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.

 

Days by Moonlight – Andre Alexis

daysbymoonlightA most unusual book!

Two men, one younger and grieving, one older and passionate, are taking a road trip through small Canadian towns in search of information about the elusive poet, John Skennen.

But this sojourn is really through the Underworld, a tangential re-telling of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth . . . perhaps.

Along the way the men visit a town re-creating “Pioneer Days” with callous consequences, a town populated by the descendants of escaped slaves where everyone communicates in sign language, and a town where the religiously devout explore a magical field to talk to god. And there’s also a visit to the Canadian Sex Museum, with uncomfortable results for Alfie. The story gets stranger but more insightful as the men go on their journey. Throughout the trip the two men learn about how they feel about love, poetry, and their life’s purpose.

I liked it, and it gave me food for thought. I was sometimes bewildered but often charmed by the experiences of Alfie and Dr. Bruno. I don’t believe this is a book for a wide audience, but will hit the mark for readers that like a dose of philosophy and introspection with their reading.

Days by Moonlight explores racial inequalities, grief and mourning, and the agony of unrequited love with folktales, mythology, and magical realism. It’s a blend of harsh reality and stunning imagination and there are many surprises and observations that keep you turning the pages.

Many thanks to LibraryThing and Coach House Books for the advance copy.

 

The Binding – Bridget Collins

thebindingIn an alternative reality, there’s a way to get rid of bad memories . . . A binder can take anything you wish to forget out of your mind and bind it in a book, where it’s kept forever.

What a cool concept! I was ready to dive right in! And I was fully immersed ─ until the story ended up not being about binding at all. The idea of binding plays a role in the background, but the main plot is actually a romance.

This book is arranged into three parts:  Emmett Farmer’s apprenticeship to a binder, his backstory with his sister, Alta, and their mutual friend Lucian Darney, and finally the denouement with Lucian’s complicated involvement in the lives of both Alta and Emmett. Parts of the story drag on with little development, and the achronological presentation is somewhat perplexing at times.

At first I was a little miffed and felt misled, but everything comes together and the binding is relevant eventually. Even though I went in expecting a different story, The Binding was still quite entertaining and original, and I enjoyed it.

Many thanks to Goodreads and to William Morrow for the advance copy.

The Frolic of the Beasts – Yukio Mishima

mishimaThis book is described as a love triangle between a student, his mentor, and the mentor’s wife, but that’s not completely accurate. The writing is very Mishima (not that I’m any kind of expert), in that the descriptions are beautiful, the surroundings serene and delicate. And like many Japanese stories I’ve read, the violence erupts unexpectedly amid mundane dialogue. The behavior of the characters is confusing and often unpredictable, which made me re-read paragraphs to confirm what I understood to be happening. The writing evokes scenes of peacefulness and aching desperation, and the ending makes the entire book worthwhile.

Recommended for fans of Mishima or Murakami, or those who are looking to explore Japanese literature.

Many thanks to Knopf Doubleday and Netgalley for the copy in exchange for my review.

 

The Water Cure – Sophie Mackintosh

watercurejpgAlone on an island with their parents, three girls live a life of poverty and abuse. They are taught that men are toxic, and their family must help the sick women who come to the island recover from the violence inflicted on them by men. The girls are psychologically tortured, given “love tests” to prove how much they care for one another.

Early in the book their father dies, and soon after two men and a boy arrive on the island, claiming they were lost at sea. Things escalate when the girls are left alone with the men.

This story was unusual and disturbing. It reads like an allegory or a Greek myth, with a dystopian feel. There is an ethereal quality with undercurrents of constant violence. I would not recommend it for the sensitive reader, but I found the story riveting. The Water Cure is gritty and original, and not something I’m soon to forget.

Many thanks to Read it Forward for the advance copy.