Warning: Review contains mild spoilers until the spoiler section where it contains… well, actual spoilers.
A dead brother. A grieving sister. A warning from a stranger to stay away from the man with green eyes.
Black Water by Whitney Skoreyko is a crime thriller, a fast-paced read, that will keep you on the edge of your seat!
Whitney sent me the book in exchange for a review. It’s something I don’t normally do but I liked the sound of this book too much to pass it up. Especially with all the spooky autumn vibes.
To make this reading experience as easy as possible, I’m going to break this blog post up into sections.
Synopsis & Initial Reaction
Synopsis: A year ago, Hannah’s twin brother died. Hunter was her best friend, her roommate and her family. To distract herself from grief, she stays busy with work. When her friends invite her out one night, she meets a man with green eyes. She is warned about him but she cannot stay away. Strange things start happening and she realises that her brother’s death might not have been an accident after all…
Please note: I am and always have been a picky rater. These are all my own opinions and you shouldn’t let them sway your opinion of this read.
My initial reaction to this book is a mixture of both satisfaction and hope for something more. There’s no doubt this book is a thrilling read – both in terms of character and plot. There is a certain charming darkness the entire way through. I didn’t ever want to put it down and reading it was always easy and fun. However, a handful of things deterred me from being totally convinced by the story which is what we’ll talk about more in depth during this post.
The plot of this book remained endearing and captivating from beginning to end. I was absolutely never bored. The pace was great (although the ending very rushed) and I think the author has a great imagination. However, I feel like I’m being quite forgiving because this was a debut novel. Most parts of this book could be improved but it’s all a learning experience. I do think that Whitney has more potential than she exhibited in this book and in future writing, her story-telling can improve with just a few simple changes.
Let’s talk about the good stuff first.
- The plot begins with a whole lot of intrigue. Hannah gets creepy packages and anonymous warnings. I mean, totally gripping!
- The intrigue continues with the introduction of a man named Luke. Soon, we meet another man named Adam. Both these men seem to have a soft spot for Hannah but it never becomes a love triangle (which is great!). However, it does create some really strong and creepy tension throughout the book. You’ll never know who you can trust! (To be honest, I still don’t…)
- The plot is creepy and suspenseful. Hannah is definitely subject to a lot of scary stuff. I wouldn’t want to ever be in her shoes!
- The ending was definitely super exciting! Although it was rushed – as earlier mentioned – it was scary.
Let’s talk about things that could be improved.
- Although there was a whole lot of intrigue, some of it never came to anything. Hannah has an odd habit of pinching her arm every time she leaves her house. While we could use our brain and put this down to her bringing herself back to reality, we never get a reason for it!
- A lot of the intrigue surrounded relationships. While this works well, it is often predictable and repetitive. Hannah doesn’t know who she is and constantly bounces between Luke & Adam which gets a little annoying after a while.
- A huge problem I had with the plot is that Hannah & Luke’s houses are constantly getting broken into. They wake up to proof of an intruder, missing items or threatening messages AND THEY DON’T INVOLVE THE POLICE. In the very beginning, Luke does contact the police but he has little evidence so the police shrug him off. This seems to be the reason they never return to the police throughout the whole novel and I’m just not convinced by that. I find that to be really lazy reasoning to keep the plot thick. A lot of this could and would be resolved in real life had they involved the police. A mystery novel always needs to feel plausible.
- While the ending was scary and action-packed, one thing just didn’t add up to me and that is SPOILER:
how did they get Hannah and Aidan out of the middle of the ocean in the middle of the night????
- The main plot twist – which I’ll talk about a little later – is kind of a hit or miss. I wish there were more hints throughout the book and definitely more explanation. I would also have loved to see Hannah’s family’s reaction after finding out the truth about what happened to Hunter. Or did they already know? We’ll never know.
The characters are where I draw real issues. My favourite character actually happened to be Hunter and… well… he’s dead so that wasn’t great.
Hannah is a confused, working, middle-class woman. She doesn’t have any quirks or hobbies mentioned in the pages. Her dialogue isn’t inventive or funny or cute or nervous. It’s just stuff that you’d expect someone to say in the given situation. She makes a lot of ridiculous decisions and doesn’t ever seem to look out for herself. Even when she’s in total danger, she doesn’t notice until it’s too late. While this would work as a characteristic quirk, there would need to be character building behind it. Why is she like that? How does her greatest flaw help her sometimes? However, in Black Water, Hannah is just like that because that’s the way she’s been written. For characters to be convincing in a novel, the author needs to know these characters like they’re her children, and I just wasn’t seeing that.
To give an example of her silly decisions, she is warned about Luke and has suspicions he might be involved in her brother’s death and still goes to his house. She literally says to herself, ‘Well, if it was him, it couldn’t hurt to tell him what he already knows.’
Maybe not, honey, but it might hurt to be sitting in the same room as a murderer?! At this point, we don’t know if it was Luke or not, but nonetheless, she thought he was during this scene so she really shouldn’t have gone to his house.
Hannah constantly switches to being uncomfortable around Luke to being comfortable. This continues the entire way through the book. This would be fine (again) if we were shown why she felt like that. Instead, the author just tells the readers how Hannah feels. I genuinely never know when or what makes Hannah feel uncomfortable. I don’t get any clues. I don’t see her fidgeting with her ring when she’s uncomfortable. I don’t see her hum to herself when she is comfortable. I’m just told.
Hannah also has a very odd relationship with her parents. I mean, we all do in certain ways but hers is really weird. To the point, again, where I wasn’t convinced. Her parents reveal very important information to her which eventually leads her to figure out how her brother died. Instead of telling them bits of information she has also discovered, she changes the topic of conversation because she doesn’t want to make her mother feel worse. I’m sorry, but no matter how awkward your relationship with your parents has become over the years, if you know secret information about your sibling’s death – you share it with your parents of all people.
My favourite part about Hannah’s character though was her epiphany in the end of the novel. She does come to realise her biggest flaw (which I won’t spoil) and changes that. It redeemed the girl a little bit. I do hope she has a happy life!
Luke. Oh, Luke. Where to start with him?
Well, to begin with – sorry Whitney – but I couldn’t stand him. I actually liked Adam better.
It probably didn’t help that Hannah’s point of view for the first part of the novel depicted Luke is a total creep. Even when we change point of views to Luke’s, I still… didn’t like him. I thought he was shallow and had little personality and was always creepy.
Luke is the classic example of why nice guys don’t always get the girl. Sure, he and Hannah do eventually start a relationship and sure, he seems to be well-intentioned but please – nice guys, don’t be weird! For example, he figures out Hannah’s name from a friend and approaches her, calling her by her first name. That will never sit right with a girl. Sorry, guys.
Also, Luke and Hannah’s relationship develops but it’s based on literally nothing. They don’t seem to have anything in common apart from the fact that they’re attracted to each other. As readers, we find out, in fact, they do have stuff in common, but they don’t share this information with one another. So that’s irrelevant.
After four conversations, Luke says to himself: I’ll let someone or something come between me and Hannah over my dead body. Okay, that’s never a lovely sentiment but it’s particularly not a lovely sentiment when you don’t even know the girl and you’ve already become that possessive about your ‘relationship’ with her. Whether or not Luke turns out to be a creep or a murderer, Hannah falls for him. As readers, we need to fall for Luke too, to be on the same page as our main character, Hannah.
Luke is also super untrustworthy. He doesn’t tell Hannah the full or fractioned truth most of the time. In fact, he constantly leaves her in a dangerous situation. At one point, he nearly gets her killed. He says, “At least he could see her safely home” before driving her home with her seatbelt off and her head on his lap before he nearly crashes his car and bashes her head against the steering wheel. Ok. Um. I don’t trust you.
Adam is one character that I kind of liked. He seemed sweet and to care for Hannah as more than just an attractive doctor. He seemed to care about her like a friend. He dips in and out of the story and keeps a respectable distance when Hannah doesn’t choose him. Even when she does choose Luke, Adam is still there for Hannah when she needs it.
There are more characters and I’ll say the same thing about all of them: they aren’t fleshed out. Even if you never state it in your novel, you need to know, as an author, what your character eats for breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day. Knowing your characters as well as you know yourself makes it much easier to write convincing people.
Ah, the writing. I had a complicated love-hate relationship with the writing in this book.
Like I said, I found Black Water easy, fun and suspenseful to read so in that regards, the author succeeded in writing a good book.
The writing style is approachable. It’s never too complicated. There aren’t any words in this book you wouldn’t know. In fact, I would describe this as adult content written in middle-grade language.
That’s not a bad thing at all. It keeps it easy and clean to read. However, the writing is far from lyrical. To me, lyrical writing is always what I’m going for. I want to be taken aback by unique phrases and new ways of wording emotions. I want to feel the characters, breathe the characters. I want to learn new words. I want to feel like I’m being challenged.
I’m going to break down the issues I had with the writing so that writers can learn from this. I sure learned a lot of things while reading this book so I want to share some thoughts I had on the writing.
- Repetition. Repetition is a great technique in certain situations, such as emphasising a fact. For example, if we’re talking about rain, it’s okay to say ‘drip, drip, drip’. However, the repetition in this novel is an example of a lack of creative ways to start a new sentence. These aren’t the only two examples. It continues throughout the whole novel. Once you notice it, it’s really hard to ignore it. When writing, edit every sentence like it’s the only sentence in your book.
- Wordy. This novel is really wordy. In this case, it’s not unnecessary descriptions or cluttered dialogue. It’s simple words that don’t need to be there. I’m going to give examples and put on tracked changes to show how it could be written. A lot of the examples include the passive voice, adverbs (avoid, if possible!) and the present participle. All of these things just aren’t necessary. The biggest frustration, in my opinion, is the constant use of the word ‘had’. To say something like, ‘They had done that together,’ is an odd alternative to ‘They did that together’. Had done or Had been are examples of the past perfect progressive tense. This tense indicates a continuous action that was completed at some point in the past. Using this tense is almost always unnecessary when you can simply use the past tense which is cleaner and more creative because you can use a bigger variety of words. There are no synonyms for ‘had been’ but there are lots of alternatives for other past tense verbs. For example, if you’re saying, ‘We had been running together,’ you can change the word ‘running’ to ‘sprinting’ or ‘escaping’ and so on. But you can never change ‘had been’ which means your novel will be full of those two words on repeat. It’ll get annoying. Whereas if you speak in past tense, your sentence becomes ‘We ran together,’ which can alternate nicely into lots of different options. Eg: ‘We walked together,’ ‘We jogged together,’ etc., and you don’t get those two unnecessary words fogging your style.
- Telling, not showing. If you’ve ever attended a creative writing class or even Googled creative writing tips, ‘Show, don’t tell,’ will be one of the first things you discover. In Black Water, there is a significant lack of this technique. Sometimes, it’s good to spell things out for your readers but in this case, it was too much. We were constantly spoon fed information on how the characters felt and what they experienced. Instead of being shown how a character was charming, we were told ‘Hannah found him charming.’ When Hannah was tired and exhausted, there was no description of bags under her eyes or her breathing slowing. We were just told: Hannah was tired and exhausted.
- Point of view. Black Water is written in the third person but it reads like it’s told in first. We are constantly told what the character thinks and feels instead of a third person narrator explaining it. Example below. Notice how we’re constantly told Hannah’s reaction, as if she was explaining it herself, to the subject of the sentence before we’re told as readers. I don’t need to be told that Hannah is about to be surprised by something. Just show me the thing that she’s surprised by and if the writing is done well, I’ll be surprised, too. Spelling out these emotions is a technique used when an author isn’t entirely convinced by their own writing or storytelling. We all do it but to always do it is not great. Instead, it could read like this. Notice how you are suddenly transported into the story rather than being told the story. It takes away that middle-grade writing style and allows the readers a chance to suss out the character’s emotions.
I do apologise for my lengthy critique on the writing but it’s sad to see such frequent mistakes when changing the writing ever so slightly could result in a more exciting and adult tone in the novel.
Okay – the fun part! Discussing the plot in more detail and getting real with the big plot twist.
Obviously, this book is about trying to discover the truth behind Hunter’s death. Throughout the book, the author does a great job at misleading us down the wrong roads. We’re constantly tossing and turning between Luke and Adam and Hunter faking his death. I was convinced that it was Hannah’s dad for a long time, too!
Hannah constantly seeing Hunter was great intrigue, too. I was freaked out when she saw him in her bedroom and her own home. When she went to visit her parents, this was probably the most exciting part! Somehow, her stalker appeared there, too. I definitely asked myself HOW IS THIS HAPPENING 120841 times!
In the end, we find out that Hannah had a second brother and he killed Hunter.
Aidan, the murderer, was forced to leave the family home when he was a child because he became aggressive and even tried to kill his brother. Hannah was three or four (it was never specified) when it happened and so she claims she doesn’t remember him. However, when she finds out, she suddenly recovers memories of Aidan. Later, she merely claims she ‘forgot’ about him. When she has a brief chat with her mother about Aidan (which didn’t end dramatically like it would in real life if you found out your parents lied to you about a second sibling for your entire life), her mother reveals that Hannah forgot about her brother after two weeks. At age three or four, that wouldn’t happen. I hung out with a 2-year-old today who I’d met a handful of times and she knew who I was. I had a sibling die when I was four and I remember it very clearly. It would have been just as traumatic a memory for your brother to be taken away at that age. I’m not convinced Hannah would forget her own brother after two weeks.
However, the rest of the novel is exciting chaos. Aidan wants Hannah to let her into his life like she did with Hunter. He wants to move in with her. He wants them to be best friends. He wanted Hunter out of the picture.
While this is an interesting plot twist, I demanded more. I needed more background, more motive, more details on the actual murder of Hunter and the unraveling of Aidan’s personality and anger.
Plus, there was a strong emphasis on Aidan’s erratic and destructive behaviour. It was never explicitly stated but heavily implied that Aidan had mental health challenges. While this happens in real life, it’s never cool in literature to put a character’s bad decisions solely down to mental health, yet again portraying it in a negative light.
With all that being said, you can see my dilemma with this book. A great, quick, suspenseful, juicy read but with a lot of unfilled potential. I do thank Whitney for sending it my way and I would be happy to beta read or edit any future works because I think we could work well together.
Thanks for reading xo