Recent Reads #2

A Fine Imitation by Amber Brock

I received this ARC from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers. It was published in 2016 by Crown.

I love a lot of things about the 1920s, and it’s hard for me to turn down a book set in the period. So I had high hopes, especially reading the blurb about the main character going to Vassar, being involved with art forgery, and being on “the brink of catastrophe and social exile”. Unfortunately, I felt the book failed to deliver. Though the events of Vera’s past could have been disastrous to someone really in the 1920s, it lacks any real sense of shock for the modern reader, and there’s really no sense of urgency due to the split timeline of the book- we know roughly how things will turn out for Vera, as we see her ten years in the future every other chapter. Vera herself is not an especially dynamic character to follow- she’s lonely and bored, dreads seeing her mother, and accepts whatever her mother says as fact. I can certainly understand the character having trouble discerning her own opinion from her mother’s domineering, but it comes across as flat on the page. The question surrounding the tempting artist Hallan is also disappointing when it’s finally laid out; it feels too harsh compared to the rest of the novel, despite the historical events that we know have transpired.

I may have enjoyed this novel more if I’d known going in that it was essentially a romance, with the 1920s setting and other subplots just there for filling. As it was, I was expecting something very different than what was delivered, and I can’t say it really thrilled me.

Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia

I received this ARC from the publisher via work. It will be published in January 2017 by Atria/Emily Bestler Books.

A high school senior girl with dreams of becoming an actress in New York is brutally murdered in her small hometown, and the town’s sheriff must put the pieces of her surprising inner self to figure out who her killer is. Just writing that sentence makes me twitch- how many cliches can be stuffed into one story? But despite guessing all of the surprises and twists a mile away, it’s still a good read, and a relatively quick one. The narrative is not linear, and jumps between three different perspectives: Hattie, the murdered girl, obviously in the past; Peter, her high school English and drama teacher, mostly in the past; Del, the town sheriff, in the present, investigating the murder. Del proves to be an interesting character to follow around- he has his ghosts and we never quite learn the truth of them, which is refreshing- it’s nice to see someone a bit haunted without getting every last gritty detail. Hattie is a very realistically written teenager, bored by her dumb jock boyfriend and often frustrated by her best friend’s theatrics, eager to escape from a small town life and see the world. Peter is the east interesting POV character for me, though his inner conflict felt realistic and his situation just sucked. I genuinely felt bad for him, stuck by a series of circumstances outside his control in a life and place he hated.

It’s not a revolutionary piece of literature nor a mystery requiring a Holmesian intellect to decipher, but it is an entertaining, fast paced read that I think will be popular, especially with the Gone Girl and Girl On a Train set, and I’d recommend it to anyone whose brain needs a break from with reality with something engaging and quick.

Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara

I purchased this book (I think from BookOutlet); it was published in 2012 by Penguin.

I grabbed this book from my TBR shelf at random after finishing A Fine Imitation and ended up putting it aside to read something else between them; it was too similar for a back to back read. Cascade is set in a small, fictional Massachusetts town in the Great Depression and follows the story of one Desdemona Hart, a woman who married her husband in order to take care of her dying father. Now that her father is gone, she’s struggling- to be happy with a man she doesn’t love and who doesn’t understand her and her passion for painting, to figure out how to save her father’s closed theater in the midst of the Great Depression as the threat of destruction returns to their little town- the state needs a resevoir, and it looks like the little town of Cascade will be the one destroyed in order to create it. Like Brock’s work, I find myself unable to connect with the adulterous protagonist. The style of prose is almost distant; not quite aloof but not in the moment, either. Time passes, Dez makes mistakes and choices, and by the end she’s still in love with a man who is not her husband. The entire resolution is disappointing and unsatisfying- the author, through Dez, notes that a long held mystery is always a let-down in the mere revealing of it, but the secret in Portia’s casket- a prop from the theater and a box the dying father gives to his only child, to open when the theater is reopened- leaves a hollow feeling in my stomach.

The piece also falls flat for me because despite being set primarily during the Great Depression, the period never really seems to touch the protagonist’s life too deeply; the story could be set in almost any other time period, I think, and not be better or worse for it. I think that in a period piece, the period needs to be important, it needs to be a vital character in the narration, or else why bother? Maybe it would feel more present if I were as familiar with the 30s as some other periods- but then, the average reader is not going to be an expert on any given period, and shouldn’t need to be, for a work to speak to them. If I could assign this book a particular moment, it would be something to read on a bleakly grey day, where there’s rain promised but it never comes, where a restless mind just needs something to tug it along. A decent read, but nothing that will stay with me.

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