Thursday 31 December 2020

The Last Resort by Susi Holliday

 This was my kindle first read choice for November, so I got it for free. 

I have had little joy with my kindle first read choices and unfortunately this book was not one that I enjoyed.

Be aware there is a spoiler in the review below.

The blurb - "When Amelia is invited to an all-expenses-paid retreat on a private island, the mysterious offer is too good to refuse. Along with six other strangers, she’s told they’re here to test a brand-new product for Timeo Technologies. But the guests’ excitement soon turns to terror when the real reason for their summons becomes clear.

Each guest has a guilty secret. And when they’re all forced to wear a memory-tracking device that reveals their dark and shameful deeds to their fellow guests, there’s no hiding from the past. This is no luxury retreat—it’s a trap they can’t get out of."

I quite like a murder mystery and thought this sounded interesting and whilst it started off well - six strangers get on a plane together, they are off to a mystery location to test a brand new product for Timeo Technologies. It quickly went downhill as it became apparent that the characters were only there to serve the plot.

As a reader we know who we're meant to like because they have the least awful secrets, we know who we're meant to hate because they are portrayed as having no redeeming qualities. We don't get close to the characters to find out why they are the way they are because the narration style is such that we are basically told what to think.

The characters also behave in ways that aren't believable. When they arrive they are told to clip a device behind their ear, it quickly becomes apparent after the first person puts it on, that it actually burrows inside your head, as that first person is unable to remove it. But the other four people put up very little resistance to also attaching one of these things to their skull. (Yes, just four, Amelia doesn't have to do it, she gets to wear a wrist band).

I can accept that people will behave like sheep within certain social situations but I'm not sure I'd include having an untested piece of technology stuck into my brain.

Another character is bitten by a snake. But insists long past the point of credibility that she hasn't been bitten - because the character's actions have to serve the plot. A more sympathetic narration would allow for the fact that everyone has secrets and no-one looks good underneath a microscope, but that's not what you're getting here.

There are also two plot threads - the six people stranded on the island testing the technology and the other thread takes place in the past. All the way through the book you are waiting for the pay-off for these two threads to come together in a coherent way and for everything to be explained, for us to understand why these people have been lured to the island. Please don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

The first part of the book is the most interesting as they explore the island and you (the reader) know they are going to be picked off one by one, as you discover what their secrets are.

Everything (for me) falls apart in the last third. I was hoping for something that was going to gel all of this together and make for a satisfying ending. (You know, like at the end of an Agatha Christie when the clever detective puts it altogether for you and realise all those clues that you missed). Instead it went batshit crazy and that was three or four hours of my life that I'll never get back.

I think what I'm most disappointed about is that it didn't live up to it's promise. It was reasonably well written, the author had some interesting ideas about the uses of virtual technology and it was quite a compulsive read because you wanted to know what was going to happen. 

I think if the reason (because there should have been one) for the characters being brought to the island had been better thought out and the author had just concentrated on that plot, rather than tying it to the past in a rushed way at the end, it would have been a better story.

Monday 23 November 2020

What Are Friends For? by Lizzie O'Hagan

So, the set-up is a little complicated to explain but simple to follow when you're reading. Eve's flatmate Becky is unlucky in love so Eve ends up "helping" her profile on a dating website, to the point of choosing the date and helping out with the conversation. Max finds himself in a similar situation with his friend Tom. So Max and Eve pretending to be Becky and Tom strike up an online conversation whilst in the real world Becky and Tom go on the dates. What could possibly go wrong?

The story is told in alternating viewpoints between Eve and Max and is also written in the present tense - a style I usually hate but you do reach a point where there is such a sense of inevitable impending disaster that the use of present tense works.

For the first hundred pages I really liked this story, it had snappy dialogue, funny lines...

"I think it makes us sound like a double act. Maxy and Pads, putting the fun in fund-raising..."

"Dude, it makes us sound like a sanitary product,"

...quirky friends and an interesting premise. It was written in a comedy of errors style and I wanted to know how everything was going to end. Inevitably Eve and Max would be found out...but when and how bad would it be?

There were also some quite clever and subtle moments in the writing which I thought worked well. The fact that both Eve and Max are reading Far From the Madding Crowd at the beginning of the story. Eve saying that Becky is like a Disney princess before they got Tangled and Brave.

Unfortunately at about 100 pages in, the tone shifted and became more serious (I feel like this wasn't the book I signed up for) suddenly Eve is hiding letters from her absent, alcoholic father and Max is caught up in unresolved feelings of guilt and regret about his grandmother. Then Eve starts making Notes to Self on every other page - on page 208 she does it twice. And as it goes on, I find I care less and less about the characters and the long awaited revelation of Max and Eve's duplicity.

I actually end up feeling quite sorry for Becky and Tom who seem to be there mainly to illustrate how shallow they are compared to Eve and Max. The other thing that annoyed me was that if Max and Eve are so clever why at page 112 when it's clearly starting to get completely out of hand, that they are unable to see it. I thought it required a level of disbelief on the part of the reader that isn't realistic. 

Also, be aware this book spoils the plot of David Nicholl's One Day, which I hadn't yet read.

Overall - there were some funny moments and some clever dialogue and I'm sure it will appeal to a lot of people but for me the end didn't live up to the promise of the beginning.

(I've graded it a C- because when the dialogue and character's are working (more so in the beginning) I really enjoyed. But this is one of those books where by the time I got to the end, I hated it).

(I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review).

Saturday 31 October 2020

Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh

I picked this book because it was a Between the Covers book choice and bonus it was on special offer for Kindle.

The premise is simple but interesting. Frank Avellino has been murdered; both of his daughters were in the house at the time; each accuses the other of the crime; who is guilty and who is innocent?

I didn't realise when I chose this book that it's part of an ongoing series featuring the attorney, Eddie Flynn. However, you do not need to have read the preceding books this stands perfectly well on it's own. I don't want to give away any spoilers so I will keep it to a general what I liked and what I didn't.

What I liked. It was a compulsive read, there were several occasions when I just wanted to go to the end of the book and find out who had done it (though this was partly due to the slow pacing in places). You do desperately want to know who did what and are they going to get away with it. All the main characters were well drawn specifically Eddie and his team, and the opposing attorneys. (I'm not including Sofia and Alexandra (the two sisters) in this praise because I think they were left deliberately vague to increase the mystery.

I loved Kate the opposing attorney, in some ways I found her developing story the most interesting part. 

What I didn't like. Some of it was so contrived and obvious. It felt like the author was shouting "Look over here! Look over here! See this clue that I'm showing you." There is nothing subtle about the herrings and red herrings on display. The only thing is that you don't know if it's a bluff or double-bluff or a triple-bluff until you get to the end. Whilst you are reading you are filing this information away, aware at the same time that you could be being pointed in the wrong direction.

Also the sections where the killer is trying to cover their tracks by killing any potential witnesses got increasingly ridiculous.

I think the trouble with it being so heavy-handed rather than subtle, is that at the end there is no incentive to re-read the book to see how everything actually fitted together. So it's a book that's compulsive whilst you're reading it but at the end, that's it, it's finished. There is no longevity for the story, other than introducing new characters to the series.

So onto my criteria for whether I thought it was a good story - did it make me laugh?; did it make me cry?; did it make me think?; could I put it down?

It didn't make me laugh, it didn't make me cry.I don't feel it challenged my brain that much but it was a page-turner. There is one section where the killer is going to someone's house to kill them and you don't know whose house they are going to but it flips between potential victims and you are almost screaming at the book - "Don't answer the door!" 

Overall - it's okay and I think it's worth reading. I would be interested in reading other Eddie Flynn books based on this, but I have no need to read this one again now I know what happened.