Book Review: The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

Book: The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney – audible audiobook edition, 10 hours & five minutes.

Synopsis: Enter the world of One Folgate Street and discover perfection… but can you pay the price?

Jane stumbles on the rental opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to live in a beautiful ultra-minimalist house designed by an enigmatic architect, on condition she abides by a long list of exacting rules. After moving in, she discovers that a previous tenant, Emma, met a mysterious death there – and starts to wonder if her own story will be a re-run of the girl before.

As twist after twist catches the reader off guard, Emma’s past and Jane’s present become inexorably entwined in this tense, page-turning portrayal of psychological obsession.

My thoughts: I’m a sucker for a good domestic thriller so when I saw this book recommended by a handful of people, I decided to pick it up and see what it was about. I got the audiobook (mostly because I have a handful of Audible credits that I need to use), and I was excited to see how it would play out in this format. Unfortunately, I think listening to the audio book rather than reading it myself was a big part of what let this down for me.

The concept is interesting enough, but I feel like there is a strong need for suspension of disbelief throughout the story. I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind signing up for the scenario these women place themselves in, but maybe that’s just me. The book moves back and forth between the story of two women, Jane who is currently residing in the house, and Emma, the ‘girl before’. I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with stories that move between character perspective, and listening to audio that used similar voices for the two main characters was difficult for me. I had to stop listening to the book half-way through and start again just so I could follow the story properly.

I found nearly all of the characters unlikeable, even the ones we as the reader are supposed to sympathise with. I couldn’t help but picture Mr. Schue from Glee when the women were describing the ‘enigmatic architect’ throughout the book, which became very distracting and I found it hard to find this character attractive in any way. There were a couple of twists and turns throughout the story that did keep things interesting, but the ending was ultimately unsatisfying for me. If you are going to pick this up I would recommend picking up the hard copy of the book rather than the audio book.

Rating: 4/10

Book Review: Fearless by Fiona Higgins

Book: Fearless by Fiona Higgins – paperback edition, 392 pages.

Synopsis: Six strangers from across the world converge on the tropical island of Bali to attend a course designed to help them face their fears. Their backgrounds are as diverse as their fears – which range from flying, public speaking and heights, through to intimacy, failure and death…

Friendships and even romance blossoms as the participants are put through a series of challenges which are unusual, confronting and sometimes hilarious. A week of fun in the sun suddenly tranforms into something far more serious, however, when the unthinkable happens – a tragic disaster that puts the group in deadly danger that will test the individual courage of every member…

My thoughts: I made a rookie mistake, because the thing that drew me into this book was the cover. Of course, we all know by now that we should never judge a book by its cover but this one is absolutely beautiful and I couldn’t resist it. Unfortunately (of course), the book did not live up to the cover, and to be honest I didn’t like it at all. I bought this ages ago, and had intended to pick it up quite a few times but then my partner surprised me with tickets to Bali for Valentine’s day and I didn’t think reading a book about a “horrific event” happening there was such a good idea until after we had returned safely. The author has a very different vision of the Bali that I am used to, so although I was absolutely in the mood to be transported back to that setting it felt quite disjointed the reality of the place for me.

The first half of this book was spent introducing a group of characters that I couldn’t possibly have cared less about. I found them all incredibly grating and poorly developed. I think the story would have played out better and had more depth to it if it had revolved around one central character instead of scattered between the group. There was also an extremely weak love story tangled up in the plot that made me roll my eyes on more than one occasion. Also, the author making a character who admits to thoughts of paedophelia something of a martyr in the book did not sit well with me at all.

There wasn’t a lot of build up to the “event” which meant that it didn’t really feel particularly shocking to me when it happened. I feel like the reason for the attack, and the aftermath should have been fleshed out a lot more to make the story feel more balanced. All in all I found this book incredibly disappointing, and I don’t recommend picking it up.

Rating: 2/10

Book Review: Ragdoll by Daniel Cole

Book: Ragdoll by Daniel Cole – kindle edition, 384 pages.

(Advanced Readers Copy)

Synopsis: A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together like a puppet, nicknamed by the press as the ‘ragdoll’.

Assigned to the shocking case are Detective William ‘Wolf’ Fawkes, recently reinstated to the London Met, and his former partner Detective Helen Baxter.

The ‘Ragdoll Killer’ taunts the police by releasing a list of names to the media, and the dates on which he intends to murder them.

With six people to save, can Fawkes and Baxter catch a killer when the world is watching their every move?

My thoughts: Now, you’ll have to bear with me because it’s been a little while since I finished this book, and my memories of it are not as clear as I’d usually want them to be when writing a review. My reviews have fallen behind a little bit, but I’m now trying to catch up.

I remember really liking a few things about this book, but in particular the main character Detective William ‘Wolf’ Fawkes. I felt like he was a really strong protagonist, and a character I could see a series being built around. Having said that, I found some of the detective’s actions clumsy, which was frustrating for me because I feel like crime thrillers often rely heavily on the backbone of the central characters and the reader’s belief in their ability to do their job. I also felt like some of the supporting characters needed more development, but there were a couple of others that stuck out and felt fully formed to me.

The pacing of the book was well done, and I think the idea of the killer setting a countdown to the next victim was a great way to keep the reader turning the page. The killer was not as interesting as I’d hoped, with the build up being what it was. But it was still an enjoyable enough read. All in all I found this to be a decent crime thriller, and would be good to pick up if you’re in the mood for something of this genre set in London.

Rating: 6/10

Book Review: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

Book: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas – paperback edition, 485 pages.

Synopsis: At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own. This event has a shocking ricochet effect on a group of people, mostly friends, who are directly or indirectly influenced by the event.

The Slap is told from the points of view of eight people who were present at the barbecue. The slap and its consequences force them all to question their own families and the way they live, their expectations, beliefs and desires.

What unfolds is a powerful, haunting novel about love, sex and marriage, parenting and children, and the fury and intensity – all the passions and conflicting beliefs – that family can arouse.

My thoughts: I felt like reading some contemporary Australian fiction this month, and pulled this off my shelf because it seemed to suit my mood. I’d heard positive things about this book from quite a few people in my life, and I figured that plus the fact it had been turned into a television series (and subsequently adapted for American audiences) meant it was guaranteed be a good read.

I ended up in two minds about this book. On the one hand, I loved the setting. I don’t read nearly enough books that are set in Australia, and they’re always such a joy to read when I do. Also, at one point in the story two of the characters travel to Bali which was a pleasant surprise for me because that’s where I happened to be when I read the majority of the book. I found the story interesting, and the characters well developed (if for the most part completely unlikeable). The book switches between character viewpoints in each chapter, and I felt like this detracted from the book a little bit because it interruped the flow of the story for me.

Now for the negative. I don’t consider myself particularly prudish but I found the language used to be really shocking and confronting, and I was even considering putting the book down because of it. The racist and homophobic terms used made me feel really uncomfortable, and I really had to make an effort to push past the language to be able to continue reading the book. If this is something you are particularly sensitive about, I would not recommend this book for you.

Rating: 6/10

Book Review: Shift by Em Bailey

Book: Shift by Em Bailey – paperback edition, 304 pages.

Synopsis: Olive Corbett is not crazy. Not anymore.

She obediently takes her meds and stays under the radar at school. After “the incident,” Olive just wants to avoid any more trouble, so she knows the smartest thing is to stay clear of the new girl who is rumored to have quite the creepy past.

But there’s no avoiding Miranda Vaile. As mousy Miranda edges her way into the popular group, right up to the side of queen bee Katie – and pushes the others right out – only Olive seems to notice that something strange is going on. Something almost… parasitic. Either Olive is losing her grip on reality, or Miranda Vaile is stealing Katie’s life.

But who would ever believe crazy Olive, the girl who has a habit of letting her imagination run away with her? And what if Olive is the next target?

My thoughts: Honestly, there is nothing worse for me than starting a book only to find out it has paranormal themes in it. Not my scene at all. In this case, it is entirely my fault because I did little to no research before picking this up. I liked Em Bailey’s book ‘The Special Ones’, so I thought I’d give this a go. I persevered with this despite the fact it included paranormal themes, mostly just because it’s rare for me to stop reading a book once I’ve started. It has to be truly terrible for that to happen.

There really wasn’t much I liked about this book. I did like that it was set in Australia, although it took me a while to figure that out (not until the protagonist started using “mum” instead of “mom”). I didn’t like any of the characters in the book, and at one point the main character pissed me off so much I nearly gave up on reading. Who leaves their baby brother home alone (granted, asleep) and goes out to party? I really wish there had been repercussions following that to serve as some sort of lesson, but nope – things carried on as usual. There was also an insta-love thing playing out throughout the book, which I’ve never been a big fan of.

All things considered I actually didn’t mind the paranormal element of this book, it was probably the most interesting aspect of the story. I’m not sure I’d recommend this, but if you’re after a quick read that involves a unique kind of paranormal element, you might want to pick this up.

Rating: 4/10