Saturday, January 27, 2018

Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists
by |Chloe Benjamin
Release Date: January 9th, 2018
2018 G.P. Putnam's Sons
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0735213180
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Literary
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 Stars

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

My Thoughts
The Immortalists is one of those books where I really liked the concept / idea, but have really mixed feelings due to the fact I thought the story line felt a bit preachy and other than one story, I really couldn't get into the life of the other three siblings. 

First of all, I really thought the concept was neat although it certainly has been done before.  This one focuses on the lives of four siblings who decide to visit a fortune teller in order to find out their futures and are told the day they will die. The idea behind the book is to tell their stories and how knowing the date of their deaths would shape their future lives and how it affects their relationships.  I thought it would be interesting to see how the family dynamics change over the years having this knowledge, and how each of the siblings would react.  I really enjoy stories about families and their dynamics so I thought this would be interesting.  I was somewhat wrong on that account.

Simon's story was by far the most interesting, and I am so glad the author started with him as I don't think I would have finished the book otherwise.  He was a rather interesting and intriguing character, and despite the wildness in him, I found him to be endearing.  Simon ran off to late seventies San Francisco to join in on the gay scene, and although there was very little interaction between the family member, I did enjoy his story and the secondary characters that were introduced, some of whom we'd see later on in other story lines.  What I did find disappointing was the lack of family interaction so we don't really know how Simon's story really affected his family as they weren't really there, except for Klara.  I did find the whole AIDS scare to be quite fascinating as I am old enough to remember when the disease became a news sensation and the affect it had on entire communities.  I think I was in grade 8 when AIDS became part of our health curriculum so as I was reading, I was reflecting back on that time period and how scary news of the disease was to many people. I wish more of that has been discussed in this novel, and I think that's part of the problem; too many interesting things were just glossed over and you never could really empathize with the characters to the point that was needed.

As for the stories of the other siblings, Klara, Daniel, and Varya, I found I couldn't really empathize with any of them, especially Daniel.  Except for Varya's research with the monkeys, I didn't find any of their stories interesting, and there really wasn't a lot of discussion about the impact Simon's death had on the others, except for passing remarks about police investigations and so on.  I would have liked to have seen a bit more in-depth study of the family members and what they really thought and felt.  Varya's research into longevity was probably the closest the author came to really exploring the impact that knowing their time of death had on them.  She was obsessive, having been diagnosed with OCD, and I would have liked a bit more exploration into that theme.  

I am not opposed to sex in novels, but it was the use that turned me off in this one, mentioning sexual stuff in the middle of scenes that had nothing to do with sex, and in descriptions of people.  Really?  There couldn't be a better way of describing someone, such as Varya in the first paragraph of the novel having a "dark patch of fur between her legs", made me wonder what the rest of the book was like.  The sex scenes were fine, it was just how it was sometimes thrown in a scene in order to show sexual feelings between people, and I don't think it quite worked out the way the author intended.

While The Immortalists wasn't for me, I definitely think you should read this one and decide for yourself as you may get something out of it that I did not.  I really think the overall message was good: reaching out to people, especially family members, even if you are angry or upset is immensely important as well as helping them when needed.  That way, when something terrible does happen, you don't live with regrets for the rest of your life.  And while I think the author was trying to convey this, I don't quite think she succeeded in the way she meant.  I really feel the author missed an amazing opportunity to really explore fate and family dynamics, but in the end I thought the story was interesting but also boring.  Obviously, this book wasn't meant for me and many people seem to have adored it, so read it yourself and see what you think.
Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review: A Strange Scottish Shore by Juliana Gray

A Strange Scottish Shore (Emmeline Truelove, Book #2
by Juliana Gray
Release Date: September 19th, 2017
2017 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 9780425277089
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Time Travel
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Scotland, 1906. A mysterious object discovered inside an ancient castle calls Maximilian Haywood, the new Duke of Olympia, and his fellow researcher Emmeline Truelove, north to the remote Orkney Islands. No stranger to the study of anachronisms in archeological digs, Haywood is nevertheless puzzled by the artifact: a suit of clothing, which, according to family legend, once belonged to a selkie who rose from the sea in ancient times and married the castle’s first laird.

But Haywood and Truelove soon discover they’re not the only ones interested in the selkie’s strange hide, and when their mutual friend Lord Silverton vanishes in the night from an Edinburgh street, the mystery takes a dangerous turn through time, which only Haywood’s skills and Truelove’s bravery can solve…

My Thoughts 
I have to admit that I had no idea what the book was about when I first started reading it, and for some strange reason, I actually thought it was a mystery novel.  However, A Strange Scottish Shore was anything but as it turned out to be a time-traveling historical novel. Then I got really excited as I love history, and add a time-travel element to it with some mystery, and I should have been really hooked.  And although I did enjoy, there was something about it that never really sunk its hooks into me as I read.  

First of all, the book did have some really good things going for it.  The overall story was rather interesting and I definitely loved the mystery element to the time-travel as Truelove and Haywood had rather little idea as to what was going on and were kind of feeling their way through everything.  As there was a nice legend involving the ancient inhabitants of the castle, it really doesn't take much to figure out that Truelove or Haywood would have something to do with that legend.  So when the actual time-travel element did appear in the book, I wasn't really surprised at the events that transpired.  But it was fun to follow along as Truelove slowly figured it all out and realized what the legend actually meant.  The world-building, both the early twentieth century and the mid-fourteenth century, was really good and I enjoyed the descriptions of daily life that were mentioned.   I love that stuff so the more descriptions there are, the more I tend to enjoy it so I can picture it all in my head.  The author was really good at doing that here.

Unfortunately, I wasn't a big fan of Truelove as I found her to be a bit too straight-laced and I couldn't really empathize with her most of the time.  It's not that I didn't like her character, I just wish there was more to embrace.  Silverton however, I adored.  I liked his personality, the mix between serious and cavalier was very attractive and I was really hoping to see more of him in the novel when he disappeared.  I did have a hard time connecting the mid-fourteenth century Silverton to early twentieth century Silverton, but I just went with it.  

I also had a few issues with the plot.  Overall, it was enjoyable and fun, but when you really look at it, there were too many loose ends that just didn't make sense.  And I'm not talking about those ends that lead into the next book as those I get, but just some things that were glossed over and not really explained, but were integral to the book.  I think I would have enjoyed the plot more if it was a bit more organized and more tightly woven.  And there was the paradox involved in time-travel; the author kind of glossed over it all, but the questions are still there nonetheless, without the answers. 

A Strange Scottish Shore definitely had some very interesting elements as well as some intriguing characters.  I did find the plot to be a bit loose as if the author wasn't quite sure where she was going with it, but otherwise I did enjoy the story.  I haven't yet read the first book in this series, and right now it's up in the air as to whether I will or not, I haven't decided.  For those who like time-travel and romance with a little bit of mystery thrown in however, this book is definitely for you. 
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review: Insidious Intent by Val McDermid

Insidious Intent (Tony Hill & Carol Jordan, Book #10)
by Val McDermid
Release Date: December 5th, 2017
2017 Atlantic Monthly Press
Kindle Edition; 424 Pages
ISBN: 978-0802127167
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

In the north of England, single women are beginning to disappear from weddings. A pattern soon becomes clear: Someone is crashing the festivities and luring the women away--only to leave the victims' bodies in their own burned-out cars in remote locations. Tony and Carol are called upon to investigate--but this may be the toughest case they've ever had to face. Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Paula McIntyre and her partner Elinor must deal with a cruel cyber-blackmailer targeting their teenage ward, Torin.

My Thoughts
Insidious Intent is the latest thriller featuring Tony Hill and Carol Jordan as they negotiate the emotional terrain of the previous year.   I am a huge fan of this author and her books, and I was looking forward to discovering how Carol would deal with the aftermath of her brother's death and her alcoholism.  I was definitely not disappointed as I thought the author wove an interesting mystery despite the heavily invested character development of her main characters.  I, personally, really like the way the books are going and I have to say, I was definitely not prepared for the ending in this book.

The REMIT team is finally being tested in this book as the previous one dealt more with the recruiting and development of the people who were to be part of this new centralized force.  When a car was found engulfed in flames, the police were not prepared to find the body of Kathryn McCormick in the interior.  Although a lot of evidence had been destroyed in the fire, the coroner was able to confirm that Kathryn had been strangled before being placed in the car.  With very little to go on, the REMIT team looked for clues and leads.  When a second and then a third victim died in very similar situations, the REMIT team was under a lot of pressure to find a killer before he killed anyone else, but the team was stumped and looking for that one lead.  I really enjoyed the characters in this novel, and I thought they fit in well together, but it was almost too seamless and perfect.  The suspense of previous novels was not there as the tension was missing.  Sometimes you need that antagonistic character as it makes things so much more interesting.  

DCI Carol Jordan receives a lot of attention in this novel, and I was definitely not unhappy with that. A recovering alcoholic with plenty of pressure on her back for the REMIT team to be successful, it was interesting to see how the pressure got to her and how she dealt with it.  To be honest, I was glad to see a bit of human frailty in her character these past few books as she always seemed to indomitable.  I enjoyed the way her character developed in this book as she tried to deal with having her drunk driving charge eliminated and the ensuing chaos that ruling created in her life.  With the weight of several deaths on her shoulders, and a serious case, Carol spent a lot of time thinking about her goals and the consequences she had to deal with because of her actions and those of others.  However, I wasn't as crazy about Tony in this book as I felt his character development was off and he didn't seem like the same person.  I did like how he dealt with Carol as well as the situation with Torin, but still something didn't sit well with me.  I just can't quite put my finger on it though.  

Although the author writes her books with the intention of being standalones, I really feel that one needs to begin at the beginning in order to really understand the motivations of the characters in this book.  I like McDermid's style of writing, and although you know who the killer is because she tells you, a technique I normally dislike, it actually worked in this novel and I found myself wondering what the clue/lead would be when it finally came.  And I can tell you that I was not prepared for the ending of this book.  No more can be said as it would ruin the book, but I was almost disappointed knowing I would have to wait for a while before finding out what comes next.  

Insidious Intent is interesting with a lot of dark humour, some character development in long-standing characters, and a clever narrative, but somehow it didn't seem to capture that magic of the previous books.  While I find the antagonist more interesting than the main characters, I have to ask myself why and the answer is simply because nothing really new was added in this novel.  The team kind of plowed their way through the investigation and there was none of the suspense and intensity that is usually present.  However, the author still writes a good novel and I have come to trust her ability to make unbelievable scenarios believable, so I am really hoping the ending of this book, while a bit out of place for the characters, leads to a whole different level of intensity in the next one.