Posted in All Book Reviews, Mystery

Book Review: What July Knew (By Emily Koch)

A big thanks to NetGalley and Kate at Penguin Random House UK for an ARC of Emily Koch’s What July Knew.

I went into this mystery not too sure what to expect other than that it would probably be good. I’d previously read If I Die Before I Wake by the same author and had quite enjoyed the story and the unique perspective (check out its book review here). What I got was something quite different.

Genre:

Mystery

Blurb:

In 1995, ten-year-old July Hooper receives a summer assignment to write a report on any family member. She wants to write about her mother. Because July knows only eighteen things about her mother, memories collected over time through excerpts of conversations she’d caught. Her father never spoke about her mother, and she wasn’t allowed to ask him about her. She has a hidden list of those memories and the second one on that list is that her mother died in a car accident when she was small. Unsure of how to even begin asking her father, July almost gives up on the idea, until she receives a note.

She didn’t die in an accident.

July decides that she wants to know the truth. And if her father won’t help her, she’ll find it out herself. She begins her own search, returning to the neighborhood where she was born, and where her mother died, and asking questions to whoever she can. Until she meets someone who might have the answers she’s looking for. But can she trust this stranger’s side of the story? Is there a really good reason her family has been hiding the truth from her? And is she prepared to know the truth?

Overall Rating:

10 out of 10 stars

Plot:

10 out of 10 stars

Characterization:

10 out of 10 stars

Primary Element:

8 out of 10 stars for its mystery, and 10 out of 10 stars for its unexpected emotional impact

Writing Style:

10 out of 10 stars

Part of a Series: 

No.

Highlighted Takeaway:

Emily Koch has this amazing ability to pull you right into the world she’s created, whether she’s telling the story from the point of view of a person in a coma or a ten-year-old child. And the star of What July Knew will have you incredibly invested in her tale.

What I Liked:

A simple concept, told beautifully, What July Knew has a good mystery that keeps you turning the pages. What I really loved though was its emotional impact. The characterization is subtle yet accurate, and makes the entire scenario seem extremely real. Trigger warning: it goes into the topic of domestic violence and emotional abuse in a painfully realistic way. But that very authenticity packs the emotional punch.

What I Didn’t Like:

There was nothing to dislike in this tale.

Who Should Read It:

If you enjoy mysteries, psychological thrillers, and stories told in a simple but genuine style, you should definitely read What July Knew.

Who Should Avoid:

The book does go into topics that some people could find traumatic. If you’re uncomfortable with stories that contain domestic violence and emotional abuse, I would recommend steering clear from this book.

Read It For:

The unique, endearing perspective of ten-year-old July, and her tenacity and strength.

Emily Koch’s What July Knew will go on sale in February 2023. Make sure to pre-order your copy in Paperback here, or get a Hardcover version here (free global shipping).

Let us know which other books you’d like us to review in the comments below!

And, as always, thanks for stopping at The Book Review Station and reading this review!

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– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews

Review: If I Die Before I Wake (By Emily Koch)

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

Length: 320 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Alex Jackson has been in a coma for two years. At least, that’s what everybody believes. What they don’t know is that Alex can hear and feel everything around him, even if he remains incapable of responding. He can hear his father and sister discuss letting him go, he can hear his friends talk about how his girlfriend – Bae – needs to move on, and he can hear the discussions that reveal a shocking truth.

He hadn’t ended up in the hospital because of a climbing accident as everyone had thought. Someone had tried to kill him. Now, lying in bed and incapable of doing anything but listen, Alex needs to figure out who hated him enough to try and murder him. He only has clues from his past to mull over, clues that tell him that whoever his attacker was, he’s not done with Alex yet, nor with the people he loves. Now, Alex struggles every moment to wake up, desperate to discover the whole truth, and desperate to protect his family and friends, before they decide to let him go.

The bottom line:

An interesting storyline with implementation that holds its own for the most part, but that does leave some things lacking.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK for an ARC of this book!

If I Die Before I Wake is the debut novel of Emily Koch, and it’s pretty good for a debut. It has a very interesting storyline told from a (sort-of) unique perspective. What’s really remarkable about it, though, is that it isn’t easy to create a 320-pages long book when you’re writing the entire thing from the perspective of someone in a vegetative state who can do nothing but listen, think, and occasionally feel. And yet, Koch manages to spin a page-turning tale that doesn’t get boring at any point.

The story itself is quite good. It addresses a gamut of very real, raw human emotions and thoughts, and makes it quite easy to associate with the characters. The suspense, twists, and turns are also well done, definitely managing to evoke a good amount of surprise. Alex’s feelings, struggle, and emotions come across especially well. As one of those “if you woke up in a coffin” type of situations, it is quite disturbing. But I did think that it could have been executed even better because, to be honest, his outlook and emotions seemed a little too calm to me. The feeling of being trapped in your body, unable to move while your mind is screaming at you to do something (to the point where you hallucinate that you’re actually doing it only to find out you hallucinated that too) is much more terrifying than the story depicted. And it probably would have had much more reading value if it had gone that extra bit on what Alex really felt.

What brought the rating of the book down for me (I was leaning towards 3.5 stars or 4 stars earlier), was the first half and the end. The first half tends to jump a lot between different events of the past. While a little ambiguity in the order was the aim (I think), it just got a little too messy to be easily followed. The second half really picks up though and was good enough to compensate for the first. Until the few pages at the end.

A story of this type is meant to be a little abstract in its delivery, I suppose. That’s part of its beauty, and can really make for a great read that evokes crazy amounts of varied emotions. But that kind of chaotic order is also very difficult to achieve. That’s where If I Die Before I Wake was lacking. It was abstract and even hit the right emotional chords. But it did so with very little conviction. As a result, the book (that was probably meant to leave you in thinking about it for a long time) ended without much impact.

All in all, If I Die Before I Wake is definitely worth a read. I won’t say that the author will make my watch-list. But she definitely has a style and genre choice that I would opt for and enjoy (once the chaos has a little more order). In the meanwhile, I’d recommend readers to give Emily Koch’s debut novel a shot, especially if you:

  • enjoy slightly obscure literature
  • like fiction and want to experiment with new styles
  • are interested in crime fiction

If I Die Before I Wake releases on 11th January 2018. Have a read and tell us what you liked/disliked about the book in the comments below!

– Rishika