reginadelmar’s #CBR5 review #35 Just one Look by Harlan Coben

This “thriller” got passed around amongst the readers on our trip. It truly is a page turner, three of us read it lickety split. Grace is an artist and mother of two working from home.  She’s still using film rather than a digital camera which sets up the plot.  She picks up a package of prints and out pops a photo that is about 20 years old. In the photo she sees her husband Jack and three other people, one woman has been x’d out. Oh oh. Jack disappears shortly thereafter, there’s a vicious North Korean assassin, a benevolent mob guy, and a questionable US Assistant Attorney.

While this was a page turner, the resolution of the various mysteries wasn’t the most satisfying. The last chapters provide the missing information that tie up all the loose threads. The problem is that the underlying “crime” seems rather trivial for all the havoc it causes 20 years later. Oh well. Read this in airports, on a train or a plane. 

 

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Even Stevens’s #CBR5 Review #22: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

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I have been working like a crazy person and squeezing in reading whenever I have time, but I’ve fallen a bit behind on my reviews as a result. So let me start this with the short version, just in case I start to ramble: I absolutely loved this book. Loved.

Now, the rest.

Ashley Cordova, the daughter of a reclusive and mysterious horror film director, is found dead from an apparent suicide at the young age of 24. She is remembered fondly and her death is seen as tragic, but no one questions the circumstances. Well almost no one: Scott McGrath, a disgraced writer thanks to a run in with Cordova (the elder) years earlier, has a mysterious encounter with a woman in a red coat the night before Ashley is found. Scott is shaken, convinced Ashley was trying to tell him something, and begins to dig into the weeks leading up to her death, as well as the bizarre world her father created and lived in, investigating whether there was more to the story than meets the eye.

The novel starts off in a manner that reminded me a bit of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (only better because I actually *like* McGrath, unlike stupid Mikael. But I digress):  A disgraced writer, a mysterious death, a world of intrigue. But Pessl creates her own world of characters and brilliantly weaves in several different types of media: newspaper, websites, photographs, testimonials, etc. to help tell the story. I loved this approach because it pulls the reader right in and there were times I forgot that I was reading about fictional characters.

Pessl also works in several storylines, yet it never felt cluttered to me. We learn about Stanislas Cordova’s rise to fame and ventures into the dark and disturbing films he became famous for (the titular night films).  We learn bits and pieces about Ashley’s early life and rumors of cults and satanic practices at the Cordova estate. There’s Scott’s story, two more main characters, Nora and Hopper, and some witchcraft, a rehabilitation center “jailbreak” and many other small bizarre events that add up to a strange and disjointed bigger picture.  The devil is in the details (here, it can be taken literally) and Pessl has a vivid imagination that translates beautifully onto the page. There is one scene involving a secret nightclub that was surreal and sinister and I imagine would look absolutely amazing on the big screen.

In the hands of someone else, this could have been sloppy or overly dramatic, but she weaves in just the right amount of skepticism and doubt, keeping her characters grounded, and leaving the element of mystery about so much of the book’s events. Was Ashley’s death natural or was there something more sinister involved? Is McGrath imagining things? What really happened on the Cordova estate? It’s a wonderful read and the ending satisfies as well – I think the reader can draw his or her own conclusions or choose to leave it a mystery; she gives us the story and leaves the verdict up to us.

If you are a fan of mystery, I highly recommend this book, I think there is something in there for everyone and I will definitely be looking for more of Ms. Pessl’s work.

sonk’s #CBR5 Review #49: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

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.

Read the rest of my review here.

Petalfrog’s #CBR5 Review #14: Girl Afraid by Ciarán West

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!

taralovesbooks’ #CBR5 Review #38: Abandon by Blake Crouch

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Cannonball Read V: Book #38/52
Published: 2009
Pages: 452
Genre: Thriller

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.

Read the rest in my blog.

Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #77: Fallen Land by Patrick Flanery

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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.