It’s time for another Great Expectations review, in which I compare my soaring expectations with the reality (good or not so good) of actually reading the book. Today I have three new release YA novels whose blurbs led me to have reasonably high expectations but whose execution didn’t quite match up. None of them were bad books per se (although I did decide not to finish one of them) but I felt like I had been sucked in to requesting them under false blurby pretences. Let’s get on with it shall we?
First up, here’s the DNFer: The Finding of Martha Lost by Caroline Wallace, which we received from the publisher via Netgalley. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Martha is lost.
She’s been lost since she was a baby, abandoned in a suitcase on the train from Paris. Ever since, she’s waited in station lost property for someone to claim her. It’s been sixteen years, but she’s still hopeful.
In the meantime, there are mysteries to solve: secret tunnels under the station, a suitcase that may have belonged to the Beatles, the roman soldier who appears at the same time every day with his packed lunch. Not to mention the stuffed monkey that someone keeps misplacing.
But there is one mystery Martha cannot solve. And now the authorities have found out about the girl in lost property. Time is running out – if Martha can’t discover who she really is, she will lose everything…
What I Expected:
An absolutely crackingly quirky novel that combined all the excitement and urban mythology of train stations with all the mystery and intrigue of lost things all wrapped up in a cast of humorous, memorable characters. Essentially, I was expecting a sort of cross between The Graveyard Book and a Peter Grant-esque tale of fascinating hidden worlds but without all the murders, ghosts and crazy magical stuff. The cover is a bit of a tease in that direction too – that person fishing for sneakers is at least as tantalising and whimsical as anything promised in the blurb.
What I Got:
Now given that I DNFed this one at 21%, it may seem a bit presumptuous to start complaining that I didn’t come across certain things I was expecting, but the first fifth of this book was just not quirky enough to hold my interest. I would have hoped that there would have been a bit of a secret tunnel or roman soldier within that 21% to whet my appetite, but no. Just a remarkably ordinary (and annoyingly naïve) young girl and her friend who runs a café within the station. I did find the whole “I can’t leave the station or it will collapse” concept a tad over the top for a sixteen year old protagonist even if she was subjected to some less-than-stellar adoptive parenting. Overall, I wanted a touch of the ol’ magical realism, as seems to be promised in the blurb, but there was not a skerrick of it in the fifth that I read. And as for a mention of the eternal stuffed monkey? Not a sausage.
The next two books were kindly sent to us for review from Simon & Schuster Australia. Let’s start with Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
“I’ve got some questions for you. Was this story written about me?”
“Yes or no?”
I shrugged again, finally earning a little scowl, which somehow made the girl even more pretty. It brought a bloom to her pale cheeks and made sharp shelves of her cheekbones.
“It’s very rude not to answer simple questions,” she said.
I gestured for my journal, but she still wouldn’t give it to me. So I took out my pen and wrote I can’t on my palm.
Then, in tiny letters below it, I finished the thought: Now don’t you feel like a jerk?
Parker Santé hasn’t spoken a word in five years. While his classmates plan for bright futures, he skips school to hang out in hotels, killing time by watching the guests. But when he meets a silver-haired girl named Zelda Toth, a girl who claims to be quite a bit older than she looks, he’ll discover there just might be a few things left worth living for.
What I Expected:
In one hyphenated word, I expected time-travel. The female protagonist claims to be at least 100 years old and I was hoping that there was going to be some snazzy time travel or at least time bending going on in the novel. I won’t tell you what there is specifically, because that would be a spoiler, but be assured there is no time travel. Not a sausage.
What I Got:
Once again, I am in the minority of opinion on this book if Goodreads is anything to go by, because over 176 ratings, this book has an average of 4.05 stars and I gave it two stars, which equates to “It was okay.” It’s my own fault for reading things into the blurb that aren’t really there but this book turned out to be penned in that particular style of magical realism that I find especially irritating. The kind that hints at something but in fact turns out to be something else that may or may not be perfectly ordinary and mundane. I’ll have to stop hinting there myself, because I don’t want to give anything away. I found that the story started off with an engaging setting: we meet Parker as he is deciding whether or not to steal a wad of cash from a beautiful lady in a hotel restaurant. I will admit that I quite enjoyed the first third or so of the book and then I began to lose interest due to the slow slide into events such as young person banter and parties and various other bits that may well appeal to younger readers than I, but generally make my stony eyelids droop.
One thing that really confused me was the fact that early on, Parker is specifically described as a Latino male, of the sort that wouldn’t be welcome (or would be looked at sideways) if seated in the restaurant of a fancy hotel. Why then, if Parker’s Latino heritage is so emphasised, did the designers choose a rather gormless looking white boy for the cover? If you’re going to make a big thing about his ethnicity, being that diversity in protagonists is such a popular thing nowadays, why not make the person on the cover look less like a white guy and more like the minority he’s meant to be representing? It boggles the mind.
The ending was more ambiguous than I expected and did redeem the book a little for me. I was quite surprised that the author would go where he did with such a controversial topic, but go there he did and I think the book is the better for it. Overall though, this was just an “okay” read that I wish had relied a bit more on the magical side of magical realism and taken things to a stranger, more mind-twisting level.
Finally we have a new adult murder mystery, All These Perfect Strangers by acclaimed Australian crime writer Aoife Clifford. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
‘This is about three deaths. Actually more, if you go back far enough. I say deaths, but perhaps all of them were murders. It’s a grey area. Murder, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So let’s just call them deaths and say I was involved. This story could be told a hundred different ways.’
You don’t have to believe in ghosts for the dead to haunt you.
You don’t have to be a murderer to be guilty.
Within six months of Pen Sheppard starting university, three of her new friends are dead. Only Pen knows the reason why.
College life had seemed like a wonderland of sex, drugs and maybe even love. The perfect place to run away from your past and reinvent yourself. But Pen never can run far enough and when friendships are betrayed, her secrets are revealed. The consequences are deadly.
What I Expected:
Suspense. Mystery. Mind-f*ckery. A story that would have me puzzling and strategizing and trying to outwit the author in an epic tussle between one of the brightest lights in Australian crime fiction and the cleverest gargoyle getting about the shelf.
What I Got:
Long, drawn out descriptions of life as a first year in a university college (or dorm as our North American friends might refer to them). It’s been a good long while since I sat on the shelf of a first-year undergraduate, but it appears that life is just as self-indulgent, narcissistic and populated with complete tools, for contemporary undergrads as it was for undergrads of the past. The great emphasis on murder in the blurb of this book might lead one to believe that there would be a lot of murder-mystery type content going on in the story, but murder, while hinted at vaguely in Pen’s sessions with her psychotherapist, doesn’t really play a big part in the first third of the story.
When it does finally happen (in the present, rather than Pen’s past), the suspense doesn’t crank up even one tiny notch. And as mysterious deaths keep happening, the suspense level remains at exactly the level at which it started – low. I really couldn’t say for sure why I didn’t feel any suspense or need to puzzle things out while I was reading but I suspect it has something to do with the lack of information given at the beginning of the story. We know that something happened involving Pen before she got to university, but it is touched upon so vaguely and with such round-about discussion, that I couldn’t really picture Pen as someone with a haunted past or the potential to be dangerous, because it was as if she had already put it behind her. Similarly, many of here college-mates were so annoying or ineffectual that I was quite pleased when they met their respective ends.
I really wanted to love this and engage with it on an intellectual, can-I-outwit-the-author sort of a level, but there was just too much tedious, new adult, boring relationship melodrama and not enough devious plotting or red-herring-osity going down. Shame really.
I am very interested in checking out some of Clifford’s other work now however, to see if this is just an errant blip for an otherwise kick-ass crime writer. I suspect it might be the case.
So what do you think? Have I been mislead in my expectations from reading these blurbs or have I read something into them that was never there?
Until next time,