Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Review: Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

PLOT:
Gina Royal is married to Melvin Royal, they have a perfect life until one day she comes home and finds that someone has crashed a car into their house, leaving a gaping hole in the wall of the garage. As a result her husband is arrested, tried and convicted as a serial killer. Gina Royal becomes Gwen Proctor and sets about putting her life back together and raising her kids the best she can. 
They move to Stillhouse Lake and try to rebuild their lives. Stillhouse Lake offers them something new, they feel settled and like this could be a permanent home. Until a body is found in the lake and the police question Gwen about it. 

This body in the lake sets off a chain of events that soon spiral out of control until Gwen finds herself fighting to prove her innocence and protect her children from people who are determined to ruin their lives because of her connection to Melvin Royal. 

SETTING: 
This book is primarily set in Stillhouse Lake, where Gwen and her children have bought a new home yet again. Having moved from place to place, dodging internet trolls who find their address and post it online so people can continue a campaign of hatred toward the family, this is a fresh start in a beautiful place. 

Stillhouse Lake was originally built as an upmarket gated community for wealthy families who wanted lakeside houses for the summer, but now it is much more dilapidated and lower class. 

The setting is almost immediately eerie while still being picturesque. There is something isolating and insulated about this fictional community that lends itself to this story and creates a perfect backdrop of beautiful isolation. The community is small and people are wary of outsiders, which suits Gwen just fine. 

This “Us vs Them” mentality adds to the notion that we are outsiders looking in. That we are following Gwen and her children while they try to rebuild their lives. 

CHARACTERS:
Gwen and her children, Atlanta and Connor, are happy in Stillhouse Lake. After years of running from internet trolls and the pain that Melvin Royal’s disgusting deeds caused, Gwen almost feels safe and settled in Stillhouse Lake. Connor is slowly making friends and exploring hobbies, and while Atlanta (Lanny) is still prickly and unapproachable she is slowly coming out of her shell too. 
Gwen has final got her concealed carry gun permit and feels comfortable with her weapon after getting her gun licence with the help of instructor Javier. While she doesn’t exactly trust him with the secret of her past, she has become fond of him for the help he has offered her. 

Gwen meets Sam Cade when he brings Connor home one day. Connor had disappeared from school and Lanny called Gwen, panicking that Connor was gone. Just as Gwen is about to call the police and report him missing, Sam knocks on the front door and Connor, with a bleeding nose, explains that Mr. Cade had helped him get home. 

Gwen is initially very suspicious of Sam and grills him about his reasons for helping Connor. While their friendship starts out on rocky footing, Sam’s offer of help leads to them becoming friends. 

Each character has a rich, well explored back story and each character feels like they could be a person you would know in every day life, with the exception of Melvin who is the archetype of every serial killer character.

 Usually having villains who are stereotypes is a problem for me, but in this book it works incredibly well. Melvin didn’t come from a broken home or have a traumatic past in any way. He wasn’t evil in the pursuit of revenge, he is the epitome of evil for evil’s sake. He is every man a woman has had to fear while walking alone at night, or in an isolated area. Every man we have been taught to fear. A nameless, faceless horror who could be your neighbour or your dentist. 

SIMILAR BOOKS/AUTHORS: In the bit of reading I’ve done about Stillhouse Lake, there are lots of comparisons to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and a lot of comments saying that they are similar. Frankly I don’t see the similarities. I loved Gone Girl and didn’t really like Girl on the Train, but I really, really enjoyed Stillhouse Lake. I think a lot of people are tempted to compare these books because the main characters are women with secrets and unpleasant pasts but for me, that’s where the similarity ends. Gwen doesn’t have any ulterior motives or sinister intent. She is a mother who is protecting her children from a world that would rather see them rotting in prison with their father or worse, despite the fact that they are innocent of any involvement. 

I do understand comparisons to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. The main reason for this comparison for me personally, is the atmospheric nature of the book and the writing. So much of the plot hinges on the environment. The notion of the lake being somewhere people go to enjoy leisure activities while being dark and murky under the surface. 

It also gives me a similar vibe to I Found You by Lisa Jewell which I also read recently (if you’d like a review of I Found You, please leave a comment letting me know!). 

THINGS I WOULD CHANGE:
There are very few things I would change about this book in all honesty, and that doesn’t happen often for me. I am an amateur writer and sometimes I find myself critiquing a book from an author’s point of view and thinking “I would have written it differently” or “Why did x do y instead of z?” but with this, every scene was perfectly crafted, especially the establishing chapters which led very neatly to the climax and conclusion. 

That is not to say this book is predictable. It absolutely is not, at various points throughout the book I had pinned the murders on nearly every single character, including one very elderly man who couldn’t possibly have done it, but Rachel Caine is such a brilliant writer that I was perfectly willing to believe that that old guy could have had super human abilities or something.

I think perhaps I would have shown a little more of the actions of the trolls pursuing Gwen, I think it would have added to the fear that Gwen felt and the reader would have connected a lot quicker. However, as it is, I sympathised with Gwen almost immediately. 

FINAL THOUGHTS:
This was such an expertly crafted book that in essence it could have ended in any way and I would have found the ending believable and worthwhile. Rachel Caine is a master of writing a thriller that leaves you guessing up until the last moment and then you fall over the edge and hurtle toward the end with lightning speed. This book is definitely in my top 10 for 2018 and I am just about to start the sequel Killman Creek because I am not ready to leave these wonderful characters yet. 

Stillhouse Lake can be purchased on amazon.com 

I did not receive this book for review. I purchased a copy of this book myself. 


My blog contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission if you decide to purchase books through these links. 




Monday, October 29, 2018

The Writing Diaries: Part One

The Writing Diaries will be a series devoted to my own personal writing exploits.

Whether it be participating in the gruelling marathon that is National Novel Writing Month or the slow crawl towards a fully finished novel that I undertake the rest of the year.

The Writing Diaries may not be updated as regularly as my book reviews and rants but will be a place for me to talk about how I feel about my writing, what I'm loving and what I'm hating.

I hope that by writing about it, I will hold myself accountable to make constant, steady progress towards a finished novel. I already have several novels in various stages of completion, ranging from one or two chapters written all the way to first draft completed and editing started. Ideally I'd like to finish several of these projects before starting something new but I'm notoriously bad at that. I have a fiendish habit of starting a new project and then setting it down like a petulant child when the plot won't flow like I think it should.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Review: The Girl Without Skin by Mads Peder Nordbo


THE GIRL WITHOUT SKIN
Author: Mads Peder Nordbo
Expected Publication date: June 11 2019

Important note: This book contains graphic mentions of sexual abuse and incest, as well as graphic depictions of violence.

Brief Synopsis: 
Matthew Cave is a reporter who is tasked with covering the story of a mummy found frozen in the ice in Greenland. Matthew is struggling to deal with the loss of his wife and unborn child, while simultaneously trying to untangle a web of intrigue surrounding the mummy and a mystery from the 1970s which seems somehow connected to the mummy. Following his arrival in Nuuk, another murder takes place and chaos ensues. 


Characters: The main character is Danish but lives in Greenland. 
Matthew Cave, a reporter, lost his wife and unborn daughter in a car accident. His grief is perfectly mirrored in the grim, oppressive setting of Nuuk. He works closely with a photographer, his editor and a police detective. All of whom have their own unique insights and back stories.

The secondary main character (Jakob, also Danish and living in Nuuk) is told through the perspective of a diary and retellings of events that happened in the 1970s.

Tupaarnaq is a woman who has recently moved back to Nuuk after serving a long prison sentence for murdering her parents and two sisters when she was 15. Matthew and Tupaarnaq begin working together to solve the mysteries presented in the diary from the 1970’s. 

At first Matthew is wary of Tupaarnaq and doesn’t trust her becaue she is not like anyone else he knows in Nuuk. She is abrupt, standoffish, and defensive and she repeatedly and openly states that she hates men. Matthew really doesn’t know what to make of her but their lives become entwined almost immediately after meeting. 


Plot and writing: With the timelines jumping back and forth between the 1970s and the present day it could easily be confusing or become too densely written but it is such an expansive environment. The vast distances of Greenland and the vast number of years between the 1970s and the present day add a sense of enormity to the plot. 

Because of the dual timelines and points of view there is a sense that both Matthew and Jakob are racing toward an inescapable ending, but as the reader, I was never quite sure what that ending would be. 

A minor issue I had with the writing was when there seemed to be no direct translation there was no explanation for what something meant. In one scene there is talk about the demons that reside under the ice and with the dead and one of the characters mentioned a Tupilaq )which a quick google search revealed is the name of a demon in Greenlandic Inuit culture but in this instance it referred to a small carved icon that was supposed to protect one from evil spirits). However, this is a minor issue and in some ways it added to the authentic feel of the book by assuming the reader knew enough about Greenlandic Inuit culture to understand what a Tupilaq represents. 

Unique aspects: Deeply atmospheric, the setting is so well written you could swear you were seeing Greenland through Matthew’s eyes. The isolated nature of the town of Nuuk comes through loud and clear. Despite the fact there is miles between Nuuk and the next town there is an oppressive force that feels like it is pushing in on Matthew and suffocating him. This is written so beautifully and evocatively. 

The author clearly knows a lot about Greenlandic Inuit culture and has done research in order to be as authentic as possible and that adds to the overall feeling of a well crafted book. 

Things that could be improved on: There is a lot happening in this book and it can feel overwhelming at times, though this perhaps may be a conscious choice by the author. The overload of plot development and character growth in a short span of pages creates a sense of urgency which can make it hard to focus on without wanting to rush through to the conclusion (or worse, sneak a peek at the last few pages!). 

Things I loved:
The characters were all very well developed, with clear motives and reasons for their actions and decisions. No character seemed to act counter to their nature and it made for a believable and pleasant reading experience. 

Again, the setting was spectacular and even though I read this in Spring it was like I was in the middle of a Greenlandic winter. 

Similar Authors/books: Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series

Overall thoughts and rating: 4/5 stars. Would recommend this to fans of atmospheric thrillers and mysteries. 



The Girl without Skin  can be purchased on Amazon. (Please note, this is an affiliate link and I make a small commission off sales made through this link.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Review: Blitzball by Barton Ludwig


E-arc received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The premise of this plot is that our MC is the clone of Hitler, reborn in order to bring about the Final Solution that Hitler failed to do so the first time around. It was a cool set up, a cool idea but it failed woefully.

This book is confused. It’s confused about what it wants to be, whether it wants to be sci fi with a twist of realism, or reality with a mere flash of sci fi. Those two might sound like the same thing but they’re not. 

If it was going to be sci fi with a twist of realism it would have the main character, Addie discovering his identity earlier in the book and would continue the narrative to a surprising conclusion, given Addie’s “real” identity as a clone. 

If it was going to be realism with a twist of sci fi, Addie would discover his identity much later and would either rebel against it and buck against the system that created him. 

However this book seems to do neither. It just putters along in fits and spurts with clunky scene changes and some chapters that seem to have been edited to within an inch of their existence and other chapters that seem not to have seen the merest hit of editing finesse. 

SETTING

The setting is confusing (which may be intentional) with the reader unsure of what year it is, what technology is available and very little consistency between slang that is used by various characters. At some points it has a very 1950’s feel to it and at others it seems thoroughly modern with cell phones featuring prominently as a way for our main characters to communicate. 

It is also confusing as to where this is set in terms of geographical location, though this turns out to be an important point later on. It seems like an attempt to create an unreliable narration/environment but ends up just confusing the reader.

SUBPLOTS AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

There is a ridiculous subplot with counterfeit art that is downright confusing and is haphazardly thrown in with no explanation. 

Addie’s racist attitudes are disturbing but unsurprising given who he is a clone of but his attitude toward women and losing his virginity is downright disgusting. At one point he asks his friend to get some Rohypnol for him so that he can drug one of the other MC’s in order to rape her so that he can lose his virginity without worrying what the girl will think of his sexual prowess. 

This subplot is deeply uncomfortable, disturbing and frankly dangerous in a book that is seemingly directed towards the YA market given the age of the characters and the tone of the writing. 
I feel like this subplot was added in order to demonise Addie, to make him seem more like the version of Adolf Hitler we all know about from history books, however it comes across merely as clunky and unsettling with no real reason for it to be so. 

While I understand that the author might have been attempting to imply that Adolf Hitler was evil for no reason at all, it doesn't come across this way. It comes across as lazy writing with no character development. 

WRITING STYLE

The writing style is interesting in parts. The use of the German language, particularly when used in an insulting way was interesting, however it does create more inconsistencies with the MC as well. At various points throughout the book he refers to women as pigs and assholes all while saying that "true" German men don't use obscenities and swear words. This could have created a deeply complex and interesting character with many different personas depending on his situation however it just seemed to create a mass of contradictions which made it hard to empathise with the MC who is clearly dealing with the scary reality that he is the clone of a Nazi dictator. 

In essence this book is confused and confusing to read. I would like to read other books by the author in order to see if this is their preferred writing style or just a quirk of this book. 

If you like books with unreliable narrators, unlikeable characters and a twist of sci fi you might like this. Just be warned that the sexism and racism is a prevalent plot point. 

Blitzball by Barton Ludwig is due for publication on the 12th of November, 2018

2/5 stars. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Notes and a Novel: A Brief Introduction

This blog is all about books, book reviews and the written word.

I will be writing reviews for Advanced Reader Copies of books received from Netgalley.com as well as books I have bought for myself. 

ARC's are exactly what they sound like, they're copies of the book that are sent out to reviewers before the release date of the book in order for the book to receive some publicity and so that readers can find reviews of the book to decide whether they want to buy the book! 

Advanced Reader Copies are not always the final copy that goes to print, there still may be changes to the writing in terms of plot, grammar and writing style so all opinions of books are based solely on the e-ARC I have received and may not be an accurate representation of the final book. However, in essence the plot will always be the same and very few things are changed for the final publication copy so you can get a good feel for the book before you buy your own copy. 

One of the issues with ARC's is that they often come with spelling and grammar errors but because that is the nature of all ARC's I will not be including that in my review. 

I will include things like: Setting, main characters, plot (spoiler free!), comparisons to other similar books and authors, whether I have much experience with the genre and whether I would ultimately recommend this book to anyone (and who that may be, whether its for a young adult audience or middle grade etc) and a star rating out of 5. 

I will also be writing about my experiences as an amateur writer working on a novel. I currently have 3 novels in various stages of completion. The Writing Diaries section is where I will share my experiences, frustrations and celebrations as a writer.

I will be posting my first review (Blitzball by Barton Ludwig) next week so keep an eye out for that! 

In the meantime feel free to follow me on Twitter!




I do not receive any financial compensation from Netgalley in return for my reviews. I receive the digital ARC to read and once I have reviewed it I can no longer access the ARC.

Review: The Good Neighbor by Cathryn Grant

This book is told from a variety of perspectives, almost all of whom are from the same neighborhood where a fourteen year old girl, Brittan...