Friday, 10 April 2015

Two Book Reviews - Hit or Miss?

The Missing One - Lucy Atkins
My rating: 5 of 5

The loss of her mother has left Kali McKenzie with too many unanswered questions. But while clearing out Elena's art studio, she finds a drawer packed with postcards, each bearing an identical one-line message a Canadian gallery owner called Susannah Gillespie: thinking of you. Who is this woman and what does she know about Elena's hidden past? 

Desperate to find out, Kali travels with her toddler, Finn, to Susannah's isolated home on a remote British Columbian island, a place of killer whales and storms. But as bad weather closes in, Kali quickly realises she has made a big mistake. The handsome and enigmatic Susannah refuses to talk about the past, and as Kali struggles to piece together what happened back in the 1970s, Susannah's behaviour grows more and more erratic. Most worrying of all, Susannah is becoming increasingly preoccupied with little Finn . . .

I read the opening of this novel online and loved the quality of the writing; it is beautifully atmospheric and the kind of book that wraps itself around you completely. The story was immediately compelling; following a rocky patch with her husband and getting nowhere when she questions her impassive father, Kali takes off across the world in search of her mother's past, with her two year old son.

The narrative is mostly from Kali's first person point of view in the present tense, taking us through her experiences as the B&B she booked, on a tiny remote island near Vancouver, is closed and she turns up on the doorstep of Susannah, the woman who has been sending her mother annual postcards. While Susannah is unforthcoming and verging on hostile, she insists the two of them stay - the turbulent weather reflecting the mounting uncertainty within the cottage. The writing lets us live every detail alongside Kali, as she comes across more and more mysterious layers in her own past.

The book is long, 569 pages, and my only gripe is that some aspects could have been pared down without losing the impact. For example, there are sections from Kali's mother's point of view, recounting her research into the sounds made by whales to communicate. It goes into considerable detail and whilst it reinforces the themes of 'a mother doing anything to protect her infant' - it pulled my interest away. Essentially, Kali puts herself and her child in grave danger and the book captures the jeopardy and mounting suspense extremely well. Highly recommended.

Falling - Emma Kavanagh
My rating 3 of 5

A plane falls out of the sky. A woman is murdered. Four people all have something to hide.

Jim is a retired police officer, and worried father. His beloved daughter has disappeared and he knows something is wrong.

Tom has woken up to discover that his wife was on the plane and must break the news to their only son.

Cecilia had packed up and left her family. Now she has survived a tragedy, and sees no way out.

Freya is struggling to cope with the loss of her father. But as she delves into his past, she may not like what she finds.

Four main characters and the complexities of their lives - I wanted to like this book more. There was a good consistent pace about it, short chapters with changing viewpoints, meaning it was always pushing forwards as tiny aspects of the disparate stories gradually and inevitably came together. There are some lovely touches in imagery, but it felt slightly overwritten, as if the author was trying a bit too hard. As a result, I became aware of reading the clipped writing style rather than being swept along by the story itself. The narrative also jumps around a lot, with timeframes skipping about, so it's not a smooth read.

There was an awful lot of snow - I don't know how many times this word is used, but it is many, many times! Snow, more snow...then it started to feel like it got a mention on every page.

Overall, I found it a quick read, but it had a strain of misery to it - it didn't leave me feeling in any way uplifted or moved  - just given snapshots of people with sad and lonely, difficult lives. I didn't feel an attachment to anyone, maybe that was part of the problem - lots of characters, but no real pull to any of them, for me.
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AJ Waines is the author of: The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
  • Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.
  • Girl on a Train also became a Number One Bestseller in the entire Kindle Store in Australia (2015)
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