New review: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

By Ekta R. Garg

August 17, 2016

Genre: Murder mystery

Rated: Bordering on Bookmark it!

A travel journalist deals with the emotional fallout of a traumatic event in her personal life while on her latest assignment on a luxury cruise ship. Just as she tries to pull herself together, she witnesses what she believes is a murder…except no one on the ship is missing. She will have to prove to everyone—including herself—that despite recent troubling events her journalistic instincts are still as sharp as ever. Author Ruth Ware takes readers on a wild, fun ride in the murder mystery The Woman in Cabin 10.

Laura “Lo” Blacklock can’t believe she’s landed her latest assignment. Richard Bullmer, British business tycoon, has launched a new concept in cruise ship traveling. It’s the ultimate in luxury cruising with less than a dozen cabins on board and every indulgence a person of wealth and power could possibly desire. Bullmer has invited a few choice guests and members of the media to cover the maiden voyage on the Aurora, and Lo gets to stay in one of the plush cabins while spending a week hobnobbing with some of England’s elite and sailing through the Norwegian fjords to observe the Northern Lights.

Days before she sets foot on board, however, Lo experiences a traumatizing event. She barely has time to recover before getting on the ship and trying to impress Bullmer and the other passengers. The details of the event haunt her, but she tries to concentrate on the opportunity to mingle with other journalists and England’s rich and powerful.

A chance encounter with the woman in the cabin next to hers turns into more than a casual meeting when Lo witnesses what she thinks is a murder. When Lo tries to bring the attention to the ship’s security and other crew members, though, they discover that everyone is accounted for. No one is missing. Lo begins to question herself, but her instincts won’t let it go. Something serious took place, and even with her own misgivings and issues she won’t stop until she figures out just who died.

Author Ruth Ware takes her readers through the paces of a good old-fashioned murder mystery. She offers what the genre does best: a protagonist with deep flaws. Misdirection. Red herrings relevant to the story. A list of suspects each more unreliable than the last. And enough conflict and tension to keep readers swiping or flipping pages in an eager bid to find out what’s really happening.

Protagonist Lo does suffer from some annoying traits. She keeps turning to alcohol to solve her problems and her deep insecurity might make readers wonder how she manages to get out of bed in the morning, never mind hold down a steady job or pursue a relationship. Ware also leaves a few minor questions unanswered. Some readers may appreciate this cloudiness in the story; others might want to know everything by book’s end.

By the same token that Lo’s alcoholism impairs her judgment, it also offers Ware the opportunity to sow doubt in Lo’s trustworthiness in the way that seasoned authors can and should. Can Lo count on herself? Can readers count on her? Ware keeps readers guessing to the very end about the identity of the victim and the series of events leading to her death, and she doesn’t let up on the tension even with just pages to go until the end. It’s a rollicking fun ride that will make readers want to go back to the front of the book as soon as they reach the end of it.

Readers will find that The Woman in Cabin 10 Borders on Bookmarking it!

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Newest review: The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

By Ekta R. Garg

August 10, 2016

Genre: Thriller/suspense

Rated: Bookmark it!

A group of contestants on a reality TV show must deal with the elements and one another as they compete for a huge financial prize. At some point, however, it becomes clear that what started as a challenge for the purpose of entertainment has morphed into a challenge for life itself. Author Alexandra Oliva’s debut in fiction will keep readers flipping or swiping pages as fast as possible in order to reach the heartbreaking end in the riveting book The Last One.

Television producers have created a reality show that pushes the idea of “surviving the wild” to its breaking point, and twelve brave contestants agree to the rules. They arrive for their series of challenges in a remote location with nothing but a varied natural landscape as far as they can see. In their pre-show interviews and during the initial taping of the show, the producers keep an eye on the contestants and peg their ability to drive up ratings.

Of the twelve brave souls, producers closely monitor a woman they’ve nicknamed “Zoo” for her love and knowledge of animals. As shooting progresses, Zoo works with the other contestants and learns several new skills that allow her to advance in the competition. The show’s schedule demands a challenge where the contestants must spend an extended amount of time alone, and Zoo sets off with the supplies she’s earned through winning smaller challenges or as gifts from other contestants.

Zoo makes her way through the woods confident that she will conquer the game. It is a game, after all, and she continues to remind herself of that. Even when she loses crucial supplies, she keeps going. Nothing allows her to waver from her objective. Zoo wants to be the last one standing, the one declared the winner. She’s come on the show to prove something to herself, and the longer she moves alone the more imperative it becomes for her to succeed.

The challenges that come her way start to become downright bizarre, however, and after a point nothing makes sense. Clearly she needs help, and while Zoo understands that what she’s doing makes for good TV she also feels a little cheated. How far will the execs at the network let her struggle? Soon enough the answer to the “why” become clear for Zoo, but she doesn’t know if she can handle the cost of the challenge for the financial advantage at the end.

From the book’s outset, fiction debut author Alexandra Oliva will grab hold of readers and not let go. She doesn’t hesitate to dive head first into the incredulous lengths television travels in the name of ratings. Just as she lulls readers into one corner of her story world, she reveals the true intent of her story. Without even realizing it, readers will encounter a book that deals with some of the most pressing concerns of our current times.

Many experienced authors would find the switch between the two layers of story a challenge. Oliva uses a deft hand and doesn’t shy away from the difficult moments. Instead, she throws herself into them headlong and demands that her readers follow her. She’s created in Zoo a protagonist who will impress readers at first with her dedication to winning and then her helplessness in her circumstances.

Anyone who enjoys suspense will thoroughly enjoy The Last One, and readers should definitely Bookmark it!

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

New review: Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp

By Ekta R. Garg

August 10, 2016

Genre: Women’s fiction

Rated: Bordering on Bookmark it!

Two women find themselves at the heart of the question of parenthood when they engage in a battle for the right to a child. They will need to work through differences with their partners and their families as well as their own consciences before reaching a conclusion. Debut author Amanda Ortlepp offers readers a likeable and touching story in her first book Claiming Noah.

Catriona Sinclair has everything a woman could want: a successful career; a loving, supportive husband; and a lovely home in a thriving Australian city. If Catriona could point to one thing that might be lacking, it’s the fact that she and her husband, James, don’t have any children. But the matter of children is more complicated for Catriona than James. She’s not completely sure she wants them.

Still, she’s willing to try for James’s sake. When natural conception becomes difficult, Catriona and James pursue in vitro fertilization. After a difficult period of time Catriona finally becomes pregnant, but she doesn’t think she can handle more than one pregnancy. She and James decide to make the remaining embryos available for adoption.

Elsewhere in the city, Diana Simmons mourns the fact that she can’t conceive. She wants nothing more than to be a mother. Someone gives Diana the idea of embryo adoption, and she grabs hold of it. She convinces Liam, her husband, to agree to the in vitro procedure, and they go ahead with it despite social pressure against it.

The donation of the embryo eventually brings Catriona and Diana face to face, and they come to court to argue a sensitive matter: who is the rightful parent of a child? The person whose genetic material made the child’s existence possible, or the person raising that child? On first glance the answer seems easy to each of the women, but as they pursue the court case they come to understand one another’s position and feelings.

Author Amanda Ortlepp handles her subject matter with compassion and relative maturity. For a first-time novel, Claiming Noah will offer readers several points for careful consideration. The idea of embryo adoption presents a new twist on a story that travels down well-trodden paths.

Some of Ortlepp’s choices become predictable. Readers will most likely guess certain plot twists well in advance of them actually occurring. A few of the characters, too, come across more as checkmarks for types instead of original people.

They serve their purpose, however, as does the predictability. Even with the fulfillment of the expected, Ortlepp still surprises readers. Catriona’s struggle with motherhood, in particular, comes across as fresh and real. Those women who have experienced the same challenges as Catriona will definitely sympathize with her plight, and any woman who has given birth can identify with Catriona’s misgivings.

Ortlepp allows her characters to move through the climax of their story with the utmost of dignity and grace. For this and the tenderness she shows this worthy effort, Claiming Noah Borders on Bookmarking it.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Brand new review: Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

By Ekta R. Garg

August 3, 2016

Genre: Psychological thriller

Rated: Bordering on Bypass it

A woman realizes too late that her new husband wants to over her. With thoughts of other family members in mind, she realizes she’ll have to find a way to escape the clutches of someone who had once promised to love her forever. Author B.A. Paris follows the latest trend of psychological thriller in the sometimes vague and ultimately predictable novel Behind Closed Doors.

When Grace Harrington meets Jack Angel in the park, she thinks she’s run into the love of her life. The fact that Jack showers so much attention on Grace’s sister, Millie, who has Down’s syndrome seals the deal for Grace. Any man who could offer his time so selflessly to others must be a gem.

It doesn’t take long for Grace to figure out that the man she took for a gem is actually a lump of coal. After a whirlwind romance, Grace and Jack get married and on their wedding day Jack reveals his true intentions in marrying Grace. He doesn’t want a wife; he wants an object to control. An item to satisfy his darkest desires.

Grace’s disbelief gets replaced with the dulling realization that Jack has planned for every possibility. He doesn’t allow Grace to socialize with anyone except in the most controlled situations. She can’t pursue friendships with other women. She can’t even answer the phone in her own home.

If she only had herself to worry about, Grace would find a way to fight Jack and get out but she has Millie to consider. In a matter of months Millie is due to leave the special school she attends and come live with Jack and Grace—on Jack’s insistence. Grace knows that if Jack brings Millie home, their lives will become a nightmare with no end. Grace is determined not to let her husband hurt her sister in any way, but her days to find a solution begin to dwindle.

Author B.A. Paris’s debut novel travels down familiar roads. With the success of novels like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, B.A. Paris does her best to fulfill the requirements of the psychological thriller genre. For the most part she succeeds: protagonist Grace is attractive and has weighty emotional ties that prevent her from pursuing the easiest solution; antagonist Jack possesses the necessary narcissism usually exhibited by deranged characters; and the timeline guarantees that readers will flip pages as fast as possible to find out what happens.

Unlike other novels in the genre, however, the vagueness of Jack’s motivation and troubled background may make readers frown. His methods, no doubt, are downright disturbing; some might find his abuse of Grace hard to process. But Paris doesn’t come up with specific details to support Jack’s incentive, letting him instead offer his madness to Grace in a monologue that starts to sound a little staged toward the end of his speech.

Even more puzzling are Jack’s forays in Thailand to satisfy his darker thoughts, which are never fully explored for readers. It’s clear Jack wants to witness the unnatural. Paris never shares what exactly that means or how he goes about it. Readers will probably shrug and keep turning pages, knowing what to expect in the end and wanting to know instead how Paris accomplishes the inevitable.

The biggest disappointment comes in Grace herself. As a buyer for British store Harrod’s, Grace has traveled the world and most likely dealt with all sorts of people in her job. How could she possibly miss the clear warning signs about Jack that most women can read about these days in any magazine? Even more implausibly, how does she allow Jack to dupe her time and again into staying? Shouldn’t she know better by the third or fourth time he lashes out at her?

The book will compel casual readers to keep plowing through pages, and Paris should be commended for allowing Millie, Grace’s sister, to drive part of the plot. The book by nature of its genre will draw some readers in. For these reasons I rate Behind Closed Doors as Bordering on Bypass it.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

New review: The Hatching: Ezekiel Boone

By Ekta R. Garg

July 27, 2016

Genre: Dystopian fiction

Rated: Bypass it

When a mysterious breed of spiders begins to hatch and devour people, a professor finds her expertise in arachnids tested to the extreme. She will need to use the resources of her graduate students and the highest levels of government to figure out a solution before the spiders destroy all of humanity. Author Ezekiel Boone takes readers through a novel that crawls along at a centipede’s pace in the dull buildup book The Hatching.

Several strange incidents begin occurring across the world. An American billionaire goes hiking in Peru and witnesses a black mass consuming his guide and companions. A scientist in India records a major spike in seismic activity. A nuclear bomb goes off in China, and the Chinese government keeps saying the bomb was an accident. In the middle of the bizarre events, federal agent Mike Rich gets a phone call to investigate a plane crash in Minnesota. What starts as a routine investigation quickly becomes an inquiry into something truly abnormal.

Meanwhile, an American University professor who specializes in spiders receives a delivery of an egg sac in Washington, D.C. At first Professor Melanie Guyer thinks the sac is fossilized, that the spiders that it once held have long since perished. Soon enough she realizes that the sac is simply dormant. When it begins to hatch, Melanie’s fascination transforms to horror. These spiders are like nothing she’s ever seen.

Across town in the White House as the president deals with the political implications of China’s nuclear bomb, the Oval Office receives word of spiders. Spiders unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. These spiders have one objective: to kill and feed off humans. The president engages Melanie and her team of grad students to help procure answers. The spiders don’t seem to be slowing down, and everyone knows if they don’t find an answer soon there may be no one left to deal with the aftermath.

Author Ezekiel Boone takes his time building the story and introducing his characters. In fact, the majority of the book could be considered a buildup to what is obviously a series. As a result new characters enter the story as late as halfway through the novel, and readers don’t get the opportunity to bond with any one person long enough to truly care about the result.

While Boone does his best to present a variety of challenges with each new character or set of characters, at some point those challenges start to feel redundant. It’s clear the appearance of the spiders is wreaking havoc across the world. Readers will probably find themselves asking, “Now what?” much sooner than what Boone most likely intended.

The shock value of the spiders’ bloodthirsty tenacity wears off long before the book ends. Readers are left, then, with a book that promises a wild ride but barely starts down the track before it’s over. Clearly a sequel is supposed to bring even greater and creepier situations. Unfortunately the dragging pace here may discourage readers from waiting around for that sequel.

Also, the subplots set in countries other than the United States don’t feel grounded in their respective cultures. Other than a few token cultural markers, Boone’s characters and their situations could have been set anywhere. While Boone’s intention to make the story a global one should be applauded, those sections of the book should have been better researched and presented.

A proliferation of profanity and women characters who approach situations more like men may also turn readers off. In the end, though, the biggest drawback of the book really is its pacing. For these reasons, I recommend readers Bypass The Hatching.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Brand new review: My Girl by Jack Jordan

By Ekta R. Garg

July 27, 2016

Genre: Thriller

Rated: Bypass it

A woman staggering under the grief of losing her husband to suicide must also cope with the disappearance of her teenage daughter years earlier. When she finds a gun in her husband’s desk, she decides it’s a sign that foul play has occurred. The discovery of the gun helps her uncover the truth about the greatest tragedy in her life. Author Jack Jordan takes his readers through his short book at a pace bordering on frenzied in the somewhat flawed novel My Girl.

Paige Dawson spends her days trying to make it from one hour to the next. In the two months since her husband committed suicide, Paige has become a full-blown alcoholic. When their daughter disappeared ten years earlier, Paige found it hard enough to keep herself together. Now with Ryan gone, Paige cares only about having enough wine to sustain her.

At her father’s insistence, Paige begins sorting through Ryan’s belongings. As she makes her way through his study, she finds a gun in a hidden compartment in the desk drawer. The discovery unnerves her. Why did Ryan need a gun? What scared him so much that he wanted to protect himself?

In addition to the gun, Paige begins observing odd occurrences at home. Someone has entered her house and scrubbed her daughter’s room clean. Another time Paige wakes up from a drunken stupor to her daughter’s voice and discovers that someone left a home video playing on the TV. Paige desperately wants help, but her reputation as a drunk precedes her and she knows no one will believe her. As she allows those close to her to offer her advice and help, Paige makes a painful discovery about her past and will have to face it in order to survive the future.

Author Jack Jordan introduces readers to Paige and her circumstances at a hurried pace. Readers may feel that Jordan wants to rush them through the initial stages of the book to bring the climax forward as soon as possible. As a result, readers will only get to spend time with Paige during her darkest hours. The choices she makes in her life and the activities she engages in may depress some readers.

The climax, by contrast, is designed to shock readers, but its shock value doesn’t justify its inclusion. Some of the story’s biggest questions, too, don’t get definitive answers. Paige offers her opinions, but the narration never provides enough information to confirm whether her conjectures are correct. While the book may be designed to keep readers turning pages, and it does accomplish that goal, it doesn’t provide the deep sense of satisfaction one might receive on encountering a well-intentioned, well-plotted story. I recommend readers Bypass My Girl.

 

Latest review: All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

By Ekta R. Garg

July 13, 2016

Genre: Thriller

Rated: Bypass it

 

When a woman returns to her hometown to help her brother take care of their ailing father, she must face the tragedy that forced her to leave in the first place. As she deals with her father’s bad health and the people from home, she’ll learn that even moving several states away isn’t enough to keep her past from her. Megan Miranda tries to wow readers in her first adult novel with an unusual setup in the vapid, self-absorbed book All the Missing Girls.

Nicolette “Nic” Farrell got the chance ten years ago to leave Cooley Ridge, North Carolina, and she took it. Nic’s best friend, Corinne, disappeared ten years earlier, and no one ever found her. As rumor spread like wildfire in Cooley Ridge, Nic left town and found a new life in Philadelphia. But the small town’s vise doesn’t lose its grip on her. Now in her late twenties, Nic must come back to North Carolina for her father.

Her brother, Daniel, has urged her to come. The previous year Nic and Daniel put their father in an assisted living facility, and Daniel has run out of money. He needs help fixing up their childhood home to put it on the market, but more than that he needs Nic’s help in convincing their father that selling the house is the right move.

Nic arrives in Cooley Ridge, rolls up her sleeves, and gets to work on the house. Her father doesn’t prove to be such an easy task, but she does her best to talk to him. Then another young girl from town goes missing, and Nic feels like time has rolled backwards to the horror of Corinne’s disappearance. What follows is a story in reverse, starting from the last day of Nic’s trip and working its way to her first day. It’s the only way, Nic tells readers, that she can process the entire situation and come face to face with what happened to both girls.

Author Megan Miranda has published several young adult novels, and All the Missing Girls is her first novel for adults. Unfortunately the book reads more like a novel for and about young adults. Because Miranda chooses to let Nic lead as the first-person narrator, readers never really get to know any of the other characters. Nic does all the talking, and she spends copious amounts of time describing just how serious the situation is.

She also spends too much time trying to convince readers of the importance of a tragedy. While platitudes may offer weight to a story, the number in Nic’s repertoire will make the book feel clunky. It’s not hard to believe that a best friend’s disappearance can have a deep impact on a person. Nic takes the meaning of “impact” to a completely different realm, however.

The result is a protagonist who comes across as self-involved and self-absorbed. From Nic’s observations, Corinne’s disappearance really revolves around Nic and not Corinne herself. Even their friendship has more to do with Nic and how much Corinne meant to her both in good ways and bad.

The entire approach feels more suited to a story about teenagers. Everything else about Nic’s life seems fine: successful fiancé, a steady job that pays well, and a new place to live in Philadelphia far away from the events of a decade earlier. Most people with so many positive variables would find it possible to move on from a tragedy. Nic seems to revel in that time period.

As is often the case with YA novels, here, too, serendipity plays a major role in the unraveling of Corinne’s disappearance. A perpetrator who spends most of the book in the background gets thrust into the limelight in a clumsy effort to keep readers guessing. Miranda’s choice in storytelling—going through the story backwards—will entertain readers for a while, but in many places the emotion feels misplaced, the tension ratcheting up against the timeline.

Despite the fact that Miranda’s book does tick off some of the boxes in the “thriller” category, I recommend readers Bypass All the Missing Girls.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)