Review: Orphan X

Review: Orphan XOrphan X by Gregg Hurwitz
Published by Penguin on September 1st 2016
Genres: Mystery, Thrillers
Pages: 427
Goodreads

'Do you need my help?' It was the first question he asked. They called him when they had nowhere else to turn.
As a boy Evan Smoak was taken from an orphanage. Raised and trained in a top secret programme, he was sent to bad places to do things the government denied ever happened.
Then he broke with the programme, using what he'd learned to vanish. Now he helps the desperate and deserving.
But someone's on his trail.
Someone who knows his past and believes that the boy once known as Orphan X must die . . .

I got Orphan X for Christmas, so it hadn’t been sitting on my shelves too long before I just had to pick it up. I don’t read many mysteries/thrillers, but I mix things up with one occasionally, and the person who bought me this knew (rightly) that “top secret government programme” are words absolutely guaranteed to get me to pick something up!

Orphan X picked up fairly slowly but then got addictive – over a few days I slowly got to 25%, but then I was totally hooked on the remaining 75%. The story is action-packed, with plenty of twists and turns as Evan tries to help his latest client while also being hunted by person(s) unknown.

Current day Evan Smoak has a kind of James Bond vibe going on, without quite so much charm. He’s wealthy, he kicks ass, and he approaches relationships with cold calculation. He’s likable enough, but at times a little too perfect for me: he thinks three steps ahead, is extremely efficient and (most of the time at least) is detached from life and people, because they just get in the way. I find that with the majority of thrillers I pick up, there just isn’t enough character depth for me, and while Orphan X definitely had more interesting, complex characters than I expected, I’d have still liked more. Hurwitz’s writing is detailed and engrossing, but I wouldn’t have minded a little less of the technical fighting and weapons details in exchange for a little more character time. I absolutely loved some of the supporting characters, the moments when Evan is thrown off his footing in a social situation, and seeing him try to blend in during day-to-day life.

I really enjoyed the flashbacks to young Evan – to his recruitment into the mysterious orphan programme, his training and his mistakes. I’d love to see more of this, but I can also understand that it slows the pacing down and so it makes sense to stick mostly in the current events. Orphan X was an interesting, gripping start to the series and I’ll definitely be picking up book two (but not so-secretly hoping for a little more secret government conspiracy).

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Fellside

Review: FellsideFellside by M. R. Carey
Published by Orbit on April 5th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Horror, Horror & Ghost Stories, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 496
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher
Goodreads

The unmissable and highly anticipated new literary thriller from the author of the international phenomenon The Girl With All the Gifts.
Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It's not the kind of place you'd want to end up. But it's where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.
It's a place where even the walls whisper.
And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.
Will she listen?

Plot: ★★
Characters: ★★
Addictiveness: ★★★

When I read it…

I read this between March 18th and 23rd 2016.

What I’d heard before I read it:

Mostly great things, that people hadn’t wanted to put it down!  I couldn’t resist this one because I really enjoyed The Girl with All The Gifts.

What worked for me:

  • The atmosphere: I was actually expecting Fellside to be a lot scarier than it was, but I enjoyed the way Carey instead made you feel just vaguely uneasy instead.  The book isn’t scary, but it is definitely uncomfortable, and that made it hard to put down, and easy to get sucked back in once you did.
  • The interlinking stories: Fellside has a lot of different characters, and the way these characters gradually interlink, with their plotlines becoming more and more entangled, reminded me in many ways of a Jodi Picoult novel (which I pretty much universally love, so that’s a good thing!).
  • The mystery: Although Jess didn’t particularly care about her trial, and whether she’d burned down the flat, I desperately did want to know the exact details, and that plotline had me hooked from the beginning.

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • The paranormal/horror: A lot of the reviews I’d read before I started said Fellside was really scary, and given that I’m a bit of a wimp, I waited until I’d psyched myself up for something super scary before starting.  When I started though, I didn’t find the whispering walls particularly sinister, and actually an awful lot more of the tension came from the prison-drama, which although not bad, wasn’t at all what I was expecting.  Many, many reviewers are comparing Fellside to “Orange is the New Black meets *paranormal film or book*” and while I agree with the Orange Is the New Black comparison, the supernatural elements were a bit weak to me.  If you’ve seen Inside Out, the scene where they enter abstract thought is about how I felt about the supernatural elements – they were all sort of fuzzy and unclear, and certainly not as spooky as I’d expected.
  • The length/pacing: At virtually 500 pages, Fellside felt a bit longer and a bit slower than it needed to be, and there were times, particularly early on, when the story didn’t really feel like it was going anywhere so it took me a while to get engrossed.
  • The ending: Difficult to comment without spoilers, but I wasn’t a fan of the ending!

I didn’t dislike Fellside, but I just wasn’t wowed by it, and it probably isn’t one that I’d bother re-reading later, so overall, this was just an okay read for me.  I’m a little disappointed, since I went in with high expectations after The Girl With All The Gifts, but even had this book been written by someone else, I think ultimately it still would have been just an okay read.  Predominantly a prison-drama, with a few paranormal elements, and no characters I particularly connected with, it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t really my cup of tea.  I definitely seem to be among the minority though, so if you’re curious I would absolutely give it a go!

Other Reviews of Fellside: Girl with her head in a book | For Winter Nights | The Discriminating Fangirl

One StarOne Star

Lock In (John Scalzi)

Lock In (John Scalzi)Lock In by John Scalzi
Series: Lock in #1
Published by Macmillan on August 26th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Thrillers
Pages: 336
Length: 10:00
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

One per cent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people “locked in”...including the President's wife and daughter.

Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.

This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse....

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★
Readability: ★★★

 

Chris Shane is one of the most famous Hadens in the world.  Chris has ‘lock in’; unable to move, or speak, Chris interacts with the world through a Personal Transport (also known as a threep, after C3PO).  Chris is a rookie FBI agent whose first week involves a Haden related murder case which needs solving.

I really liked Chris, but I found the other characters mostly just uninteresting.  Chris’ partner, Leslie Vann, had the potential to be interesting, but I also found her unlikable: her sloppiness on the job was frustrating, and I felt the ongoing battle between her and Trinh grew tiresome pretty quickly.

Wil Wheaton’s narration was great, although I did find the number of ‘he said’ and ‘she said’s off-putting, so maybe I would have enjoyed this more in print.  I also didn’t find Lock In as gripping as Ready Player One, which was surprising when the story is all about a mysterious murder case…It’s pretty clear early on who’s involved, so I didn’t find the mystery hugely gripping or surprising; reading Lock In felt a bit like watching one of the more predictable episodes of something like Criminal Minds, just with slightly unusual settings.  The setting itself is really interesting, but for me, that isn’t enough without some great characters I care about, some relationships to invest in, or a mystery that keeps you up until all hours because you just have to know.

The audiobook also includes the novella Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome, at the end, so Lock In itself is somewhere around 8 hours if I remember correctly.  I really enjoyed the novella, learning more about the spread of Haden’s, and indeed about Margaret Haden and her husband, who I found myself caring about more than the characters in Lock In itself!

 Buy it? This is one that I’d probably borrow personally.
In a nutshell: It was interesting, it made me think, and I loved the concept, but the pacing was too slow for me, and I found the characters disappointing. 

Other Reviews of Lock In: Not Yet Read | The Infinite Reach | Reading Diva

One StarOne StarOne Star

Just What Kind of Mother Are You? (Paula Daly)

Just What Kind of Mother Are You? (Paula Daly)Just What Kind of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly
Published by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. on 09-03-2013
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 256
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

What if your best friend's child disappears? And it was all your fault.

This is exactly what happens to Lisa Kallisto, overwhelmed working mother of three, one freezing December in the English Lake District. She takes her eye off the ball for just a moment and her whole world descends into the stuff of nightmares. Because, not only is thirteen-year-old Lucinda missing, and not only is it all Lisa's fault, but she's the second teenage girl to disappear within this small tightknit community over two weeks. The first girl turned up stripped bare, dumped on a busy high street, after suffering from a terrifying ordeal.  Wracked with guilt over her mistake and after being publicly blamed by Lucinda's family, Lisa sets out to right the wrong. But as she begins peeling away the layers surrounding Lucinda's disappearance, Lisa learns that the small, posh, quiet town she lives in isn't what she thought it was, and her friends may not be who they appear, either.

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★

I picked up Just What Kind of Mother Are You? as part of Dewey’s 24 hour readathon, about 4 hours before the end.  I hoped the mystery would help me squeeze one last book in before the end of the readathon, and it certainly did that!

The storyLisa Kallisto is an overworked, perpetually busy mum.  She forgets to buy the ingredients her daughter needs for food tech, is constantly juggling several things at once, and never has enough money for the animal shelter that she works at.  Her go to phrase is “Leave it with me, I’ll sort it”, even when she has no idea just how she’ll go about it.  She lives happily (if busily) with her taxi driving husband and their two kids.

Lisa’s best friend, Kate, is one of ‘those’ mothers.  The cake baking, never forgets anything, always smiling and put together mothers.  Despite their friendship, Lisa can’t help feeling a little jealous of Kate, and her perfect seeming life.  Through a series of miscommunications, Kate is left thinking that her daughter Lucinda is staying at Lisa’s for a night – but she’s not.  When she goes missing, Lisa blames herself – and so does everyone else.  Wracked with guilt and fear, Lisa watches hopelessly as the police try to find Lucinda.

The characters
The story alternates between first-person chapters from Lisa’s point of view and third-person chapters from Detective Constable Joanne Aspinall, with a few chapters from the kidnapper.

Lisa’s first person chapters are easy to get engrossed in, because let’s be honest, we all have days when we’re overwhelmed, when we forget things, where we look at someone else’s life and think it seems so easy. Lisa’s not perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination – she makes mistakes, she sometimes doesn’t appreciate how amazing her own family life is and she struggles with feeling worthy.  Despite that, or perhaps because of it, she’s very easy to relate to.  There are moments where you’ll dislike her, and moments when you can’t help but feel so strongly for her because she’s a very three-dimensional character.

DC Joanne Aspinall is a steady, hard-working woman, trying to piece together the case of Lucinda, and the other missing girls.  She’s very likable, and although her chapters were perhaps slightly less emotional than Lisa’s, I think the story needed those breaks in order not to leave the reader just feeling burnt out.

It’s hard to comment on any of the other characters without giving away spoilers, as at points throughout the book, you may find yourself looking at EVERYONE!

final thoughtsJust What Kind of Mother are You? was truly gripping and engrossing, heavily emotional and with a twist filled-end.  Unfortunately, while the ending was definitely a twist, I wasn’t ultimately satisfied with it.  There are a lot of secrets kept throughout the town, which in itself I could have lived with, but there were certain secrets that I felt would have been impossible to keep quiet and so the ending felt less plausible the more I thought about it.  (I know that’s very vague, it’s impossible to say more without giving any spoilers away!).

Buy it? This is probably a library borrow for me.
In a nutshell: A hugely gripping, tense and emotional mystery.

Other Reviews of Just What Kind of Mother Are You?: The Infinite Curio | The Lost Ent Wife | Books and Reviews

One StarOne StarOne Star