Book Review: Then She Was Gone

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It isn’t often that I come across a character who is shown to have very specific thoughts about life in general rather than just thoughts that pertain to the story.  The characterization of the grieving mother was well-done, though it seemed strange that she would fixate on a man she just met after having been celibate for so long.  The status of her daughter’s disappearance had not yet been determined, so it didn’t make sense to show her moving on before that. 

I liked Laurel, even though her judgment (e.g. jumping in the sack on the second date) was questionable.

The author tells us (through another character) why Hanna was the way she was towards her mother, but we aren’t shown the interaction needed to substantiate this.  Also, the mystery of Hanna’s boyfriend wasn’t fully explored.

There needed to be more to Noelle’s story–like why she was the way she was; however, the characters of Kate and Sara-Jade Virtue were extraneous. 

Even though I always knew whose “turn” it was, I was so deeply engrossed in Laurel’s POV, I found it rather jarring when another character decided to tell their story; as it turned out, each character’s story was equally engrossing.

I’m glad that the perpetrator got their just desserts, and I felt for the strange little girl that Poppy was–wanting to drink champagne and talking (rather matter-of-factly) about how other kids thought she’s a bitch.  Her lack of emotional intelligence at such a young age made me feel sorry for her, but at least we were privy to her backstory (unlike Noelle’s). 

I’m glad that the wrap-up didn’t have the perp’s and the vic’s families keeping in touch or worse, becoming friends (I’ve always found that a little distasteful), even though the perp’s family were good people. 

The plot was intricate, though I didn’t feel that the perp’s motives with Ellie were strong enough;  then again, people have done more for less. 

What made me sad was that it seemed like Laurel was the only one who was affected by Ellie’s disappearance for Ellie’s sake, rather than just for how it affected them.  

Floyd’s swan song at the denouement brought it all together, though Ellie’s letter could’ve used a pinch more poignancy.

What sets this book apart from other mystery/suspense novels were the truths that were woven into it in the form of memorable quotes:

p. 20:  Neither of them were setting the world alight but then whose children did?  All those hopes and dreams and talk of ballerinas and pop stars, concert pianists and boundary-breaking scientists.  They all ended up in an office. All of them.

p. 131:  And then her child had died and she had found that somehow, incredibly, she could live without her, that she had woken every morning for a hundred days, a thousand days, three thousand days and she had lived without her.

p. 225:  “You won’t understand how much I love you until you’re a mother yourself.”

Then She Was Gone is primarily a thriller but with a strong focus on a mother and the daughter who was left behind, as well as the mother’s mother who is waiting for her child to be happy again (sadly, it seems this can only happen with finding romantic love).  The romance angle left me cold, especially with the way Floyd was so fixated on ten-year-old Poppy, seeing her as more his creation than his child–like a broken toy he had tinkered with for years until she was finally working properly–a toy good enough to give back to its rightful owner as atonement for someone else’s sins.

 

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Book Review: The Couple Next Door

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The most amazing thing about this book was that it was a great read without a single sympathetic character (the detective doesn’t count because we never get to know him).  I loved that it was written in present tense–it was almost like an extended episode of “Dragnet”/police procedural–except told from different points-of-view (though I still think writing from different points-of-view is lazy and takes some of the mystery away).

As it so often happens, I couldn’t figure out why Marco and Anne fell in love with each other, but then, this book wasn’t about that; it didn’t make you care about them as a couple–only about what happened to their baby.  The fact that these parents would leave their baby home alone (monitor or not) while at a drinking and dinner party next door, even with them going so far as to check on her every five minutes, seemed neglectful at worst and poor judgment at best.

Though I could sympathize with Anne adjusting to her new role, and though I realize not every character is a God-fearing Christian (nor would I want them to be), but the use of of g-d always hits a sour note; it never adds anything to a story but rather, it takes something away from it.   

Detective Rasbach was basically Joe Friday–a blank canvas whose whole life is police work, whose vocation is his identity.  Strangely, he was my favorite character, and I hope Lapena uses him in all her books.

Lapena did a great job in making sure there weren’t too many characters in the book, though there could’ve been more sensory details–even a sense of place.  This story seemed like it was happening anytime, anywhere, and what man, if he’s committing adultery in the twenty-first century, has a book of matches? Isn’t that so 1950’s?  And what’s with leaving the window open while your baby is sleeping? Marco and Anne are well-to-do–they have air conditioning.

The plot was an ingenious one, and the denouement was fantastic, though I think the epilogue was anticlimactic.  The author wrote what she wanted to happen rather than what would’ve made a better story.

However, this was incredibly well-done for a debut novel–a little foreshadowing would’ve made it shine.  

I look forward to more of Ms. Lapena’s works.

Book Review: The Other Woman

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This book sucked me in–only because I wanted to see Emily finally stand up for herself.

For me, this book wasn’t just about the antagonist (Pammie) getting her comeuppance but the protagonist’s (Emily’s) transformation.  If a character doesn’t change (at least temporarily), they’re static–not necessarily the best choice for a main character.

The only character trait of Emily’s I can remember (and I finished this just last night) was that she liked a little wine or champagne to unwind.  I never figured out what she liked to do for fun, what her work life was like, her hopes, dreams, et cetera. She was like a piece of flypaper that crap stuck to; the book wasn’t about her but about the things that happened to her (or allowed to happen to her).  Whenever she did show a little moxie, she backed out at the last minute or past it. She was as dull as dishwater.

Now I like chick lit as much as anyone, but this was like the cliched formula for a chick-lit novel, with the obligatory gay male friend who was perfect in every way (and who the protagonist would marry if he wasn’t gay) and the spunky and fiercely loyal female roommate who is alluded to as being funny, yet she doesn’t say or do anything that makes us laugh.  

As for the love story, it was nonexistent.  Emily is always telling us she loves Adam, but I could never figure out why.  He was attractive (who cares?), had a professional job (whatever that was), and whatever charm (or personality) he was supposed to have was lost on me.  Anyone who would ALWAYS take their mother’s side without question is bad news. I will never understand why women want to force someone to marry them, but if you’re already living together, and it’s working, why not get married?  And if he doesn’t want to marry you when it is working, it might be a good idea to reexamine your relationship. Emily came across as desperate, holding on to Adam at all costs to her, just because his mother didn’t want her to have him.  I’m not even sure why Adam chose her except that he knew she’d put up with his crap indefinitely.

Emily continuously exhibiting extremely poor judgment, which I think stemmed from her lack of experience with men, made me not only lose patience with her but get angry with her.  Her convoluted way of thinking was to get married first and then fix all the problems (which made me think of Congress passing a bill to see what was in it).

The best part of this book–the only part that had any real depth–was when Emily was talking about weddings (p. 257-258):  “We all rush to support this outpouring of love and commitment, yet scratch the surface and you’ll find we feel more obliged than genuinely willing.  There is always something better we could be doing with ourselves on a sunny Saturday afternoon…we’ve spent money that we don’t have, on an outfit we’ll wear only once, and on the cheapest present we could find.”

(I’ve never met anyone who is excited to go to a wedding unless it’s the bride and groom and their parents.  Have you?)

The twist ending was decent, but the title could have used a little more punch as “the other woman” is a cliche.

Is all this to say that I did not enjoy the book?  Not at all. The Other Woman is one of those nail-biters where you just want to see what happens, and then once you read it, you’ll never pick it up again.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36212848-the-other-woman

Book Review: The Girl on the Train

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“The Girl on the Train” is told from the first-person viewpoints of Rachel, Anna, and Megan (a la Jodi Picoult)—all of whom are on different tracks in life, yet connected by a common thread.

Rachel Watson, the main protagonist, is an alcoholic who rides the train every morning and evening (whose reasons for doing so will make you wonder about her state of mind), and who, like Jimmy Stewart’s character in “Rear Window”, likes to watch the people in their backyard gardens as she rides by.  From this vantage point, Rachel watches her ex-husband and his new wife create a new life in the house she used to live in with him, and she sees in another couple (whom she has affectional named Jess and Jason) what she once thought she and Tom, her ex-husband, would be.

However, one day she sees another man with Jess (real name Megan) on the terrace; Megan ends up missing the next day.  Rachel believes she may hold the missing piece of the puzzle, and through this distraction, finds sporadic sobriety.  In an effort to find Megan, Rachel, in part, loses herself in the life Megan once lived.  She also crosses paths with a stranger on the train she believes has the answers to what happened “That Night”, but cannot remember whether he is her friend because of what he may not know, or a danger, because of what may know.

Rachel is an interesting character because she isn’t plugged into her cell phone with people she knows, but is far more interested in those she doesn’t know.  Though she is somewhat tuned out of the world around her, she tuned in to the world that lives inside her head—a world that shifts like the scenery outside her window to the world, that world being the window on the train.

As we get to know Rachel, we begin to wonder, is she or isn’t she an unreliable narrator, or is her perspective that far from reality?

Ms. Hawkins allows us to get to know the characters gradually, as one would in real life; the same goes for the mystery, which unfolds one clue at a time.  Hawkins richly layers each character with backstory that isn’t an information dump, but keeps surprising us; every tidbit gives clarity to what is going on in the present-day, such as why Megan has a hard time sleeping, or why Rachel’s ex-husband hates her so.

Megan’s story is compelling because she is seeing a therapist, to whom she reveals the source of her angst, and Anna’s, because of her near-obsession with her husband’s ex-wife.

The stories of Rachel and Anna, and then Megan’s story (which is told in “flashback”, leading up to her disappearance), happen about a year apart, but unlike “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, the timeline is easy to follow, and the story flows like the wine that Rachel consumes every day.  Rachel’s haze of consciousness lends itself to a (believable) state of amnesia, including blackouts, so the reader doesn’t know any more about whodunit than Rachel does.  Rachel and the reader will be in it together, trying to add it all up before the train goes off the tracks.

Due to Rachel’s fluctuating moods and penchant for lying, I constantly felt discombobulated, which only kept me reading till its chilling, unexpected destination.

*Review was originally published in the September 2016 issue of “The Corsair”– the Pensacola State College newspaper.  “The Corsair” online can be found at http://ecorsair.com/.