Posted in Jackie Morrissey

Before I Die by Jackie Morrissey

What a delightful read this was! Before I Die offers such a fresh and original perspective, bringing a very unexpected character as a protagonist. Most of the times, when an old person is the main character of a book, the action takes place somewhere in the past, developing mostly from the memories, when that character was young, strong and adventurous. That’s not the case in Before I Die, where Maureen is an old teacher with zero special detective abilities, with no special training to deal with crazy or wicked people and with nothing more than an ordinary life for a person of her age.

Moreover, her age starts becoming a disadvantage since people around her are beginning to doubt her mental capacity. So much actually, that at some point, Maureen herself begins to wonder if her intuition is correct or if she’s imagining everything. So when Maureen gets tangled in the spiderweb of what seems to be an absolute evil caretaker, she’s clearly completely unprepared for such a fight. And her one and only ally? A homeless drug addict…

The mystery/crime fiction has brought before older characters that play the role of the detective. Mostly amateurs with some kind of experience or retired police officers or private investigators. But it’s the first time when I’m encountering such an innocent and “unqualified” protagonist for such a story. And the author does an amazing job on illustrating how difficult it is for an absolutely common person to be put in a situation where she has to deal with a diabolical villain. 

I’m also in an awe regarding Maureen’s new friend, Michael. A typical drug addict: zero self control, questionable morality, falling for every impulsive need, totally unreliable. There’s little to nothing to like about him. But somehow, his devotion for the old, kind Maureen, mixed with his own survival instinct is enough to start pushing him to the right path and to make the reader grow more and more sympathy towards him. The blooming friendship between such opposite personalities is contoured in realistic shades, with ups and downs, with doubts, fears and disappointments, but ends up being one of the sweetest aspects of the book. 

The action is well balanced, with enough suspense to keep you hooked but without being rushed. Perhaps not completely surprising, but definitely well enough written and entertaining.

I enjoyed each page, each turn of the action and can’t wait to try some other books of Jackie Morrissey.

Posted in Naomi Kramer

Dead(ish) (Deadish #1) by Naomi Kramer

Synopsis:

Linda’s had a bad day. First her boyfriend killed her. Then she woke up, still on this boring plane of existence, and with an odd obsession about her missing body. Mike won’t tell her what he did with her body, and she can’t find the stupid thing herself. There’s only one thing she can do – torment the bastard until he coughs up the information.

This is a very short work – novelette length – around 11000 words or 44 (print) pages.

Warning: Frequent foul language, mild sex scenes, and Australian spelling. Not suitable for children.

Review:

If you’re in a waiting room trying to kill some time in a pleasant way, pick this book up. But if you’re looking for some substance and want to dive into a deeper story, you can definitely skip this, you’re not losing much, despite the attractive description and cute cover.

Dead(ish) is a novelette, just fifty something pages, with an interesting and fun idea but pretty poor execution. Besides the intriguing idea and some funny dialogues, there’s not much to enjoy.

Probably in the first half of the book you will still feel confused over who is who and who is talking and what the hell is happening. Later, when things become a bit clearer, the writer throws in what wants to be the bombshell, but it comes so abruptly and out of place that the effect is probably the opposite of the one she wished. Besides the lack of an appropriate development for such a twist and no reasonable explanation or motivation, there’s also no reaction to it, the characters behave so casually like whatever happened or what they did is a perfectly normal thing and not the huge, shocking revelation that it actually is.

Many years ago, before the internet, there were some magazines where you could publish stories, either fictional or inspired by reality. That’s all what you’d find in them: stories. No articles, nothing else, only few pages long fantasies of people who probably hoped to become writers at some point. Dead(ish) reminded me of those magazines, of those quick reads, fast written ideas that only occupied a few pages and offered only sketches of storylines and characters rather than properly finalized, complex plots.

Cute cover, though…

Posted in Colleen Hoover

Verity by Colleen Hoover

Synopsis:

Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling writer on the brink of financial ruin when she accepts the job offer of a lifetime. Jeremy Crawford, husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to complete the remaining books in a successful series his injured wife is unable to finish.

Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity’s notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn’t expect to uncover in the chaotic office is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. Page after page of bone-chilling admissions, including Verity’s recollection of what really happened the day her daughter died.

Lowen decides to keep the manuscript hidden from Jeremy, knowing its contents would devastate the already grieving father. But as Lowen’s feelings for Jeremy begin to intensify, she recognizes all the ways she could benefit if he were to read his wife’s words. After all, no matter how devoted Jeremy is to his injured wife, a truth this horrifying would make it impossible for him to continue to love her.

Review:

I remember there was a time when the whole bookish blogosphere was in love with Coleen Hoover and it was impossible not to stumble upon a review of her books whichever book blog you’d read. I must confess I was never tempted to try her novels since this romance, new adult genre was never one of my favorites. But since the publishing of Verity, which promised a completely different direction, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

The book is… good. Like really, really good. It comes with an original premise and the alternation of the heroine’s present with the antagonist’s past keeps you hooked and restless. Surprisingly, not only the villain’s diary inserts are building up the suspense but also the main character’s reactions to it. Lowen’s increasing obsession with the manuscript reaches a level where it’s difficult to know if she’s just imagining things or if she’s in a real danger. I felt like the author tried to give her some “unreliable narrator” traits but fortunately, she’s not diving really deep into that pool.

What I completely hated was the insta-love. I’m so over this trend, I feel like it expired years ago and the writers should stop trying to bring back its glory age. It’s unrealistic, boring and useless and every time Lowen sighs at Jeremy’s “majestic” view I didn’t know how to fast forward those paragraphs.

The same applies with the mediocre, weirdo heroine that writers insist on making so “not special” until the perfect Prince Charming arrives and discovers from the first second what a special snowflake she is and falls in love with her. I think Twilight was the story that elevated this fashion as a must have, but it’s been already 15 years since that series was published. You’d think it should have expired by now, but it seems that writers still cannot come with something better and finally drop this irritating idea.

To be honest, in this case, if there’s one remarkable character that deserves all the praise, that’s definitely Verity and not Lowen. Yes, it’s sweet and nice and bla bla bla that “the good” prevails over “the evil” but considering each character’s portrait and features, even the idea that after Jeremy loved genius Verity, he’d fall in love with dull and colorless Lowen is insulting and annoying. I would understand falling out of love or even hating his wife after the truth is revealed. But no, definitely not falling in love with Lowen. He might as well fall for a rock in his garden, it would have the same entertaining behavior as Lowen.

And speaking of this.. In the end, even without reaching the last twist, you cannot help but wonder if “good” is always good and “evil” is always evil or if they’re not actually pretty similar, only hiding under different justifications.

Despite the annoying aspects that I already mentioned, Verity is a pretty good thriller and the pros are definitely weighing more than the cons.

Posted in Rachel Sanderson

Mirror Me by Rachel Sanderson

Synopsis:

Abbie Fray has moved with her family from Sydney to Derrington, a country town where everybody knows everybody and the mobile reception sucks. She’s left behind her best friend, her school, and her favourite bakery. She thinks her life can’t get any worse.

Then she makes a terrifying discovery.

Abbie looks just like Rebecca O’Reilley, a girl who was brutally murdered in Derrington a year earlier. And it doesn’t take long before Abbie learns there’s more connecting them than just appearance.

Not even a budding romance with the kind, quirky and gorgeous Zeke is enough to stop Abbie’s curiosity about the murder developing into a dangerous obsession.

Who is sending Abbie anonymous threats?

And why does she keep dreaming about the scene of Becky’s death?

As questions mount, Abbie only knows one thing for sure: she must find out what really happened the night Rebecca O’Reilley was killed.

But what if the truth is closer – and deadlier – than she could possibly imagine?

Review:

The book’s description makes it pretty difficult to understand from the beginning the type of story you’re dealing with. Is it a thriller? A fantasy? A paranormal mystery? What I definitely knew is that Mirror Me will float somewhere in the large category of Young Adult books and since I had a few years long obsession with this genre, I was curious to go back to it after so long and see if it’s still my cup of tea.

I guess Mirror Me was a lucky choice, because I honestly didn’t roll my eyes as many times as I was imagining I would be. Yes, it has a few details that seem a bit too much, but if I’m being honest, I think those have to do more with the typical teenage mentality in general rather than with the author’s writing.

Despite starting from a clearly improbable plot, the storyline develops into a very realistic way compared to the general tendency of YA novels. No absent parents, no wild adventures, no sudden crazy love hits (a mild crush is definitely acceptable and expected), no huge dramas. The storyline is calm and down-to-earth, with all the ups and downs that you’re expecting when it comes to a life changing move across the country during the most challenging years of a teen. A teen who now has to deal with an additional issue that turns her even more into an outsider.

I did like the pragmatic relationships between the characters, both when it comes to family and friends, I liked the no-nonsense portrait of the heroine and how balanced her behavior remains, although she’s confronted with more and more challenges and she often feels that she’s losing her mind.

The twist in the last chapters doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The author inserts enough clues during the pages to give you a strong suspicion about who might be the culprit. But the background story that represents the real motive is astonishing and impossible to guess beforehand.

Entertaining without becoming addictive, Mirror Me will be a light read that you will probably enjoy. It doesn’t have any imperfections that would make it an unpleasant story, but in the same time, it also doesn’t come with anything spectacular to make you fall in love with it.

Posted in J.K. Rowling

The Ickabog by J.K. Rowling

Synopsis:

The Ickabog is a fairy tale, set in an imaginary land, which J.K. Rowling says is ‘about truth and the abuse of power’. It was written as a read-aloud story, but it’s suitable for seven to nine-year-olds to read to themselves. The story will be translated into a number of other languages and made available on the website shortly after the English language version appears.

Review:

The Ickabog is a fairytale described as suitable for kids 7 to 9 years old, but if we already learned something from J.K. Rowling’s famous children’s books is that once you’ve started the first pages, you will be compelled, no matter how old you are.

The storyline starts in Cornucopia, one of the greatest and luckiest kingdoms that ever existed, ruled by a well intentioned, but naive and absent king. Following the story of two normal children, their parents and some not so innocent royal advisers, we witness the decay of a once magnificent kingdom and the ever growing mold that roots from corruption, incompetence and fear of speaking out. It’s somehow a story that would still be a valid metaphor if used in any situation, whether we’re thinking about countries, companies, schools or any society in general. Because wherever there’s a group of people, there will always be a fight between right and wrong, between morality and corruption, between the common good and individualism.

Although much more simplistic and obviously, much shorter than any Harry Potter novel (don’t get too excited and give yourself unrealistic hopes, no, it’s nothing similar!), one thing that I found the two stories have in common is how easily they make you care for their characters. In The Ickabog, in a much smaller number of pages, Rowling still plays with your feelings like a puppeteer manoeuvres his marionettes. You will experience every single emotion, from joy, to hope, to fear and frustration and you will despise some characters with an intensity that it will surprise you. Perhaps there is no magic in Cornucopia, but there is definitely something magical about this ability.

The only issue I had with the book is the age of targeted readers. The book’s official description mentions “7 to 9 years old” and honestly, I have no idea what kids these days are reading at that age. So I might be wrong when I’m saying this. But I just felt there’s so much pain and betrayal, so much unfairness and bitterness radiating from the pages of the book that somehow, the joyful moments or even the happy ending (no spoiler here, it’s a fairytale, what would you expect?) might not manage to erase the shadows left by the ugly parts. The main characters may get a somewhat cheery finale, but the sorrow and losses they suffered during the years are still shading their lives. Yes, there’s nothing more real than this lesson, but is indeed “7 to 9” the right age to dwell into this truth?