07 January 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: A Mixed Week of Reading

Books to read in January 2019How was your first week of the year? Mine was busy with work, deadlines, getting back on a regular routine, and finishing up all the holiday food. I'm happy to get back to what counts as normal around here.

Early January is usually a fairly calm time for my work, but this year has started with a bang. I don't know what's going on in the publishing world, but I'm not complaining.

Despite the end-of-the-year chores and several editing projects, I managed to finish two books. I also started a new project: reading more short stories. I've made an unofficial commitment to myself to try to read at least one story a week--so far I've met that goal (hahahahaha). Oh and I've already had my first DNF (did not finish).

Looker by Laura Sims -- reviewLooker by Laura Sims (Scribner, Jan. 8): As you know, I like a good thriller, so I was looking forward to this one, which earned starred reviews and appeared on several most-anticipated-novels of 2019 lists. It's about a college-level poetry instructor in a big city (I think it could be New York), who becomes obsessed with a famous actress, who lives in a building a few doors down with her screen-writer husband and their three kids. Sims really knows how to amp up the creep factor as our unnamed protagonist deals with a number of personal problems, issues with her students, and her unrelenting interest in the actress. I was hooked all the way until I started closing in on the end. I don't want to spoil the book for others, so I'll be a little vague here, but I was completely disappointed with the conclusion and was left with a "that's it?" kind of feeling. The tension and sense of foreboding were well done, but the payoff wasn't there. The unabridged audiobook was read by Katherine Fenton (Simon & Schuster Audio; 5 hours, 32 minutes), who did a fabulous job picking up on the main character's personality and downward spiral. But a great performance couldn't save the novel for me. (audio copy provided for an AuidoFile Magazine review)

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield  -- reviewOnce Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (Atria, Dec. 4, 2018): I held off reading this book because I so loved Setterfield's Thirteenth Tale, I was worried my expectations would be too high. I shouldn't have worried because I can't say enough good things about this book. I loved, loved, loved it. The story is set along the Thames in the mid- to late-1800s and starts on the winter solstice, when a photographer stumbles into an old inn carrying a dead girl in his arms. He passes out, and the child's body is taken to an outbuilding until the man can recover enough to identify her. A trained nurse is fetched to tend to the man and to examine the body for cause of death. To the nurse's--and everyone's--surprise, the four-year-old girl wakes up, and though she seems to have recovered, she cannot talk and no one knows for sure who she is. The story weaves through and round the girl, the river, local families, local legends, loss, love, good, and evil. The tale is all-engrossing, poetic, and mesmerizing and incorporates historical details, which grounds the story in reality. This is the first book that will appear on my top ten of 2019. Though I don't often reread books, I think I'll read this one in print over my next free weekend. Juliet Stevenson's performance of the unabridged audiobook (Simon & Schuster Audio; 16 hr, 27 min) was brilliant. She created the perfect atmosphere, highlighting the characters' emotions and personalities. Her sense of timing was spot-on, keeping me fully on the banks of the Thames. (digital and audio copies provided by the publisher)

Review of Headlights from Mouthful of Birds by Samanta SchweblinMouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin (Riverhead; January 8), translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell. My first story of the year comes from a well-received collection by an award-winning Argentinian author. "Headlights," the leading piece, contains elements of magical realism to recount the experiences of a young bride who is abandoned at a highway rest stop by her groom, just hours/moments after the wedding ceremony. In only a few pages, I was invested in Felicity's fate and how what happened to her addressed wider themes, including the generation gap and gender issues. Although I've read only a single story, I understand why Schweblin garners so much buzz. I'm keeping Mouthful of Birds in my story rotation and will report back as I work my way through the collection. (digital copy provided by the publisher)

The Plotters by Un-Su Kim -- reviewThe Plotters by Un-Su Kim (Doubleday, January 29), translated from Korean by Sora Kim-Russell. Have you read any Korean crime novels? Me neither, so I was excited to give this thriller a try. The story is definitely weird, though in a good way. I agree with other reviewers who mentioned David Lynch or Henning Mankell. The book centers around Reseng, a trained assassin who was raised by a man known as Old Raccoon, who is also a killer. When a mission goes awry, Reseng begins to question the entire structure of the underground world, including the Plotters, who are in control. While I actually enjoyed the 80 pages I read, I haven't yet returned to the book. I liked Reseng, was really taken with the opening scene, and totally appreciated the dark humor, but the novel isn't calling to me. I know myself well enough to know that I will likely never come back to The Plotters. I'll keep my copy, just in case, but I'm not holding my breath. Don't let my experience stop you from giving this book a try. The part I read was good, even if it didn't put a hook in me. (review copy provided by the publisher)


Laurel-Rain Snow 1/7/19, 8:00 AM  

I am curious about Once Upon a River, and think that I should try this author some time this year.

I already had a DNF this year, too. Sigh.

Enjoy your week, and here are MY WEEKLY UPDATES

bermudaonion 1/7/19, 8:33 AM  

I'm happy to be back to "normal" too.

I've been eyeing Once Upon a River and now I think I need to pick it up soon.

Susie | Novel Visits 1/7/19, 8:51 AM  

I've been sort of on the fence about Once Upon a River, but after reading your review, I think I need to read it. I'm adding it to my backlist books and will get to it sometime when I have a break in 2019 reads. Too bad about the ending of Looker. A blah ending is always disappointing!

rhapsodyinbooks 1/7/19, 8:55 AM  

I just put the Setterfield book on hold; thanks for the recommendation!

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 1/7/19, 9:07 AM  

I'd had my eye on Looker, but started hearing so many mixed reviews. So, am waiting a bit longer to decide...

Tina 1/7/19, 9:31 AM  

Looker had been on my radar too. Unfortunately I couldn't settle into Once Upon a River. Maybe I should give it another go for this new year.

JoAnn 1/7/19, 10:34 AM  

I've held off on Once Upon A River because I loved The Thirteenth Tale so much, too. So happy to hear you loved it and even happier to hear it's narrated by Juliet Stevenson. Just added it to my list.

Kathy Martin 1/7/19, 12:31 PM  

Once Upon a River does sound good. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

sherry fundin 1/7/19, 1:19 PM  

Love that cover for Once Upon A River. Would grab it for that reason alone. lol
sherry @ fundinmental

Greg 1/7/19, 3:01 PM  

I always like the feeling of getting back to normalcy, even if I do miss the holidays a bit in January. I've been slacking on my reading too- I haven't even finished a book yet. Oh well...

I'm hoping to read more short stories too, I'd like to find more good anthologies.

Vicki 1/7/19, 3:10 PM  

Mouthful of Birds and Once Upon A River sound really good! I'm trying to decide whether to finish my first audio of the year. The character reactions to certain situations are making me roll my eyes, but her first book is on my top 10 of 2018. I'm not good at not finishing a book, but I still have 6 1/2 hours left. Knowing me, I'll probably finish it. I do like the storyline.

Les in Oregon 1/7/19, 6:23 PM  

I wasn't a huge fan of The Thirteenth Tale, but Once Upon A River sounds wonderful. Added it to my Audible wishlist. Thanks!

Sue Jackson 1/7/19, 7:31 PM  

What a fun goal, to read short stories this year! i usually enjoy them but rarely make time for them (silly, since they take less time than novels!).

Looker sounds intriguing - sorry to hear the ending was disappointing. I've been hearing a lot of good things about Once Upon a River, so I'm glad to hear you liked it so much!

Enjoy your books and short stories this week - and all that work! nic e way to start the year off!


Book By Book

pussreboots 1/7/19, 8:17 PM  

Mouthful of Birds looks good. I've downloaded a sample of the original Spanish language text to see if I can read it that way. First update of 2019

Unknown 1/7/19, 8:22 PM  

I'm trying to not add too many more books to my TBR list. Beyond the new books that I've requested or purchased, my back list is so full. My goal is to get to more back titles this year. Once Upon a River does sound very good.

Yvonne 1/7/19, 9:13 PM  

I think everyone is slowly getting back to normal.

Aw...a DNF already? Looker sounded promising, but I'm sorry you were disappointed in it. Hope you have a great week!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 1/7/19, 9:44 PM  

Wow! You are off to a great start this year!

Here’s to a fabulous reading year.

Mystica 1/9/19, 10:57 AM  

Interesting mix of reads. Enjoy them all.

Midlife Roadtripper 1/9/19, 11:50 AM  

Would seem I need to look into Once Upon a River. I've started my 2019 reading. Always looking beyond my TBR shelf.

Food in Books 1/10/19, 2:17 PM  

Crystal King recommended your blog, and I love it! I just blogged Once Upon a River, and highly recommend it. Very lyrical prose and a wonderful mystery touched with both science and magic. If you want to take a look at my own blog post on it, it's at: https://foodinbooks.com/2019/01/07/once-upon-a-river-by-diane-setterfield

Daryl 1/14/19, 8:56 AM  

more good options .. thanks

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