Book Review: Strands of Truth

Finished Reading: Strands of Truth
by Colleen Coble

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christian mystery, romance

Strands of TruthHarper’s mother died just before Harper was born, and she never knew her father. At the age of 15, a man named Oliver took her under his wing and became like a father to her in many ways. His own children detested Harper, though, because of how much attention their father paid to her, and assuming that Harper was only after their father’s money. As an adult, Harper looks up to Oliver as a mentor, and now works with him as a business partner. At the start of the story, a DNA registry site has found a likely half-sister for Harper, and upon meeting, Harper realizes that both sisters have a similar story, with their mothers dying when they were infants, and neither knowing their father. At the same time, both women become the target of attempted kidnappings. Oliver is also attacked, and his son Ridge is determined to find out why, while also attempting to expose Harper for the fraud he believes her to be.

 
This book was a jumbled mess, and my mind feels a bit jumbled when trying to organize a review. I will start with what I did like. The premise was intriguing, and the mystery did hold my attention for the first half of the book. The descriptions of the Florida setting were good, and it was easy to imagine a warm, humid environment. The book brought some subjects to my attention that I otherwise might never have known about (for example, sea silk and other things related to pen shells).
 
However, this also leads me to my first issue. Many things came up in the book that were completely foreign to me, and I was left to figure out on my own what on earth it even was. Or the explanation would come so late that I was confused for a while. At one point early in the book, it says a character was in the “Weeki Wachee parking lot,” but really never actually says what Weeki Wachee is. My first guess was that it was a common supermarket chain in the region. Or maybe restaurant. But after Googling it, it’s apparently a state park and spring in Florida. It would have been really easy to explain this in the book, along with many other things, but instead, I had to Google more than I would prefer while reading a book.
 
Speaking of Google, there was a lot of mention of food and restaurants in the book that weirdly came across like name-dropping. As if, to make the book feel more authentic to the location, the author had done an internet search for popular restaurants in the real-life town in which the book is set, and even went to the online menus so that the characters could mention specific dishes that really do exist in those restaurants (I looked one up; it’s real!). Maybe this shouldn’t seem like a big deal, but it got to a point where it was just a bit too much, and took me out of the narrative enough to bother me.
 
And then there was the really weird part where the narration compared the main male character (Ridge) to “Chris McNally from Supernatural a bit, right down to the thick black hair.” I had to stop right there and look him up. I’ve seen Supernatural quite a bit, but I didn’t recognize the name, so I looked him up. He was in two episodes, 6 years apart, as basically bit roles! I have my theory about why Coble included this bit of obscure trivia, but no matter the reason, it was completely out of left field and made no sense. This reference is not going to help anyone envision the character, and to top it off, this still of McNally in Supernatural does not show him with “thick black hair.” This is indicative of what I felt was a greater issue in this book–it really could have done with another round of intensive editing.
 
This book was half-mystery, half-romance. The mystery half was the only thing that kept me going, because the romance was half-baked at best. For one thing, I really didn’t care about either of the two main characters. I did not connect with them at all. Also, the main characters strongly disliked each other for a while, then started to warm to each other. Then Ridge tells Harper that he misjudged her and wants to start fresh, making it clear that he has some sort of feelings for her. But two days later, she’s panicking over an idea that maybe he just thinks of her as a sister. And since the turn in their relationship came halfway through the story, it was very predictable what the bump in the romance was going to be, and even that turned out to be weakly done.
 
As for the mystery half of the story, it really fell apart in the 2nd half as well. For one thing, there are flashbacks throughout the book showing the life of a woman who was murdered around 1970 in the year leading up to that event, but by the end of the book, I realized that the flashbacks added basically nothing to the story. Spoiler: And to make things worse, Ridge was able to watch some video taken by the murdered woman, that ended right before the murder. After the video is described, the same moment is shown in a flashback, and it didn’t even match up with the video!
 
This review is getting very long, so I’ll try to be more brief in the rest of my notes. Clues to the mystery were given in an order that did not maximize suspense for the reader. The main characters investigated more than the authorities (who didn’t really seem all that concerned about the abductions), and yet the main characters are constantly questioning if these obviously related events are even related. Most of the mystery was fairly obvious (to me) early enough in the book to make any twists near the end fall flat. Several things happen that make no sense and are never explained. Spoiler: There’s a bomb that never goes off and is never mentioned again, that I forgot about until right now!


All in all, this half-mystery, half-romance didn’t deliver in either department. And this time, I don’t think I can chalk my biggest issues up to personal preference. The book has many flaws that clearly others were able to overlook, but I couldn’t. I would not be able to recommend this book to anyone, and again I’d state that with further revision, it could have been a much more enjoyable read.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Find out more about Strands of Truth
Publication date: September 10, 2019

Up next: Illusion by Frank E. Peretti

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

 

Book Review: Lock In

Finished Reading: Lock In
by John Scalzi

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Sci-Fi mystery

Lock In

In the near future, a disease ravages humanity, leaving a large population of Earth completely paralyzed. In the time period of Lock In, technology has been developed to allow those “locked in” to live as normally as possible, either putting their consciousness into a robotic being, or into the mind of someone who has the ability to accept the mind of someone else. Set against this backdrop, the book is a mystery that starts with a murder, but deepens continually as the story goes on.

I wasn’t really expecting to like this book that much, though I don’t know why. However, I ended up liking it a lot. The sci-fi element, mainly the roles the Hadens (those who were locked in) and the Integrators (those who could let a Haden use their mind & body) played in the mystery, really enhanced the mystery plot.

The main character, Chris Shane, is a Haden and an FBI agent, who interacts with the physical world in what they call a “threep” (basically a robot that is controlled by a Haden’s consciousness). In a lot of ways, the book was similar in this area to Ready Player One, which I only read recently, so it was fresh in my mind. I was interested reading about the laws surrounding Hadens and their threeps, when it comes to crimes committed both by and against them. I also enjoyed the main character’s intelligence, ingenuity, and stoicism.

Another thing that I found myself appreciating throughout the book was the writing style. There is not a lot of description or figurative language, which to my taste, at least, can slow a story down or add unnecessary filler. There were even times that I would read through an entire page and get this feeling in the back of my mind that I’d skipped some text (I do that sometimes, essentially accidentally skimming for a bit before deciding I need to go back), but when I’d go back to try to find what I’d skipped over, there was nothing. Conversations flowed quickly, with little in the way of descriptions of what the characters were doing. Some may find this a flaw, but I personally liked it. If the characters aren’t really doing anything but sitting and talking…maybe sometimes it’s okay to not add minor actions in just because. I usually write dialog this way too, but end up going back and adding more in, because I feel like it’s expected.

Scalzi’s world-building was brilliant too, from following the progression of politics, laws, and citizen response brought on by Haden’s syndrome in America, to the slang and lingo that seemed so natural in this world. My main detraction in the book is involved in this area though. At one point in the last quarter of the book, a side character who is an expert in a field that is needed for the investigation spends about 10 pages explaining some technological and coding mumbo jumbo that I had a difficult time wading through and understanding. I was at least able to come away with some idea of what was going on, though, so it didn’t cause enough problem for me to be more than a short frustration. I also feel it prudent to mention that there was a lot more language than I prefer.

I had seen that there is a follow-up to this novel when I wasn’t even halfway into reading it yet, and I didn’t expect to have much desire to read it. However, by the end of the book, I knew I had to read Head On at some point soon!

I would recommend Lock In for fans of near-future sci-fi and for mystery lovers too.

Find out more about Lock In

Up next#NotReadyToDie by Cate Carlyle

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Finished Reading: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
by Stuart Turton

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Mystery Thriller

(Recommended by amusing2write)
7.5 Deaths

Imagine coming to consciousness in the middle of a dark forest, mid-sentence, with no memories of who you are, where you are, or why you’re in the middle of a dark forest yelling someone’s name. That is how this book begins, and it only gets more interesting from there. The main character & narrator eventually finds out that he is going to relive the same day 8 times, and that each time, someone will die (the same someone). Only if he can solve the murder will he be released from doing all of this over again, wiped of memories at the start of doing it again.

I had my ups and downs with this book, but in the end, the ups did outweigh the downs. I’ll start with what I enjoyed.

The murder-mystery itself was intricate and well-planned. It kept me guessing throughout the book, especially in the later half, when answers were finally starting to come, yet kept being not what they appeared to be. No one is ever quite who they seem to be, even the people that you are certain couldn’t possibly be hiding something. And I really appreciated the way that the narrator’s different hosts contributed their own abilities toward solving the murder.

As the same day is being relived by the narrator, it reads a lot like a time travel story, as the narrator sees the same events happen over and over. The author did a good job with the continuity in this respect. There were a few things that confused me in this area, but they were intentional (not intentionally confusing, but intentional as in not a continuity issue). I can’t say more without giving some spoilers.

I was certain throughout the book that there would never be an explanation given for the greater mystery–who or what was behind the narrator being trapped inside the various guests at Blackheath, forced to solve a murder. A combination of some reviews that I read and my own assumption that this wouldn’t be explained, due to the why not being the focus of the story, led me to this certainty. I was pleasantly surprised to find that an explanation was given, and while I was still left with some questions when the book ended, a Q&A section at the back of the book clarified things. To be clear though–this wasn’t a cheat on the author’s part to leave out some information and fill in the blanks later. It didn’t bother me to be left with the questions I had–it was the kind of thing where the reader was left to infer their own answers, and it turned out I had inferred them correctly.

Here were the downsides to the book for me (as spoiler-free as I can be), which can be mostly chalked up to personal preference:

Early on, I struggled with how long it took to get into the mystery, and what was happening that seemed to be completely unrelated, or at least very different, from what the book was going to be about. Between the title of the book and the inside of the book jacket, I knew a lot more than I feel like I was meant to know, and grew impatient waiting for that information to be presented in the book. Even the name of the narrator is right there on the book jacket, but that information wasn’t given until at least 1/4 of the way into the book. I don’t think this is the fault of the book itself though, so much as the fault of the blurb and, to a lesser degree, the title.

The book is written in 1st person and present tense. It works well for the premise, but the downside to this is that certain events are a little too up-close and personal for my taste. This mainly relates to violence and death, but other situations as well. By the end of the book, I felt like I should take a shower, as the mustiness and decay of Blackheath and the alcohol- and smoke-covered guests is described so often, and in such intimate detail that at times it felt like I was swimming in it. I also didn’t care for the extreme way that the author portrayed one of the narrator’s guest’s overweight body, with such disdain, and not to mention as if the host could barely walk 10 feet without being out of breath. I was as thankful to be out of that host as the narrator was.

The last downside I want to mention is that I didn’t personally care for the author’s style. There was so much figurative language that, by the end of the book, I actually said to my husband, “I’ve read this sentence 5 times, but I can’t tell if something big just happened, or if it’s just a metaphor.” There is also quite a bit of description, so between that and the figurative language, the narration often bogged down the story for me. I came to appreciate the dialog, because it was much more straight-forward, but a lot of the story happens in the narration. By the last third of the book, though, I had started to skim the descriptions (how many different ways can you tell me that a new room we’ve entered is dirty, run-down, and dark?), hoping I wouldn’t miss anything important along the way.

To sum up, I did enjoy the book, and once I really got into the mystery, I found myself wanting to come back to it whenever I could. I would recommend it for people who enjoy mystery, especially those with intricate plots. I think many would struggle with the complexity of it though. I would not recommend it to my friends and family, however, as I think the violence and debauchery might bother them as much as, if not more than, it did me, so keep that in mind if you don’t care for that sort of thing.

Find out more about The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle*
*This is the US title. The book is elsewhere titled The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.

Up next: The Oath by Frank Peretti

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!