Dark Places is about Libby Day, a woman in her late twenties whose family was brutally murdered when she was only seven. Her older brother, Ben, then only fifteen, is serving a life sentence for the crime, based largely on Libby’s testimony. Libby’s life is filled with anxiety and depression and loneliness—she has nothing left, having driven away her remaining extended family and having used up almost all of the money she received from well-meaning strangers who heard of her story. Things are shaken up when Libby gets contacted by a member of “the Kill Club,” a group that meets to discuss and solve old mysteries. They think that her brother, Ben, is innocent—and they’re willing to pay Libby a lot of money to help them figure out what really happened on that night.
I received this book for free through the Cannonball Read several weeks ago. It took me that long to get through it, which really says a lot since I can usually finish a book in a few days. Everyday I would check the CBR5 page to see if anyone had reviewed the book as yet. I needed to know if I was crazy for thoroughly disliking the book, with each page getting worse and worse. I expected this book to be great, as West’s debut was apparently very well-liked (I started it but moved on to something else). As I mentioned in my previous review of a free book (Cinderella’s Secret Diary), I hate to give negative reviews when an author is generous enough to share his or her work with us and to be so vulnerable as to be okay with any thoughts we may have. Alas, I can not say anything good about Girl Afraid. From Amazon, the plot description is below:
Poppy Riley is missing. The man who has her wants no ransom, has made no contact with her family, and has no intention to do so. His plan for Poppy is far more sinister. In a locked room, somewhere in London, the ten year girl old sits and wonders how she came to be there.
Alice wakes up to a call from Frank. He is not a friend, but he knows everything about her. He is not a kidnapper, but he knows how to get Poppy back. The worst day of her life has already started, and he is her only guide through the horror. She knows she cannot trust him, but time is running out.
All over the capital, several men are waiting for confirmation that everything has gone according to plan. Strangers to each other, they are tied by a common interest. An interest in Poppy.
Alice and Frank have less than twenty-four hours to save her. Come and spend it with them. And keep telling yourself: ‘It’s only a book. It’s only a book…’
There are so many problems with this book, I don’t even know where to start. Major spoilers below, so don’t continue unless you want to know!
I guess I will start with the characters. The only sort of sympathetic character is Poppy, the 10-year-old kidnapped to be part of a child-porn video. Her father is apparently a favorite actor and the media is obsessed with this “gorgeous child.” I say “apparently” because we get nothing about him and at some point Poppy says he is on a “rig” which usually implies oilman.. who knows, to be honest. Alice is Poppy’s father’s assistant and sometimes caretaker for Poppy. The treatment of Alice is one of the most misogynistic I’ve ever seen (and yet, just mildly irritating, not even enough to incense or inspire any emotional reaction). Not surprisingly, Frank turns out to be a not-so-good guy and of course he then rapes Alice.
The male characters are also awful – every one of them either a woman-hater, child-molester, or loser. Only Poppy’s handler appears to be decent, and he’s just a hired thug with a long murder rapsheet (hey, but at least he’s not interested in molesting little girls). Alice’s boyfriend is a major character for some reason I can not fathom. He spends 75% of his scenes wandering around London, eating fried chicken, getting drunk, talking to hobos about love, and peeing at least twice (both times talking about how much he hates when men pee next to him)… thrilling stuff. His inclusion makes no sense, adds nothing to the story, and is terribly boring.
The men involved in the child-porn tape are just as bad. To make things worse they all have generic names (i.e., Bob, Bill, Harry, Henry, Don, and Rick) so it is impossible to keep track of them (especially as the story bounces between Alice, Poppy, boyfriend, and each of these men’s perspectives… there are at least 8 perspectives, none lasting more than 5 pages).
The storyline has some potential but just continues to devolve in to something that is meaningless and utterly uninteresting. Rather than having this be an exploration of motive, guilt, shame, morality, immorality, or anything that would make sense and be thought-provoking given the plotline, West instead focuses on just providing us a blow-by-blow account of each person’s day leading up to the planned rape of little Poppy. It’s all talk, movement and random “action” without any heart or consequence. The characters are kept separate for the majority of the book and it really suffers for their lack of interaction, resulting in one of the least compelling climaxes ever (seriously? How did the Albanians get involved in the climax?). My guess is that West sought to deal with some shocking material, but simply didn’t know what to do with it. The real shame I think is that the writing style was so pedestrian that I wasn’t even shocked despite the material at hand, just bored.
Again, I feel like I must be crazy because everything on Goodreads and Amazon describes this book as thrilling and edge-of-the-seat and I found it so incredibly disposable. I am hoping someone else reads this one soon so I can get a second/third opinion!
Cannonball Read V: Book #38/52
Abandon is a thriller that is told in two parts. Half of the book is set in the present day and follows a group of people who on an expedition to explore the old abandoned mining town called Abandon. The other half is set in the late 1800s and tells the story of how Abandon became, well, abandoned.
I had a really hard time getting into this book. I thought the two stories meshed well together and I really liked how they paralleled each other, but I just couldn’t get into the characters. I finished this book a week ago and can’t recall a single character’s name. I could barely keep track of who they were while I was actually reading the book. I know there was a father/daughter duo in the present-day exploration, but I thought their rocky relationship could have been fleshed out more.
What an absolutely epic book. A literary thriller focussing on a farm stretching back generations and the broken dreams of its present day occupants, this book gripped like a vice and didn’t let go until it had broken my heart. Highly recommended. Full review is on my blog here.
Already being talked up in the UK as “THE debut novel of 2014”, this is a painfully bad book. Overwritten, underplotted and entirely dreadful, the hype on this one has me well and truly baffled. Read my full review on my blog here.
A highly regarded writer delivers a well reviewed thriller. The reviews, the synopsis, the hype, ALL of it set my teeth on edge, to the degree where I almost didn’t read it. That would have been silly. It’s INCREDIBLE. The full review is on my blog here.
Six teenagers, all born on the same day, all just turned sixteen, arrive at the prestigious Morning Glory Academy. The school really isn’t what it seems on the surface, though, and the kids soon discover that the academy is a bit like the Hotel California – you can’t really leave once you’ve checked in. When they try to call their parents, said parents act as if they don’t remember them. Detention is potentially lethal, and you pretty much want to do your best not to be sent to the nurse’s office.
This first trade contains the first six issues in the series, and introduces us to six different teenagers – Casey, Hunter, Ike, Jun, Zoe and Jade. Casey quickly realises that the staff at the academy are not messing around, and tries her very best to withstand their various attempts to control and dominate her and her fellow newbies. Very little becomes clear in these issues, apart from the fact that Morning Glory Academy is not a place you want your kids, and that there’s some seriously nefarious shit going on behind the scenes there.
Full review on my blog.
I just… I can’t…… I don’t……. I HATE THIS BOOK. Read the full bilious outpouring on my blog here.
Reading this book was bad enough, and now I have to relive it to write a review. It wasn’t much fun. I just hope this review will be a public service announcement that stops any of you lovely Cannonballers making the mistake I did. Although the biggest mistake was without doubt made by Ms Briscoe when she put pen to paper. Good god this book is hard work.
It tells the utterly indulgent tale of Richard and Lelia. They’re thirty-something middle-class boho intellectuals, he a book reviewer (good god), she a lecturer at university. He’s chippy because he grew up in a sprawling commune-style family in the West Country and doesn’t earn as much money as his friends, she’s chippy because she’s mixed race and hasn’t got over the death of her father. They live in an indulgently pokey flat in Bloomsbury (GOOD GOD), and ‘fuck’ on the first page. Perhaps the writer set out to make them this hateful, smug and annoying in order to give the reader a degree of collusion and delight in the implosion of their prissy little lives. Perhaps. Perhaps they’re just badly-drawn twats.
The plot details the collapse of their relationship, and starts innocuously enough. The evening of said fuck, they conceive a child and go to a party at a stock-broker friend’s ginormous house. At the party Lelia is already convinced she’s pregnant, and Richard drinks too much and acts like a twat. Both of them meet the meek, forgettable Sylvie, the French woman who will turn their lives upside-down. Before Richard knows it, he has embarked on a strangely chaste and mostly unconsummated ‘affair’ with Sylvie, becoming obsessed with her even though he doesn’t find her attractive. At the same time, Lelia is forming a secret friendship with Sylvie. As her pregnancy progresses, this friendship becomes a solace to Lelia as Richard becomes increasingly distant and thoughtless. And so it goes on. Lelia is pregnant, Richard is being a dick, and they’re both lying to each other. But then the book seems to veer into thriller territory, as Sylvie’s relationship with Lelia has layers of complication far beyond the ken of Richard (and, I must say, the interest of this reader), and her deceptions mushroom. Don’t mushrooms grow on manure?
So, here we have a book with a tiresome plot peopled by ghastly characters. Now let me get started on the writing. The narration is split between Richard and Lelia (although Richard gets the bulk of the chapters and page-count). Briscoe doesn’t seem to be skilled enough to give these narrators different voices. Richard’s sections seem ‘feminine’, almost embarrassingly fussy and wordy. The way he describes Lelia and their life together is unlike any (inner or outer) voice of any man I’ve ever known. Lelia is ‘a glowing creature, moody, anxious yet deeply altruistic, though she indignantly and quite earnestly denies it’. Briscoe is a novelist who loves an adverb. She also sucks at dialogue and her punctuation of is it sophomoric. Here’s a choice snippet for you:
“‘I’m sorry. I – I was just feeling super-sensitive last night. You know how – mad I get.’
‘God no, I’m sorry. It all came out wrong.’
‘Yes. You know when you can’t, just can’t say what you’re feeling. It was impossible. I’m like a blundering beast. I’ll kill myself if you want. I love you. You’re pregnant! How are you?’”
I really could go on, quoting page after page of laughable conversations between characters that are complacent yet neurotic, but that would divert me from the course of the service I’m trying to do you. Don’t read this book, it’ll stay with you, kind of like the smell of asparagus in your wee.
I read quite a lot. In fact, I fancy myself as a bit of a ‘reader’. I’m also a hell of a snob, and get mortally offended by bad writing. Bad writing pains me, but being a snob is also exhausting. Which is why it’s always a relief to come up against a novelist who is completely disposable, without intellectual pretensions, bloody good fun, but still a good writer. Lee Child is that rare beast. His Jack Reacher books won’t be troubling the Booker panel any time soon, but boy are they a good holiday read. So, picture the scene. There I am, on holiday in Malta, on the sun-lounger with a beer in one hand and Jack Reacher in the other. Excellent.
The Affair takes you back to the start, for this one Reacher’s in uniform. It’s six months before the events of Killing Floor, and Jack has yet to become the Littlest Hobo of later books. He’s still an MP, but right from the off you know this state of affairs isn’t going to last long. Reacher has been sent to deepest darkest small-town Mississippi. He’s undercover, operating as the unofficial investigator into the murder of the girlfriend of a soldier posted on the nearby army base. This all sounds simple enough, until other similar murders, racial tension, clashes with rednecks, the outrageously hot local sheriff and an apparent military cover-up that goes all the way to the top are thrown into the mix.
It’s interesting to meet Reacher before he became the itinerant loner we all know and love. He was quite good at his job back when he had one, and was a slightly different kind of guy when he had orders to follow. There’s the usual short-lived love affair (and this time the earth really does move), a convoluted plot where most things are not as they seem, and some scenes in a diner where Reacher eats some really tasty burgers. As well as the investigation, the book also shows us Reacher wrestling with his conscience as he weighs up the duty he owes to the uniform he wears against his own sense of right and wrong. You can probably guess which wins out.