Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Review Round-Up: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll, Burnt Paper Sky by Gilly MacMillan & Disclaimer by Renée Knight.



Her Perfect Life Is A Perfect Lie.

Ani (Ah-nee, not Annie) FaNelli has it made. An enviable New York lifestyle with a job at a glossy magazine and an upcoming no-expenses-spared Nantucket wedding to her handsome blue-blood fiancé, Luke, mean that Ani’s life is right on track – and all before she hits the dreaded big 3-0. Carrie Bradshaw eat your heart out!  Ani has a covetable lifestyle by anyone’s standards. But is she happy? Well, no. The reason for this dissatisfaction lies in Ani’s dark past. Way back when she was a plain, overweight teenager called TifAni, something bad happened to Ani, something so bad that it haunts her every waking moment, threatening to ruin both her present and future happiness. Ani is determined to confront her past before her big day. She’s ready to tell the truth about what happened to her. After all, the truth will set you free, right?  That’s right, the truth will set you free - if it doesn’t kill you first. 

With its intriguing premise and inevitable Gone Girl comparisons (inevitable because it seems like every book is compared to Gone Girl these days!) I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to reading Luckiest Girl Alive. And this book does have a lot going for it: Knoll’s writing for one, is excellent, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future. As for the book itself, though, while it starts strong, I felt like Knoll tried to pack too much into this one. Luckiest Girl Alive tries to be all things to all people- there are shades of The Devil Wears Prada, the aforementioned Gone Girl, Mean Girls too, a certain Jodi Picoult novel I will not name because of spoilers, and The Jinx in this book – and it suffers because of it. The premise is great, yes, but the execution of things leaves a little to be desired and the ending fell flat for me. This will be a summer hit, though:  it’s a good read overall, a real page-turner, and you’ll definitely be kept guessing as to those secrets in Ani’s past.

As for the Gone Girl comparisons – those are a little misleading. Sure, Ani FaNelli with that sharp tongue of hers could be Amy Dunne’s snarky sister, but that’s where the comparisons end: Ani and Amy have very different stories to tell.


3.5 Stars.
Published May 12th 2015 by Simon & Schuster.
Received for review.

*****




I can’t get enough of thrillers right now, delving into the highly rated Burnt Paper Sky right after reading one of my absolute favourites of the year I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. I mention this not to compare the two, but to illustrate that this book had a hard act to follow. Also, my expectations were high for this one due to a plethora of glowing Goodreads reviews. So, I started Burnt Paper Sky with high expectations, but soon enough I set it aside again. Something wasn’t working for me. The pacing was slow, the writing seemed stilted, and I wasn’t connecting with any of the characters. What was going on here? I tried again, got fifty pages in, and it still wasn’t working (I have a fifty page rule; if a book isn’t working for me at this point, I’ll usually set it aside for good). Still, I broke my own rule and persevered with Burnt Paper Sky. And I’m glad I did, because when I got to around the one hundred page mark, something finally clicked.

Burnt Paper Sky tells the story of Rachel Jenner whose eight year old son, Ben, goes missing while the two are out for their weekly walk in the woods. Your heart immediately goes out to Rachel, right? She’s lost her son, the one bright spark in her life after a divorce which saw her ex-husband quickly remarry and move on with his life. Rachel is a single mum, and she loves Ben more than life itself, but that day in the woods, for some inexplicable reason, Rachel let Ben run ahead, she let him wander off on his own. It was a mistake, but one with tragic consequences.

So, why did Rachel let Ben run away?

Burnt Paper Sky is interesting, because while the mystery of Ben’s disappearance is intriguing and well-plotted in itself, this book focuses not only on this central mystery, but also on the impact on and public perception of the family Ben has left behind. We’ve all seen those heart-wrenching press conferences in which the parents of missing children appeal for their safe return. On the flipside, we also know from a multitude of high-profile cases of this type, that the villains in these cases often lie very close to home.  So, did Rachel take Ben out to the woods that day to ‘disappear’ him? The public perception, after a particularly disastrous televised appeal by Rachel, is that yes, Rachel is behind Ben’s disappearance. How does she prove her innocence when it seems that everyone is already convinced of her guilt?

Will you believe Rachel’s story?

Burnt Paper Sky is a well-plotted thriller with a stellar central mystery that remains intriguing throughout.  However, it is a little lacking in other areas – its slow moving plot and stilted, formal language make it difficult to really get lost in the story – and for those reasons, it’s not a favourite of mine. Overall, though, this is worth a read if you’re a fan of crime thrillers/missing persons mysteries – just be prepared for a slow burn of a book.


3.5 Stars
Published February 5th 2015 by Piatkus.
Received for review.

*****



What would you do if the dark secrets of your past came back to haunt you in the pages of a book?

Catherine Ravenscroft, a successful documentary maker, has nothing much on her mind when she picks up a book from her bedside table, and starts reading. The book looks like a nothing-very-special self-published work of fiction; in fact it’s so non-descript that Catherine doesn’t actually remember buying it.  Soon, though, Catherine realises that this is no ordinary book. In fact, this book isn’t a work of fiction at all: it’s about a very dark chapter of her life, one she’s kept hidden away, kept secret from everyone, even her husband, for a very long time. Who could have discovered Catherine’s secret? What are their motives for writing this book? And how far will Catherine go keep her secret from spreading further? If this secret gets out, Catherine is sure that it will destroy everything that she has, the life that she has built, her relationship with her husband and her son, and all that she is.

The beauty of Disclaimer lies in its excellent premise. This book has a seriously impossible-to-resist hook that will reel readers in, and it’s sure to be a big seller because of this. However, a great premise does not a necessarily make a great book: great storytelling, compelling characters and plot execution all come into play, and for that reason, Disclaimer, while it is a strong debut, and a true page-turner, is not going to find a place on my end-of-year best of list.

Disclaimer is told in alternating viewpoints between Catherine and Stephen, a retired teacher, who, for some unknown reason is hell-bent on ruining Catherine’s life. Stephen is cast as a bit of a pantomime villain here; an ex-teacher who doesn’t like children, and a twisted, sinister old man who takes pleasure in making Catherine’s life a living hell. Stephen’s aim isn’t just to make Catherine aware that he knows her darkest secret; he’s determined to exact revenge. An eye for an eye. But why? This soon becomes clear, and while the reason behind Stephen’s quest for revenge isn’t a total surprise, there are some twists along the way that will unsettle and shock. Personally, I felt that the final chapters of Disclaimer fell a little flat. Maybe that's just me, though. I’m never happy with endings. Well, rarely.

It may not be a new favourite of mine, but overall I found Disclaimer to be a worthwhile debut with the best central premise I’ve read in a while. Renée Knight's debut is well checking out if you want a book that will keep you reading late into the night in your quest to discover Catherine’s dark secret.


3.5 Stars.
Published April 9th 2015 by Doubleday.
Received for review.

*****

2 comments :

  1. ChristinaBookAddict3 June 2015 at 12:50

    Fantastic reviews! I felt the same way as you about Luckiest Girl Alive. I think I liked it a bit more due to my familiarity w/ the setting. When you said Ani could be Amy's snarky sister, I was nodding my head! YES! That's spot on. That's the only real comparison to Gone Girl I found. I thought this book was more Devil Wears Prada than Gone Girl. I also loved Knoll's writing style and can't wait to see what she writes next. Disclaimer is new to me, but seems like something I'd enjoy. I love that cover, too. Thanks for putting it on my radar!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I liked the idea of Disclaimer more than the actual book - it's good but not all that great. I loved Knoll's writing too so can't wait to read whatever she writes next.

    ReplyDelete

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