White Tears by Hari Kunzru

I had no idea what to expect when I got into this novel. But after reading it, I can honestly say that it has defied any expectations I might have had. Here is my review:

Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is the heir to one of America’s top fortunes. They really should never have become friends. But they have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to record every sound he can, in an attempt to create something different. Carter is fixated on blues music from the past. When Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it’s a long lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter’s troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation.

This novel tries to be a lot of things. It tries to be a ghost story, a murder mystery, a story about race and exploitation. It ends up just being confusing. The story is told entirely from Seth’s point of view, and he really does make for a great voice; his blandness works to his advantage. Even though the novel isn’t actually divided into two parts, my reading experience has divided it into the first half, where things made sense, and the second half, where things were just a mess. The first half was great. It’s all about how Carter and Seth strike up their unlikely friendship, how Carter has this obsession and the money to carry on with it, how Seth is caught up in it all. There’s a lot of talk about blues and jazz, music that I really don’t listen to, but I’ve come to appreciate by reading this novel. In terms of music appreciation, this novel really does a great job. It’s well researched and nicely documented here. The transition between the first half and the second half is really interesting: the story flits from past to present. I actually quite liked the transition, but I was expecting that the chapters recalling the past would explain to me what was happening in the present … and it didn’t. And then the story becomes a mess. There’s a ghost and there are chapters told from perspectives that may not be Seth’s but I don’t know whose voice is telling the story. I found myself getting more and more confused, and hoping that the next chapter would clarify things. By the end, I finally figured everything out. But the whole experience of the second half was like I was on drugs; everything was happening in a very surreal and uncomfortable way and I couldn’t get a handle on it. Whimsical is one thing, but this… this was a whole new beast. I liked the writing style, I liked the different issues the author was trying to cover, but I wish some of the voices had been a bit clearer. I’m still perplexed about my overall feelings for this novel. Because of the great writing style and the fast pace and the different issues covered in this novel, I’m giving it a 3/5 stars. My rating would have been higher if the author had tightened things up a bit and explained things better near the end. But readers be warned: this is not your typical book and you might either love it or hate it … or feel caught in between like me.

Happy reading ~


The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What drew me to this novel was that it was a historical fiction based on a real murder case. And let me tell you, this is a VERY unique murder case. Especially since the accusation was made by the murder victim! Anyways, let me not ruin all of the details. Here is my review:

Lakin, West Virginia, 1930
After a failed suicide, attorney James P. D. Gardner is placed in an insane asylum, where he is under the care of Dr. James Boozer. Dr. Boozer has just come out of medical school and is eager to try a new talking cure for insanity, instead of using the current treatments. As such, he encourages Gardner to talk about his experiences as the first black attorney to practice law in 19th-century West Virginia, where Gardner’s most memorable case was the one where he helped defend a white man on trial for the murder of his young bride. The interesting part? The prosecution based their testimony on a ghost.

Greenbrier, West Virginia, 1897
Zona Heaster has always known she is beautiful, but her willfulness and arrogance have caused many a heartache. Despite her mother’s warnings, Zona marries Erasmus Trout Shue, a handsome blacksmith new to the area. However, as soon as they married, Zona was whisked away and no one was able to come and see her at her new home. After weeks of silence, riders come to the Heasters’ place to tell them that their daughter Zona has died after an unfortunate tumble down the stairs. But Mary Jane Heaster, Zona’s mother, knows this is not an accident and she is determined to get justice for her daughter. A month after the funeral, she informs the county prosecutor that Zona’s ghost appeared to her, saying that she had been murdered. An autopsy, ordered by the reluctant prosecutor, confirms her claim.

It cannot be denied that the author has put in a lot of work to research every aspect of this case and present it from all sides. We read from Mary Jane’s perspective as she struggles to find justice for her daughter, even as her own husband refuses to help. We read from Gardner’s perspective as he recounts the investigation and his own impression of his client. While the case itself was interesting, I think that the writing was not executed as well as I might have liked. The beginning was very intriguing and had me hooked. However, the story started to drag on towards the middle until about the 90% mark of the book. I think this may have been because of the perspective of Mr. Gardner. Most of the information mentioned in that section was not very useful and could have been omitted. Maybe it would have been interesting to someone who wanted to know more about the historical scene at that point in time but for me, I just wanted to get into the crux of the matter, which was Zona’s case. The trial itself was interesting and the different facts that were brought up were also presented well. Overall, this was a novel that had a premise that I really enjoyed but was perhaps not executed as well as it could have been. I would give this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~


Grief Cottage by Gail Goodwin

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The premise of this novel was just too much to resist. I love a good ghost story and I was fully expecting to get loads of shivers and chills and supernatural goings-on. After reading this novel, I can honestly say that my predictions were way off. Here is my review:

When his mother dies unexpectedly, 11-year-old Marcus is sent to live with his great aunt, a reclusive painter who lives on a small South Carolina island. As he gets accustomed to his new surroundings, he is shown a ruined cottage that the islanders call Grief cottage, after a tragic incident where a boy and his parents disappeared during a hurricane 50 years ago. Their bodies were never found and the cottage has remained empty ever since. While Aunt Charlotte stays locked up in her studio painting, Marcus visits the cottage, building up the courage to face the ghost of the dead boy who used to live there. Full of curiosity and lonely, Marcus befriends the ghost boy, never knowing whether the ghost is friendly or has a more insidious nature.

There are a lot of things that caused me to not like this novel. The main thing is that it led me astray. Everything about the blurb screamed thriller ghost story. However, it would be more apt to describe this book as a literary fiction. Now, I have no problem with the literary fiction genre; I have read quite a few books that fit into this category and have quite enjoyed them. However, I do not like to be misled so blatantly. I felt like I was cheated out of the ghost story experience that was promised. Yes, the novel fixated on death and loss and grief, but there really was no need to brand the story as anything supernatural/involving ghosts. As you can tell, I’m quite upset by this. To make it worse, I didn’t really feel like this novel was a very good literary fiction. Even though literary fiction focuses on a certain theme and character growth/development, there is still a plot line; this novel missed the mark on that. I really liked Marcus’s character – he is a genuine sweetheart who tries so hard to please others. However, I didn’t really think he developed or grew in any real way; nothing that happened to him on his beach adventures really seemed to have the kind of impact I associate with literary fiction novels. In fact, the last portion of the novel completely threw me off because suddenly, the author takes us into the future and compresses together a decade of activity in Marcus’s life that just … made the story even more choppy than it already was. It was just weird and unnecessary. Another thing that I found a bit weird about this story was the writing style used for Marcus’s voice. The whole novel is like a monologue of the internal thoughts and feelings of Marcus but his voice sounds like that of a well-educated adult rather than an 11-year-old child. I’m not saying that children cannot have great vocabulary and think beyond their years, but the author never really showed Marcus as being so extraordinarily gifted and it just seemed so at odds with the personality and character of Marcus. It made it hard for me to believe in the story and feel connected to Marcus (even though, as mentioned previously, I liked him). The last little thing that bothered me was the way the author kept harping on the pronunciation of a specific character in the book, Lash. Every time Lash talked, the author just had to take a specific word and in brackets, write it out phonetically. It was cool at first because it helped me hear the voice in my head as I was reading but it got tedious really quick.

So overall, I really didn’t have a good experience with this book. I didn’t like how misleading the premise was, I didn’t like that the writing style was choppy, I didn’t think there was really any plot, and Marcus’s voice just really didn’t fit with his character. For those reasons, this novel gets a 1.5/5 stars from me.

Happy reading ~

An English Ghost Story by Kim Newman

When I first saw this title, I imagined it to be exactly what it said it would be: a ghost story. And it turned out to be that but with so much more than just a regular ghost story.

This novel is about a family that is clutching at their last straws. In a desperate attempt to patch things up, they decide to move. When they first lay their eyes on The Hollow, it is love at first site. It is beautiful and magical and for once, the family is happy together. They immediately buy the place and move in as quickly as possible to begin their fresh start. At first, the house is everything they want and more. But soon, tensions cause the family to break down and the house soon starts to show a different side to it. The house is no longer charming; it is haunted.

This novel is scary as hell. In the beginning, when everything is so hunky-dory, I found myself thinking that this book is so twisted. If my family was in that house, we would NOT be so happy about the strange “mysteries” that were happening. But the more I read, the scarier things got, and the more afraid I was to read the book at night. If you are looking for a creepy read, this is definitely the one!

But there was more to this book than just that. It had a lot to do with family and the relationships that bind members to each other and to the unit as a whole. This relationship and the actual horror story were blended seamlessly. When I put down the book, I felt satisfied at getting a thrilling read but I also felt like I had grown a lot and changed my view on the importance of a family unit.

Read this book. Maybe it won’t seem as deep and insightful as I made it out to be. Maybe it will only seem like a really good horror story. Either way, it will be worth your while.

Happy reading ~