As if often the case I received this book free for the purposes of review. Despite that kindness I’m absolutely candid below.
The summary on this one is pretty typical; we open with our protagonist unsure of where she is or what has gone on for the past six weeks. Her friend is dead and she stands accused. Yet she can’t remember a thing. The novel unfurls as everyone around her tries to figure out what exactly came to pass.
This is a YA novel and I tend to judge those somewhat differently than I do others in the adult genres. The first question to be asked is whether there’s anything in this novel that I wouldn’t want my own kids to read. On that note, it’s a bit rough in the language department. There is a fair amount of profanity and some reference to sex but it’s nothing major or hard core. It’s just something to watch out for. It should be also noted that the overall arc of this story is NOT a lesson that I would want my children to internalize. It’s hard to be more specific without accidentally creating a spoiler but suffice to say that if my kids behaved this way I’d have to shake my head and walk away.
Secondly, is there anything in this book that’s positive that I would consider a positive message for kids. The book demonstrates the creation of a great friendship built between two people in very different layers of society. That is good to see, but unfortunately the rest is a spiraling maelstrom of jealousy and deceit and people just generally being jerks to each other. So there’s not much positive in that.
Lastly, the question is, will readers find it enjoyable. On that count, they just might, mostly on the basis of the complete deficiency of anything positive to say in question two. If you like them dark and beyond any redemption then this is a book for you. It is a very easily consumed little novel that you could swallow in several hours but the question is will you like the taste in your mouth once you eat it?
As is usual I received this book free for the purpose of review, this time from “Shelf Awareness.” Despite that abundant kindness, I’m utterly honest in my assessment.
The book describes itself as a thriller but I’m not completely sold on that assignment of genre. Really it’s more of a personal/crime drama. Our protagonist gets into some pretty tight spots and has to do absolutely anything she can to get out of them including… well, crime.
To the positive, the book is smoothly and well written. The text drips off the page like soft cream and you can get lost in the prose after only a few pages. The pacing is fast and pulls you along very steadily but never really reaches any huge crescendo. As you read you’re immediately plunged into a cloud of mystery on the very first page that’s not entirely resolved until very nearly the end.
To the negative, many of the plot-level details were rather implausible. Our deliciously strong protagonist pulls herself out of tighter and tighter spots until you can’t quite believe that any of it was possible. It is only the author’s writing skill that makes this palatable. In the hands of a lesser wordsmith the plot would have fallen to pieces like overcooked fish. As it stands, you take the gravy along with the lumps and never mind a bit.
In summary, this is a book for readers who like a strong and clearly empowered female protagonist who gets the job done but doesn’t feel hindered by the saddle of 100% credibility. “The Passenger” is a book to be gobbled down in one delicious bite on a cold winter day off. It’s not going to win any literary awards but it will keep you mentally engaged and interested in what’s going to happen on the next page.
Always Watching by Chevy Stevens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
As is the usual preamble, I received this book for free via the courtesy of a GoodReads giveaway. Despite that kind consideration, I will proceed to be abundantly honest about it.
The story is told from the viewpoint of a respected psychiatrist who didn’t have such great luck with raising her daughter. Early in life our protagonist barely escaped the influence of a vicious spiritual cult and now must struggle to bring the leaders of that cult to justice while balancing the needs of her drug-addicted and exceedingly remote daughter.
First and foremost with any book is to attempt to categorize it into a handy bin so that readers know whether they have any interest in the concepts at all. In general, suspense novels fall into two major categories. The first is the forensic bin, all about blood splatters and footprints. The second is more emotional, in which we hear in detail how the characters feel and react to situations. This book is a subtle blending of the two, but the forensic side, rather than being focused on the physics of the crime scene, delves into the psychology and motivations of the characters involved. While many thrillers are “ripped from the headlines”, this novel is “ripped from the DSM” (DSM = Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for those among the uninitiated.)
Steven’s characters, and her protagonist especially, are vivid and touching. One can easily imagine a mother, a thousand mothers, going through the same heart-breaking disconnect that her main character does as she tries to balance her professional life, her search for justice and her love for her daughter all at once. All in all it’s a brilliantly rendered episode in this character’s life.
The only remotely negative thing I would say is that it does tend to go on a bit. About three quarters of the way through I found my mind wandering. The real power of the novel peters out after a while and only the hope for a conclusion can bring the reader back around. On the whole though this is a rather weak complaint and one that I make only in the attempt at SOME sort of balance between positive and negative.
In summary, “Always watching” is … well, I’ll dispense with the usual cliched terms. It grabs your attention well and keeps it quite thoroughly. The author obviously did her homework and it shows in this well-written and true-to-life novel of life in a oppressive spiritual cult and one woman’s quest to stop the abuse. Top notch!
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