Night Film, by Marisha Pessl: This novel gave me all the satisfying feels that I got from reading Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind. Pessl’s book is a top-notch gothic tale with an atmosphere that’s practically a solid character looming in the background. Only drawback is the few-dozen instances of strong language.
Recursion, by Blake Crouch: Recursion is a mind-bending novel that delves into the nature of time, memory, and reality. It’s philosophical; it’s brilliant science fiction; it’s a thriller. There are lots of pieces to this 3-D puzzle that come together in unexpected ways. I read it all in one evening; it was nearly impossible to put down. It’s complex and unexpected and one of those books to remember. I can’t say enough about how fascinating and mind-blowing and thought-provoking it is. Again, like above, would be perfect if there weren’t a couple of dozen uses of strong language.
The Labyrinth of the Spirits, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: I suppose it’s fitting that since I’ve already mentioned how much I loved Zafon’s first novel in his Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, this past year he published his last book in that quartet. And while the third one was just so-so, in hindsight a useful piece of the whole picture but not fabulous on its own, this one was just about everything I would have hoped for in the final book. This gorgeously crafted novel holds within it layers of stories that have run through the whole set of books and whose threads end up tying off together by the end in some way. And each story pays homage to other stories, to the power of literature. It’s all such a love letter to books, and masterfully done. Bless you, Zafon. I still want more.
Ascending and Bright Shards (books 1 and 2 of the Vardeshi saga), by Meg Pechenick: These novels read like a nonfiction account of a real woman’s experience going on an exchange program, immersing herself in a foreign culture that just so happens to be alien. The story could very well seem a bit dry or slow to some readers, but I found it fascinating because the author makes it all seem so authentic. Pechenick fleshes out the Vardeshi culture and some of the language and approaches it with a scholar’s view. Ascending and Bright Shards are really cool books but possibly more for cerebral readers who enjoy the concept, the world-building and well-crafted characters. I’m cheering them on because this author probably isn’t getting tons of attention and I just enjoyed the whole experience of being transported in what seemed such a real way (and that the writer used linguistics to do so). I’m so eager to read the next book that I keep checking back on Goodreads to see when it pops up with a publishing date.
The Valedictorian of Being Dead, by Heather B. Armstrong: Armstrong was a popular and successful “mommy blogger” who struggled with depression for decades. After one particularly bad bout of depression, her psychiatrist suggested she enter a trial that was happening at the University of Utah, very close to where she lived in Salt Lake City. She would be the third person to be “put under” so deeply with the anesthetic propofol that her brain activity would go down to almost nothing. The process involved 10 visits to the hospital over the course of just a few weeks, with doctors administering the medication and monitoring her brain waves and then bringing her back out of what essentially was a deep coma or near-brain death within an hour. The protocol had the same effect on the brain of essentially “jump-starting” it as happens with the seizures produced by electroshock therapy, but with far fewer side effects than that old but still effective treatment for depression that is resistant to medication. Armstrong captures so well the feelings and ideas that are so common in those experiencing clinical depression, those that people who have not experienced it cannot fathom, and she relates her experiences with great insight, some wit and even great compassion.
Chasing My Cure: A Doctor’s Race to Turn Hope into Action, by David Fajgenbaum: This is the story of a young doctor’s battle with a disease that nearly killed him several times and his drive to not only help thousands of other people with the disease but even to change the traditional system that has made it so difficult for researchers and doctors to make significant progress in finding causes and cures for other so-called “orphan diseases.” At the same time, Fajgenbaum describes how through his experience he found ways to better connect with loved ones and find happiness. Fajgenbaum’s story is fascinating not just because of what he brings to the table as a patient, bright doctor and researcher and even businessman, but because of how much he’s done in a short time to make tremendous progress.
The Body: A Guide for Occupants, by Bill Bryson: Before this book, I had not read any of Bryson’s work. I had heard of his talent and the light but informative style he so skillfully uses, so when this book came up for me to review on NetGalley, I snatched it. And now I am going to move some of his other books up on my to-read list. If you’d like to know more about your whole body and like to be entertained while you learn, Bryson’s for you. You should end up with plenty of tidbits to share with your family and friends. Bonus: it’s completely clean reading.
Finale (Caraval, book 3), by Stephanie Garber: OK, I loved these books. I want there to be more and more. But all good things must come to an end, sadly. This book was just as magical and transporting as the previous two, and I gobbled it right up within a few days.
Finale wasn’t perfect; I thought the ending was a bit rushed and got tied in a bow more quickly than I thought was organic, but it was so enjoyable nonetheless that I didn’t mind.
The Start of Me and You, by Emery Lord: This is a good example of a fine YA romance with a bit of heft. It got me invested in the characters. I felt for the main character, Paige, and her challenges: She faces grief and guilt and frustration over being pegged as one Thing wherever she goes. She worries over a lot of things and struggles with anxiety. Her beloved grandmother has health difficulties, and her divorced parents throw her a curveball to worry about. All that’s not to mention just the standard high school challenges any teen has to face. But she works on ways to find happiness and has a great support system, with her family and friends. I liked her friends and their personalities and the way their group gets along. And her friendship and all the interactions with the love interest were really fun to witness. It stuck with me and I was pleased to be able to read the follow-up, which was just published this week (January 2020), The Map from Here to There.