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Reminiscent of Stuart MacBride’s Misfit Mob: A Review of The Sleepwalker (by Joseph Knox)

I saw Joseph Knox’s The Sleepwalker in my Goodreads feed, and saw that it was available to read and review on NetGalley. So naturally, I had to get myself a copy (because of my obvious and possibly unhealthy love for the mystery/thriller genre). Three days later, I’m done with the book and can’t help but feel how similar the experience of reading it was to reading A Dark So Deadly by Stuart McBride (review here), which introduced readers to the Misfit Mob.

Here’s why The Sleepwalker was even better than A Dark So Deadly.

The Sleepwalker Joseph Knox
Source: Goodreads

Genre:

Thriller, Mystery

Length: 

328 pages

Blurb:

Martin Wick was sentenced to death for the slaughter of an entire family. But Wick had no memory of the crime, earning him the nickname ‘The Sleepwalker’. Ten years later, Wick is dying in a hospital, under police watch. Detective Aidan Waits is part of the police protection detail that has only one job – watch Wick and try to find out the location of Wick’s last victim. But then, an attack leaves Wick and another policeman dead, and another gravely injured. And with his dying breath, Wick tells Waits something that sends him down a dangerous path where demons from his past, the search for the truth, and the threats of his present come crashing together. Will this be the end for Waits’ career and life? Will Waits fight the dangers that will pull him deeper into the storm from which there’s no return? Or will he embrace that darkness and the release it will bring?

Overall Rating:

8 out of 10

Plot:

7 out of 10

Characterization:

8 out of 10

Primary Element:

7 out of 10 for its mystery

Writing Style:

8 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes, this is Book 3 of the Aidan Waits series. Book 1 – Sirens – has actually been on my list for a while. While I didn’t want to give up on the chance to read The Sleepwalker, I definitely felt like I should’ve started from Book 1. If you’re picking Joseph Knox as a new author to follow, start at the beginning – at Sirens.

Highlighted Takeaway:

Aidan Waits’ sour persona. It may have rubbed the other characters wrong, but I absolutely loved the way he was.

What I Liked:

Joseph Knox builds an intricately woven plot on the foundation of great characterization. The Sleepwalker reads really well, moves fast, and is also wonderfully human in its characters’ strengths and weaknesses.

What I Didn’t Like:

If I had to pick something, it would be the fact that the book wouldn’t have been complete without reference to its prequels. But, that very reference is what has now left me knowing more than what I would’ve liked to know about those very prequels. So if you pick this book up as a standalone read, you will enjoy it. But if you want to read the whole series, start with Sirens instead for a more complete experience.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who loves books set in the United Kingdom, especially if you like the works of Stuart MacBride.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who does not like books where the main protagonists are a little too dark; where they’re not anti-heroes, they’re just confused individuals trying to make the best of a situation and survive until they can be bothered to.

Read It For:

Aidan Waits’ struggle against himself and the hand he’s been dealt, as he tries to determine whether the effort is worth it at all.

A big thank you to NetGalley, Joseph Knox, and Transworld Publishers for an ARC of this book. The Sleepwalker comes out on 11 July 2019. Make sure to grab a copy if you love thrillers.

– Rishika

The One You Sorta Get, But Not Entirely: A Review of Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

There are a few things you should know about Gorky Park before you read this review for said review to make any sense.

One, Gorky Park was actually written in Russian and translated into English – not something you realize when you read the blurb or buy the book.

Two, the cover may look all new and contemporary, but it’s an old book – originally published in 1981. It’s set in the 1980s in Russia, which was a very, very different time wrought with political nitty-gritties that most people aren’t completely aware of.

Three, in spite of being translated, it is actually very accurate in slang and style, something I realized when I watched Chernobyl right after reading this book and found the characters’ idiosyncrasies making more sense than they otherwise would’ve.

Four, those idiosyncracies make no sense for the first third of the book, until you get into it.

Now that we’ve got those out of the way… let’s get to this review!

Gorky Park Martiz Cruz Smith
Source: Goodreads

Genre:

Mystery, Crime, Fiction

Length: 

592 pages

Blurb:

When Chief Inspector Arkady Renko discovers three mutilated in Gorky Park, he wants to do everything he can to prove that the case is more suitable for KGB than the militia. What begins as a minimal investigation turns into the biggest case of his life. As Renko is forced to question everything he’s believed in and trusted, he discovers more about himself than he thought possible, or even wanted. But will this realization help him find answers, or will it kill him?

Overall Rating:

6 out of 10

Plot:

6 out of 10

Characterization:

7 out of 10

Primary Element:

6 out of 10 for the mystery

Writing Style:

8 out of 10 for its abstract yet endearing style

Part of a Series: 

Apparently, yes. This is the first of the Arkady Renko series.

Highlighted Takeaway:

The way Martin Cruz Smith manages to beautify the saddest and weakest vulnerabilities of human beings while showing that that is what makes us strong in the first place.

What I Liked:

The conflict that Arkady Renko has with himself as a good person dealt a bad hand, wanting to do the right thing even as he’s incredibly tempted to not, so as to protect himself.

What I Didn’t Like:

It was a little too local. There was so much reliance on the political and inter-country relationships at the crux of the story that I think it would leave anyone who wasn’t living in 1981 Russia feeling a little lost. Some perspective might have helped (especially for people like me whose knowledge of geography and history is downright-laughable).

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who enjoys the abstract narrative that is seen quite often in slightly older novels. Anyone who loves Russia-based literature. And anyone who wants to try a mystery with a twist (a very, very large twist… and some small ones).

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who likes clear-cut plots – this one is super-twisty and can get a bit difficult to follow.

Read It For:

The authentic manner in which it captures a culture, and a look into the relationship-intricacies of two superpowers pitted against each other. Oh and also for this weird oxymoron that the book seems to be – it’s actually engaging and frustrating, simultaneously. You literally feel like putting it aside and not picking it up for a while, but still feel like turning page after page at the same time!

Gorky Park isn’t the easiest read, but it’s definitely an interesting one – to the extent that, in spite of feeling a little lost at many points, I wouldn’t mind reading more from Martin Cruz Smith, and am definitely going to follow the story of Arkady Renko. Before I come around to picking that one up though, there are many books to read and many reviews to share. Next up – The Sleepwalker by Joshua Knox.

Got something to add? Just drop a comment below. And, as always, thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

A Satisfactory Sequel: A Review of The Forgotten by David Baldacci

The Forgotten is the sequel to Zero Day (review here), which introduces us to John Puller, an Army CID agent who is disciplined, patriotic, and has a strong moral axis. While the introductory book had him handling a matter of national security, The Forgotten has Puller on a case that’s more personal.

A good sequel, it adds a lot of depth to Puller’s character, and makes for a good, quick-paced read with a lot of layers.

The Forgotten by David Baldacci

Source: Goodreads

Genre:

Thriller, Mystery

Length: 

596 pages

Blurb:

John Puller is still struggling to come to terms with the events of his last case. When he visits his father, his plan to unwind during a few weeks off comes to an abrupt halt. His father has received a letter from his aunt, one in which she confides that her town, Paradise, is far from its namesake. Puller hasn’t been in touch with his aunt for a long time, but remembers her for the crucial role she played in positively shaping his childhood. So when he travels to Paradise and discovers that she’s dead, he knows there’s more to the story than meets the eye. The police insist that his aunt’s death was caused by accidental drowning. The town of Paradise is separated into the side that the tourists see, and one that no one wants to see. And Puller has attracted the attention of some very unpleasant men who want to see him dead, or close to it. But Puller will do whatever it takes to get the right answers… as long as he can stay alive long enough to do so.

Overall Rating:

7 out of 10

Plot:

8 out of 10

Characterization:

8 out of 10

Primary Element:

7 out of 10 for its mystery, and 5 out of 10 for the ‘thriller’ factor.

Writing Style:

8 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes. This is Book #2 of the John Puller series. It can be read as a standalone, but is best read in order of the series. If you want to start with this one though, you can, because it gives nothing of Book #1 away.

Highlighted Takeaway:

Some very large plot twists that you don’t see coming, and that really overcome the predictability of some parts of the story arc.

What I Liked:

The way many different storylines that are running in parallel come together to make for a wholesome, very satisfying conclusion. And, the growth of Puller’s character – with every passing experience, Puller takes a closer look at himself and the principles and rules he’s lived by throughout his life, beliefs that are now conflicting with his sense of morality. Baldacci beautifully handles this development without making it seem forced, while also laying the groundwork for what could potentially be a very intriguing story arc for Puller.

What I Didn’t Like:

Some parts of the story were a little too predictable.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who enjoys a good suburban chaos mystery, David Baldacci’s work, or just a well-rounded, intricate mystery/thriller plot.

Who Should Avoid:

I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who doesn’t enjoy suspense or mystery, because the book is lengthy and convoluted, and takes its time going through multiple avenues before reaching a conclusion.

Read It For:

The continuation of John Puller’s story.

Have you read any of David Baldacci’s books? Who’s your favorite character – Puller, Maxwell, King, Pine, Decker, or someone else? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

And, as always, thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

Unputdownable: A Review of Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

A big thanks to NetGalley for an ARC of this book, and for introducing me to an author and character that I will surely be following. This is the fourth book in the Eddie Flynn series, based on the character of the same name who is a con artist turned defense lawyer. It’s completely readable as a standalone and although it does mention a bit about Eddie’s life and character journey, nothing leaves you feeling lost.

36543419
Source: Goodreads

Genre: 

Thriller, Suspense

Length: 

368 pages

Blurb:

Eddie Flynn protects the innocent. When a high profile case involving an incredibly popular actor comes his way through one of the biggest law firms in the city, Eddie refuses. The actor is on trial for the murder of his actress wife and bodyguard. Eddie has no reason to believe his innocence, nor does he know why the reputed firm wants him on the case. Until Eddie meets the accused. Willing to go to any length to protect an innocent man, Eddie takes the case up under overwhelming evidence against his client. Eddie is confident that the real killer is out there – he just has to convince the jury of that. But the killer is closer than even Eddie can imagine. And convincing a jury may not be so easy when the killer is part of it.

Overall Rating: 

8 out of 10

Plot: 

9 out of 10

Characterization: 

9 out of 10

Primary Element: 

9 out of 10 for its suspense

Writing Style: 

8 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes. This is #4, but can be read as a standalone without any problem.

Highlighted Takeaway:

The plot twist. It’s very rare that the killer-reveal takes you by real surprise, but Steve Cavanagh manages to do just that.

What I Liked:

Eddie Flynn’s character is one of the most rounded, yet realistic, I’ve read. There are a few fictional characters who I absolutely love because of their complexity and human-ness, with David Baldacci’s Amos Decker being one such character. Eddie Flynn makes it to that list and as one of the top ones for sure. Cavanagh has created a very relatable character in Flynn, one who keeps you hooked from the first page.

What I Didn’t Like:

Not a thing!

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who enjoyed watching The Mentalist, and anyone who enjoys reading fast-paced courtroom-action-suspense novels. Also anyone who enjoys a good serial killer mystery and legal thrillers.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who is put off very quickly by violence. There isn’t too much gore in this book, but there is some violence which may not sit too well with those not too used to it.

Read It For:

The suspense, the intricate storyline, and Eddie Flynn.

Got recommendations for other books like Thirteen or any other good legal thrillers? Drop a line in the comments below. And thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

Inspirational and a Must-Read: A Review of Akhada – the Biography of Mahavir Singh Phogat

The story of Mahavir Singh Phogat became widespread public knowledge when Indian actor, Aamir Khan, starred as the wrestling coach in a dramatized biopic of the man who forever altered women’s wrestling in India. Phogat’s official biography, penned by Saurabh Duggal, was released a few days prior to the film.

The film in question, Dangal, was another in a string of dramatized biopics that have been released in the past few years. Mary Kom, starring Priyanka Chopra as Olympic champ Mary Kom, and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, starring Farhan Akhtar as Milkha ‘The Flying Sikh’ Singh were two more that became huge successes. Compared to the actual stories of Mary Kom (Unbreakable, which I’d read the night before I saw the film) and Milkha Singh (The Race of My Life, which I read a little after watching the film), the movies downright sucked (Sorry, not sorry!).

So when I watched Dangal, I decided to let some time pass before I read the real story. And one thing I can say for sure now that I have read it is that the movie wasn’t bad, but it’s more of an entertainer, because it does almost no justice to the crazy, inspirational, and often tragic life that Phogat actually led – a life that made him the man, father, and coach that gave India some of her best wrestlers. Here’s my review of Saurabh Duggal’s Akhada: The Authorized Biography of Mahavir Singh Phogat.

Akhada Biography Mahavir Singh Phogat Saurabh Duggal
Source: Goodreads

Genre: Non-fiction, Biography

Length: 232 Pages

Blurb:

Mahavir Singh Phogat challenged the social stigma, lack of literacy, and stoic lifestyle of Haryana, a state known for its female foeticide and female infanticide, to train the girl-children of his family as wrestlers. Taking girls into a sport that was traditionally concerned a male-sport was not easy. Phogat had to fight not only deep-rooted rules written off as tradition but his own family and even tragic circumstances to fulfill his dream of training his daughters for a life different than that which the girls of their time and generation had come to accept as a given. In doing so, he became the father who gave his daughters the dream they had never dared to see, and the coach who changed the face of Indian women’s wrestling on a national and global level. Akhada is the real-life story of that man.

Overall Rating: 7 out of 10

Primary Element: 8 out of 10 for its raw-ness and simple but impactful storytelling

Writing Style: 8 out of 10

Highlighted Takeaway:

This isn’t a dramatized version of the story of a man who changed the society he lived in, but a very real look into it. And that is what makes it so good – the story had to only be told to be inspirational, it didn’t have to be embellished to be made so.

What I Liked:

The way the author showcases all the strengths of Mahavir Singh Phogat, but does not shy away from showcasing his weaknesses too, making it truly reflective of the wrestling coach.

The way the author describes the social and economic circumstances of the region for what it is, without turning it into a social justice gimmick, and consequently displaying its grim reality as well as cautious hope.

What I Didn’t Like:

The book isn’t sequential. Given the sheer number of events mentioned in the book, it makes it a little difficult to identify and follow the timeline, which takes away some of the effect of a life led full of struggles and achievements.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone interested in sports and autobiographies/biographies.

Who Should Avoid:

I don’t think anyone would dislike this book or the story it tells. Even if you aren’t interested in sports, it’s worth a read, if only for the inspirational tale it tells.

Read It For:

A look at the real struggles of real people, and the proof that greatness can come from the most unexpected of places – you just need one person to see potential. This is the story that changed the face of Indian wrestling in an unprecedented manner and has also changed the deeprooted beliefs of a system that wasn’t necessarily working. More than a tale, it’s history that shaped a different present and future and, as such, should be more known.

What did you think of Akhada? Do you feel the book was better than the movie or vice versa? Share your thoughts below. And as always, thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

Gets-Under-Your-Skin Scary: A Review of Hell by Tom Lewis

I’m a scaredy-cat, always have been, and I doubt that’s ever going to change. But when I saw Jeffrey Keetan‘s review of Hell, I checked out the blurb, found it incredibly interesting, tried to find a copy on Amazon, couldn’t find it, reached out to the author, and Tom Lewis was actually kind enough to get back to me and give me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

(Insert deep breath here).

What followed was a day and a half of intense page-turning as I delved into the story of the Possession and Exorcism of Cassie Stevens. I’m going to admit that I did have a few nightmares in the nights that followed. Hell corroborates that unwelcome but always-there feeling that comes over you when night falls and the lights are turned out – something is lurking in the shadows.

Hell by Tom Lewis
Source: Goodreads

Genre: Horror

Length: 374 pages

Blurb:

After a devastating personal loss, young Cassie finds herself pulled into the macabre world of darkness, death, and beyond. What starts as curiosity ends with Cassie getting addicted to drugs and partaking in strange activities… until she dies in an accident. Revived 20 minutes later, Cassie recovers and becomes her normal, pre-goth self. And then strange things start to happen around her. Cassie knows something is watching her from the shadows, something that is not just around her but inside her, and something that she’d managed to get away from when she’d been revived. But the thing within her is not ready to let go yet… not until it claims what is rightfully its – Cassie’s life.

Overall Rating: 7 out of 10

Plot: 7 out of 10

Characterization: 8 out of 10

Primary Element: 8 out of 10, for its ability to re-enforce the fear of the dark

Writing Style: 8 out of 10

Part of a Series: No

Highlighted Takeaway:

The way Tom Lewis manages to weave a story that is not in-your-face scary for the most part but still manages to scare the heck out of you by building on fears inherent in people.

What I Liked:

The characterization, the insight into a whole different lifestyle, and the story itself. There was also a relatively large dose of gore, which might not be up everyone’s alley, but definitely added a whole other layer of ‘disturbing’ and ‘creepy’ to the book and really rounded it off as a horror.

What I Didn’t Like:

Some arcs weren’t closed or explained, and although they didn’t greatly affect the story-line, the addition probably would have made it even more intriguing. Also, the use of ‘phenomena’ instead of ‘phenomenon’. It’s commonly used, I know, but the lack of distinction between the plural and singular has always been a pet peeve of mine.

Who Should Read It:

Fans of horror, especially those who like Stephen King’s work. Hell has certain elements that are very reminiscent of King’s work, especially the ability of the story to make you extremely aware of every tiny sound, want to constantly look over your shoulder because you feel like someone’s right there, and avoid the darkness for a few days.

Who Should Avoid:

People who tend to avoid horror in general because the stories stay with them for too long. Hell will stay with you for a few nights for sure, so proceed with caution.

Read It For:

Its unapologetically gory take on things satanic and disturbing, and to remind yourself that sometimes, primal fears are unavoidable and un-overcomeable.

A big, big thank you to Tom Lewis, the author of Hell: The Possession and Exorcism of Cassie Stevens, for agreeing to give me a copy of this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely recommend his work to fans of horror, and read more of it myself (albeit with long non-horror periods in the middle).

Which is your favorite horror book? Let us know in the comments below. And as always, thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

Amateur: Review of The Last Avatar by Vishwas Mudagal

I received a paid-for copy of The Last Avatar from Vishwas Mudagal’s marketing team in exchange for an honest review, and would like to thank the author and his team for reaching out to me and giving me a chance to read this book.

I normally don’t read Indian fiction because my first (and understandably last) experience with the genre was when I read Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone. Over time, I‘ve read excerpts from books of Amish and other Indian fantasy authors, and I’ve never been particularly fond of the general writing style. I was in two minds about picking this book up initially. The blurb of The Last Avatar, though, was intriguing and a bit strange. When I saw that it was published by Harper Collins India, I figured, “Why not?”

I also thought the book would be a good point to drop my reservations about Indian fiction, and maybe enjoy the evolving fantasy mythology genre and work that’s available from a growing set of authors. Let’s start with saying, “That definitely did not happen.”

The Last Avatar - Age of Kalki Book 1 - Vishwas Mudagal
Source: Goodreads

Genre: Indian fiction, Fantasy, Mythology

Length: 328 pages

Blurb:

A terrorist organization, the Invisible Hand, has found a leader and financial supporter in the Chinese General, Jian. A plot that was decades in the making has led to attacks all across the world. Cities have crumbled and India is in tumult after the Prime Minister and entire Union Cabinet are wiped out in one of the attacks. There’s only one person who can save India and the world from Jian’s ambition – Kalki. But is the vigilante-hero that India relies on a human being, or is he the tenth avatar of Vishnu as prophesized? And will he be able to save his country and the world, or will he meet his match in Jian and the Invisible Hand?

Overall Rating: 1 out of 10

Plot: 2 out of 10

Characterization: 1 out of 10

Primary Element: 1 out of 10 for its action and suspense

Writing Style: 0.5 out of 10

Part of a Series: Yes; this is Book 1.

Highlighted Takeaway:

The ending… because it allowed the book to finally end, and me to be done with it.

What I Liked:

Nothing.

What I Didn’t Like:

I’m just going to jot down a quick list here.

  1. The writing style – it was terribly amateur in style and needed a lot more work to even get the basic emotion across.
  2. The dialog – inane, unrealistic, and inconsistent.
  3. Narration – the book does not give you any sense of visualization; it just seems to go on and on, failing to evoke any emotion whatsoever.
  4. Story – the story goes on and on about how Kalki is India’s savior but does not offer a single example of what he may have done in the past.
  5. Plot – weak and convenient, and highly unrealistic even for a fantasy.
  6. Characterization – Kalki talks and behaves the same way at ages five, ten, fifteen, and whatever age he’s finally at; all other characters are one-dimensional. You could actually replace one for the other and not notice the difference.
  7. Pandering – random romance scenes that come out of nowhere and serve little purpose, as though added just to titillate (doesn’t succeed in doing so).
  8. So many errors! – syntax errors, grammar errors, incorrect words being used, and lack of continuity such as beards being shaved then reappearing overnight at full length (I mean, seriously?).

Who Should Read It:

I honestly would not recommend this to anyone. Maybe if you’re a die-hard fan of everything Indian mythology fantasy, you could give it a shot.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who actually enjoys reading books because they can pull you in and stories can be absorbing. The Last Avatar is too dull to do any of that.

Read It For:

… or don’t.

I genuinely wanted to like The Last Avatar but, unfortunately, just couldn’t (and I tried very hard to like it). I will definitely not be reading the rest of the trilogy (or howmanyeverbooks-ology) or any works of this author again.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and do share your thoughts in the comments section below!

– Rishika