A relatively light reading week for me…
Greenwich Park by Katherine Faulkner
Helen’s idyllic life—handsome architect husband, gorgeous Victorian house, and cherished baby on the way (after years of trying)—begins to change the day she attends her first prenatal class and meets Rachel, an unpredictable single mother-to-be. Rachel doesn’t seem very maternal: she smokes, drinks, and professes little interest in parenthood. Still, Helen is drawn to her. Maybe Rachel just needs a friend. And to be honest, Helen’s a bit lonely herself. At least Rachel is fun to be with. She makes Helen laugh, invites her confidences, and distracts her from her fears.
But her increasingly erratic behavior is unsettling. And Helen’s not the only one who’s noticed. Her friends and family begin to suspect that her strange new friend may be linked to their shared history in unexpected ways. When Rachel threatens to expose a past crime that could destroy all of their lives, it becomes clear that there are more than a few secrets laying beneath the broad-leaved trees and warm lamplight of Greenwich Park.
My thoughts: An expectant mother, Helen, befriends a fellow mom-to-be, Rachel, at a prenatal class. Soon, Rachel starts popping up everywhere, gradually insinuating herself into Helen’s life. She’s imposing, but also decidedly peculiar – and, it turns out, in possession of a shocking secret that could upend Helen’s blissful existence. So far so good, but as the mystery deepens and twists and turns abound, the suspense is undermined by implausible developments that end up culminating in a convoluted reveal. As things wrap up, some half-ass police work and a ridiculous assumption about phone-tracking set up a final twist that is silly and not at all surprising.
The Selfless Act of Breathing by J.J. Bola
As a charismatic teacher living in London, Michael Kabongo strives to alleviate the injustices he sees around him: for the students who long for better lives, in memory of his father’s tragic death, and to end the violent marginalization of Black men around the world.
But after a devastating loss, he decides to embark on an adventure in the land of the free—the United States of America. From Dallas to San Francisco, Michael parties with new friends, engages in fleeting romances, splurges on thrilling escapades, all with the intention of ending his life once all his savings run out.
As he makes surprising new connections and faces old prejudices in odd but exciting new settings, Michael alone must decide if his life is worth living after all…
My thoughts: Michael Kabongo quits his job as a teacher in London to travel the U.S. Disillusioned, and with a little over $9000 to his name, he embarks on one final voyage of self-discovery before ending it all. The novel progresses along two parallel timelines: the first, in the present, accompanies Michael on his journey through San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland, Dallas, Chicago, and New York City where he makes new relationships and experiences that cause him to re-evaluate his life; the second, in the past, tracks Michael in London where he serves as an emotional anchor to those around him – friends, family and co-workers who, while dependent on him, are ironically incapable of recognizing Michael’s descent into depression. Michael is an incredibly well-developed character, grounded and sympathetic, his inner dialogue easy to connect with, his actions valid and understandable. The conversations that run throughout this novel are authentic and sharp, interspersed with humor, but with a very human dynamic at their core. You can’t help but feel for Michael, root for him, as he meets someone special that offers him hope while, slowly but surely, his funds are depleted and he must make a choice. What will it be? No spoilers but suffice it to say this book is well worth your time.
Wipe Out by Teresa Godfrey
Family is an outlawed concept.
Friendships are forbidden.
All procreation is artificial and government-controlled.
Hazel, a factory-born military driver, accepts these rules as necessities for human survival after the Wipe Out.
But deep inside, she is haunted by a loneliness she can’t fully understand.
When her assistant, Salt, dies in mysterious circumstances, clutching a photograph of what appears to be a mother and son, Hazel is assigned to Military Intelligence and ordered to track down the woman and boy. They are an anomaly – a breach of the strict Moral Code:
No woman should ever know her own child. No child should ever meet his mother.
Hazel enlists the help of military cadet Lake. Lake challenges everything Hazel has always believed, and they become close friends despite the rules.
Their search leads them deep into a wasteland, where the people they meet force Hazel to re-examine the world: People like Zac, who couldn’t be brainwashed; the young cadets risking their lives for the sake of their love for each other; and Ethan, the fugitive Psychoscientist who reveals everything he knows about a secret government research lab that’s experimenting on healthy humans by infecting them with deadly viruses.
Hazel agrees to help Zac and Ethan expose the human experiments. She leads Lake and the cadets in a series of daring raids, gun battles, and escapes, with government forces in hot pursuit.
This is a conspiracy theorist’s worst nightmare. Could it really happen? Maybe it’s already happening.
My thoughts: Following a cataclysmic event known as The Wipe Out (which is never fully explained beyond its viral origins), society undergoes a seismic shift that sees the government assume control over procreation. The family unit is no more and friendships are discouraged. Within this grim, dystopian setting, our protagonist Helen operates as a military driver for arcs (archeologists) exploring the wastelands of this world. But the suicide of a young soldier sends Helen on a state-sanctioned op to discover the truth behind the mysterious photograph she found in the dead man’s hand. The ensuing unlayering of a deep-rooted conspiracy offers surprisingly little in the way of world-building. The emphasis, instead, is on the machinations of the manipulative government, which ends up feeling tedious without the deeper contextual grounding of this world and how it all came to be. There’s scheming and action and, of course, social commentary, but the characters are flat so its hard to get too emotionally invested. The book offers an interesting premise, but then fails to fully follow-through.
The Last Truth by Anamaria Curtis
A runaway and indentured thief, Eri must provide a new secret to open each new lock, at the cost of her own memory.
Hundreds of locks later, Eri can barely recall her own past. An unanticipated alliance with a musician may prove the key to both their freedoms—if Eri doesn’t lose herself in the process.
My thoughts: This one is actually a short story, a fantastical tale about a thief, Eri, who opens locks by revealing personal secrets. The twist is that once the secret is revealed, it leaves her memory forever. There’s no explanation for why the locks in this world respond to secrets, what makes our protagonist particularly proficient at opening locks, or why the owners of said locked boxes don’t foresee the flaw in their security systems. The grounding logic is of lesser importance than the story of our indentured heroine attempting to win her freedom by unlocking all of the boxes on a ship before it reaches its destination. She meets a musician who is seeking her own freedom and the two plot their escape. Al the while Eri continues to lose her memories and sense of self. This all leads up to the last box and the “final truth” which ends up feeling like a bit of a cheat. The plot points are there for a unique and heartfelt story, but the lack of underlying logic and short page count deny the possibility.
And what have you been reading?