Sometimes I Lie

IMG_7544Sometimes I Lie

by Alice Feeney

Unable to speak or move, but aware, Amber Reynolds lies in a coma after an accident. She unravels the mystery of what brought her to the hospital through three timelines: her current state, the events immediately leading up to the incident, and a twenty-five year old diary. Complicating the narrative is a message from Amber before the story begins: My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me: 1. I’m in a coma, 2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore, 3. Sometimes I lie.

Sometimes I Lie was an enjoyable read, nothing too deep, but I was drawn into the mystery. Even though I was looking for the “trick” in the book, I was still surprised when it was revealed, though I think I probably should have been able to figure it out! I don’t want to say much more about the plot to avoid spoilers. Some of the author’s turns of phrase, such as “It took a lot of love to hate her the way I do,” I thought were well written and enhanced the book for me and elevated it above a simple mystery.

What I didn’t like was that even after finishing the book, I couldn’t get a handle on the extent of the narrator’s misdirection. Often with an unreliable narrator, I find that at the end of the story I have a sense of what is “real” and “fabricated” but here, I was as mistrusting at the end as I was at the beginning, and I wondered if I could count on anything being real in the context of the narrative. Because of that, it felt a little unsatisfying to me, like being unsteady on my feet after riding a roller coaster.

Even so, I do think that fans of Paula Hawkins, Ruth Ware, and Peter Swanson will enjoy this psychological thriller.

Publisher’s Site

Author’s Site

Still Lives

Still Lives by Maria HummelStill Lives, an exhibition at Los Angeles’ Rocque Museum by feminist artist Kim Lord was to open in concert with the museum’s largest fundraiser of the year, the annual Gala. The eleven paintings in the exhibition portrayed female murder victims, including Nicole Brown Simpson and Kitty Genovese, graphically depicting the aftermath of their murders and were based on Lord’s trademark process–she photographed herself as the subject, and then painted the photographs. When done, she ritualistically destroyed a flash drive with the only copies of the photographs.

Much hinged on the Gala and exhibition. The Rocque Museum had been financially mismanaged for years and struggled to stay afloat. Lord hadn’t had an exhibition in ten years, and her last, thought commercially successful, was critically panned. Los Angeles’ elite were on hand, eager to see the artist. Yet, Lord did not show up. Maggie, a writer and editor at the museum, originally planned to skip the Gala. After all, Lord was dating her ex-boyfriend, Greg, and her feelings were still raw. Yet her roots as a journalist compelled her to ask questions, and her history with violence drew her to the mystery of Lord’s disappearance.

My absolute favorite part of Still Lives was the museum setting and the insight into the responsibilities of various departments for creating a successful exhibition. Although Maggie visits the galleries off the exhibition, most of the action takes place in the offices that the public never sees, and so offers a window into its inner workings. The vagaries of the art market also play into the plot. Furthermore, I enjoyed the range of female friendships depicted in the novel. When so many books have isolated and aloof characters or characters whose friendships strain under jealousy, it’s refreshing to have instead positive, strong relationships that, while not always smooth, survive due to mutual respect and trust.

Of course, the novel questions the fetishization of women murder victims’ bodies which is a timely and interesting theme. Most cable packages have at least two true-crime networks, and shows like Dateline and 48 Hours remain popular. Lord said her exhibition was “a tribute to the victims and as an indictment of America’s obsession with sensationalized female murders” and Still Lives itself can be viewed in the same way. But in providing a homage (and creating another victim, the missing Lord), does the book fall into the same trap of exploiting female victims? The book asks what value can be had in viewing the famously murdered faces and how best to honor them.

Enjoyable to read, Still Lives also challenges with its questions relating to women-as-subjects, women-as-victims, and even women-as-perpetrators. I recommend adding it to your “to read” list.

Author’s Site

Publisher’s Site

Behind Her Eyes

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Behind Her Eyes

by Sarah Pinborough

Londoner and single-mom Louise is caught in a routine. She hasn’t had a relationship since her divorce and her only real reprieve from loneliness is her six-year-old son, Adam. But one night, she meets a mysterious man at a bar. He tells her, “No names, okay? No jobs. No dull life talk. Let’s talk about real things.” They end up kissing but he pulls away, saying he can’t go through with it. The next day, she learns that the man from the bar is her new boss, Dr. David Martin, who just moved to the city with his glamorous and impeccable wife Adele. Not too long after that, Louise literally runs into Adele and they begin a friendship. At the same time, she starts sleeping with David. Louise is torn; she knows her actions are treacherous but she is attached to both Adele and David and can’t give either up. Still, she realizes that their marriage harbors dangerous secrets. Adele shows signs of being abused. Once she had a black eye. Additionally, she faithfully answers David’s regular twice-a-day phone calls and consents to his control of the family finances. As she becomes more embroiled in relationships with them, her loyalties are tested and she becomes drawn into a vortex of manipulation and jeopardy.

Behind Her Eyes can only be described as ridiculous. Up to a point, the plot is predicable. Chapters alternate between Louise and Adele as narrators and their voices are not sufficiently distinct. As a character, Louise was naive, foolish, and stupid, and it was hard to sympathize with her as she made increasingly poor decisions endangering her son in the process. I also found that the writing was simplistic.

However, I could not put this book down! As silly as the plot was, I wanted to know what happened. And the story brought up interesting ideas about secrecy and the weight one should give to past events. Readers who want a serious, thoughtful book, should look elsewhere. However, this is the perfect airplane or beach book because it is compelling but takes little intellectual engagement.

New Clone City

IMG_7532New Clone City

by Mike Hembry

New Clone City is a futuristic metropolis full of diverse characters and disincentive neighborhoods. Almost everyone has wetware and navigates through projections and virtual advertising, trying their best to avoid having psychotic episodes from the stimuli. With New Clone City lies Fuji City, housing the many refugees streaming into the city from war-torn areas.

Within this environment, we meet Jimmy, who is fond of alcohol and drugs but not so much of working, though is loved by his common-law wife, Julia, regardless. Hostile and aloof Claire works at a vegan health food store fronting as an eco-revolutionary collective. Among the transsexual and queer sex workers who frequent Charlie’s Garden, dominatrix Jeannie provides leadership to a well-organized community. And Al, agent of the state police, hates them all. The characters travel their own trajectories, at times intersecting, but ultimately following their own arcs against the treat of climate change, a burgeoning refugee crisis, and Al’s determination to destroy the diversity that gives New Clone City its flavor.

Mike Hembury presents a vivid depiction of the urban environment filled with unusual street names and unique stores, restaurants, and churches. It’s easy to believe, reading the book, that New Clone City is real, not the product of imagination. The themes of climate change, refugees, and state-sponsored terrorism are timely and important but here are not presented in preachy, dogmatic ways. And the primary characters were all diverse, not a straight, white male among them. Although it took me some time to get into the book and acclimate to the unique style and tone, I became very invested in the characters, particularly Jeannie.

Some aspects of the book that I didn’t like included a somewhat choppy way of writing, where most of the sentences are subject+verb without much variety. I also thought that some of the characters were inconsistent. For example, Claire, who when we first meet her is wearing a shirt condemning driving throws out an orange juice carton instead of recycling it. And at times, the dialogue is stilted and unnatural.

Towards the begging of the book, the “U,” New Clone City’s transportation system, offers myriad examples of technology and how the real, or “meatworld,” interface, including Claire’s virtual panthers who are visible to others jacked in. However, this integration disappears as the book progresses, and only Claire and her boyfriend Illya seem to connect to the virtual world. While this could be a function of different characters of different classes and their varying access to technology, it seems strange that in large crowd scenes, such as a riot precipitated by police during a peaceful demonstration, that no one has projections or is jacked in.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the book is that there is less resolution than I like when reading a novel. While the characters have come to a natural pause in their storylines, there was enough open-endedness that I felt unsettled. Hembury has said that he’s developing a sequel, so hopefully, the plot lines will be developed in the next novel in the series. I will definitely be reading it!

Thank you to NetGally and the Wild World for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Career of Evil

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Career of Evil

Cormoran Strike #3

Robert Galbraith

When Robin Ellacott receives a package addressed to her at Cormoran Strike’s detective agency, she expects to find party favors she ordered for her upcoming wedding. Instead, she can’t help but scream when she opens it only to find an amputated leg, cut just beneath the knee where Strike himself had his leg amputated after being caught in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. A person non grata among police since he solved two high profile cases that stumped the Met, Strike reaches out to the only detective who will still takes his calls, Eric Wardle. Although Strike respects Wardle, he focuses on an obvious suspect, an organized crime figure, instead of the three men that Strike believes capable of such an act of depravity, three men who have committed atrocities in the past and who have grudges against Strike. Strike and Robin begin their own investigation, skirting danger as they get closer to the three suspects, and as the true killer unspools his plans for revenge.

Career of Evil is skillfully written and well-paced with a fully developed environs populated by exacting detail. Although at times these details are unpalatable, they are evocative of people and place. For example, one character is described as such: “She was leaning on a stick, one of her ankles swollen and bandaged, the foot encased in a sandal that displayed yellowing toenails.” While I found the description repulsive, I was also caught up in the vivid detail it provided. So complete was the world J.K. Rowling-as-Galbraith created, I was at times stunned when I quit reading and found myself in a different universe.

This entry in the Cormoran Strike series delves deeper into Robin and Strike’s relationship, and I have mixed feelings. I don’t really like the will they-won’t they dynamic and wish that they could have a non-romantic, professionally-based friendship. Yet, I detest Robin’s finance Matthew and certainly would like to see Robin jettison him. Although Charlotte, Strike’s ex-fiancee, still weighs on Strike’s mind, she doesn’t appear in the book, a fact for which I was grateful because I thought her presence was unnecessary and irritating in the previous entries.

In both The Silkworm, the previous book in the series, and Career of Evil, Rowling/Galbraith writes characters who are so misogynistic and full of hatred towards women, it can be difficult to read, such as “At heart, of course, all women were cheating cunts, determined to take more than they gave.” The loathing is so vitriolic and the resulting violence so abhorrent, at times I wonder if it is too extreme, and of course, it’s hard to get my head around the fact that the obloquy comes from the imagination of a woman, although in this book, Robin does provide a counterpoint by expressing rage at men who objectify and demean women.

Despite that quibble, this has been my favorite Cormoran Strike book thus far, and there were times I was genuinely surprised. Certainly, those who have read and enjoyed the previous volumes will want to read Career of Evil and it should please most mystery fans as well.

A painting that figures in the book…

in-thoughts-of-you-notecardIn Thoughts of You

Jack Vettriano