Friday, 8 May 2015

Review Round-Up: Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby, Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight, Dark Places by Gillian Flynn & The Crooked House by Christobel Kent.



Jessi Kirby’s Golden was a huge summer hit amongst my blogger friends when it released a couple years back,  and with it’s sure-to-be-emotional premise and dreamy surfer boy, I was pretty sure Things We Know by Heart would be a huge hit for me. Hey, sometimes I get it wrong.  It’s not that Things We Know by Heart is awful by any means– I don’t want to say that – but, for a number of reasons, I found this one to be a really-nothing-special read.  

Now, with a book such as this – in which a grieving girl tracks down the recipient of her boyfriend’s donated heart – I’m expecting all the emotions and all of the tears. I’m expecting hard-hitting and gut-wrenching and boxes upon boxes of tissues at the ready and all of those things.  I’m not really sure why I had such high expectations of this book having never read the author’s work before –maybe just because Kirby’s books are generally so well-received by the blogger community at large.  I wanted this book to be heartfelt and honest and beautiful and true; and you may read it and find all of those things within its pages, but for me, it was all a little cheesy, all a little too predictable, all a little too Lifetime Movie.

And Lifetime Movies have their place and they can be great, but it’s not like you’re watching in anticipation of masterful storytelling or an Oscar-winning performance, if you know what I mean.

So, yeah, Quinn is on a mission to find the recipient of her boyfriend’s heart, so she reaches out. The problem? Nineteen year old Colton wants to remain anonymous. He’s been in and out of hospital for years, and now he just wants to live his life be free. Mostly, he wants to partake in water sports.  So, what does Quinn do? Well, she integrates herself into Colton’s life under false pretences, i.e. she doesn’t tell him of their connection, and so, while these two fall in love oh-so-quickly, their whole romance is built on a lie. I won’t kid around, I wasn’t too impressed with Quinn and her stalker tendencies.  I mean, OK, I understand, kind of. This girl is grieving and she needs some kind of closure. Still, though.

I feel like Things We Know by Heart had a whole lot of potential – it could so easily have been a great read – but it misses the mark.  I love beach settings, but here the setting is overused to the detriment of an already slow-moving plot, while the characters are all a little cookie-cutter. Colton is so perfect and sweet and understanding that he just reads as bland, while I never really warmed to Quinn, if you hadn’t already guessed. 

Question: Should I check out Kirby’s other books even though this one was a miss for me? Everyone says great things about Golden. Maybe I should give that a try?


Three Stars.
Published April 21st 2015 by HarperTeen.
Received for review.

*****




I was a fan of Kimberly McCreight’s much talked-about debut, Reconstructing Amelia, describing the book as Mean Girl meets Gossip Girl with the page-turning intensity of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, so it’s no surprise then that her follow-up Where They Found Her was pretty high up on my book wish list. After all, Mcreight’s second novel was sure to be even better than her first, right? Hmmmm…..Wrong. Although I cannot fault McCreight’s writing style which is compulsively readable, my main problem with Where They Found Her is that it’s just too predictable for its own good. No surprises here. Not a one. I often find that with an author’s second book that it’s just not as good as the first, you know? It’s understandable – and I feel bad for criticising – because with that second book there is so much expectation – and pressure in the form of deadlines – that just isn’t there with a debut. I often find that authors fall at this hurdle; case in point S.J. Watson whose Second Life was, in my opinion, a hugely disappointing follow up to the bestselling Before I go to Sleep.

Where They Found Her revolves around the discovery of the body of an infant in the well-to-do town of Ridgedale, New Jersey. Reporting on the issue is Molly Anderson, who is traumatised by a miscarriage she suffered two years previously and maybe shouldn’t have been assigned to this case? Anyway. In the course of reporting on this story for a local newspaper, Molly uncovers a series of events that happened in Ridgedale years previously, leading her to the conclusion that maybe this town and its inhabitants are not as wholesome as they seem.

Sounds pretty good, right?

At the outset, I thought so too. And it’s not like Where They Found Her is anything bad. It’s solid, but just not as good as a lot of other books of its type.  The amazing potential of this book is let down by its predictability, leading to an ultimately forgettable read. All I want from a mystery like this is for it to keep me guessing. When it doesn’t I start making up my own far-out scenarios as to what might be going on. This is never a good sign. I like my mysteries to be all kinds of twisted. I want to be surprised. I don’t think that’s a whole lot to ask for.


Three Stars.
Published April 14th 2015 by Harper.
Received for review.

*****




Gone Girl was wickedly twisted, while Sharp Objects was deeply disturbing, but I have to say that Dark Places, Gillian Flynn’s second book, is her sickest.  Hands down. This one is not for the faint of heart. Sure, the story of Libby Day whose family was massacred by her older brother Ben when she was just seven years old –leaving her as the only survivor and the person whose testimony sentenced Ben to life in prison- was never going to be an easy read, but some of the stuff contained here (devil worship and animal sacrifice is explored, as well as some pretty brutal and graphic detailing of murderous events –and a ‘Kill Club for good measure’) well, it’s just stomach-churning. Dark Places is less twisty and less clever (although still quite clever!) than Flynn’s other books, and for that it’s probably my least favourite of hers, but it’s still one of the better books I’ve read of late.

A note about the movie casting for Dark Places: Now, I’m sure Charlize Theron will do a good job in this, but for anyone whose read Gone Girl and Dark Places, you’ll know that Theron is more Amy Dunne than Libby Day.  Charlize is statuesque, while Libby is very short – a fact that plays into the plot of Dark Places. The casting of Theron is confusing to me, but then, she’s a big name.  She can open a movie. The movie version of Dark Places also stars Chloë Moretz, Christina Hendricks and Nicholas Hoult. So, it’s got a stellar cast right there, but personally I don’t think the trailer for this movie looks all that promising. However, we shall see. I didn’t love the movie version of Gone Girl either, so maybe I’m just difficult to please.

Dark Places is not a book about beautiful people: it’s a book about the ugly side of life, and the downright dirty dregs of society.  Read it, for sure, but not over breakfast (lunch or dinner!) I mean, don’t even snack while you are reading this book. 

P.S. Did you know that Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects is being adapted for TV? I just heard this a couple weeks back. It’ll be darker than True Detective, so they say. And True Detective was pretty damn dark.


Four Stars.
Published May 5th 2009 by Crown Publishing Group.
Purchased.

*****




Working in the accounts department of a London publishing company, Alison lives a quiet life with few friends and a boyfriend, Paul, who she keeps at arm’s length.  Alison’s life is one of rules and restrictions, of secrets and lies and leaving the past behind. Because Alison, once known as Esme, has a past that anyone would want to forget about. When she was thirteen, Alison’s family was murdered in a crime that shook her small-town-by-the-sea to the core, and changed Alison’s life forever.  Alison may have changed her name, but she hasn’t moved on with her life, so when she is invited to a wedding in the town where her old life ended, Alison decides to confront the demons of her past once and for all.

I’ve been on a bit of a thriller-binge lately. I read The Crooked House just after reading Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, and while both books are similar in their premise: a young woman is the survivor of a murderous rampage in which members of her family die, that’s where the similarities end. Whereas Dark Places is a standard (and sick!) Gillian Flynn page-turner, The Crooked House is more thoughtful in its approach, with an intricately woven plot that unfolds slowly. So, if you like your thrillers fast-paced and twisty, then this one isn’t for you.  The plot here is a little laborious at times, very confusing in its time jumps, and, I thought, repetitive too. 

That said, the slow-moving, repetitive plot was the least of my problems with this book.  My main problem here was the writing style and sentence structure. I don’t usually get so technical in my reviews, and I haven’t read any of Christobel Kent’s other works, so am not familiar with her style –but here her style here is confusing and convoluted with a strange use of syntax that leaves a lot to be desired. It made for a difficult, frustrating reading experience at times. 

I will say that the character of Alison is well-constructed, the pain and grief of her past, her uncertainty at who she is and where she came from all ring true; but Alison is lacking in personality – a bland character, who I found it difficult to root for.  Other characters are a little one dimensional (Paul, the possessive boyfriend; Morgan his mean girl ex) in a book that is so brimming with fringe-characters from Alison’s past that it sometimes hard to keep track. I guess I shouldn’t be too critical of Alison’s recapping, backtracking, repetitive narrative, then! 

I guess it’s safe to say that this one was a miss for me – a classic case of good idea, poor execution, while the whodunit of the piece was very predictable from the start. 


2.5 Stars.
Published April 23rd 2015 by Sphere.
Received for review.

*****

5 comments :

  1. Nope. I thought it was very run of the mill. I know others who loved it, though, so maybe it'll work for you. :)

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  2. ChristinaBookAddict8 May 2015 at 13:22

    Sorry you didn't enjoy Things We Know by Heart. For some reason, I really connected with it and enjoyed it...maybe I was in the mood for something like that? I recommend her other books...Golden is pretty good and so is Moonglass. Dark Places seems like a pretty good read....I have been wanting to read more of Gillian Flynn after being blown away by Gone Girl. Thanks for the great reviews!

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  3. "Dark Places is not a book about beautiful people: it’s a book about the ugly side of life, and the downright dirty dregs of society. Read it, for sure, but not over breakfast (lunch or dinner!) I mean, don’t even snack while you are reading this book." LOLOLOL!!!! I found Sharp Objects disturbing enough; I shall give this one a very wide berth.

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  4. Dark Places is less twisty than Gone Girl but still a good (if kinda sick!) read. Yeah, I thought Things We Know...would have worked for me. I thought it was just OK, though.

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  5. Sharp Objects is definitely disturbing - but it has nothing on this. Sick! (At least in my opinion). I know others who found Sharp Objects more disturbing than this one. For me, it was animal sacrifice, described in graphic detail that did it. I find anything detailing animal cruelty really tough (often impossible) to read.

    ReplyDelete

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