Petra’s Ghost – C. S. O’ Cinneide

petraThrilling, eerie story that kept my eyes on the pages!

The premise grabbed me right away. Daniel is walking the Camino de Santiago, an ancient, well-traveled 500-mile trail through northern Spain, with his wife’s ashes in his backpack. He’s harboring not only grief at his wife’s passing, but also guilt and remorse over the manner of her death. Along the Camino he meets Ginny, another pilgrim on the Camino with her own reasons for walking. And they’re being followed by a ghost.

To write any more about the story would be a disservice to future readers. There are so many surprises that there are twists within the twists. Petra’s Ghost is a tightly-woven tale with succinct character descriptions and steady pacing. There are no lulls, no extraneous tangents, no distractions from the tension. O’Cinneide also depicts an enticing portrayal of the Camino, one that had me looking up images online and reading her blog entries from her own experience.

If a macabre story with a chilling atmosphere piques your interest, grab this book as soon as you can.

Many thanks to Dundurn Press, Netgalley, and C. S. O’Cinneide for the advance copy. It was a joy to read!

The River – Peter Heller

theriverThis book is often described as being “unputdownable” and “riveting” and is supposed to “make your heart race,” but I didn’t find that to be the case. Many reviewers did have that experience, so I hate to dissuade anyone from reading it.

An intriguing premise: two college buddies canoe a river in northern Canada and are faced with an unexpected, ferocious wildfire, burdened with an injured passenger, and there is possibly a killer stalking them. They have to battle nature and maniacal river folk and try not to starve to death, burn up, or drown, and make it to the village, a few days’ paddling away. Sounds exciting, right?

So, let’s break the mild, inchoate tension and talk about fly fishing for a few paragraphs. And maybe throw in pages of description of the river current, the birds, and irrelevant flashbacks of tragic childhoods. A list of gear, with brand names and specifications, is also helpful in tamping down any possible interest the reader may have developed. This book often reads like an REI catalog. There is some rudimentary buildup when the two men’s relationship begins to disintegrate over how they interpret the possible dangers. Jack gets a little paranoid, Wynn is too naive, but this fizzles out. And once things actually happen, the excitement is smothered with an epilogue.

Though the author obviously knows what he’s talking about vis-a-vis wilderness/river survival (at least, I assume he does, knowing very little of such things myself), it’s repetitive. There are lengthy, lush descriptions of the environment, of paddling techniques, of fly fishing, of berry picking. They camp, fish, take inventory of their supplies ad nauseam, tend to the injured. The story would be thrilling, but the tense moments are interrupted with long periods of the mundane.

Many thanks to Penguin First to Read for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

Sounds Like Titanic – Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

titanicIn the early 2000s, Jessica Hindman was a college student struggling to pay for tuition at Columbia. Her parents, back in Appalachia, had never even heard of Columbia and didn’t understand her passion to attend despite the ridiculous cost. Then, she gets the opportunity of her dreams: she’s hired as a professional violinist as part of the ensemble for The Composer playing for audiences across the country. The music is new-age cheese and not too demanding, and despite her self-professed mediocre skills (I believe she must have more talent than she admits), she perseveres. Of course she can ─ the mics are never turned on. Through countless PBS specials and performances, the Composer plays a pre-recorded professional CD through speakers instead of allowing the live musicians to be heard. The audience has no idea.

Although a cursory Internet search will give names to the thinly-veiled characters, she refers to her boss only as The Composer. He’s presented ambivalently. He sincerely cares about his fans and is sympathetic to their problems, but he’s also a bit manic and possibly skirts the border of fraud with the fake performances.

I loved this memoir. It’s chock full of relatable experiences to anyone who’s ever suffered from self-doubt, misplaced ambition, or imposter syndrome. Jessica’s story is as genuine as it is unusual, and her succinct telling in the second person drew me in. Jessica reassures you that it’s okay to not be okay.

This is the story of a college girl adrift. Jessica captures the struggle between dreams and harsh reality, and the suffering endured by all aspiring 20-somethings of the dichotomy of bursting enthusiasm and zero experience.

The audiobook was well done, read by Elizabeth Wiley, whose drawl was a bit syrupy at times. I kept picturing Julia Sugarbaker from “Designing Women” instead of a young college student. Her narration, however, was engaging, and she voiced the numerous characters with skill.

Many thanks to LibraryThing, HighBridge audio, and W. W. Norton and Company for this audiobook in exchange for my review.