Book Review – Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

An much darker-noir version of the movie 50 First Dates!

An much darker-noir version of the movie 50 First Dates (if you’ve seen it!).

What would you do when your mind has turned against you, when the grey matter inside your head that differentiates truth from make-believe cannot be trusted?

TL:DR summary: Christine Lucas had a tragic accident which causes her memory to ‘reset’ every morning; effectively she cannot remember everything from a point in her childhood up to the night before she falls asleep. After waking up in bed one morning with the man she has been married for decades with, she is guided by somebody (no spoilers here) to find a journal, in which she discovers she has secretly been writing down the day-to-day events of the last few weeks. What secrets will she discover? Captain Obvious hint: some things aren’t what they seem (again, no spoilers!). The answer here is not so obvious! The guessing game and many twist and turns that Watson teases you with from time to time will send your head spinning.

To me a debut novel generally sets the tone for the kind of work the author would excel at, or at least give the reader a glimpse of the kind of themes they would be comfortable writing on. I’ve been searching for this book for awhile now, and after reading Watson’s second novel Second Life, I definitely had high hopes for this one. Notwithstanding the fact that this is slightly higher rated on goodreads.

This is a difficult book to put down. The narrative is fast spaced and unlike some psychological thrillers which take awhile to take off, this is akin to a bloodsucking leech that refuses to give up, gripping you from the very start and refusing to let you go until the very last word. I consider this book to be very special because of the blurred lines drawn between reality and fantasy. What would you do when your mind has turned against you, when the very thing inside your head that differentiates truth from make-believe cannot be trusted? Are you actually starting to go crazy and imagining things? I absolutely loved the premise – anything is possible.

The chronological narrative may seem messy at first. It goes like this: present day – 3 weeks before in a forward linear fashion up to almost present day – then present day moving forward inter spacing with the past few days! However, I feel that Watson has done a fantastic job of not driving the reader crazy with well spaced chapters with dates to help with the setting.

Rating: 5/5 (an absolute must-read for fans of psychological thrillers)


Book Review – Second Life by S.J. Watson

Do you live two lives? Have another side of you no one knows about? Do you compartmentalize a secret life from you significant other, children, close friends, etc?

Do you live two lives? Have another side of you no one knows about? Do you compartmentalize a secret life from you significant other, children, close friends, etc? Julia is one such person. In her public life, she’s married to a top surgeon, has a son, and lives a suburban English life in London. On the other side of the line she has a lot more on her plate than she has let on to anybody else. Having just got over the loss (brutal murder) of her sister Kate, she grapples with raising her teenage son and at the same time privately investigating the cause of her sister’s murder.

The most exciting part of this book comes after the one-third mark. Although the beginning was a tad slow, it was interesting enough not to make the whole process overly weary. Right after I learn about Julia’s “other life” is when things start getting interesting. You see, this all unravels when she starts investigating her sister’s murder, driving her deeper and deeper into a pit she is unable to climb out of. Ina sadistic way, a part of me – actually most part of me, really wanted her to go down that slide, just to find out what would come out of it.

Although there are places where I find her actions somewhat extraordinary, Watson tries to explain through Julia’s POV in her stream-of-consciousness ramblings – it also helps that we learn of her past alcohol addiction and panic attacks, and later on – her drug history. This certainly helped me feel more relatable to her and her actions. Perhaps if you’re struggling with a married with kids scenario, Julia is presenting to you a solution to that problem, together with all the justifications you would probably have made in your head.

Of course, in true psychological thriller style, the plot twists at the end were nothing short of a blast. Who really killer her sister? Is her husband who he says he is? Is her relationship with her son all that straightforward? You’ll have to read it like I did, to find out. My only gripe here is that I found the ending a little complex to understand, underneath the tangled web of relationships. A few times I went: Who is related to who again?

Rating: 4.75/5 (slow start but picks up good momentum less than halfway through, unexpected plot twists, dramatic ending albeit slightly complex.

Lagavulin 16 year islay single malt

This one has just taken the top spot for my new favorite whisky. Smokey and peaty, it reminds me a lot of tobacco, smoked bacon, a good barbecue, etc. Long lingering finish that slowly evolves into a almost savory burn in the throat.

I’ve never really ventured into islay

malts before (which are known for their punchy smokey aromas), as most of my friends like the smooth ones. Think glenfiddich, macallan, auchentoshan, glenmorangie, etc. But I realize I really like this. Time to go try the other islay malts. I’ve heard that the 12 year Lagavulin is even punchier.

A tale of three whiskeys

from smooth to smokey

So, I seldom upload my whiskey adventures nowadays. Mainly because I don’t survive the session to remain sane enough to do do, and I just don’t care anymore to press the tiny buttons on my phone or bother to turn on my laptop to do so in that state. thankfully, I am still sane enough to do so now.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a tasting session today, whiskeys going at a great sale. Cut to the chase: I purchased three great whiskeys today. From smokey to smooth, from left to right in the photo. Lagavulin 12 was far tooooo smokey for my palate. I felt like I was smoking a carton of cigars! The 16 year expression was still quite palatable. Of course, I still think the macallan was the smoothest of whatever I’ve ever tried. Leave me a comment if you think there’s something smoother, and I’ll give it a go.

I shall enjoy tasting these, and getting my liver fucked in the process.

Here’s a link to the tasting session:

Allow me to clarify, I’m just posting the link for fun. Absolutely no benefits in kind to me. Writing a blog stress-free (no monetary agenda) is very liberating.


Book Review – After Anna by Alex Lake

Relatable psychological thriller for all parents

A refreshing read from the crime based psychological thrillers I’ve been feeding on so far. My head is still reeling from the heart-pounding shocking revelations that happened towards the end of the story. I say this again, you should read it if you’re game for a tale of an unbelievable but yet entirely possible story, and even more relatable would it be to you if you’re a parent yourself.

As usual, a short summary: 5 year old Anna had been forgotten to be picked up from school by her mum, Julia. She goes missing for a week. Public pleas, missing persons report in the papers all to no avail. Julia is devastated – it doesn’t help that her marriage is not exactly in a good place either. A week later, Anna shows up unharmed but with no recollection of what happened. At this point, I was like, WTF? *intrigued* why the hell would someone kidnap a 5 year old and return her a week later unharmed? Oh, this is not a spoiler BTW. It was pretty early in the story where the kidnapper’s POV took place. So anyway, the real problems took place (interestingly enough) after Anna was returned. Such a refreshing storyline. Whodunnit mysteries always get my attention. I was trying hard to guess who was the main culprit behind all that kidnapping halfway through, and this time I finally got it (yeeah)!

Writing is fast-paced, and un-put-down-able. I haven’t used that description on a book for ages, because it simply wasn’t true. Sometimes the book starts slow and pick up later. Some books I’ll put down for a good show on TV. Or a chance to go out and get wasted. But this one, I’ll bring along to read while getting wasted. I enjoyed the ending of the book to boot – nothing too cherry-blossomy or tied-up-in-a-neat-packagey, but the kind of open ended closure I have learned to adore.

Notable point: You get the narrative from the kidnapper’s point of view interspersed with the main narrative, but it doesn’t give anything away. This does kick up the suspense a notch. For those who’ve read it already – I’m sure you’ll all agree that I couldn’t think of anyone better than THAT person to be the kidnapper, and ultimately to be served due justice, isn’t it?

I am sure this will be relatable to all readers who are parents, and even to some of those who aren’t. What happens when your child disappears one day? When you forget to pick him/her up from school? Anna’s fear, coping mechanism and course of actions were all very thoroughly explored and thus drew me in. I could sympathize with her situation, and I guess it made the whole narrative so much more endearing to me.

Rating: 5/5 (good plot device, refreshing storyline, fast paced, relatable to parents, balanced ending)

I look forward to reading more books from this author. Until then!

Book Review – The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

50 Shades of Grey meets Gone Girl?

I was particularly intrigued by a fellow reader’s comments on this book. 50 Shades of Grey meets Gone Girl. Well, I kinda enjoyed both of those books more than I would care to publicly admit, so when I found it available at the public library I was browsing at, I immediately checked it out in anticipation of an exciting read.

The premise on the outset seems clichĂ©d and overused. Spoiler-free summary first. Emma and her partner Simon are looking for a place to stay within their budget when they came across this house, which came at a very special price. It was within their budget and yet its beautiful minimalist modernist design far exceeded their expectations. However, it does come with a set of rules written by its architect who happens to be semi famous. Some of those rules happen to be well, unorthodox (think no carpets, no pictures, etc). Flash forward to several years later – Jane, who is recovering from a personal tragedy, also stumbles upon this house and decides to stay there, for the same reasons as Emma (nice place and great price point). She slowly discovers the reason why the previous occupant is no longer staying there, and how much similarities she share with her.

The narrative flickers back and forth between Emma:Then and Jane:Now. I use flicker in this sense because each section is usually only a couple of pages long. There’s even a blank page! Quite a clever use of stylistic element there if you ask me. This does make for unconfusing reading, albeit unconventional.

The best part about this novel is how it held me in suspense, how it made me constantly wonder what exactly was going on inside their minds. It was only later when you realize what they are saying vs what they are actually thinking doesn’t always correlate. Oh yes, they lie. A lot The use of the unreliable narrator here is awesome to say the least. Oh, and the icing on top – the rules, sexual escapades that take place, does invoke a certain nostalgic deja vu from 50 Shades! Get prepared for some shocks!

There are several commendable plot twists here, which I will have to refrain from describing for a spoiler free review unfortunately, but it does come close to Gone Girl.

I only take issue with the ending of the book. I felt it could’ve been ended with a better wow factor. I was expecting another plot twist at the very last page, but I waited for a final climax that didn’t come (pun intended 🙂 ). Well worth the read though.

Rating : 5/5

Book Review – I See You by Clare Mackintosh

Finally! I’ve read another psychological thriller I feel worthy of the genre and all the elements associated with it. Deceit, suspense, lies, etc. I thrive on that sort of thing.

Following from the first novel I’ve read from Mackintosh, I feel that this one does it better. I’m not saying the previous one I’ve read (I Let You Go) is bad – on the contrary it was very good too (5/5), but this one is even better. The premise, though albeit slightly unbelievable, is still nonetheless intriguing and hooked me in, line-sinker and all.

The story bubbles with suspense – which was why I loved it. You know how horror movies create suspense through lighting, music, and so on? Well, Mackintosh does exactly that through her writing. How brilliant is that? My heart was pounding against my ribs as I neared the big reveal towards the end, I swear I might have even cheated by restlessly peeking ahead just to glimpse an idea of what was going to happen.

The story is narrated from two people’s point of view mainly – Zoe and Kelly. Zoe saw her face in the newspapers one day while she was on the Tube (underground subway), but she couldn’t be sure it was here as the image was just a little grainy. After that, she noticed another familiar face in the papers, and so on. She starts uncovering the mystery behind the photos, as well as why the people listed in the papers start dying one after the other. Kelly, who is a police officer, receives the report from these women whose photos appear in the papers. She works with the Transport Police to uncover the mystery before they run out of time and more people are killed.

The twist at the end was satisfying, just like in ‘I Let You Go’ and did not disappoint. Even the very final twist at the epilogue ended the story with just the perfect amount of flourish just so that it doesn’t seem too overly “neatly wrapped-up”. Mackintosh hinted at so many possible suspects along the way, giving away so many clues here and there but not committing to anyone that it really kept me on the edge. The characters are so likable it caused me to sympathize with some of them, silently rooting for their innocence.

An excellent psychological thriller well worth reading, contains the correct ingredients for this genre and laden heavily with suspense.

Rating: 5/5