Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

22557272I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. The premise wasn’t something that drew me, but the fact that so many of my friends recommended it made me curious.

Immediately I was struck by the similarities to Gillian Flynn’s novels (mostly in the writing style and the use of mysterious and unreliable narrators). Not at all surprised to come here and see other reviewers are making the same comparisons.

The storytelling in the novel was tight; Hawkins tells the story at the right pace, in the right order, revealing different timelines in tandem in a way that unfolds the story wonderfully. I figured out the “twist” about halfway through, but only because of her use of misdirection on every character EXCEPT the killer. I wouldn’t say it was predictable, though, and right up until the end I still thought things could shift another direction. Everything feels possible.

My one beef with this story was (and this is also keeping in tune with Flynn), that every character was unlikable, to the point of being grating. I love a good antagonist or antihero. I love divisive characters. But Rachel’s tics and issues became tedious and grating by the end of the book. Megan was an interesting character who warranted further time and explanation because, I suspect, she’d have been incredibly more dynamic than her limited narrative allowed and perhaps more sympathetic as a result. Anna wasn’t given enough page time to separate what appeared to be her sociopathic tendencies vs. her love for her child. And the men suffered from similar treatment. Like in any Flynn book, you walk away feeling as if there is no clear winner.

That said, this book kept me up all night reading, which is rare for me nowadays, so I can’t say the challenges above had a significant impact on my enjoyment. The Girl on the Train is a tightly woven, excellently-paced thriller that I’d recommend to readers who love a great suspenseful read. 5 stars.

Pick up a copy here.

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Book Review: Gone Girl, Sharp Objects, and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Sharp. Edgy. Different. Gillian Flynn’s work has been described using these words, and many others. Her skill at piecing a story together, often using co-existing but not immediately evident threads, is unique and refreshing. It’s also not for everyone, as can be evidenced by the polarizing critical reviews. You either love her work, or hate it. I happen to love it.

My reviews of the individual titles are below.

Gone Girl

gone-girl-book-cover-medconveying it effectively to words. All writers aim to do this, but very few succeed in the way she did. She also adequately balanced significant detail in her characters, without feeling like they were being handed to us. Despite understanding who each character was, the story never became predictable.

The first half of the book was stunning. Building up to the second half, even though Nick is our narrator, we are still not sure what happened to Amy, and what his role in it was, or was not. That’s a difficult thing to sell, but it was done well.

The second half (which I won’t spoil) almost felt like a different book altogether. Where the setup of the book had a dark, but steady undertone, this felt more like a rollercoaster ride. I still don’t know how I feel about the big twist here, but I do understand why Flynn ended the book the way she did. While not exactly satisfying, it makes sense in that it was true to the nature of the characters.

Overall, this was a book that kept me reading, and guessing, until the end. For that, and the colorful writing, I would definitely recommend it to others. 4 stars.

Pick up a copy here.

Sharp Objects

71Gz4surBYL._SL1500_As with her other two books, Dark Places and Gone Girl, I’m struck with Flynn’s ability to create an utterly and completely engaging story, while presenting not a single sympathetic character. This makes it challenging to build the proper stakes (I didn’t care what did or did not happen to Camille, or how her coming home impacted her), however this was the first of Flynn’s books where I really felt like it didn’t take a lot away from the story.

Anyone who has ever lived/grown up in a small town can relate to Wind Gap. Flynn knows how to create the perfect small town, midwest backdrop, though her view on it is decidely and resoundly cynical at best. I’ve read in interviews that this is not what her own experiences have been, which surprises me, as she writes with the conviction of one who knows exactly the feelings she wants to emote.

The mystery that carries the story is well told, and despite figuring out early-on what at least part of the big reveal would be, it did not take away at all from the page-turning aspect of the book. And while her characters are not relatable, they are neverthless fully-fleshed and incredibly rich… so much so that I was invested in their futures, which I could not say about the characters in Dark Places or Gone Girl. Interesting to me that it is her first novel that hits on all the right points. 5 stars.

Pick up a copy here.

Dark Places

dark-places-cover-w352I first started reading Flynn with Gone Girl. It was not her characters that hooked me, but her turn-by-turn storytelling and her knack for understanding human behavior. I point this out because, much like Gone Girl, Dark Places stars a case of mostly unlikeable characters. This would not be a problem if they were relatable, or even sympathetic. Libby had few redeeming qualities (if any), and Ben, while I believe readers *should* feel some empathy for him given the situation he was put into for so many years, is equally hard to connect with. The secondary cast is similar, with the sole exception of Libby’s friend from the Kill Club. I normally never “root for” an unlikely romance like that, but I was hoping his influence might make her more sympathetic to readers, and this did not happen.

Having said that… I found that the story kept me fully engaged, start to finish. The flashback storytelling was done with expert finesse, and Flynn was able to keep both the past and present in perfect timing, revealing both at a good pace as we neared the climax. Although there are hints to the answer earlier in the book, I did not pick up on them at all, and so I was utterly shocked at the ending reveal… which is a testament to her storytelling. The other thing Flynn does exceptionally well is create a bleak but vivid backdrop for all her stories, and the depressive midwest in this one was a character unto itself.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book, despite my lack of character connection. 4 stars.

Pick up a copy here.

Overall Collection Rating: 4.5 Stars

My GRL by John W. Howell- Now Available!

Big Launch in 2014 My GRL Fiction Thriller

By John W. Howell

Now available on Amazon a new Fiction Thriller published by Martin Sisters Publishing

my grl5star-shiny-web

My GRL by John W. Howell is fast-paced thriller that shows how your life can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye. . . It is a well-written story that kept me glued, page after page.” Readers’ Favorite Five Stars – Reviewed by Faridah Nassozi. See the entire review HERE

Click cover to visit Amazon

Blurb:

John J. Cannon successful San Francisco lawyer takes a well-deserved leave of absence from the firm and buys a boat he names My GRL. He is unaware that his newly purchased boat had already been targeted by a terrorist group. John’s first inkling of a problem is when he wakes up in the hospital where he learns he was found unconscious next to the dead body of the attractive young woman who sold him the boat in the first place. John now stands between the terrorists and the success of their mission.

Author Bio:

Photo by Tim Burdick

Photo by Tim Burdick

John W. Howell’s main interests are reading and writing. He turned to writing as a full time occupation after an extensive career in business. John writes thriller fiction novels and short stories. He also has a three times weekly blog at Fiction Favorites .

John lives on Mustang Island in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of south Texas with his wife and their spoiled rescue pets.

Author Contact:

E-mail: johnwhowell.wave@gmail.com

Twitter: @HowellWave

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/john.howell.98229241

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/johnwhowell