BOOK REVIEWS

RESTORATION HEIGHTS: BOOK REVIEW

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Restoration Heights
by Wil Medearis
★★★✰✰ 3 stars of 5 stars

Restoration Heights is a difficult book to review. On the one hand, I didn’t dislike it, yet, I didn’t make me feel much of anything. The narration is rather cold, which creates a distance between the reader and the characters, and the mystery itself…well it resembled a prolonged meandering from A to B and back again.
The story focuses on Reddick, a thirty-something, white artist, who lives in a historically black Brooklyn neighbourhood. He makes his living as an art handler, working for the people he despises the most: the rich.
The day after he crosses paths with a young drunk woman, he discovers that she is 1) Hannah, the fiancé of the son of one of the wealthiest family in the city and 2) she has gone missing.
Feeling responsible, and seeing that no one else seems worried for her, he undergoes an investigation of his own.

In spite of Reddick’s obsessive search for Hannah, this story didn’t strike me as being a mystery or an amateur detective type of story. Yes, he ‘interviews’ people, he concocts wild scenarios in which Hannah was killed because of this or that…most of Reddick’s friends tell him to drop it but he is stupidly determined to find the truth. The trails he follows were boring and often had little to do with Hannah.
A large part of this novel revolves long conversations/discussions that Reddick has with his ‘friends’. From gentrification, race and class biases, definitions of ‘privilege’ and or the benefits and limitations created by ‘labels’….these could be interesting interactions. Often however, I felt that I was reading a social commentary on New York —and the United States— rather than a piece of fiction. It was almost didactical: person A offers one view, person B offers another, person C agrees with both A and B…it felt contrived at times.

I love novels that have a great sense of place and time but in Restoration Heights these seemed almost overwhelming. Reddick is constantly going on about Restoration Heights —a new housing development— and even before he has any actual evidence he believes that Hannah’s disappearance is connected to this development. The buildings and Reddick’s various surroundings are rendered in a rather methodical way. Yes, we know what the structure of Reddick’s neighbourhood but other places he visits in his ‘investigation’ but they didn’t strike me as vividly as they should have, especially given the page-time the author spends on them. Barbara Vine, one of my favourite authors, who writes a very different sort of crime, breathes life into her buildings/houses. Given that Restoration Heights is narrated in such an unemotional manner I found that both its characters and its location lacked life.

Once I adapted to the impersonal writing style, it was easier for me to keep reading. I can’t say that I was ever invested in the storyline or affected by any of the characters but there were occasional observations (often relating to a painting) that really stood out.
If you can look past a pointless mystery, or if you enjoy using google maps, well, look no further.
Maybe American readers will find the novel’s setting and social commentary more engaging than I did.

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The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo

The novel revolves around a ‘normal’ suburban family who are shaken up after the youngest child – thirteen year old Meredith Oliver – witnesses the abduction of a much more popular girl, Lisa Bellow.
The narration of The Fall of Lisa Bellow is too detached: it is so seemingly disinterested and unaffected by the emotions and traumas that Meredith is experiencing that it was hard to care for her or her family.
Meredith is established from the get go as a ‘normal’ aka boring teenager, one who lacks any sort of remarkable skills whatsover, and one who is prone to jealousy and sulking…she embodies the stereotypical stroppy teenager. Also, Lisa’s disappearance affects her in a somewhat unbelievable way: she fantasies and romanticises her kidnapping, imagining what is happening to Lisa. Meredith thoughts came across as creepy and overtly sexual. The distaste she feels at the sight of her brother’s injury made her even less likeable. Claire, her mother, is also pretty unlikable.
The Olivers had little to offer in the way of family dynamics: they were flat and monotone. Lisa Bellow is an afterthought, and not the focus of this novel. The narrative strives to be emotionless, to observe with detachment what Meredith and her mother are experiencing, and needlessly makes morbid remarks/observations.

My rating: 2 stars

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Sacred by Dennis Lehane

Kenzie and Gennaro are hired by an incredibly wealthy – and dying – Trevor Stone to find his missing daughter. Things soon start to get complicated. Kenzie’s own mentor was looking for Desiree Stone and is now also MIA. Kenzie and Gennaro will venture from a shady Grief Counselling organisation, that is possibly connected to a religious cult, to sunny Florida. Money and the power that comes with it play a big role in this novel, and as the protagonists soon find out, money is a good motive.
While Lehane does incorporate more affecting moments into his storyline grief is a big theme of the novel – I found that this instalment was much more lighthearted that the previous ones. Horrible people do horrible things in this story but there was a ‘flashy-ness’ a dramatic aspect to their behaviour that undermined the seriousness of their actions. Still, while there were some high-end film-like scenarios, Lehane’s characters convey incredible realism: their dialogues and reactions ring true to life. I also deeply appreciated that we are shown that what happened in the previous novels has affected Kenzie and Gennaro. Their partnership is a vital aspect of this serious and I was happy to see how solid their relationship is,
Deeply entertaining and fast paced, Lehane packs another suspenseful and highly-strung story.

My rating: 3.75 stars

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Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

“This is how sudden things happened that haunted forever.”

Equal parts poetic and stark, Winter’s Bone is a short and compelling read. It follows sixteen-year old Ree Dolly who, after her father skips his bail, risks losing her home.

“Fading light buttered the ridges until shadows licked them clean and they were lost to nightfall.”

Ree’s life is far from easy: not only does she live in an incredibly bleak and desolated area but she also has to take care of her two younger brothers and her heavily medicated mother. It is made soon apparent that above all else, Ree is a survivor. Still, things go from bad to worse, when she starts looking for her father in her family network.
Woodrell does not shy away from describing the harrowing conditions and treatment Ree receives. Despite this, it is not all gloom and doom. He also offers brief glimpses of hope, such as the touching friendship between Ree and her best friend, or Ree’s interactions Uncle Teardrop.
Woodrell’s realistic portrayal of such a harsh community paints frightfully convincing scenes and interaction; his characters offer many shades of gray: they are all – regardless of their roles – equally believable in that they are far more than ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Ree, for obvious reasons, was the character who shines the most: she was both tough and surprisingly witty. I really did ‘feel‘ for her, especially given the situation she is.

“She would never cry where her tears might be seen and counted against her.”

The writing itself is something perfectly fits the story and its setting: Woodrell’s prose offers multitude of beautiful metaphors and similitudes. He does not tell us how Ree feels, he shows us.
I could best describe this as being a lyrical portrayal of an especially brutal place.

“The heart’s in it then, spinning dreams, and torment is on the way. The heart makes dreams seem like ideas.”

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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In the Woods by Tana French

What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this – two things: I crave the truth. And I lie.

An incredibly intense and absorbing read. In the Woods is so much more than a ‘crime’ novel. French creates incredibly vivid characters. She also has a knack for dialogue: that is to say that the conversations, arguments and discussions had by her characters felt incredibly real to me. The way in which she narrates this mystery is completely encompassing. I eagerly read chapter after chapter, my head filled by the main character’s meanderings: despite acting like a right ol’ dick, I still loved being in Rob’s head. He was so…believable. His fear, uncertainties and desires. All of it. I was taken in by his story, unable – and not wanting – to leave.
In short, I was really taken by In the Woods.
I don’t think I can do this novel justice… just go and see for yourself.
A few quotes:

I am not good at noticing when I’m happy, except in retrospect. My gift, or fatal flaw, is for nostalgia. I have sometimes been accused of demanding perfection, of rejecting heart’s desires as soon as I get close enough that the mysterious impressionistic gloss disperses into plain solid dots, but the truth is less simplistic than that. I know very well that perfection is made up of frayed, off-struck mundanities. I suppose you could say my real weakness is a kind of longsightedness: usually it is only at a distance, and much too late, that I can see the pattern.

In all my career I had never felt the presence of evil as I felt it then: strong and rancid-sweet in the air, curling invisible tendrils up table-legs, nosing with obscene delicacy at sleeves and throats.

Human beings, as I know better than most, can get used to anything. Over time, even the unthinkable gradually wears a little niche for itself in your mind and becomes just something that happened.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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