review, U.S.

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

river-at-nightSo I picked out this book because I’m extremely fond of a little movie called The Edge, which is a thriller-in-the-wilderness movie that seriously has a bear attack or something incredibly exciting every 8 minutes. It’s not a movie I rewatch and rewatch, but it sticks in my head as a very memorable ride, and the description of The River at Night sounded like the sort of adventure movie I loved. It’s a story about a group of four female friends in their late thirties who embark on a whitewater rafting trip in northern Maine (nice way to work on my USA Fiction challenge reading).  I immediately thought Deliverance, I immediately thought something bad happens in the wilderness (the narrator I assumed was a survivor, since she narrates the story in the past tense), and after a brief but not too brief introduction, the paddling begins.

The River at Night is a brisk little book that is definitely an adventure story that doesn’t spend forever on characterizations. The characters aren’t flat but not perfectly round either. I could have used a little more rounding of the villain, but I say that about lots of books. The writing is quite lovely despite how menacing the plot becomes. I just wish that the people living in the hinterlands weren’t so menacing minus one character.

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Gallery/Scout Press, January 2017

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

Miscellaneous

What I’m Reading This Week

2016 is the year I became a reader who reads lots of books at the same time and tends to forget to post about them on the blog. This post is my attempt to check in a bit more frequently about what’s going on with my reading.

First, I finished Münster’s Case, also published as The Unlucky Lottery and Münster’s Fall, by Håkan Nesser, translated by Laurie Thompson. While I really, really liked the first three books in the series, this particular entry left me a little cold. It might be because I felt like I figured out the crime way ahead of the characters, but I think it was also because Münster wasn’t as compelling a lead character as Van Veeteren. VV spends the book working at an antiquarian bookshop while officially on leave from the police force, while he does consult with Münster for a bit.

Next, I read Masters of Sex by Thomas Maier, which is the basis for the Showtime series. I’ve only seen season 1, which focuses on the start of Masters and Johnson’s research, and that section of the book was the most vivid for me. The issue I had with the biography is that once Masters and Johnson become famous, their work and their relationship seem to fall apart, and ultimately Maier doesn’t have too many theories about why Masters in particular was such a difficult-to-know person. It’s hard to stay interested in a guy that enigmatic, I think.

Finally, I just started the 10th entry in Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, The Slippery Slope, both because I’ve been reading them with my oldest daughter for the last year and because the Netflix series dropped today. They are exciting read-alouds, and, as my daughter likes to tell me, they are chock full of conflict. I think we have similar reading tastes.

Happy reading!

 

Favorites

My Favorite Reads of 2016

My favorite reads of 2016 are not all crime fiction. I got a little bored with some of my favorite crime authors so spent quite a bit of time reading widely, and I found some good stuff.

  1. Until They Wrath Be Past by Asa Larsson was my favorite crime novel, by far. I like the smart heroines, I like the set-up of young divers drowned in a frozen lake, and I like the tone of these books. I read somewhere that Larsson expects this to be a 7 book series, and I eagerly await the final 2 books.
  2. Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny was a book I admired a great deal structurally: the story of Gamache’s crisis that led him to retreat to Montreal one bitterly cold winter was well-done. And it was nice to see the imperfections of that character.
  3. In Twenty Years by Allison Winn Scotch was a very good story about friends from college reuniting for the 20th class reunion. I liked it not only because I was the target audience, but I think Scotch did a great job making the entire cast of characters believable, which is quite a trick in a novel that alternates points-of-view.
  4. How to Be a Person in the World by Heather Havrilesky is the book I will keep giving as a gift. It’s a collection of existential advice columns that are so great I keep rereading them.
  5. H is for Hawk by Helen Fielding. This was a great memoir about grief and goshawks, and I highly recommend the audio read by the author. It was the most beautifully written book I read/listened to this year.
review, Spain, Translated

This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets

thistooshallpassThis Too Shall Pass is a slim novel about a forty-something woman going through grief after her mother’s death. I picked it out because I’m always looking for new-to-me translated authors, and it sounded a little like a Ferrante novel. Unfortunately this book suffers in comparison. The main character’s meltdown isn’t nearly as harrowing as the main character’s in Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment, and the easygoing style of a long trip to the beach just didn’t have the same sort of pacing and urgency as the Ferrante. I know I should judge the book on its own merits, but it seems obvious to me that the book was picked for publication to take advantage of the craze over Ferrante, so I’m going to go with it.

This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets, translated by Valerie Miles

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Blogging for Books.

Norway, review, Translated

Beyond the Truth by Anne Holt

beyond-the-truthI like to read series I’ve invested in from the start, and thankfully, this entry in the Hanne Willhelmsen series lives up to the ones I really liked in the series. It’s a story revolving around the murder of 3 members of a wealthy shipping family and a seemingly unconnected freelance writer, all around Christmas time.  I prefer the smaller plots in this book and Death of the Demon than the big political plot in The Lion’s Mouth. I also like Hanne in crisis, and the metaphor about the ragged dog at the beginning of the end being Hanne, on the brink of burnout and worse, is not heavy handed.

What else? Annemari Skar finally gets something juicy to do as the police prosecutor. The characters are actually fleshed out, something I find missing in some other books I’m reading lately. And, I almost forgot, we find out about Hanne’s family– the one she grew up in as well as her new family with her new partner Nefis. The plot isn’t as thriller-y as some of the other installments in this series and the Vik and Stubo series, but it’s a solid procedural with an interesting cast of characters. I think this book works best for readers who’ve read other books in the series, not because of plot reasons but because I’m not sure how compelling the characters are without knowing their paths over the last several books.

Beyond the Truth by Anne Holt, translated by Anne Bruce

Scribner, December 2016

Originally published as Sannheten bortenfor, 2003

Hanne Wilhelmsen book 7

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher

review, U.S.

Soulmates by Jessica Grose

soulmates-jessica-groseI was interested in this book because I spotted the word thriller in the jacket copy and I was familiar with the author’s journalism in all sorts of places. I was even more interested when I found out the story is about a young lawyer investigating her estranged husband’s death outside a new age retreat in northern New Mexico: I figured the setup was sinister despite the sort of satirical spin the book starts with (the main character finds out her husband is dead in a headline beginning “Namaslay.” Ultimately, the shift in the book at the halfway mark made it very obvious this really wasn’t the kind of investigation I was looking for, and I ultimately wound up not a fan of the book since I was expecting more of a plot-driven ride instead of a book that, all in all, feels like an expose of a utopian yoga commune.

Here is what the book does well: it captures the emotional state of a woman left by her husband as he went off to lead his spiritually actualized life under the thumb of a guru named Yoni Brooks. The psychological portrait of the woman left behind trying to make sense of her life is the most vivid part of the story. When Dana,  our main character, goes to New Mexico to retrace her husband’s last days, it’s obvious that plot is not the strong  suit of the book. Dana stumbles across her ex-husband’s self-help pamphlet that describes the demise of his marriage, and instead of the book focusing on the investigating and the hunt for answers, it feels like the information magically appears in Dana’s lap. There aren’t really many tense interviews in the book. There aren’t a lot of showdowns in the book. Instead there are people who end up unburdening themselves, and there are some things about Dana making progress in letting go of her anger, but the drive as to finding out the mystery isn’t there. It’s an unexpected shift, and the ending is a bit creepy, but ultimately I’m dissatisfied because I feel duped by the jacket copy and the opening chapter.

I’ve noticed quite a lot of skewering of new-age gurus in what I’ve been reading lately. Unlike the Margaret Millar and Emma Straub books this reminds me of, this book, in contrast, gets into the psychology of why someone would get into the group, and it’s the uncomfortable most of all.

Soulmates by Jessica Grose

HarperCollins, September 2016

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

review

Searching for John Hughes by Jason Diamond

searching-john-hughesThis book didn’t live up to my expectations. I expected the search for John Hughes to be more about Hughes than about the author. I thought it would be more reportage than a memoir, and a pretty harrowing memoir at that. And ultimately I felt disappointed from this turning into a book I wasn’t expecting, and I felt a bit like a gawker at a memoir about a horrible childhood.

Look, I enjoy some meta stories or films, but writing about being stuck is difficult for me to read. Diamond spends so much time establishing why he liked Hughes movies (escapism set in the same neck of the Chicago suburbs as he lived in) and so much time being depressed and trying to write that the arc felt off. There is redemption: he gets mental health treatment, he finds love, he finishes some sort of book, but the actual resolution felt rushed. He never actually meets John Hughes, there is no actual thinkpiece about Hughes buried in this memoir. There are some false starts to a thinkpiece about John Hughes, but not much. It felt short, like the conceit was not that revelatory.

It suffered from the same problem I found in  Middlesex: Diamond, like Eugenides, skipped over the hard parts of grappling with his issues via therapy and medication. How that works, even if idealized or shortened in a novel, would be great.

Searching for John Hughes by Jason Diamond

William Morrow, November 2016

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.