You may remember (though I won’t hold it against you if you don’t) my astounding shock when I was approved by Penguin for a book on NetGalley a while back. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for it. I wrote a Goodreads review and sent my feedback to the publisher, but I don’t like to highlight books here that I don’t particularly like. Maybe that will change as I get more reviews under my belt and figure out a way to talk about those disappointing reads that doesn’t feel like I’m shredding them apart. But for now, unless it’s part of my ITW series, you won’t see a 1- or 2-star review here any time soon.
The only reason I’m mentioning it at all is that a short time later I read another book, one that was similar in many ways (and coincidentally, published by a Penguin imprint), but ended up a much more satisfying experience… the difference having little to do with either book and more to do with my expectations. And I thought it was interesting enough to be worth a little discussion.
The Silent Wife starts out by saying of the main character, “a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her.” We learn that on the first page. Now, I’m not necessarily opposed to books where we know from the beginning how it will end, because sometimes the journey is more important than the destination, and there’s always the possibility that the author will completely subvert our expectations (hopefully in a way that delights us, not in a way that makes us want to throw the book across the room).
So, it’s not that this revelation ruined the book for me. It’s what comes after, or rather what doesn’t. This revelation alone isn’t enough to sustain the suspense through the majority of the book, but it’s all we get for a long while. By the time events do start coming to a head, I just didn’t care anymore. This is a literary novel that would probably make for great book group discussions. But it’s not a psychological thriller; hard to call it that when there’s no thrill.
The Burning Air has some similarities to The Silent Wife. They both focus on a single climactic event and spend a lot of time building up to it. They’re both about relationships. But the big difference is that this one actually is a psychological thriller. It’s a little slow to start, but I didn’t go into either book expecting a lot of action. What I did expect was a compelling story with at least hints of suspense throughout. The Burning Air gave me that experience; The Silent Wife didn’t.
For the record, I didn’t think The Burning Air was an amazing book, though it was an enjoyable page-turner with a couple of pretty good twists. And it’s not that The Silent Wife is a terrible book; parts of it were actually quite good. But it wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t something I would have picked up if I’d had an accurate picture of what the story would be.
I’ve read several books that didn’t match their marketing. Sometimes they win me over, despite my false expectations. Sometimes they don’t.
What’s a book that wasn’t at all what you thought it would be? Did you like it anyway?