Review: A Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay

A Tap on the Window

Synopsis from Good Reads:

When Cal Weaver stops at a red light on a rainy night while driving home, he ignores the bedraggled-looking teenage girl trying to hitch a ride – even when she starts tapping on his window. But as soon as he realises she’s one of his son’s classmates, he knows he can’t really leave her, alone, on the street.

But nothing prepares him for the consequences of trying to help her out. The next morning he’s gone from Good Samaritan to Murder Suspect, and with one girl dead and another missing, he’s suddenly at the centre of a deadly puzzle that reaches right to the heart of the town – from its bullying police force to its strangely furtive mayor – and finally to one family’s shocking secret.

Linwood Barclay is by far one of my favorite mystery/thriller writers. He does such a great job of creating complex and well-developed main characters. I’ve enjoyed every Barclay book I’ve read, but this one fell just shy of being a 4 star read for me.

There’s a lot going on in A Tap on the Window. Our main character, private eye Cal, is trying to work through the grief of losing his teenage son. He spends his free time trying to track down the person he believes is responsible. One night when driving home from his search, he agrees to give a ride to a teenage girl who says she knew his son. In doing so he gets caught up in a bigger scheme.

The synopsis makes it sound like he’s the prime suspect in a murder, but only very little time is spent with that. He quickly goes from suspect to detective. As he investigates he stumbles upon new  plot lines – not only is there a dead girl and a missing girl, but another possible missing teenage boy, an underage booze ring, infidelities, corrupt cops and a possibly corrupt public official. The reader also gets another mystery by getting an unidentified third person POV of a woman and her son and the man they keep locked up, along with vague mentions of the things Cal is working on uncovering.

Overall, I enjoyed A Tap on the Window. While I thought there were almost too many plot lines, they did all end up cohesively fitting together and gave me a couple of twists that I didn’t see coming, even after I was completely sure I had figured it all out. I would recommend it to fans of mystery/thrillers and character driven novels.

Rating (out of 5):

3.5 stars

Review: The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

The Great Zoo of China

I received a copy of this title from NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

It will be available on January 27, 2015.

Synopsis from Good Reads:

It is a secret the Chinese government has been keeping for forty years.

They have found a species of animal no one believed even existed. It will amaze the world.

Now the Chinese are ready to unveil their astonishing discovery within the greatest zoo ever constructed.

A small group of VIPs and journalists has been brought to the zoo deep within China to see its fabulous creatures for the first time.

Among them is Dr. Cassandra Jane ‘CJ’ Cameron, a writer for National Geographic and an expert on reptiles.

The visitors are assured by their Chinese hosts that they will be struck with wonder at these beasts, that they are perfectly safe, and that nothing can go wrong.

Of course it can’t…

GET READY FOR ACTION ON A GIGANTIC SCALE.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from The Great Zoo of China, but a wild, action-packed, guilty-pleasure of an adventure wasn’t it.

In a play for cultural dominance, China has spent years building a secret zoo that will put them ahead of every other nation, especially the United States. What kind of great zoo could be a bigger draw than Disneyland? A great Dragon zoo! Those in charge of the zoo invite Chinese diplomats and American journalists to preview the zoo before it opens. It starts off well, but for all of us who have read or seen Jurassic Park, we know it can’t possibly last for long.

My problem with this book is also one of it’s strengths. It is a very action-driven novel. After the first several chapters of explanation of how the dragons were discovered, contained, and could co-exist safely with humans in the confines of the zoo, the action completely took over. The next couple hundred pages contained more dragon attacks, buildings crumbling, and people being eaten alive than I thought was possible in one book. While it was very descriptive and fun for awhile, I got over it pretty fast.

I’m definitely a reader that appreciates character-development more than anything else and there wasn’t a lot of it in this book. Our main character got one background story to explain the scar on her face and it’s implied that her photographer younger brother is a party boy, but other than that, almost all the other human characters could be interchanged with each other. Besides the humans, though, there are also several dragon characters, one of which is more developed than the rest (the way she’s developed is the reason this book falls into the guilty pleasure category).

While I thought the description was very well written, I also thought there was an overabundance of italicized words and exclamation points.  All I could think about was that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine gets mad at her boyfriend for not putting an exclamation point in his phone message.

Elaine

Overall, though, I thought The Great Zoo of China was a fun, guilty-pleasure type of read. It’s not something I would read every day, but it was definitely something fun to start out the new year. I would recommend it to fans of Jurassic Park and those that love action-heavy novels.

3 stars

The Tutor’s Daugher by Julie Klassen – 3 stars (out of 5)

 

The Tutor's Daughter

The Tutor’s Daughter is Julie Klassen’s latest Christian Historical Romance. I’ve read and mostly enjoyed most of her books, though my favorite has always been The Apothecary’s Daughter (no, they’re not all titled after someone’s daughter).  The Tutor’s Daughter follows Emma Smallwood as she travels with her father away from their fledgling school to become private tutors to prominent family, the Westons. Two of the Weston sons, Henry and Phillip, previously attended the Smallwood’s school and Emma had very different relationship with them. Henry was antagonistic towards Emma and liked to play pranks on her. Phillip was sweet and friendly. And you will never guess who she ends up with.

The Smallwoods are greeted coolly by Lady Weston, Henry and Phillip’s stepmother, whose sons, twins Julian and Rowen, are supposed to be tutored. Sir Giles Weston is affable, but generally absent. Also residing with the Smallwoods is Lady Weston’s ward, Lizzie, who strikes up a friendship with Emma, but is hesitant to talk about her past.

Emma is tormented through increasingly threatening pranks and a good deal of the story is dedicated to trying to discover who is behind them. Other central themes include discovering the secret of the North Wing, which is figured out about half way through (I found this plot development reminiscent of Jane Eyre);  Emma’s growing friendship with and affection for Henry; and Henry’s desire to help rescue shipwrecked sailors, which there is apparently a lot of in their coastal town.

Thoughts:

I felt like there was too much going on and it was all happening very slowly. The pranks on Emma were mostly nothing more than an annoyance, until the final one that actually is life threatening. The discovery in the North wing was not very surprising and there was too much build up for it.

The romance between Emma and Henry, like all of Klassen’s romances, was sweet and probably the most enjoyable part of the book. It felt organic, developing over time and not “at first sight”. The only bad thing I’ll say about it is the cliché of falling for the man you initially can’t stand. But this is no surprise to readers of Romance novels or viewers of Chick Flicks.

When it comes to the Christian part of “Christian Fiction”, I feel Klassen handles it well. She is never preachy, which can put off non-believing readers, but she lets the characters’ lives provide the witness. The discussions Henry has with Emma about God seem like natural segues and are never forced.

Overall, The Tutor’s Daughter was a quick and pleasant read.  It was not one of my favorite Julie Klassen novels, but one I would recommend to those interested in the genre. I would also recommend The Apothecary’s Daughter and The Girl in the Gatehouse.