Author Q&A: First to Die by Alex Caan

Hola Bookworms.

Today, I have the honor of doing a Q&A with author Alex Caan! He wrote First to Die and this is a part of his book’s blog tour.

Here is a blurb about the book:

SOMEWHERE IN THE CROWD IS A KILLER 

Bonfire Night and St James’s Park is filled with thousands of Anonymous protesters in a stand-off with the police. When a cloaked, Guido Fawkes mask-wearing body is discovered the following morning, Kate Riley and Zain Harris from the Police Crime Commissioner’s office are called in.

The corpse has been eaten away by a potentially lethal and highly contagious virus. The autopsy reveals the victim was a senior civil servant, whose work in international development involved saving lives. Why would anyone want him dead? 

THEY WILL STRIKE AGAIN 

As the research team looking into the origins of the deadly virus scramble to discover an antidote, first one, then another pharmacist goes missing. Meanwhile, a dark truth starts to emerge about the murder victim: he was an aggressive man, whose bullying behavior resulted in the suicide attempt of one of his former staff members.

AND TIME IS RUNNING OUT . . .

With thirty lives potentially at stake, Kate and Zain have their work cut out for them. Can they find the two missing pharmacists in time, or will they too end up dead? 

IMG-20171126-WA0015

AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

I’m definitely a believer in plots. I do my free thinking beforehand, come up with my characters and my ideas, crucial scenes. I love letting my imagination take me places, but when I’m writing I need a structure. More than anything it helps prevent writer’s block.

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

Shutting off the voices. Sometimes every good and bad review is in your head, acting as a barrier to writing. There’s a constant voice saying ‘you’re rubbish’ or ‘this won’t be as good as the last one and you will be found out’. The key is to try and ignore it and keep writing.

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

I read all the time, but I’m a very slow reader so I don’t read many books, but I like to take my time to really enjoy the ones I do. My all-time favorite authors are Graham Greene and John Le Carre, I think they capture the human condition so perfectly it’s awe-inspiring. But there are so many other authors that I love. I need to make a list really.

What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title?

I think it’s crucial. When you’re looking for your next read you have literally thousands of choices, and most books will have recommendations, positive and negative feedback, more or less marketing and promotion. So crucially what will make one stand out beyond the other is the title and cover, and then the premise and blurb. But title and cover are all about the purchasing impulse, not the content. Eventually, it’s what inside those covers that will drive how a person feels about the novel.

Which book inspired you to begin writing?

Honestly, I can’t remember. I was a voracious reader as a child, and remember 8 year old me telling all my family and teachers I wanted to be a novelist. It took me a long time but I eventually did it.

And that’s the end of our interview. Thanks for tuning in readers 🙂 and I think you should go out and buy Alex’s book! You can find it on Amazon and Goodreads!

Also check out this book by author Holly Tierney-Bedord called The Port Elspeth Jewelry Making Club, a thriller/mystery novel about a group of women who form a jewelry club and become unlikely sleuths.

PortElspethcovershell

Here is a US buy link: https://www.amazon.com/Port-Elspeth-Jewelry-Making-Club-ebook/dp/B07DFTDNXY

A Canada buy link: https://www.amazon.ca/Port-Elspeth-Jewelry-Making-Club-ebook/dp/B07DFTDNXY

And a UK buy link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Port-Elspeth-Jewelry-Making-Club-ebook/dp/B07DFTDNXY


Book Review: Booth by Jason Pellegrini

We have a very in-depth review for you guys from an addition to the BreakevenBooks team. Our new reviewer Chris Connors decided to take on Booth by Jason Pellegrini.

Synopsis: At dawn, on the day of his execution, Joseph Bateman finds himself reflecting on his life, one filled with poor decisions and evil people. Even his lifelong best friend played a pivotal role in earning Joseph his seat on death row. A phenomenon occurs as the electricity meant to kill Joseph is sent through him, and his essence is ripped from the body he has known his entire life and thrown into a new one. Only the body he now inhabits isn’t new at all; it is the body of a person who lived over a hundred years before Joseph’s birth. Now living in an unfamiliar era of history and trapped inside a foreign body, Joseph learns he has been sent back for a reason: to earn redemption for his damned soul and to find a sense of peace he has never known. All he needs to do to get there is to prevent one of history’s most infamous murders.

The book blurb captured my imagination right away. Obviously, Joseph William Bateman’s redemption is hinged on stopping John Wilkes Booth—note the initials of both names– from killing Abraham Lincoln, but since Booth did kill Lincoln does this mean Joseph didn’t get redemption? Is there an alternate timeline involved? Was redemption in an unexpected form, maybe a surprise twist? I looked forward to seeing how Pellegrini dealt with this.

The first half of the book starts out with Joseph on death row contemplating how he got there, and the writing in the first few chapters pulls you right into the story.

Murdering one man did not get him to where he was in life (although he’d soon learn he was actually very wrong about that). A long series of unfortunate events had landed him on Death Row. So Joseph Bateman, in the closing hour of his life, chose to reflect.

The small details about his early love for jelly beans (his mother called him Joey Beans), the description of their taste and what jelly beans meant to Joseph are well-crafted, putting you in touch with the child whose imagination helped him escape a bad parental situation by turning the Moon into a giant sweet sugary jellybean that was slowly eaten away only to return anew. Through these chapters, we see how childhood and young adulthood events shaped Joseph’s life and led him to the electric chair.

As Joseph grows older we see him fighting to be nothing like his abusive father, fighting to get away and become his own man, to live happily ever after with his early childhood best friend and later his lover. You feel for Joseph knowing, like Romeo and Juliet, that his dreams will not come true and he is his father’s son, but you still root for him hoping it’ll somehow work out despite him being a few hours from his execution.

It is a great start and whatever Pellegrini did for these first few chapters needs to be applied to the other chapters because the rest of the book seems clunky by comparison. His use of long and short sentences that pull the reader into the story, in the beginning, fades away as the chapters continue; much of the sentence structure is the same type with little variation, and the compelling rhythm is lost.

Subtlety is not put to good use in this book. We’re whacked over the head with the obvious on numerous occasions. Considering Joseph is on death row at the start of the book then foreshadowing his fate with statements like “…just one more step on the path that would lead Joseph to death row” over and over seems a bit of overkill (so to speak).

The descriptions of the abuse his father metes out on his mother are cartoonishly over-the-top. He doesn’t just rape, kick and beat her, but also brings home his gambling buddies to rape her. I worked as a Direct Care Worker for 8 years with youth in the justice system and on the streets and I know these things happen. What makes the book scenario so unbelievable is that 1) the father doesn’t abuse the kids (an abusive man doesn’t make that distinction), and 2) the mother stays with him despite all this.
There are women who will stay with abusive men till she’s killed. However, Joseph’s mom, Emily Bateman, is portrayed as a saint, a good woman, a great mother. You don’t have those qualities and still, put up with such violence and torture for many years. The women who do stay around to be tortured are often so damaged they’re not capable of being good and kind on a long-term or even regular basis.

In this case, I think Pellegrini could have written less while implying more horror without bludgeoning the reader with the abuse. The father could have been given more of a dimensional character to help us see why Emily didn’t leave him. That being said there are still well-written gems popping out in these sections like how Joseph runs out into the yard to find his sister during a particularly horrible beating of their mother; they end up cuddled together in the trunk of an old car comforting one another. Quite
touching, well done.

So Joseph’s reflections– not reminiscences, he tells us (another nice bit of writing detail that makes Joseph a real flesh-and-blood character)—proceed in a chronological order till his execution. The second half of the book deals with Joseph’s death and the transferal of his soul into the late 1800s where he is expected to stop an assassination. I was looking forward to this half of the book.

We meet up with a mysterious figure (the man with eyes) who Joseph has unknowingly met a few times before. This is his guide, called J, a 2,000-year-old soul who betrayed a friend, whose own path to redemption comes from helping others find their redemption (J’s actual name isn’t given, but it’s obvious). Given J’s behavior though I suspect he won’t be finding his own redemption anytime soon. He tells Joseph a few times to watch out for Booth, that Booth will do anything to stop him. However, none of that is true (no spoilers so I can’t elaborate). His early cryptic statements aren’t helpful. He tells Joseph the walls will fall and Joseph will see (I was hoping J would say, “Shaka, when the walls fell; Sokath, his eyes open”, but I guess 2,000-year-old souls don’t keep up with pop culture references).

There’s also a scene where J kills someone by twisting a knife into their stomach and letting them bleed out so the soul can be set free to embark upon a task. Yes, it was necessary, but what happened to a warm bath, a nice bottle of wine, and slitting your wrists? Or a bullet? J will never get redemption if he keeps this up.

This second half of the book is the weakest section. We’re told many times (again) that Joseph is an expert on Booth so knows all of Booth’s movements before and after the assassination. The whole section reads like it was taken from a history book without any fleshing out of characters: he went there, then he saw this, then he did that, next he rode here, he met a doctor, he left a doctor. Bizarrely Joseph re-enacts all of Booth’s movements for the silliest of reasons. If you’re going to change history why not do everything different?

Perhaps a way to improve both sections is to alternate the chapters. Instead of a long chronological recounting of Joseph’s childhood followed by a chronological accounting of his actions in the 1800s, it could be possible to jump back and forth. You end one chapter of Joseph’s childhood wanting to know what happened next, but first you have to read a chapter of him in the past (which when it ends you want to know what happens next, but your next chapter is back to the childhood). It would build and maintain suspense, keep the reader turning pages, make thematic connections between the past and present, and slowly let the story unravel rather than laying everything down in plain sight. It would make us feel we’re traveling between times as the author could add flesh and detail to both worlds.

Fortunately, Pellegrini pulls it back together for the final act. I don’t want to give spoilers, but he delivers an ending and an epilogue worthy of the hopes I had for the book when I first read the blurb. I thought I knew where he was going, and I was partly right, but he still surprised me.

Overall, I liked the concept. It is fairly original. There is some good writing in the book, and an editor would help the author bring that quality writing to the sections that were lacking. I suspect Jason Pellegrini is still on the steep learning curve of writing and will improve immensely with practice. He’s shown he can write well. Now he just needs to do it consistently. I look forward to reading his future books.

Book Rating: 3.75/5

And that is our wonderful review by Chris Connors!

Disclaimer: This book was sent to Breakeven Books by the author Jason Pellegrini for an honest review.

 

 

Book Review – I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

I recently finished I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid and man oh man was it ever intense! I was sent this book by Simon and Schuster Canada for winning their Book Club Pick of the Month contest. Now this happened in the summer and I had a huge list of books to go through but I am finally getting to it.

20180108_195050_hdr1998410884.jpg

I read this book on a flight to the great northern city of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada over the Christmas break to visit my friend Jordan. I had my nose in this book from takeoff to landing on the flight home and was completely engrossed in the intricate web of a masterpiece Iain Reid created.

The story starts with a woman in a car with her boyfriend and they are travelling to his parents house so that she can meet them for the first time. Meanwhile, she is thinking of ending the relationship and a lot of the book is her constant struggle in her head about what to do in this situation since she no longer wants to be in the relationship. They get to the farm and she meets his parents but things seem to be out of place and she starts to notice a lot of things that are “off”. Thus ensues a crazy twisted nightmare of a story that I never expected in the least.

I will be spoiling the ending because holy crap it was crazy. But I will clearly define where the spoiler is so don’t worry. Before that though, I wanted to share the best quote from the book.

You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.

This line is so haunting once you know what the ending is. Alright without further ado, spoiler time…

*SPOILER INSERTED HERE, DON’T READ FURTHER IF YOU WANT TO READ THIS BOOK*

So it turned out that this woman was one of multiple personalities inside the boyfriend’s head and she was never real the entire time. When she is thinking of ending it, she is meaning ending his life. After you come to this realization, the entire book becomes so much creepier.

I also never caught it till after but the author just says “a woman” instead of giving the main character a name because she is the one telling the story. It made so much sense at the end but it was a very intense plot twist.

*SPOILER ENDED*

If you wish to read this book, you can find it here: http://www.simonandschuster.ca/books/Im-Thinking-of-Ending-Things/Iain-Reid/9781501103452

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this review in any way. I chose to write it because I wanted to.