's not plausible but because you've been thrown so many red herrings that you could never work your way through them, and you have an absolute gem of a thriller novel.

Over the course of the four books, Sharon's characters have come to life for me and I actually consider them real people. I laugh when they laugh, I cry when they cry, and I flinch when they flinch. Never do the characters act against their nature or abilities or act out of character. They all have strengths and weaknesses, and all of them have that fine line between good and bad. Just one wrong move and they can switch, which I think is a major theme for these novels.

As always, the book is well written. Bolton really knows how to manipulate the English language well and to her utmost advantage. It's easy to read, I believe the real definition of a page turner, and I could not put the novel down. It is a delight to read. I read the whole book in a day. Just one day. Almost 24 hours exactly, actually, but I digress...

As a series progresses, a lot of authors lose the magic that the first book held, but not Sharon Bolton. Her books are just consistently good. Thrilling plots, awesome characters, spine chilling revelations, and all around wonderful writing. Sharon Bolton is truly the master, and I am honoured to have been able to read this diamond of a novel.

* This book was sent to me for free through the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Book Review | The First Rule of Survival by Paul Mendelson

Thank you to both the publishers and to NetGalley for allowing me to read a copy of this in exchange for an honest review. I can't believe how good it was.

Two bodies are found; both male, both teenagers, both white, and funnily enough they both have the same upbringing despite being separate ages. It's not long before the unorthodox Colonel Vaughn De Vries, the protagonist of our story, puts the pieces together and identifies the boys as being two of three that were kidnapped seven years ago. Finally De Vries sees his opportunity to solve the case and bring the perpetrators to justice, no matter what the cost.

The absolute best thing about this novel, for me, was the beautiful way in which Mendelson describes the scenery. I believe the setting plays a big part in Mendelson's mind, and I absolutely adore when an author describes the scenery around them in such rich and vivid detail that you couldn't stop picturing it, even if you wanted to. It was so easy to immerse myself in absolutely everything; the characters, the animals, the nature, the architecture. Even the manner in which South Africans were subtly racist was handled and written with care but attention to detail. Honestly it felt like I was right there within the story and I could not stop reading.

Despite De Vries having his flaws, and believe me he has a lot of them, you grew to love him and his boisterous ways. A lot of what he said made me giggle or smile, sometimes frown. What he felt, I felt. When he felt a sense of bleakness, so did I. Mendelson creates such a bond with the character through his words that you develop deep feelings for him and just want him to figure everything out. It's as if he's a real person and sometimes you just want to slap him and say "pull yourself together, man!". Overall the entire development of the characters is handled wonderfully and I cannot complain one bit.

The plot itself was interesting. You find out the culprit(s) around 2/3 of the way through the book and yet the story doesn't end there. This means that even if you do figure out who was involved, the story wasn't ruined or spoilt in any way. It also made it stand out and created a uniqueness that was refreshing. Before it was revealed, though, I couldn't figure out who was behind everything. I had my suspicions but nothing concrete. Honestly this novel is a complete mystery, through and through, and I could not put it down.

The only thing I disliked about this novel is that there are still some loose ends to be tied which I think are quite important. I'm sure that this means there's a sequel in mind (wishful thinking, maybe!) where all of the answers will be revealed. In the mean time, my mind has not stopped trying to figure out everything that went on. Even after the last page is turned, this book resonates with you and keeps you guessing. I'd say that was the mark of a truly wonderful novel.

I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It is a true work of art, and it was a pleasure to read.

* This book was sent to me for free through the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Book Review | The Axeman's Jazz by Ray Celestin


* First of all, I'd like to thank both the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book before publication date. It was truly an honour.

Based on the real life Axeman murders in New Orleans in 1919 (of which a person was never convicted), this book is filled with suspense, mystery and conspiracies beyond your wildest imaginations. This is a brilliant fictional story based around real life events that shook the whole of New Orleans.

I would like to prelude this review by stating that this is an incredibly well written book. Celestin has a gift to manipulate and mould the English language in a fluid and beautiful way, and I think he has a natural talent for writing. It's almost like poetry to read; everything just flows together and you end up reading so much that you didn't realise how much you'd read until you've stopped. It seems like the pages turn themselves.

Celestin portrays the segregation, sexism and almost demonic part of society in that time and place in a gentle and sensitive way, which means that although it's difficult to read because it has the air of truth about it, in no way do you feel forced to a particular point of view and it's written about respectfully. I think that that is a decent thing to do, and actually made me enjoy the book all the more.

The plot was definitely captivating. There are so many mysteries and clues that don't seem relevant or don't seem to fit together, that all of a sudden just fall into place with each other and you think "oh... well I didn't see that coming but it makes so much sense!" You are gradually revealed snippets of information as you read on, but you never receive more than the author wants you to, and it is because of this that you could never figure out the ending. If you, as a reader, managed to figure out who did it and why, I tip my hat to you. I adored seeing how each of the character's mysteries tied together and became resolved. None of it seemed unrealistic, either. All of it was believable, and this, tied with the fact that it's based on a true event in history, made the whole book all the more suspense-filled.

The only thing I believe this book could do better were the descriptions of the places and the people. I would have loved to have been enveloped in the rich sights, smells and sounds of the city at the time. What were the colours, the foods, the fumes like? I feel like Celestin, while he did put in some description and scene-setting, could have developed the surroundings more and really used the surroundings to his advantage in his writing. It just lacked a certain richness that I craved.

Overall I think this is an absolute gem of a historical crime thriller, and it was an honour to read.

* This book was sent to me for free through the publisher in exchange for an honest review.