Good Premise, Weak Implementation: A Review of Trance (By Adam Southward)

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an ARC of this book. Trance released on 1 July and is now available for sale. I wish I could’ve enjoyed it more because the blurb had been incredibly promising. But there were some issues that just couldn’t be ignored in this psychological thriller.

Oh well… Let’s get right to the review of Adam Southward’s Trance.

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Source: Goodreads

Genre:

Psychological thriller, Mystery

Length:

336 page

Blurb:

Three University scientists are found dead in a horrifying murder-suicide. Victor Lazar is found outside the room and imprisoned as the only suspect. But soon, other inmates are driven to suicide. And then the psychologist assigned to Lazar kills himself.

Private therapist, Alex Madison, used to be one of the best forensic psychologists in the city until the events that led to his downfall, personally and professionally. When he’s called in to interview and diagnose Lazar, he knows it’s a chance at redemption. But the case forces him to look beyond everything he’s known and learned about psychology and psychiatry. Will Madison find his redemption? Or will he end up losing everything he still holds dear in the revenge saga that Lazar is building?

Overall Rating:

5 out of 10

Plot:

7 out of 10

Characterization:

5 out of 10

Primary Element:

4 out of 10 for the psychological thriller aspect, 6 out of 10 for its mystery

Writing Style:

6 out of 10

Part of a Series:

According to Goodreads, this is the first of the books in the series of the primary protagonist – Alex Madison.

Highlighted Takeaway:

The basic premise – if this had been explored more, it would’ve been a very different (and much better) read.

What I Liked:

The book doesn’t shy away from being violent and abrupt, making it a fast-paced read.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • The psychological basis of the story was just a given, which takes away the entire mystery of, “How is this happening?”
  • Characters were one-dimensional
  • Plot twists were predictable
  • The main protagonist, although probably one of the better parts of the book, could probably have done with a little more rationality. Although not as cringe-worthy and annoying, Madison’s character reminded me a lot of another confused character that I’d absolutely detested – Lorna – from Samantha Hayes’ Tell Me A Secret (review of that apparent psychological thriller is here).

Who Should Read It:

Anyone looking for a quick mystery, pseudo-thriller – as long as you’re not expecting a book that stays with you forever.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who likes psychological thrillers because of the depth they often offer into the human psyche – Trance has a good premise but does nothing to follow it up.

Read It For:

A fast holiday or non-serious weekend read option.

All in all, I’d say that Trance doesn’t have to be one your TBR list. Adam Southward is a talented writer who probably has some great ideas. I’d love to see them more fleshed out though so as to actually make for a compelling, memorable read. As for Trance… it’s a good option for when you want something fast and not too sensible.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read this review.

– 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

Charming Creepiness: A Review of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn

I didn’t review a book called Charming Creepiness… just trying out a new heading style!

Rebecca, which I’d read ages ago, made me a fan of Du Maurier’s modern-classic style. There’s just something about the way she weaves classical charm and dark psychology that makes for incredibly compelling reads.

And if you go into Jamaica Inn expecting that, it definitely does not disappoint.

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Source: Goodreads

Genre: Classic, modern classic, mystery, thriller

Length: 315 pages

Blurb:

Mary Yellan honors her mother’s dying request and moves with her few belongings to stay with her Aunt Patience, who is married to the landlord of Jamaica Inn. She’s never met Joss Merlyn, her uncle by marriage, until she ignores the warning from the coach-driver and reaches the forbidding, run-down inn. She finds her Aunt, a shell of her former, happy self, who cowers behind her hulk of a brooding husband. Mary stays only because she does not wish to leave her aunt, and is determined to get them both away from Joss Merlyn and Jamaica Inn. But as weeks and months pass, Mary realizes that there are strange, sinister goings-on at Jamaica Inn. Can she find a way to get her aunt and herself to safety before she loses herself like her aunt did? Or will her uncle succeed in breaking her will… and taking her life?

Overall Rating: 8 out of 10

Plot: 9 out of 10

Characterization: 8 out of 10

Primary Element: 8 out of 10 for its creepiness and mystery

Writing Style: 8 out of 10

Part of a Series: No

Highlighted Takeaway:

The style of the book that somehow manages to be charming while also evoking goosebumps.

What I Liked:

Mary Yellan’s character, which was very self-aware, embracing her strength and weaknesses. This stands out even more because of the era in which this book was written.

What I Didn’t Like:

At times, the style can become a little too archaic to follow easily. Had me wishing I could long-press any button to see its archaic meaning (I couldn’t because I was reading a paperback and not my Kindle).

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who already loves classics, and anyone who wants to try classics but is hesitant. This is a great place to start exploring the genre. And anyone who likes mysteries and thrillers.

Who Should Avoid:

Probably anyone who detests classics.

Read It For:

Its beautiful mixture of narrative that’s just detailed enough to be engaging, characters that are realistic, engaging story, effective but not overplayed creepiness factor, and charming storytelling.

Got some classics or modern classics to recommend? I’d love to add some to my TBR so do drop your suggestions, or anything else you’d like to share, in the comments below. And thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

Review: All Systems Red (By Martha Wells)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 144 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

SecUnits are androids that accompany exploratory teams traveling to different planets in a distant future. Half human, half machine, their job is to keep the humans in their charge safe. Their rules are governed and issued by the company that approves and supplies all interspace missions. But safety isn’t a big concern when profits are at stake. Which is why the SecUnit accompanying Dr. Mensah and her team doesn’t bother too much when they face numerous technical glitches. Until they lose contact with another exploratory team that was on the other side of the desolate planet.

In the search for answers, Dr. Mensah and her team discover something unexpected. Their SecUnit has hacked into its own governor module. It isn’t, and never has been, answerable to anyone. And it calls itself ‘Murderbot’. Murderbot has a history, one that gives the humans enough reason to question his role in the dangers surrounding them. But they have more reason to trust it. And no choice but to do so when they realize that their lives depend on uncovering the truth about what happened to their neighboring mission team. But is trusting an advanced AI who is openly apprehensive of humans and generally indifferent the right choice? What is it that Murderbot really wants? And who will have to pay the price when the android is forced to choose between the freedom it’s come to like, and a lifetime of servitude that awaits it if its actions were to go public?

The Bottom Line:

A fast-paced, action-packed read that takes the unique perspective of the android, Murderbot, itself, and hits the reader with a host of emotions, expected and unexpected.

My take:

All Systems Red begins without much foreplay. It just leaps right into the story, and into the head of its main character – Murderbot. As such, it takes some time to get used to the slang and style, making the first couple of pages really interesting, but also requiring slow reading. But once you get the hang of it, there’s no pausing.

At 144 pages, it’s a short book, and every page is filled with information. And somehow, Wells manages to depict detailed characterization and character development in this short length. The characters can get a bit confusing (I honestly took some time to figure out who was male and female!), but that doesn’t really affect the reading experience. The characters themselves are so defined that that is the only thing you really care about.

Although interesting, the story is not unheard of or not previously-never-done. But what really stands out is the POV. The entire story is told from the perspective of Murderbot itself. The android has no misconceptions about what it likes or dislikes, and its own strengths and weaknesses, but it continues trying to figure out what all that stuff really means for it as an entity. This is a character that is trying to understand itself, and yet the effort of this activity takes a toll on it. In all of this, it still continues to care about the people in its protection, showcasing that it is inherently good.

For the most part, Murderbot is like a child. It sees the good and the bad, focuses on the good, and tries to do what it perceives to be right. But, it also has a strong survival instinct, driven by its past. These two halves of itself often put Murderbot in a conundrum. All Systems Red follows the development of Murderbot as it traverses the confusing waters of what it means to be itself, while fighting off an external threat that is way out of its comfort zone and job description.

The story follows the basic arc of an abandoned planet, a team of researchers caught in a threat they don’t understand, an unidentified enemy whose motivation is just as unknown, and a desperate attempt for survival. Yet, its fresh take makes the book very interesting. Plus, it keeps moving without reprieve, has something happening almost all the time, and keeps you turning the pages wondering, “What happens next?”

I thought the end of the book was actually pretty brilliant. Although many people have found it to be anti-characteristic, I found it to be quite the opposite. What I felt when reading the end was pretty simple – there could have been no better, natural conclusion. I think that Wells was very clear about the personalities of her characters, no matter however much conflict they are in, with each other and themselves. They are basically human. And the end made me feel like she definitely seems to have a strong understanding of what that means.

All in all, All Systems Red is a fast, interesting read that introduces a character who I definitely want to follow. There are three more books in the series – two have been released and the fourth (and apparently final) chapter releases this October. I’m definitely putting this series on my list, and will explore more of Wells’ work too.

All Systems Red is highly recommended to those who enjoy:

  • sci-fi of all types
  • action thrillers
  • movies like Alien and Life

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

– Rishika

Review: Brahma Dreaming (By John Jackson)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 239 page

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Brahma Dreaming is John Jackson’s version of the stories of the three great Gods of Hinduism – Brahma (The Creator), Vishnu (The Preserver), and Shive (The Destroyer). Accompanied by illustrations by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, the book takes the readers across the many stories of Hinduism that represent the continuous forces of creation, preservation, and destruction.

The Bottom Line:

A charming read that introduces readers to Hinduism and the many epics that are its building blocks.

My take:

Brahma Dreaming can be considered an introduction to Hindu mythology. The subject is very vast and covered in parts by numerous books. Brahma Dreaming brings all of them together to share a brief look at the epics of Hinduism.

The book is extremely charming, especially the first chapter. It is written in a simple, straightforward, yet soft manner. Each chapter tells a different story in a continuing arc, and chapters are often interconnected. The illustrations are really good and really add to the book and the reading experience.

In essence, Brahma Dreaming is like the teaser of stories on which Hinduism has been built. It’s that brief a glimpse into the vastness of those stories. It gives a good introduction to the more well-known entities and tales on which a lot of Hindu children have grown up. But it doesn’t really delve into the lessons and morals that those epics are meant to showcase.

Personally, I’ve not read the detailed versions of those stories. I’ve read some abridged versions, and heard more through general discussion. So, I already knew a bit of the stories in Brahma Dreaming; but quite a bit was new and interesting too. Even in the cases where the stories differed from those that I knew in certain aspects, the retelling was intriguing.

Whether you’re absolutely new to the stories, or whether you’ve heard of them before, Brahma Dreaming (with its charming style and beautiful illustrations) evokes enough interest to make you want to explore the subject further.

I’d recommend Brahma Dreaming to:

  • people who enjoy reading mythology
  • those who want to know more about Hindu mythology
  • anyone who enjoys a bit of fantasy

Share your thoughts on Brahma Dreaming, or any related recommendations you may have, in the comments section below!

– Rishika

Review: The Fix (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 428 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Amos Decker, the man who forgets nothing and who has just about managed to bring his life back on track, is walking along outside the FBI Headquarters. In front of him is Walter Dabney, a well-respected family man, and patriot who has built a successful business consulting on government projects. Everything seems normal. Until Dabney shoots Anne Berkshire, a high school substitute teacher in the head, and then himself.

The special FBI team of which Decker is a part is assigned the case. But they can find no connection between the killer and victim. And yet Decker can’t believe that anything about the shooting was random. Then Agent Harper Brown of the Defense Intelligence Agency orders Decker and his team off the case; the murder is part of an ongoing DIA investigation for which they aren’t cleared and which has now become an urgent matter of national security.

Unfortunately for Brown, Decker doesn’t care about rules. He only cares about finding the truth. Forced into a shaky alliance, Decker, his team, and Brown work against the clock to discover the truth behind the shooting and the connection between Dabney and Berkshire. The right steps will help them save the nation from an impending attack of unprecedented proportions. A wrong or delayed step leaves the nation vulnerable to an unknown but dangerous and armed enemy. Time and luck are against them; and this time, even Decker’s famous abilities may not be enough to solve the case.

The Bottom Line:

A compelling read that keeps you turning more for the combination of individual story and continuing (personal) story arc than just the story of Dabney and Berkshire themselves.

My review:

The Fix is the third book in the Amos Decker series. And it’s as good as its prequels. For more info on those, check out my review of Memory Man here, and The Last Mile here.

As with many of Baldacci’s works, The Fix takes a seemingly isolated incident and merges it with matters national and political angles. The book tackles the mystery of why Dabney killed Berkshire really well, slowly developing one angle into an elaborate story with an interesting political angle.

The characters are well fleshed out. They are very real, their human-ness being at the very core of everything that happens, and yet being something that isn’t made very obvious. That is what allows the story to unfold in the way that it does – the randomness and unpredictability that is inherent in people. And, this is more shown than told, making it seem all the more relatable.

The Fix introduces us to some new characters and re-introduces us to old ones too. One of the most appealing parts of the book was the development of the relationships between the characters, with each one really coming into their own. There is inevitable conflict, but there is also growth achieved by accepting and showcasing both vulnerabilities and strengths.

At the center of it all lies Amos Decker. A haunted hero if there ever was one, Decker is one of my favorite Baldacci characters. It can sometimes get annoying as to how much people expect from him. Or how much he takes on himself. But as the characters grow, the reasoning for this is also depicted. And it makes things a lot easier to understand and accept. In fact, it manages to give you new insight into a character who you may have considered easy to figure out, a character who can be painfully simply and oddly complex at the same time. But all within reason.

Overall, The Fix shows a lot of development in the arc continued across the series. The individual story is also very interesting. It does come across as a bit over the top at times. In retrospect, I realize that it’s not really about those seemingly fantastic parts. The story is about repercussions. And as a whole, it plays out well and makes for a difficult-to-put-down read.

I’d recommend The Fix to:

  • fans of Baldacci (this has enough background to be a standalone, but you may have a better experience if you read Memory Man and The Last Mile first)
  • anyone interested in getting started on a new series (The Amos Decker one is interesting, to say the least)
  • fans of political thrillers and crime fiction

Let us know what you thought about The Fix and why you love or hate Baldacci and/or Amos Decker. Shout out in the comments below!

Thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika