Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

Summary:

An obsessive young woman has been waiting half her life—since she was twelve years old—for this moment. She has planned. Researched. Trained. Imagined every scenario. Now she is almost certain the man who kidnapped and murdered her sister sits in the passenger seat beside her.

Carl Louis Feldman is a documentary photographer. The young woman claims to be his long-lost daughter. He doesn’t believe her. He claims no memory of murdering girls across Texas, in a string of places where he shot eerie pictures. She doesn’t believe him.
       
Determined to find the truth, she lures him out of a halfway house and proposes a dangerous idea: a ten-day road trip, just the two of them, to examine cold cases linked to his haunting photographs.

Is he a liar or a broken old man? Is he a pathological con artist? Or is she? Julia Heaberlin once again swerves the serial killer genre in a new direction. With taut, captivating prose, Heaberlin deftly explores the ghosts that live in our minds—and the ones that stare back from photographs. You won’t see the final, terrifying twist spinning your way until the very last mile.

My take: 2 looks

It took me a while to read this one because I would get so frustrated with the main character that I had to put it down. Because I am reviewing this advanced reader copy from NetGalley, I felt compelled to pick it back up again and again to finish it.

For a woman who had been planning 1/2 of her life to track down a serial killer, she was remarkably ill-prepared and naïve. When she checks him out of a facility for dementia patients to take him on a cross country trip, they leave with a list of his “conditions”, to which he continues to add. What? Who is in charge here?

Her plan is to visit all of the places where she believes he killed, and see if there is any recognition in his eyes on where her sister may be. It is clear from the beginning that she has not thought this through, and that Carl is much smarter than she even on one of this bad days.

Frustrating, overly detailed, and anti-climatic, I can’t recommend this one when it is released in May 2018.

Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1Q84Summary:
A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

My take: 2 looks
Even though I put this one down, I am giving it 2 looks because I did read to page 223 before deciding to abandon it. Interestingly enough, I asked fellow reader Sarah if she had read it, and she told me that she, too, put it down about 1/2 way through.

To pen a book that wraps it all up in the end is an intriguing method of writing, but it has to be interesting enough until you get to the solution in order to keep the reader. That is where this book failed me.

The characters were all very different, with developing pasts, and their trajectories were clearly going to intersect. However, none of the five primary characters had any hold on me. I was completely uninvested, but wanted so badly to like this one that I plowed through over 200 pages. Perhaps there was something lost in the translation from Japanese to English, and I was quite interested in the fact that one person translated the first two sections, with someone else translating the last section. I wanted to like the book enough to read it all and ruminate over any differences in style from the translators. However, it was not meant to be.

Not recommended.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

I'm Thinking of Ending Things
Summary:
In this deeply suspenseful and irresistibly unnerving debut novel, a man and his girlfriend are on their way to a secluded farm. When the two take an unexpected detour, she is left stranded in a deserted high school, wondering if there is any escape at all. What follows is a twisted unraveling that will haunt you long after the last page is turned.

In this smart, suspenseful, and intense literary thriller, debut novelist Iain Reid explores the depths of the human psyche, questioning consciousness, free will, the value of relationships, fear, and the limitations of solitude. Reminiscent of Jose Saramago’s early work, Michel Faber’s cult classic Under the Skin, and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an edgy, haunting debut. Tense, gripping, and atmospheric, this novel pulls you in from the very first page…and never lets you go.

My take: 2.5 looks

I started this one over three times. It was so easy to put down when I needed more time or was feeling overwhelmed. However, it was also very easy to read, enabling me to start from the beginning each time. At less than 300 pages, I felt as if I had to finish it.

The story was interesting enough. I didn’t get a good feel for any of the characters, and was not overly surprised by the ending. Some of the scenes felt forced, some of the dialogue choppy, and internal monologues were a bit too heavy-handed. However, because of the nature of the “surprise” ending, all of these things may have been as-designed. With a little more writing experience, I expect this kind of thing will naturally fall into place.

It read like a first novel, and upon looking, found that it is Reid’s first novel, but not his first book. Because it was fairly easy to read, and because I am intrigued by the title of one of his previous works (“The Truth About Luck: What I Learned on my Road Trip with Grandma“), I am not yet crossing him off my list of TBRs.

Women against Abortion by Karissa Haugeberg

Summary:

Women from remarkably diverse religious, social, and political backgrounds made up the rank-and-file of anti-abortion activism. Empowered by—yet in many cases scared of—the changes wrought by feminism, they founded grassroots groups, developed now-familiar strategies and tactics, and gave voice to the movement’s moral and political dimensions.

My take: 2.5 looks

Well-written, but a bit on the dry side. There are lots of facts, accounts, and supporting info, but nothing that ever draws a reader in and makes her (or him) a member of the debate. Would have been perfect for a research paper, but to read a compelling account of the trajectory and growth of the movement was missing here. If I were writing this, I would have treated each chapter as a stage in am embryo’s cycle, moving it along and growing it with the anti-abortion movement. Include more word-pictures to make it real to any reader. That was missing, for me.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Summary:

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

My take: 2.5 looks

There was a great deal of hubbub surrounding this novel upon its release. It was on library waiting lists all over, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. After reading it, I highly recommend Crouch’s publicist.

It took me less than 24 hours to read it. That should be seen as a testament more to simple, easy-to-follow writing than an intriguing story.

As a matter of fact, this story, of parallel dimensions, is not a new one at all. From Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life” and Katherine Webb’s “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August”, where lives are replayed over and over; or alternate realities like Stephen King’s “11/22/63”; or even films like “Sliding doors” and “Groundhog Day”… my point? It’s been done before, and it’s been done better.

Jason, our protagonist, at one point becomes so narrowly focused on “love” that it is almost like watching a 16-year-old boy try to get his girl.

“He knew he shouldn’t open the door, but…”

“He new he shouldn’t leave Amanda, but…”

This irritating dependency on feeling rather than thinking, or irrationality versus rationality,… I didn’t buy it coming from a physicist. If the book had been longer, or written at a more complicated reading level than about 6th grade, I would not have wasted my time finishing it. As it was, I knew I could blow right through it and mark it from my TBR.

Not recommended.

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Summary:

Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab.

Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.

My take: 2 looks

Egad. This book read like a season of Dallas or Dynasty, two prime time television soap operas in the 1980s. The story follows four siblings straight out of a caricature: Melody is an overachieving helicopter mom, Bea is a talented writer with no self esteem, Jack is quintessentially gay, and Leo is a larcenous cad. Cue the close-ups of each face as they discover that Leo’s latest antics have siphoned their inheritance, and let the games begin.

Not compelling in any way, the story is a tired one, full of shock, lies, betrayal, and slight-of-hand. Of course, it is tied up neatly in the epilogue so that everyone lives happily ever after. That gives me some hope: there will be no sequel.

Not recommended.

Eveningland by Michael Knight

Image result for eveningland michael knightSummary:

Grappling with dramas both epic and personal, from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the “unspeakable misgivings of contentment,” Eveningland captures with crystalline poeticism and perfect authenticity of place the ways in which ordinary life astounds us with its complexity. A teenaged girl with a taste for violence holds a burglar hostage in her house on New Year’s Eve; a middle aged couple examines the intricacies of their marriage as they prepare to throw a party; and a real estate mogul in the throes of grief buys up all the property on an island only to be accused of madness by his daughters. These stories, told with economy and precision, infused with humor and pathos, excavate brilliantly the latent desires and motivations that drive life forward.

Eveningland is a luminous collection from “a writer of the first rank.”

My take: 2 looks

I really, really wanted to like this book. An entire book of short stories from my home state was so compelling that I downloaded it immediately. The first story was engaging and I was enjoying it … until the end. Then the second, third, fourth … I began to see a pattern. The stories proved to be compelling and drew me in, but the endings of almost all of the stories in this collection were so abrupt as to be disappointing. There was so much more to be investigated, more story to be told, additional nuances to be explored. To be left flat at the end of each story left me feeling that the author had reached his word quota and had to end the story suddenly.

This one is not recommended. However, if you are looking for an excellent book of short stories, I recommend “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu.

Many thanks to NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.