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Review: Tell Me A Secret (By Samantha Hayes)

A big thanks to NetGalley and Bookouture for an ARC of this book, in exchange for a really honest review.

Although I’d received this book early last year, it’s taken me a long time to get to reading it. I finally thought I’ll just give it a shot. Before going further though, I think it’s important for me to disclose that had the previous book I was reading not ended up as a rare entry on my DNF list (for reasons cited here), I’d probably have tossed this one on that pile. But the last one did, and so this one didn’t… which is how we’re now on this review! Let’s get right into it!

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Source: Goodreads

Genre: Psychological thriller, mystery, and suspense (that’s what it says on the cover)

Length: 360 pages

Blurb:

Lorna is a psychotherapist. (This is something I really want you to remember as you read on… really, really remember!) She lives her life by an uber tight schedule because she’s trying hard to not allow herself a moment to think about the dark secret she holds. A new client of hers turns out to be someone familiar – Andrew, who she’s tried hard to forget, and failed. Aware of the risk to her marriage, family, and career, Lorna signs up on a dating site and messages Andrew anonymously (again, she’s a psychotherapist). Then Andrew dies – is murdered – but messages from him keep coming. Someone knows Lorna’s secrets and is out to destroy her. What happens next?

Overall Rating: 1 out of 10

Plot: 2 out of 10 (and most of this is for the climax)

Characterization: 1 out of 10

Primary Element: 1 out of 10 since it was too annoying to be thrilling, mysterious, or suspenseful

Writing Style: 1 out of 10

Part of a Series:

No. (Thank everything good in this world for that!)

Highlighted Takeaway:

The characters proving true the adage – You attract what you are – because they’re all idiots, surrounded by other idiots.

What I Liked:

The final few plot twists – not the best or even surprising, but definitely the best part of this book.

What I Didn’t Like:

Jotting down a quick list here:

  1. Lorna, who spent most of the book going, “Oh, I know this is a mistake but let me make it anyway and now let me regret making it but continue making it while continuing to regret it and making it, which brings me back to the regret as I continue making it… you get the gist!
  2. The constant use of, “I know I’m a therapist, but…” before Lorna makes another stupid decision. Honestly, that’s just lazy writing and the most ridiculous justification for a character’s actions.
  3. The fact that all the men in the book were literally nothing more than props to move the women’s stories ahead. They were insignificant, convenient, and had an incredible lack of any character other than that trait which suited the women’s story at the moment.

Who Should Read It:

Those who love books with highly dysfunctional, self-destructive persons and families, like The Couple Next Door or Daddy Darkest.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who doesn’t like books with characters that have multiple chances, but never seem to learn, while being aware that that’s what is happening.

Read It For:

The knowledge that Gone Girl (review here) may have been the only successful attempt at a psychological thriller based on dysfunction that actually made sense.

I’d also just like to add that Tell Me A Secret joins Daddy Darkest (review here) and The Couple Next Door (review here) to make up a genre that I am probably never going to read again. People just aren’t as ridiculous as the characters in these books, and if they are, I’d honestly just not read about them.

Tell me what you thought about Tell Me A Secret and this review in the comments below! And as always, thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

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Review: The Man of Legends (By Kenneth C. Johnson)

A shoutout to NetGalley for a free ARC of this book.

(“NETGALLEY!”)

Reading and reviewing it has been long pending from my end; made longer by the fact that I tried super-duper hard, but just couldn’t go through with reading the entire thing. It’s now one of the entries on my scarcely populated Did-Not-Finish list.

But… reviewed it must be, even if most of what I say is based on the 30% I did end up reading. So, here goes!

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Source: Goodreads

Genre: Something between fantasy, science fiction, thriller, and mystery

Length: 428 pages

Blurb:

Will is a thirty-something old man with brown eyes and brown hair, who never ages and is visible in multiple photographs next to almost every famous person across the world and across all time. He’s being chased by some Vatican emissary (don’t know why) and generally goes around being kind and gentle, while also being a super famous (but unidentifiable) author and painter. Jillian, of some tabloid-fame, discovers the fact that he’s been around forever, and then something happens over the span of 48 hours right after New Year’s Eve that brings everyone in the story (mainly the people that Will has somehow been in touch with) together for a traumatic experience they never forget. Oh, and something evil lurks in the shadows (apparently).

Overall Rating: 1.5 out of 10

Plot: Promise of a plot gets 8 out of 10; Plot that actually unraveled gets 2 out of 10

Characterization: 6 out of 10

Primary Element: Too ‘all over the place’ to identify a primary element other than ‘drones on’

Writing Style: 1 out of 10

Part of a Series?

No.

Highlighted Takeaway:

Will – a bit over the top maybe, but likable to some extent.

What I Liked:

Nothing to write home (or on this blog) about.

What I Didn’t Like:

An immense amount of buildup from Page 1, but absolutely no movement, at least until 30% in (or even 40% in, as seen from the quick page-flipping I did).

Who Should Read:

  • I don’t know… maybe people who can cook, work, clean, raise a child, answer calls, walk the dog, and undertake some personal grooming at the same time, because that’s how good at multi-tasking you need to be to follow the sheer number of storylines and characters.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who doesn’t want to spend the first ten minutes of every reading session going, “Who’s this person again and have they come before?”

Read It For:

  • Ummm… checking to see if you’re still as sharp as you’ve always been?

Loved The Man of Legends or hated it? Let me know in the comments below!

– Rishika

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Review: Zero Day (By David Baldacci)

Hey there! Starting the year off with some David Baldacci and a whole new style of review! Read on and let me know in the comments what other books you’d like to see dissected this way (or just say Hi!).

Oh and… Happy, Happy New Year!

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Source: Goodreads

Genre: Thriller

Length: 434 pages

Blurb:

War hero and brilliant US Army CID investigator, John Puller, gets sent on a solo mission to investigate four gruesome murders in the remote town of Drake, West Virginia. He works with local Police Chief, Samantha Cole, delving into a mystery that only deepens with every answer. Now, it’s up to Puller and Cole to solve the puzzle behind the increasing number of murders in a case that has greater implications and risks than either of them could have ever imagined.

Overall Rating: 7 out of 10

Plot: 7 out of 10

Characterization: 8 out of 10

Primary Element: 6 out of 10 for its ‘Thrill’ factor

Writing Style: 9 out of 10

Part of a Series?

Zero Day is the first book of Baldacci’s John Puller series. It would be best to start from here to get a good grasp of Puller, his background, and what makes him tick.

Highlighted Takeaway:

John Puller – the book is all about him, and his hard as nails but ideal within character and personality make that focus well worth it.

What I Liked:

Baldacci does not shy away from showcasing his main character’s strengths but also shows his vulnerability, which makes him a lot easier to relate with.

What I Didn’t Like:

Samantha Cole’s character gets a bit too subdued over the course of the book, losing a lot of its edge in Puller’s shadow.

Who Should Read:

  • Those who enjoy Baldacci’s work
  • Fans of the Amos Decker series
  • Anyone looking for a well-layered, complex plot-based book

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who gets queasy easily, because there is a good chunk of violence in Zero Day.

Read It For:

  • its complex, layered storyline
  • an intriguing and very likable hero
  • Baldacci’s style finesse (which made him the success he is)

Want me to include any additional elements in this new review format? Let me know in the comments below!

– Rishika

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Review: The Butterfly Garden (By Dot Hutchison)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 288 pages

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

An isolated garden. Beautiful trees and flowers. And a collection of butterflies – kidnapped women intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes and whose beauty is captured and preserved. Overseeing all of this is The Gardener. When the FBI rescues the girls, they find themselves struggling to find answers. The girls are too damaged to speak or share what they’ve been through. Only one girl stands apart – Maya. Maya begins to take FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison through her story, and the story of many others interwoven with hers. More disturbing than they could have ever imagined, the story that Maya tells them takes them into the horrors of the Garden and The Gardener’s mind. Yet, something is missing, something is being held back. Maya is hiding something. Agent Hanoverian needs to get to the truth. Because uncovering Maya’s secret, or failing to do so, will affect the fate of every girl they rescued and the man responsible for their horror.

The Bottom Line:

A disturbing book with a good storyline, but that fails to pack a real punch.

My take:

One thing is for sure – The Butterfly Garden isn’t a book that everyone will be able to digest. The way the book plays out could be enough to make people extremely uncomfortable. The events and the psyche of its characters are quite disturbing and occasionally even make your skin crawl. One good thing though, is that it isn’t as bad as it could have been.

Hutchison skips over the most graphic details, choosing instead to focus on the events leading up to it, and after it, and how it made the characters involved, feel. And that’s done quite well, saving readers from the worst of it, but still showcasing enough of the fallout to evoke some empathy, sympathy, and disturbance.

The story and the premise itself are just about okay. I mean, it’s interesting enough to create a story where a man has an entire garden of women whose beauty is preserved in death. But the story has a lot of plotholes. Like, how did no one notice something wrong for so many years? Or why didn’t the captured girls fight back when they had the clear advantage of numbers? There are many other such plot-points which, I felt, should have been explored more to make the story more believable. If the end result would have been what the story said it was anyway, that would’ve been fine. But the question of What if would have been solved.

Hutchison tries to offer that solution through conversation. For instance, she does showcase how terrified the girls were of making any attempt at overthrowing their kidnapper that would be ‘almost’ successful. The result of the ‘almost’ aspect was certain death. Which is why no one ever tries anything. But showing this would have made it more rounded as a story, instead of just mentioning it in passing as Hutchison has done.

The style of the book is definitely unique. It switches between the third person – when the detectives are interviewing Maya, and the first person – when Maya relates her own story. The contrasting approaches actually made a pretty good combination, leaving you turning page after page.

Characterization was good, although a bit over the top in some cases. The detectives are very likable and I’m keen to follow their story arcs over the next few books in the series (apparently, they’re related, but can all be read standalone).

The two biggest problems with The Butterfly Garden were that (a) it didn’t actually become as creepy and psychologically troubling as it could have been (which is something people look for in the genre of psychological thriller or horror), and (b) a large part of the plot is anticlimactic.

I started this book expecting it to be one of those that burns disturbing images into your head and keeps you revisiting them for a while, especially in your nightmares. That happened to me with John Case’s Murder Artist. I couldn’t sleep for days after reading that one because it was incredibly disturbing, not from a horror perspective, but from the extent of “how far can people go”. A lot of people may have felt the same with The Butterfly Garden. But the book gave me half a sleepless night before I began to forget about it. What remained are those detectives, and I’d like to follow the series for them and the fact that Hutchison may not be the best in the psychological thriller genre, but her books do follow an interesting theme.

Should you read The Butterfly Garden? Definitely not if you get queasy easily. But, give it a shot if:

  • you like crime thrillers
  • you enjoy psychological suspense and thrillers
  • you are not easily creeped out by the atrocities and disturbing weirdness that this world is (probably) actually capable of
  • you want to read an interesting (but not excellent) thriller

Drop a comment below to share your thoughts on The Butterfly Garden or recommend a good psychological thriller. And thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

P.S.: I’m going to take a few months off of reviewing books. I may occasionally review a short story here and there, but I’ll be back early next year in full swing to tell you which books to add to your TBR pile and which to ignore! In the meanwhile, if you’re interested, you can follow my photography adventures (and misadventures) on my Instagram handle: @rishikajhamb

Laters, Alligators!

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Review: The Couple Next Door (By Shari Lapena)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 301 pages

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Anne and Marco Conti have a happy marriage and a beautiful six-month-old baby girl, Cora. They’re invited to the home of the couple whose home is adjacent to theirs (and attached to theirs by a shared wall) for dinner. When the babysitter cancels, they decide to go anyway, choosing to carry their baby monitor with them and taking turns to check on baby Cora every half hour.

But the house is deathly silent when they finally return for the night, a mere 45 minutes after they’ve checked on Cora last. When Anne and Marco rush to her room, their worst fears are realized. Her crib is empty. Cora is gone. The police are called and Detective Rasbach is determined not to leave any stone unturned. When his suspicions land on Anne and Marco, the strain in the marriage that the couple had tried desperately to ignore threatens to overwhelm them. Soon, old secrets are forced into the open, secrets that will change the very perception they have of one another. As Anne and Marco’s relationship threatens to unravel, another question hangs over them – Who has taken Cora and where is she now? Can they overcome their own problems in time to find their daughter? Or is baby Cora dead already?

The Bottom Line:

A book with lots of twists and turns, many of which are unexpected, and a storyline that’s engaging enough, but with annoying-as-hell characters and an irritating point-of-view of writing.

My take:

A while ago, I’d read a book called The Neighbor by Joseph Souza. That was a really annoying book and I remember not liking it at all (my full review of The Neighbor is here). The Couple Next Door gives off more or less the same vibes as The Neighbor.

What the book has going for it is an intricately woven storyline that’s got a lot of unexpected (and some predictable) twists. The suspense and air of mystery are good. It also moves fast (enough).

But what renders a lot of that pointless is that you just don’t care about any of the characters or associate with them. Sure, you want to know what happened, but that’s more for the sake of the mystery than for your desire that the characters get closure.

Most of the characters spend a lot of time just whining. I’m sure that if life ever presents you with a situation as terrible as your child being abducted, you’d be upset. And rightfully so. But somehow their grief comes across more as whining instead of anything that can garner empathy and sympathy from the reader.

Also, the tenses in which the book is written is just incredibly annoying. I’ve never been a big fan of the first person POV, but have learned to like it over time, especially with so many authors now using it. But this has some present continuous thing going on, with the past tense just thrown in randomly, and that was incredibly annoying to read. Also, Lapena keeps moving between POVs of different characters in the same segment, which is not something that a lot of authors can achieve successfully, and Lapena sure doesn’t.

The only redeeming thing about this book is that it has a good storyline. But is that enough to recommend the book? I’d say read The Couple Next Door only if you like books like The Neighbor or The Wife Between Us (haven’t read the latter but I know the story). If you’re looking for an engaging thriller, skip The Couple Next Door and pick up something else. It checks off a lot of boxes on plot, but skips a lot more on presentation, characterization, and reader association. As a result, it’s fine as a mystery, but with no elements that make it an engaging, thrilling read that you’ll remember for days, weeks, or months to come.

Thanks for stopping by to read this review. Drop a comment below to share your thoughts and recommendations!

– Rishika

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Review: Artificial Condition (By Martha Wells)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 158 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Murderbot returns in the second book of his diary series – Artificial Condition.

Murderbot is a SecUnit, a human/robot construct leased out to research teams for security. Except, it’s hacked its governor module and has been a free agent for a while, accepting missions of its own volition (and allowing clients to believe that he’s still under the control of the company) as it figures out what it really wants. But now, it knows where it needs to go.

Murderbot has fragments of the memory of a dark past, one in which it went rogue and killed numerous people. That’s why, in its mind, it’s called Murderbot. Now, it wants to know the truth. What had really happened and where? And what role did Murderbot really play in the massacre? Its decision to find out the truth leaves it hitchhiking rides to a distant moon and soon, it finds itself on a research transport, forming an unlikely friendship. To get on the moon though, it needs an employment pass. Which is how it finds itself in the employ of a group of young people traveling to the moon and requiring security.

Now, Murderbot has two missions – find out the truth and keep its clients safe. And neither of them is turning out to be as simple as it’d thought. Will it find the truth it desperately wants to discover? Or will Murderbot’s past catch up with him and endanger the clients it has now vowed to protect?

The Bottom Line:

Just as good as its prequel, Artificial Condition is slightly slower-paced, no less interesting, and a lot funnier.

My take:

Artificial Condition picks up just a little after the first one ends, and it is (again) written from the perspective of Murderbot. Since it’s a novella and one that’s not too long, I’m going to try to keep this review short too.

Artificial Condition is at par with its prequel. It’s got a healthy dose of action and violence. A large part of the book, however, focuses on the development of Murderbot’s character as it gets used to its new circumstances and situation.

The surprising part of the book is the humor. I do not remember All Systems Red being funny as often as Artificial Condition. Murderbot’s wry sense of humor is much more pronounced in the second installment, especially so during its conversations with the Research Transport vessel on which it hitches a ride. For that to make sense, it is necessary to mention here that the vessel has its own intelligence, which is what connects with Muderbot. Also, certain events lead to Murderbot christening the vessel ART (A***ole Research Transport), and although dodgy at first, their relationship is one of the best parts of the story.

I have to point out though that Artifical Condition doesn’t hit the ground running. It’s relatively slow in the beginning, with almost half the book focussing on ART and Murderbot getting to know one another. That can be a sore point for those expecting a lot of action (especially given the fast pace of All Systems Red). But I thoroughly enjoyed their conversations and thought they were pretty pivotal to both entities figuring themselves out a little more.

All in all, Artifical Condition does not disappoint those who started the Murderbot Series with All Systems Red; in fact, it really builds on Murderbot’s story and personality. Highly recommended to:

  • those who read All Systems Red
  • those who want to try out a slightly different form of sci-fi

Artificial Condition can’t really be read as a standalone because a lot of it won’t make sense unless you’ve read its prequel. So All Systems Red is the best place to start this series (you can read my review for that one here), which is not one that you want to miss if you are even remotely interested in (or want to try out) sci-fi and space movies/books.

I’m soon going to be reading the next book in the series. Keep watching this space for the review of Rogue Protocol!

– Rishika

 

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Review: The Fallen (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 420 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Amos Decker doesn’t want to take a vacation. But when his boss forces him to take a break before he risks burning out, he takes up his partner on her offer to travel to the quiet town of Baronville. The only thing on the agenda is to spend a relaxing time with Alex Jamison’s sister and brother-in-law, and to celebrate her niece’s upcoming birthday. But when a spark in the neighboring house catches Decker’s eye on the first night there, he rushes to help. And stumbles onto two bodies. When he discovers that they weren’t the first murders in the town, Decker is compelled to investigate. Soon, he finds that the small town of Baronville is hiding a large secret. As Jamison and Decker take on the case of six bizarre murders, their relaxing vacation turns into a fight for their lives. Someone does not want them finding out the truth, and they’re willing to kill anyone who gets too close. And this time, the Memory Man’s skills may not be enough to overcome the unseen forces that are threatening him, his partner, and everyone close to them, before it’s too late.

The Bottom Line:

Another thrilling ride in the Amos Decker series, The Fallen is packed with an odd but complimentary mix of violence, emotion, and a whole lot of character development.

My take:

The most notable thing about The Fallen is that it has the largest character arc development in the entire series. While this is true for all the characters of this particular franchise, it is especially so for Amos Decker.

The memory man is not the same person we met in the Memory Man. While the next two books in the series show us more about him, and his inability and desire to be more social, The Fallen is where that journey culminates. And, more importantly, where we see what Decker could be like should he actually develop the social niceties that are missing from his personality. It sort of makes you think about what will happen if what you’ve wanted from Decker’s personality would actually come true – and whether you’d be happy about it at all.

Story-wise, The Fallen is one of Baldacci’s most layered works. I’ve read a lot of Baldacci’s books and have come to expect some things from them, which leaves little room for being caught off-guard. But The Fallen still manages to surprise.

It’s a multi-faceted story that is complicated enough to keep you guessing, but not so complicated that it becomes tough to follow. It also moves really fast, jumping from one angle to another to keep you turning the pages. It’s an action-packed read that hits the ground running.

The Fallen is also surprisingly emotional at times. And although you’d expect this to conflict heavily with the fact that it has much more violence and gore than you’d have assumed, the contrasting approaches come together really well.

The book meets (and also exceeds) expectations of readers following the Amos Decker series. It is slightly better than its predecessor, and sets the tone really well for the next installment (I’m assuming and hoping that this isn’t the last one). I would rate the books in the entire series, thus far, as follows:

  1. The Memory Man (you can check out my review here)
  2. The Fallen
  3. The Last Mile (you can check out my review here)
  4. The Fix (you can check out my review here)

So, should you read The Fallen? Yes, if:

  • you like crime fiction
  • you want to continue on Decker’s journey or even try him out as a new series hero (this book can be read as a standalone but I would strongly recommend starting from the Memory Man)
  • you like David Baldacci’s work
  • you like multi-plot stories

Drop a comment below to share your thoughts on Baldacci’s work, The Fallen, or even just to say Hi!

– Rishika

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