No Exit

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Taylor Adams
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub. date: Jun. 2017 (read in Jul. 2019)

Oh boy… I don’t know how to rate this. It’s a fast-paced, dark psychological thriller. It definitely kept me on the edge of my seat, but it was so exhausting to read. The premise was interesting, as the name suggests, this is a closed room mystery thriller where are protagonist is trapped in a snowstorm nightmare with no way out.

Darby Thorne is on her way across the Rockies to visit her dying mother for Christmas when the snow forces her to stop at a rest stop to wait out the weather. There’s 4 other people at the rest stop and no cell service. While there, she discovers one of the others is concealing a massive crime and her attempt to right the wrong ends in a nightmare of epic proportions.

So I wasn’t sure how much of the plot to reveal in my review, but apparently I never read the synopsis before reading this book because Darby discovering a child trapped in a dog cage in the back of one of the vehicles at the rest stop was a total shocker to me, but is actually revealed right in the book synopsis. I wish I’d known this going in because it might have greatly influenced my decision to read this book. I hate stories that mess around with children and find them difficult to read, so had I realized that earlier, I might have opted out of this one. But my book club picked this as our July read, so I stuck it out.

Overall, I do think this was quite a good book and I can see why people might like it. It’s super fast-paced, the stakes are high, the setting is claustrophobic, and our protagonist is relatable. But I personally struggled with it because it includes child violence and graphic depictions of torture and other violence. I find all these things extremely disturbing and hate reading anything with torture in it, particularly if child violence is involved. I had to give up Game of Thrones after season 3 because I couldn’t deal with the torture.

Which is why I’m unsure how to rate this. I don’t think anyone is going to argue that this is outstanding literature. It’s a mindless thriller book that I think pretty much accomplishes what it sets out to. There’s very little character development and it didn’t make me think that much; there are no hidden meanings or deep themes weaved into the story. Mostly it just made me anxious for the entire week that I was reading it. I propelled through it, but mostly just because I wanted it to be over.

I do think the book was dragged down a little bit by the setting and timeline. Any book that takes place in a span of 8 hours with a setting this small will face a challenge in keeping the reader engaged and I don’t think Adams really overcame that. The story started to feel repetitive and towards the end it was really dragged out. There are several false endings and I feel like the author kept dragging it out to make a large enough page count to call this a proper book. Despite the tense nature of the story, I started to get bored towards the end as the same trauma kept repeating itself. Plus, a lot of the drama was unbelievable and I think the author relied on a lot of what I would consider lazy plot devices to carry the story (i.e., the never-ending cell battery and repeatedly using the same escape route).

Beyond that I don’t really have a whole to say about this one. The idea held a lot of promise, but I don’t think the author quite delivered. As a mystery/thriller, I’d give it 3 stars, but I’m going to give it 2 stars overall because it just wasn’t for me. It’s not a reflection on the book or the writing, just that it wasn’t to my tastes.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Rating: ⭐
Author: Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: July 31, 2018 (read June 2018)

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a free advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

I’m not sure where I first heard about this book, but as soon as I found out it was historical fiction about Colombia I was super interested in reading it. I decided to include it in my June Monthly Challenge to read 3 historical novels. I was intrigued with this book because I haven’t read very much historical fiction from South America, much less anything specific to Colombia, and I saw this as a great opportunity to educate myself.

The author did grow up in Colombia and immigrated to America as a result of the violence she experienced. Fruit of the Drunken Tree tells the story of a young girl, Chula, and the relationship she builds with her maid, Petrona. The story is semi-autobiographical, which made it all the more interesting.

There are some interesting class dynamics in this novel. Chula and her sister Cassandra are growing up in Bogota, which experiences a lot of drug and gang violence relating to Pablo Escobar, the looming villain of Chula’s childhood. But Chula and Cassandra grow up in a wealthy, gated neighbourhood and are mostly separated from the violence until it starts slowly infiltrating into their daily lives.

Their father works for a large american oil firm, so he makes good money, but he is away most of the time. Their mother is constantly hiring and firing new maids and when she hires the meek Petrona, no one thinks she’ll last the month. But to their surprise, Petrona does last and Chula starts to develop a relationship with her that ultimately interrupts and changes the lives of everyone around them.

I liked, but didn’t love, this book. I learned a lot about Colombia that I didn’t know, but I did find the novel a bit slow moving and I thought it lacked explanation and balance. I say it lacked balance because it is told from the point of view of a 7 year old, wealthy girl. I know this is part of the charm of the narration, that Chula is a child and ignorant, but she didn’t really understand how different her live was from Petrona’s and I would have liked to see more narration from Petrona and what it was like to grow up poor and heavily influenced by the drug cartels. I found Petrona’s story a lot more engaging than Chula’s, but we don’t get that much from Petrona’s narration. I know the author is writing what she knows, and I think that is super important in literature and I do think she shouldn’t write too much from a perspective she doesn’t really understand. But I was more intrigued in the intricacies of Petrona’s life and the politics of the cartels against the government.

I say it lacked explanation because there’s a lot of political stuff going on in this novel, but I sometimes struggled to understand what was going on because I just didn’t have enough context. I found the author’s note at the end super helpful because I really didn’t understand what was happening in parts of this novel and it only became clear after I read the author’s note. I wasn’t really sure what was motivating Petrona or why her boyfriend was so interested in Chula.

Kidnapping was a large part of the violence perpetrated in Colombia as wealthy individuals and children were often kidnapped and held for a ransom that, if paid out, often still didn’t result in release. I thought this story was a good debut and insight into the author’s experience, but I struggled with the plot, which was a bit meandering and lacked drive. I didn’t feel like there was anything propelling this plot and I often found myself getting a bit frustrated with Chula. That said though, I think novels from the POV of children are hard to write and I often don’t love them. But I do think the author did a good job capturing how confusing it is to be 7 years old and how defining certain events can be on your life.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree will be available in stores July 31, 2018