The Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall

The Book of Polly 

Summary:
Willow is desperately hungry for clues to the family life that preceded her, and especially Polly’s life pre-Willow. Why did she leave her hometown of Bethel, Louisiana, fifty years ago and vow never to return? Who is Garland Jones, her long-ago suitor who possibly killed a man? And will Polly be able to outrun the Bear, the illness that finally puts her on a collision course with her past?

My take: 3 looks

This was a good summer book. Light, funny, and not a lot of reading effort required.  With seven books to her credit, several of which are on my TBR, Hepinstall is a solid member of the fiction world.

To write about a young girl (Willow) so preoccupied with the death of her aging mother (Polly) was a little bit of a stretch for me. After all, I was a young girl once, and I know that an obsession about death is pretty far from the typical preteen’s mind.

On the other hand, I like the treatment she gave to Willow’s older brother and sister. They were introduced on the periphery and the reader gets to know them both as they weave in and out of Polly and Willow’s every day lives. It was the perfect way to see quirks, likes, imperfections, and finally, the love they both have for the matriarch of the family. Digging a bit into the personal lives of each, but only as deep as you would as an outsider looking in, there really was a nice balance to their characters.

Add a variety of colorful neighbors, a brother’s childhood friend who returns to their lives, and a dog who can smell cancer in people, and you have a pretty good ride. It’s not high literary fare, but it will hit the spot.

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.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Summary:

Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer is trying to find a cure for her mother’s loneliness. Believing she might discover it in an old book her mother is lovingly translating, she sets out in search of its author. Across New York an old man called Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer. He spends his days dreaming of the lost love who, sixty years ago in Poland, inspired him to write a book. And although he doesn’t know it yet, that book also survived: crossing oceans and generations, and changing lives…

My take: 3 looks

Okay, this is weird.

My sorority sister Laura just texted me about a week ago and recommended a movie: The Words. It has Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons, and Dennis Quaid, among others. I watched it last night. The night before finishing this book by the pool.

The storylines turned out to be the same. The same.

How weird and serendipitous is that? Almost scary, in a cosmic way.

If I tell you any more, I will give away spoilers. However, I will say that there is a young girl trying to find the story of a woman and the author who loved her. Was she the reason for this book, which goes on to win accolades? Is there a father/son relationship that can be healed? Will her mother find happiness with anyone after the death of her father?

I admit that I didn’t give this book its fair recompense. Subjugated as a “pool book”, I put it aside only when I was by the pool. With that, it has taken me far longer to read it than others. Because of that, I had to occasionally go back and familiarize myself with situations and characters. However, I never lost sight of the overall story. With that said, I was not as deeply entrenched in the text as I could have been.

I recommend this one, along with the recommendation that you then watch “The Words”, and let me know how intrigued you are at the similarities in the premises.

Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Summary:

Two sensational unsolved crimes—one in the past, another in the present—are linked by one man’s memory and self-deception in this chilling novel of literary suspense from National Book Award finalist Dan Chaon.

My take: 3 looks

Dan Chaon’s “Await Your Reply” sits with me still. It is one of those books that I will think of every now and again for years and years to come. Because of that, I leapt at the opportunity to get an ARC of his latest from LibraryThing.

The writing style is marvelous, as we have come to expect from Chaon. Going back and forth in time, using columns on the page to present various perspectives in the same timeline and various timelines from the same person, and presenting different points of view … all of this added to the intrigue, breakdown of collected evidence, and confusion of our various characters. The book is full of unreliable narrators, wild goose chases, and misread assumptions. Like a mystery at its best, page after page of reading brings little solid fact.

It is so beautifully written that the ending was all the more disappointing to me. There was no explanation, no resolution, no reconciliation, no redemption. While I am sure that was part of the point, perhaps to be more like reality than a novel, I expected a more nuanced ending from an author of Chaon’s caliber. There were so many avenues left unexplored that I feel there could be a series here, although I don’t think that is the author’s intention. In all, I was left disappointed.

Not recommended.

Thanks to LibraryThing and Random House for an advance reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Image result for nutshell ianSummary:

Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She’s still in the marital home a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse but John’s not here. Instead, she’s with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan. But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month old resident of Trudy’s womb. 

My take: 3 looks

Brilliant premise: the story is narrated by an unborn child. He can hear what goes on around him, as well as feeling his mother’s feelings, and noting her heart rhythm and adrenaline surges. He is also very aware of her alcohol consumption and none-too-happy with the high activity level of her sex life.

Writing: I found the wiring to be a touch verbose, overly descriptive. However, at less than 200 pages, the editor of this one was probably hesitant to cut too much.

Overall: It was a fast and easy read, albeit unexceptional. I recommend it if you need a quick “palate cleanser” to assist in getting over a book hangover. Otherwise, look past this one.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

Summary:

Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art.

Their children called it mischief.

Performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang dedicated themselves to making great art. But when an artist’s work lies in subverting normality, it can be difficult to raise well-adjusted children. Just ask Buster and Annie Fang. For as long as they can remember, they starred (unwillingly) in their parents’ madcap pieces. But now that they are grown up, the chaos of their childhood has made it difficult to cope with life outside the fishbowl of their parents’ strange world.

When the lives they’ve built come crashing down, brother and sister have nowhere to go but home, where they discover that Caleb and Camille are planning one last performance -– their magnum opus -– whether the kids agree to participate or not. Soon, ambition breeds conflict, bringing the Fangs to face the difficult decision about what’s ultimately more important: their family or their art.  

My take: 3 looks

I am not sure at all how I feel about this book. Well, I should be clear and say the “story” … the “subject matter” … the “outcome”. The book was well-written. It has to be well-written to elicit this much emotion from the reader.

Caleb and Camille Fang are completely committed to their art, so much so that when they have two children, they are called “A” and “B”, for Annie and Buster. Unfortunately for the two children, the art in this case is performance art.

Now, I didn’t know much about performance art other than the examples of an artist eating his own feces, and an artist being crucified to the back of a Volkswagen. In the book, the art is best when it is forced on an unsuspecting public, making them a part of the piece, enhancing it with their reactions.

When Annie moves away to begin her own career, and then Buster does the same, the Fangs must make due with an abbreviated team, and it’s just not the same.

The main slant of this book is the relationships between family members, expectations of parents for their children, and the long term effects of making children a part of an adult world. In the end, I was hurt and hopeful, sad and angry.

It’s a short book, opened my eyes to the intricacies of performance art and its purpose, spurred me to research a few real-life artists, and made me think of the story long after I read the last page. Recommended.

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

Summary:

Once a celebrated writer, M’s greatest success came with a suspense novel based on a real-life disappearance. The book was called The Reckoning, and it told the story of Jan Landzaat, a history teacher who went missing one winter after his brief affair with Laura, his stunning pupil. Jan was last seen at the holiday cottage where Laura was staying with her new boyfriend. Upon publication, M.’s novel was a bestseller, one that marked his international breakthrough.

That was years ago, and now M.’s career is almost over as he fades increasingly into obscurity. But not when it comes to his bizarre, seemingly timid neighbor who keeps a close eye on him. Why?

From various perspectives, Herman Koch tells the dark tale of a writer in decline, a teenage couple in love, a missing teacher, and a single book that entwines all of their fates. Thanks to The Reckoning, supposedly a work of fiction, everyone seems to be linked forever, until something unexpected spins the “story” off its rails.

My take: 3 looks

Beautifully written, with finely crafted sentences that almost made me want to highlight the hardcover, first American edition. Not quite as mesmerizing as I found “The Dinner”, “Dear Mr. M” is told in several sweeping sections, each giving voice to a different character. The fibers of the tapestry weave together pretty quickly, but we are left with the question of who did what to whom until the very last few pages.

A number of twists and turns, red herrings, and overly long sections made parts feel as if Koch was rambling, especially Laura’s section, but this is no reason to overlook the book as a whole. I was overall satisfied with the ending, albeit after a bit of suspending belief. That’s why I gave this one 3 looks instead of 4. However, it is recommended.

Many thanks to BloggingForBooks for a copy of this in exchange for my honest review.