Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz

Review based on an ARC (Advanced Readers' Copy received for free in exchange for an honest review). Also note, review based on audio version.

I absolutely loved how this book set itself up. Bibi Blair  is a smart but young author with a lot of potential and a little fame. Her fiancĂ© is a special ops type of army-guy on a radio-silent mission when the book starts. Bibi is going about her normal everyday business when she suddenly tastes something funny and begins to feel a tingling along half of her body. A little longer and various bodily functions stop working on that same side. Although I won't say what precisely is revealed, the set-up of the book is that Bibi is told she has some rare, essentially incurable disease.

She nonetheless recovers quickly and miraculously. Her parents celebrate by sending a psychic/medium to Bibi, telling her to go at it with an open mind. In her experiences with the psychic, it is revealed that Bibi's life was saved in order for her to save another's -- Ashley Bell's. The problem is, Bibi doesn't know any Ashley Bell and the phone book doesn't seem to be helping much.

Follows is an intense cat and mouse type of thriller, where Bibi is rushing to find and save Ashley Bell while others, who are determined she do no such thing, rush to find her and perhaps end her life. There are elements of the supernatural weaved in as well, as Bibi struggles to understand the various experiences that she has had since she was a little girl. However, because of a memory trick taught to Bibi by her grandfather when she was little, Bibi and the reader are not really sure what those experiences are, or how they affect her current chase... we are only relatively certain that they do.

And I can't say much more than that because it would be spoiler and I'm anti-spoiler.

What I loved about the book: the puzzle, the pace (although the audio reader was a bit slow for my preferences, the book's pace was good), and many of the characters. I LOVE Bibi's old professor Solange St. Clair and her old teacher whose name is presently evading me. I also thought that (the bad guy whose name I won't reveal) was well-written and well-done and had a good amount of creepy/angry/disturbing personality. I thought Bibi was a fine, plucky character and her mom was interesting as well. And I also liked her best friend, the brilliant surfer dude. Conversely, I felt that her dad and her fiancé were pretty flat, but I didn't mind that. I didn't think every character needed to be robust. Her grandfather, however, I felt should have been fleshed out a little bit more -- having had such a large role in her childhood, I thought there were some pretty big holes that never felt answered with regard to his life and experiences.

As for the plot, although I loved the set-up, I felt that it started to waver and ultimately fall a little flat in the end. Not completely, but its end was definitely not as strong as its middle. In fact, I think parts of it could have been better had they merely been resolved a bit more quickly. There comes a point when the reader knows exactly what is happening and is fairly certain how it will all turn out... I thought the book took a little too long to conclude once that point occurred.

But overall, I still recommend it. I just recommend it with the caveat that it has a somewhat weak ending.

So overall, a strong THREE out of five stars. Recommended for people who like psychological thrillers with some supernatural elements... with the caveat mentioned above. I also think this probably reads better in a hard copy than the audio version because you can get through it a lot more quickly, and perhaps the lag near the end won't be as noticeable.