Wrong Place Wrong Time

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Gillian McAllister
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Sci-fi
Pub. Date: May 2022

This was my book club’s pick for February. We picked some duds in 2022, so we needed something fast paced to start off the new year! Wrong Place, Wrong Time is a mystery/thriller with a sci-fi element, and it certainly starts off with a bang! 

Our protagonist, Jen, is sitting at home when the clocks go back, waiting for her son to come home. When she witnesses him kill a man on the street, she falls into her worst nightmare. But when she wakes up the next day, it’s actually the day before and the murder hasn’t happened yet. Every day after, Jen wakes up further back in time, with the opportunity to solve the murder. But maybe there are more secrets in Jen’s past than she realized.

It’s a pretty explosive start and I was quickly pulled into the narrative. It’s a lot to take in at first and you hope there are simple answers, but the more Jen learns, the more confused she becomes about what actually happened and how her son was triggered to murder someone. It’s pretty gripping, but it does get a bit repetitive the further back in time you go. It’s frustrating, but the general feeling helps you to empathize with what Jen is going through. It’s a convoluted story and I thought it took a bit too long to get to the point. It drags in the middle, but eventually the narrative starts to shift and I was gripped again at the end of the story.

I don’t want to say too much about the story itself or give anything away, but I did like the way things progressed. I do think the murder that the book starts with is a bit of a stretch based on what we learn later, but I like how focus of the story changes over time as the pieces start to fit together. It was good storytelling, I just would have liked to see things tightened up a bit. There are a lot of secondary and minor characters, and I found it hard to keep track of everyone. That said, I read it as an audiobook and I don’t think that was the best way to go. If it was a bit shorter with a tighter plot, I think this would be a really great read.

Either way, I still had fun with it. I didn’t care for the epilogue, but again, mostly because I didn’t remember the connection between these particular characters, so I’m hoping my book club can explain this one to me in a couple of weeks. But overall, a fun and fast-paced read!

Killers of a Certain Age

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub. Date: Sep. 2022

Killers of a Certain Age was the perfect 3 star read. It was a lot of fun and I sped through it, but I was disappointed by the total lack of character development. I don’t think all books have to be super deep and there’s something to be said for a light, quick read, but this one had so much potential to be both and overall it was just okay, which was a letdown.

Killers of a Certain Age is a fun story about an elite group of female assassins who spent their careers stealthily removing shady drug lords and war criminals from society. They’re now in their 60’s and have recently retired. To thank them for their contributions, their company sends them on a lavish cruise to celebrate. While on the cruise, they quickly figure out that someone is trying to kill them and spend the rest of the novel on the run and trying to take out their opponents.

The book is by Deanna Raybourn, author of the much beloved Veronica Speedwell series. I’m a huge fan of Veronica and was thrilled about the concept for this book. Who doesn’t want to read about a bunch of badass old ladies that are underestimated by their competition? The humour wasn’t quite as good as Veronica Speedwell, but I still had a few good chuckles and found it to be a fast-paced, plot-driven novel. I read it as an audiobook while doing an Agatha Christie puzzle, so it was a very enjoyable experience. If you want to get lost in the chase for a few hours, than I recommend this one for you.

Sadly, overall it was still a bit of a disappointment though. The author presents us with 4 main characters, but the entire story is told from just one POV, that of Billie (one of the 4 women). I thought it was an odd choice. Billie is interesting enough, but I didn’t find anything particularly special about her and I thought it was a missed opportunity to tell a multi-POV story. This may have proved too challenging for the author though because all 4 of the women are ultimately forgettable. We’re given a few defining features for each woman, but honestly I couldn’t remember who was who by the end of the novel because they all read the exact same and had such little characterization.

There’s nothing wrong with a good plot driven novel, but I felt there was so much to unpack here about how society treats old people. There’s a lot of action, but the themes are not strong. There is a poorly developed romance and the friendships felt very surficial for 4 women who’d supposedly known each other for 40 years and trusted one another with their lives. That said, I think Raybourn may just be an action author. She relies on humour a lot and while Veronica Speedwell has more depth than this, she still tends to rely on the action to drive those novels as well. The difference is that Veronica and Stoker have real chemistry, both as friends and lovers, whereas this women in this story just didn’t have any chemistry, so I only had the plot to keep me interested. A multi-faceted story would be so much more compelling and unfortunately, this wasn’t it.

The It Girl

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Ruth Ware
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub. Date: Jul. 2022

The title of this book has been driving me nuts ever since I saw the cover. I hate that the title is in all-caps because I can’t help but read it as The I.T. Girl every time! After having read it, I can confirm this is about an “it” girl and in fact has nothing to do with I.T. In case you also work in a technical field and were unsure, lol.

It’s no secret that I love Ruth Ware. I’ve read everything she’s ever written. In terms of storytelling, I don’t think she’s the best mystery/thriller writer ever and I actually rate most of her books very middle of the road. But I do think she is an excellent suspense writer and I find her books so compulsively readable, which is why I return to them over and over again. Even though I haven’t loved all her books, this was the first one where I actively struggled to read it.

This book is about 50-100 pages longer than all of her other books, and it felt like it. She employs the dual timeline in this book and while I think it was effective, in the first half, it only served to slow down the story. Hannah Jones is our main character and we learn from the start that her Oxford University experience came to a quick end when her roommate, April, is murdered at the end of her first year. An Oxford Porter is convicted of the crime based on Hannah’s testimony and when he dies in prison, Hannah starts questioning her memory and whether there was more to that night than she remembers.

The story is told between flashbacks to her time at Oxford and her cool group of friends that centered around “it girl” April Coutts-Cliveden, and her quiet current day life in Edinburgh. I was mildly interested in her life at Oxford – April is an interesting character. She is manipulative and makes a lot of questionable choices, but you know from the beginning that she ends up dead, so it’s hard to be overly critical of her. Hannah is more of a forgettable character, which is not aided by the fact that in her desire to forget April’s death, she is leading a very forgettable life herself – a life that is undeniably tedious and boring to read about. 

I understand why Ware uses the dual timeline and I do think it is effective later in the story, but it’s too indulgent in the early stages and it slowed down the pace. I think if the book had been shortened by about 50 pages, it would have tightened up the story a lot and made the whole book more compelling. In general, the second half of the book was executed better and I was much more invested in the story past the 50% mark. It has some classic Ruth Ware twists and I felt like we were finally getting to the grit of the story.

Overall, I think Oxford is a compelling setting for a story like this because of the whole “closed campus” intrigue. The notion of the “it girl” was interesting – April is a vibrant and outgoing character with a lot of self-confidence, yet there’s no denying that she is mean-spirited. Why do these two things often seem to go hand in hand? Do people get drunk on their popularity and privilege? Why do other people tolerate such meanness from their supposed friends? These are all interesting questions (to me anyways), that I would have loved to see Ware address to give the book more depth. Unfortunately, we don’t look at any of these themes and I was left feeling conflicted about what I was supposed to think about April. 

Overall, I think this book held a lot of promise, but unfortunately was poorly executed. Not her best.

In the Dark we Forget

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Sandra S.G. Wong
Genres: Mystery, Fiction
Pub. Date: Jun. 21, 2022 (read Jun. 2022)

Thanks to Harper Collins Canada for providing me with a free advance copy of In the Dark We Forget in exchange for an honest review. I don’t read a lot of mystery books, but I was really excited for this one because it’s by a Canadian author and set in the Canadian Rockies!

The premise of the book is very intriguing. A young Asian-Canadian woman wakes up in the woods with no memory of where she is or how she got there. As she starts to remember some of the details, including that her name is Cleo, we learn that her parents recently won the lottery and that they are now missing too. As the police delve deeper and find little information, we begin to question Cleo’s relationship to both her parents and their disappearance.

Sadly the premise was the most compelling part of the book. This is being sold as a mystery-thriller, but I think it would have worked a lot better as literary fiction (and to be honest, I think that’s what the author was going for as well). Wong had some great ideas in terms of theme and characters, but the plotting of the book really just didn’t work for what I felt she was trying to accomplish. This could have been a moderately interesting book about diaspora and Asian-Canadian culture if it had been further and better developed, but instead it’s a poor mystery novel that bogs itself down with poor writing.

I do really hate to rag on the book because it is a debut, but I can’t deny the writing wasn’t strong. I was expecting this to be really fast paced, but it’s actually incredibly slow and boring because the author insists on taking us on an almost totally linear trajectory, with no time jumps between scenes to move the story along. While everything before Cleo’s accident is foggy in her memory, every second after is accounted for in great detail. I felt like there was a lot of pointless filler and it really made the book drag. It took way too long for us to find out anything meaningful about Cleo. If you’re going to center a mystery around a family dynamic, you can’t waste 100 pages before even revealing who any of the characters are.

I honestly felt like barely anything happened in the entire book. The author gives up absolutely nothing in terms of the mystery element, which is why I questioned why it’s shelved as mystery. You have to give your reader some details to keep them interested and guessing, but this book presents the scenario and then does almost nothing to advance the details. It has a very ambiguous ending, which can work in a literary fiction, but I thought felt very out of place in a mystery. It’s not ambiguous in the way that it leaves me wondering which of 2 scenarios might have occurred, but ambiguous in the way that I have literally no idea what actually happened. I feel that there should be some kind of payout at the end of the book, but I didn’t even get that, so it really left me frustrated at why I had invested so much time in the book when absolutely none of the questions presented in the synopsis of the book are answered.

Anyways, I don’t want to go on and on. It was a disappointing read for me, but others might like it. Go into this knowing it’s definitely not a thriller and only partially a mystery. If I’d taken a different approach I might have liked it a bit more.

The Maid

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Nita Prose
Genres: Mystery
Pub. Date: Jan. 2022 (read Mar. 2022)

The Maid was my Book Club’s pick for March. I admit I wasn’t super enthused for it because mysteries aren’t generally my favourite, but it had good early reviews, so I was intrigued. Unfortunately, very little about this book worked for me and it was not popular in our book club discussion.

The Maid tells the story of Molly Gray, a young 20-something woman raised by her grandmother and working at an upscale hotel as a maid. In her work, Molly mostly blends in with the shadows, but when she discovers one of the hotel guests dead in his bed, she is catapulted into the limelight and her awkward social demeanor makes her one of the prime suspects. 

Let’s start with talking about the writing style. It wasn’t my favourite, but it reminded me a bit of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, with less charm. It’s never stated outright, but Molly struggles with how to interact in social situations and I think the reader can assume she likely falls somewhere on the spectrum. Her grandmother played a large role in helping Molly navigate the world, but has recently passed, leaving Molly struggling both socially and financially. As the protagonist, I thought the writing style suited Molly’s voice, but sadly the characterization and storytelling were lacking. 

Molly grows a lot throughout the novel, learning about herself and others around her as several new people enter her life to help her through the police investigation. But while she supposedly grows as a person, her growth didn’t feel organic or natural to me. The entire story happens in the span of 5 days and was too neatly packaged for me to buy into it. Molly has struggled her entire life with social interactions and suddenly at the climax she has all these revelations about how other people react. I thought this to be super unlikely if she has struggled her whole life with reading people and I didn’t think it was a particularly good message, as if people on the spectrum can suddenly change the way they see and interpret the world.

But my biggest problem with the book is that the plot is just not very sophisticated. For a mystery novel, I found it to be incredibly boring. I wanted the mystery to be clever and have lots of twists and turns, but the author reveals almost everything to us upfront! It’s clear that there’s something sinister going on in the hotel, we don’t necessarily know who the murderer is, but we know who the key suspects at the hotel are, so it’s not a stretch to see where the story is going. Arguably there are a few twists towards the end of the book, but even these fell flat to me. So before I get into discussion about this in the spoiler part of my review, I’ll just say that I wouldn’t recommend this book because unfortunately it’s lacking in both plot and characterization. 

Okay, now for SPOILERS.
What drove me nuts at the end is that this whole book is marketed and sold as a “closed door mystery novel” reminiscent of Agatha Christie. People love these kinds of books and it’s a great premise. So WHY IN THE WORLD is the murderer not someone from inside the hotel! It’s such a cop-out and just read like lazy writing to me. The author hands us Rodney and Giselle on a silver platter as suspects in the drug scheme at the very least, but even if they didn’t commit the murder, there were still lots of other suspects – from the hotel manager, to Cheryl, to Juan Manuel, to the other maids, and of course, even Molly. I was just flat out annoyed that the author decided to make the murderer someone from outside the hotel. It’s disappointing and it’s not clever. I could understand why Molly would want to protect Giselle (if she was the murderer), but I really don’t see why she would protect Ms. Black. She had no reason to keep this information secret.

Then there’s the unnecessary twist near the end where Mr. Preston appears to reveal that he is Molly’s grandfather?! It wasn’t totally clear to me if this was the case, but I don’t think it added much to the novel and it actually, if anything, made me more sad because it means Mr. Preston likely only ever wanted to help Molly because she was his granddaughter and not just because he happened to like her. Also the whole lawyer bailing Molly out of jail thing seemed super unlikely to me.

Finally, my friend at book club brought up an excellent point about the very end – why on earth was Charlotte questioning Molly on the stand? Molly was no longer a suspect, she was only a witness, so she would have been questioned by either the prosecution or the defense (for Rodney), neither of which Charlotte was likely to be representing. It’s a small detail, but it does highlight the lack of forethought that seems to have gone into the novel. I just didn’t think the plot was sophisticated enough. It was too easily resolved and the character growth too easily realized. It had the potential for a good story, but sadly, I just don’t think this author is there yet. 

So 2.5 stars from me – not a favourite, nor would I recommend.