Sunday, March 19, 2023

60. Wrong Place Wrong Time

Wrong Place Wrong Time. Gillian McAllister. 2022. 402 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Jen is glad of the clocks going back tonight. A gained hour, extra time, to be spent pretending she isn't waiting up for her son.

Premise/plot: What's a mother to do when she witnesses her teenage son murder a stranger (or stranger to you)????? This mother, Jen Goodbrother, somehow, someway, manages to live life BACKWARDS after this traumatic event as she scrambles to prevent the crime that will utterly ruin their lives. This isn't a proper time-loop premise. Jen isn't living the same twelve to twenty-four hours over and over again--a loop. But it does feature Jen experiencing time backwards--falling through time, slipping through time. She'll have unique opportunities to experience her life again--make change after change after change. Her perspective changes day by day as she wrestles with the meaning of it all. These close encounters with her immediate family--her husband, Kelly; her son, Todd; are different seen 'from both sides now.' She's actually getting to live her life with hindsight. But how many days, weeks, months, years, decades must she slip--relive--in order to "fix" or "course correct" the tragic event of that October night???? 

My thoughts: Obviously premise-driven. But it didn't fall short on characterization or action. There's some contemplation and reflection. There's plenty of suspense and action. It perhaps isn't a thriller in the traditional sense or any sense. So don't expect direct danger and gore. (You won't find it). Do expect some mental anguish as a woman wrestles with big questions of how, where, when, why, and what. 

There are alternating chapters. But I won't be spoiling who's doing the narration on those alternate bits. The less you know the better.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday Salon #12 (The Importance of Timing)

I've struggled with this week's Sunday Salon post. I knew I wanted it to be something about time. I just couldn't decide how 'broad' or 'narrow' a scope I wanted. (Still don't, if I'm honest). I've got two non-related points. 

1) Timing is key. Seriously. The difference between a LOVE this book and HATE this book can all come down to time, time, time. Or circumstances, mood, and time. If you want to try to get specific. Sometimes a book can have all the right ingredients, but it's just a wrong fit--at that time. Is this the case all the time we hate a book? No. It's not that simple. (Never that simple). Sometimes a wrong fit will always be a wrong fit. I can't imagine a time or place or situation where I will ever like let alone love Wuthering Heights. But I think all the elements that can be wrapped up in the word timing can be a huge factor. And it isn't always acknowledged or appreciated that this is so. Yes, everyone can (mostly always) agree that reading is subjective. But they don't allow that timing is sometimes a huge factor and one that is always changing. There have been dozens of cases in my own life where this was so. That is one reason why I think it can sometimes be a GREAT thing to abandon a book, put it aside, wait for a better time. I think it can lead to a fairer consideration of the book. Yes, I'll admit that I don't always. And the very fact that this is entirely impossible in some cases can't be denied. If you are assigned a book in high school (junior high, college, etc.) with a due date, a book that you'll be tested on, a book you'll have to talk about, write about, there are about a dozen reasons why you're more likely to hate it no matter what. True, you could choose NOT to read it, to fake it, to turn to old-school sources like cliff notes or more modern-day sources like the internet. But even if you don't read it--every word, every chapter--you'll end up prejudiced against the book's very existence. Which is one reason why I am so incredibly conflicted when it comes to assigned/required reading in the first place. Books have a way of coming to you in the right way at the right time. Pieces fall into place. Magic happens when the timing is right. 

2) One of my favorite sub-genres is time travel. Anything/everything having to do with time travel, time loops, time slips, etc. If a novel messes around with time--plays with events, plays with consequences--then I'm intrigued. Definitely intrigued enough to check it out. Not always engaged enough to see it through to the end. guessed it...the timing is off. (I jest. Sometimes a book can't be saved by a premise. A great premise doesn't always lead to a great book. The characters, the story, the writing (including the dialogue) there are still too many variables at work. But I would LOVE to hear some recommendations for this genre. My personal all-time favorite would have to be the time travel books by Connie Willis. But I'm always looking to expand my reading in this direction. (I just finished Wrong Time, Wrong Place.)


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, March 18, 2023

59. Iceberg

Iceberg. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2023. [March] 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In the end, in those final minutes before the Titanic sank into its grave, some people would jump overboard, taking their chances in the icy water. They had little hope of surviving, but if they continued clinging to the rails, they'd have no chance at all.

Premise/plot: Hazel Rothbury is a young stowaway on the Titanic. (Her mother gave her money for the trip not knowing how much even a third class ticket would be, expecting the money to last until she was able to find work in New York City.) Hazel is curious, ambitious, and loyal. Curious--she has A MILLION questions. Ambitious--she know that she probably will be forced to work in a factory, but she dreams of being a journalist, a writer. Loyal--she will go above and beyond to do anything for a friend. These are all new friends she's made since stowing away. 

My thoughts: I'm so conflicted. I am. On the one hand, once the ship hits the iceberg, it's IMPOSSIBLE not to find this a compelling read. It's intense and emotional. On the other hand, Hazel, our protagonist, spends days asking question after question to anyone/everyone that seems a little off. Questions about refraction, icebergs, binoculars, hulls, lifeboats, etc. She also happens to conveniently overhear dozens of conversations. These coincidences almost make it read like a Twilight Zone episode where the protagonist knows every detail that will lead up to disaster but is unable to do anything but watch it all play out. 

I liked the characters. I liked the story. I personally would have preferred fewer coincidences, or just so happens. I think Hazel could have been a stowaway or a third class passenger without being so incredibly curious; it takes gumption to approach ALL the crew (including the higher ups) and ask nosy questions. Especially considering the fact that she is a stowaway. Her questions seem a little abrasive, condescending. Do I admire Hazel's other qualities? Yes. For the most part. Again, she shows a lot of gumption. She'll RISK just about everything--to protect and help her friends. She puts herself in harm's way long before the iceberg hits the Titanic. But especially afterwards. She knows the risks--she's not walking into the situation blindly like some of the passengers. She knows that every single second, minute counts. The difference between life and death--and still she puts her friends first. 


“Grief is like the flu,” she said. “It brushes by some, barely leaving its mark. For others, it will take hold, perhaps for a very long time before a person finds healing.”

“Who would you be without your questions? Perhaps a girl easily led around by others, with no thoughts of your own? I would rather be curious than beautiful, for a girl without curiosity is only beautiful on the surface. I would rather be curious than wealthy, for a girl with a mind full of questions is more valuable than a girl with jewels on her empty head. I would wish to be the kind of person to ask questions more than I would wish to be anyone with no questions worth asking. You should keep the notebook awhile longer.” I smiled back at her. “Thank you.”

How arrogant I had been to come to the bow, as if I were the queen of this very small world at sea.But of course, the Titanic itself was arrogant, a challenge to the heavens and everything below it, and to nature itself. If I had learned anything from the death of my father, it was that nature would have its way. Anyone who refused to accept that reality would one day have to face it. Perhaps even on this mighty ship.
When I’d had my fill of the view, I turned and noticed the lifeboats on the deck.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

58. The Plot is Murder

The Plot is Murder. V.M. Burns. 2017. 254 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "Victor Carlston, don't you think it's wicked to sit here enjoying yourself while your dearest relative lies at death's door?" "That's a good start," I said out loud, even though there was no one to hear.

Premise/plot: Samantha Washington, the protagonist, is a widow trying to live out her dreams. Her and her husband wanted to open up a mystery bookshop--that's a dream that is now her own. She's also writing her own mystery novel--a British cozy. There are two texts to follow. The first being Samantha's real life mystery. (A realtor turns up dead near her home/shop.) The second being Samantha's work-in-progress novel.

My thoughts: I didn't love this one. I liked it okay. I really liked (for the most part) Samantha's in-progress novel. I enjoyed this between-the-wars-British-cozy. It was enjoyable. I liked that Samantha's grandma (and her senior friends) help out in solving the real life mystery. The way these older ladies were able to source information was fun--reminded me of a skit or two on It's A Southern Thing's YouTube channel. It added some amusement. But overall, Samantha's real-life--despite the murder(s)--feels very ho-hum. I was always waiting for Samantha to start writing again. I wasn't really feeling much interest to her story. This is the first in a series. Not sure if I'll seek out the others or not.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

57. All Good People Here

All Good People Here. Ashley Flowers. 2022. 312 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The residents of Wakarusa, Indiana, could spin gossip faster than a spider spins its web. 

Premise/plot: Dual timelines. Multiple murder victims. That is the shortest way to sum up this one.

Margot Davies (our 2019 heroine) is a crime reporter for a newspaper. When she was a child, her next door playmate, January Jacobs, was murdered. Police suspect it was the mom. But there's no conclusive evidence--enough to bring a case--because the crime scene was handled so messily. The murder has haunted her for decades. Haunted the whole town really. Everyone has thoughts, ideas, opinions about the crime. Margot can't help making mental connections between January's tragic death and every other kidnapping/murder case in the surrounding areas. For better or worse, she can't help thinking that January's murderer is still out harming children. She returns to her hometown to care for her uncle with dementia. She arrives around the time of a new kidnapping/murder in a small town just eight or ten miles away. Once again, she's snapped back to January's case. But are the cases connected? Margot goes into full detective mode without thought or consideration to her own safety. 

Krissy Jacobs (our 1994 heroine, though we progress through the years with this one) is January Jacobs' mother. She has MANY, many secrets...but is being a murderer one of them???? 

My thoughts: There are about three thousand red herrings in this murder mystery. For better or worse. I don't know if it's more annoying or less annoying to have so many. Maybe I exaggerate slightly. I do think the author is purposefully trying to trick/fool readers into making wrong guesses with every page or two. And I'm not sure a second reading would work. (Though maybe I'm wrong about that). 

I don't expect mystery novels to automatically be 'clean' in terms of content--language, sex, etc. So don't expect it to be squeaky clean, it isn't.

My first thought is that Margot isn't the brightest amateur detective. In that she puts herself into situations that seem risky--at least to me. She's so determined to tell the whole story and to uncover/discover new facts that will help solve the murder(s), that she doesn't really ever think am I risking myself trying to unmask this murderer? If the murderer is still in town, still living in the midst of us, still active as a serial offender, then am I going to be his NEXT victim?  Is she trusting the wrong people? 

I personally HATED the ending. I don't know how others feel about it. It has two endings--in a way. The epilogue from the murderer...and Margot's ending that comes right before. With that ending, it is almost impossible for me not to have my impression changed...on if it's something I'd recommend.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews