Reader Discretion is Advised

I am returning to my blog after a long hiatus. Mostly because I have been spending all my spare time reading rather than writing. Now, a book that I read has brought me back to writing.

My favorite genres of fiction are mystery, horror, and thriller. These genres have their sub-genres and my favorite among those are murder mysteries, supernatural horror, and psychological thrillers – think Agatha Christie, Stephen King, and writers similar to Peter Swanson. The psychological thriller is a finicky category for me. I loved Clare Mackintosh’s “I let you go” but hated Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl”.  It’s also a very popular genre in current times with a lot of new authors choosing to write such thrillers. I am in the process of discovering an author of the genre who is as reliable as King is to horror and Christie is to mysteries. So, I try a lot of new authors in this genre and choosing these books has become a game of chance.

There are three types of books that bother me. The first one, which I come across very very rarely, are books that make me wonder how they ever got published. These are the ones with bad writing, giant plot holes, and one-dimensional characters. I never shred a book to pieces in a review because I believe that writing a book, editing it, and then publishing it is in itself an achievement that deserves praise. It is more than most people can do in their life and I am sure that the book was the author’s “baby” and I never want to belittle it. Criticism does no good except when it is of the constructive kind. The worst thing I can say about a book is that it is a waste of my precious reading time (after all, others may enjoy it).

Then there are the books that have the potential to be great but don’t do it enough justice. These are books where the premise is interesting, but I feel a little let down at the end of the book. These are also books that got almost everything right but is marred by some glaring error. Most often it is something that requires you to suspend disbelief like when someone acts out of character or something defies logic. I read a thrilling book by Karin Slaughter called “The good daughter”. It was well-written, fast-paced, and invoked strong emotions in the reader, but there is a person in the book who acts illogically (or maybe I just couldn’t picture someone acting like that?). That book bothered me for that reason.

Then there are books that are perfectly good but just not my cup of tea. I recently read a book that kind of fell into this category. I avoid genres that I do not like and in most other cases the synopsis on the back of the book gives me some idea if I will like it or not. But, recently this technique let me down. I read a book called “I Know Where She Is” by S.B. Caves. It’s a debut psychological thriller by a British author and follows the recent trend of psychological thrillers about missing children. To any parent, a missing child is the worst possible nightmare. Books with this premise already start off with an emotional punch. This particular book then veered off into a subject that is a horrific nightmare for anybody: sexual abuse, specifically sexual abuse and torture of children. I have do not have any complaints about the language, pacing, or the plot (although that kind of stretched plausibility a bit). But, I just could not handle the subject. Of course, I could have just stopped reading it, but the author did a good job of reeling me in and before I knew it I was too invested in the story to stop. I needed to read it to make sure it had a happy ending (the ending was okay, it wasn’t unhappy but not very satisfying).

I have read books on this subject before and struggled with it. I have read books where it was the central focus and those that had it as a part of the plot. One book that stands out in my memory is Amy Gentry’s “Good as gone” which was based on the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. After that book, I swore off books that deal with sexual abuse of children as the central topic. Although both these books weren’t too graphic (thank God for that!) they just made me sick. After I finished “I know where she is” it followed me for ages and I finally figured out what was really bothering me. While it may be true that I am not able to handle such topics because I am older or because I have my own children, the real reason this book affected me so much was that it caught me unawares. There was no indication in the synopsis of that book that indicated that it was heavily based on this topic. I have been very careful to avoid such books but this one somehow slipped through the cracks.

The whole experience got me thinking about the fact that books do not have “ratings” likes R-rated or M for mature or warnings such as  “viewer discretion is advised” that appear in movies, video games, and TV shows. It made me wonder why. Juvenile books have some indication of targeted age or reading skill level but that is it. Why? When I ran a google search on this, I came across some blog posts that heavily disapproved of any such warnings, even “trigger” warnings to protect victims of such abuse who might accidentally read it.  It made me realize that I would support such a rating system. It will surely help such survivors of abuse and allow others to make more informed decisions about what to read.

When I discussed this with my librarian husband, he suggested that it might have something to do with freedom of speech and the controversies about banned books. But, I think those factors would apply to movies, video games, and TV games as well. I still do not know why its different for books. After thinking about it a lot, I have come to the sad conclusion that it is different for books because no one cares. Not enough people read enough to fight for such a requirement as others have done for video games and such. People just don’t read any more in this era of instant gratification. So many people prefer to watch the movie than read the book. What is your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Happy reading!



Book Review: The Lake House by Kate Morton

Whether you own an e-reader or not, I highly recommend to all my reader friends. The free subscription sends you an email every day on the various deals available for ebooks for the genres of your choosing. But there is an another perk – check out their blog with book list posts that gives you endless lists of great books in every genre imaginable.  It is fast becoming my go-to site for book recommendations. I can easily find exactly what I am in the mood for and it is a great tool for discovering new authors.  That’s how I picked up this book.

I so thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Lake House”. It had so many of my favorites going for it. I love Gothic books and am always excited to find a new author who writes this type of book. I recently read “The Lost Girls” by Heather young and it started me off on this new mini-genre (new to me, at least) of mysteries set in the present and past and narrated in parallel. Its natural that this appealed to me, considering that my favorite Agatha Christie is “Five little pigs” where Hercule Poirot investigates and solves a murder mystery that happened many years before. I appreciate the extra challenge that cold cases present with clues long gone and people’s flailing memories.

If there was ever a book that translated the process of putting a jigsaw puzzle into a novel, this was it. I am an avid jigsaw puzzle solver and reading this book was the literary equivalent of that process. Through the book, along with Sadie Sparrow, you find and try out various pieces of the puzzle – the disappearance of little Theo Edevane that happened 70 years ago. Featuring a complex set of many different characters, the story had so many layers to it. Every time you think you have located the correct piece of the puzzle, you realize it doesn’t really fit and you are off searching for the right one.

Towards the end, the solution became somewhat obvious by way of elimination but that did not deter from the enjoyment. I was so conflicted by the ending. Part of me felt that the ending was weak with one to many coincidences. I felt like the author had broken some of the very rules that she mentioned earlier in the book. However, there was a small part of me that appreciated how the story wrapped up in a nice tidy end with no loose hanging threads. I think a younger me would have loved the ending but I am now an older reader who is at last starting to appreciate the positives of open endings and questions left unanswered. My one other complaint was that the story was too wordy and described in too much detail. About a quarter of the book could have been cut off resulting in a tauter, quicker read. I like authors like Stephen King, who describe just enough to spark the reader’s imagination to complete the picture instead of listing every little thing.

I am excited to read that this is considered to be one of the author’s weaker books. It means I have a few other better books by her waiting for me. I am so looking forward to those!


Book Review: Squall by Sean Costello

Getting stuck in a snow storm is one of my worst nightmares. So, I was drawn to read this book where a snow storm forces an ordinary man into having a frightening and extraordinary day. The book is written as a third person narrative that suited the story. The story shifts between Tom Stokes, the ordinary man, and Dale, a drug dealer caught in a spot. I think the author did a great job with the characters, especially Dale. The secondary characters, a pair of Indian henchmen, were interesting but far-fetched. I noticed some errors about their background and such, but only because I am Indian and so it was obvious to me.

It was a quick read that was fast-paced and suspenseful with some dark humor that provided some nice comic relief. The climax was perhaps my favorite part of the story, even though it was somewhat far-fetched. I also loved the ending, however unrealistic.

This isn’t a book you read to enjoy the language or deep themes. It was a fun read that was pure entertainment. The writing is competent and the characters interesting enough to forgive the unrealistic plot. I was very much reminded of James Hadley Chase’s books while reading this. If you are Chase fan, you will enjoy this! Costello has other ebooks out there and I am looking forward to reading them when I am in the mood for something suspenseful but funny.


Book Review: All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

This was an interesting book. It was very suspenseful and unique in its style, in that the story was told in reverse.

The book starts off with the protagonist, Nic Farrell, returning to her small hometown for the summer to help her brother with selling their house and dealing with their ailing father. I like books that begin with a bang and this one didn’t. The first couple of chapters that set up the background were quite boring. There was nothing to pull the reader in. It was amazing that I continued with it. Nevertheless, I am glad I did.

After the stage was set the story proceeds speedily, narrated in reverse from Day 15 to Day 1. I found this to be a very daring strategy that nevertheless paid off in the end. However, even though it worked, it was also very off-putting and distracting. Instead of seamlessly sinking into the book, I had to actively work at following the narrative. This was extremely frustrating, especially when I had to stop reading and pick it up later on. It might be easier to read this as a physical book instead of as an ebook. The ebook format made it harder to go back for a quick look.

Nic Farrell is a mess on Day 15, which is two weeks after a girl goes missing just like another one did in the past. As the story proceeds we find out what happened in the present and the past (somewhat chronologically). Again, this aspect of the book made it confusing to follow. However, even with these challenges, the author did a good job building up the suspense and the reveal at the end of the reverse narration. I wonder how the story will hold up if read backwards (something I was very tempted to do as I read along, but I stuck with the reverse narration because that was the author’s intention). I might go back and read it backwards, but I don’t think it will be the same as reading it backwards for the first time. The reverse narration also affected the character development negatively.

The book handles interesting themes like… how far would one go to protect a loved one, how lack of communication affects relationships, and how the shadow of the past colors the present.

I  give this a 3.5 out of 5 stars. That is because the story fell apart at the end of the reverse narration. The events towards the end are very far-fetched and unbelievable. I especially hated the ending and I doubt that the characters would have ended up the way they did.

Still, I was glad I persevered with it and enjoyed reading it. Kudos to author for undertaking this risky reverse narration strategy and handling it as well as she did. A good debut into adult fiction from an author who usually writes YA. Certainly worth a read and I look forward to more by her.


Book Review: You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

ywkmWhere do you get your book recommendations from? One of my reliable sources for good books are those recommended by Author Stephen King. A voracious reader, King, recommends good reads every once in a while on Facebook. It is my cue to immediately get hold of the book and plunge in with the confidence of it being a good read. King is more tolerant of slow-paced plots than I am and occasionally I find his recommendations too slow, but I know that if I persevere I will be rewarded with a good book.

So, I borrowed this book on Kindle from my local library based solely on King’s mention. The first half of the book moves very slowly and is a bit all over the place. But once the stage was set, the 2nd half races by very satisfyingly. I saw some reviews (on saying that they did not finish the book because it was so slow. I think if they had persevered till about 45%, they would have liked the rest of it.

The story revolves around the family of an up-and-coming gymnast Devon. Devon is extraordinarily talented and her parents give it all to make the dream of her qualifying for the Elite competition (that would then allow her to qualify for the Olympics) come true. But, things get complicated when a death occurs amidst the community.

The author handles complex concepts such as:
how far would you go to achieve a dream?
how far would you go to help your child achieve her dream?
is the dream really the child’s or your’s? do parents try to live vicariously through their children?
how to navigate a parent-teenager relationship? etc.
The book makes you think about these things (almost like a Jodi Piccoult book), but also manages to pack a whodunit with it.

The author did a good job fleshing out the characters, except for that of Devon herself. Being such a central character, it was disappointing that Devon was somewhat one-dimensional. Devon is the subject of so much intense pressure in her life and it would have been nicer to know more about how she dealt with it. The whodunit was good. Although the perpetrator wasn’t a super secret until the very end, the book still managed to create enough doubt in the reader’s mind about what really happened. The language had no problems and the words flowed smoothly. The ending was somewhat abrupt but I can understand why it needed that ending. (I always follow the story past the book in my head and so open-ended books drive me crazy. I want to know the story, that is, how it was in the author’s mind and not just my interpretation of it. I love having friends who write fiction, because then I can directly question them on the story beyond the ending.)

I would love to give this 4 stars (which is what I clicked on but if I had the choice it would be 3.5 and that would be only because of the meandering of the first half. I am excited to discover this author and look forward to reading more of her books.