Bare Bones

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Teenage years are often the most formative of how someone will behave as an adult; The Shape of Bones by Daniel Galera tells the story of how a man was shaped by certain events in his boyhood.

Going on a trip to climb the yet-to-be-conquered icy mountain Cerro Bonete, a man’s impulsive decision leads him to instead travel through the neighborhood he grew up in, Esplanada. While revisiting his former home he’s bombarded with memories from his youth, some of which are positive and enjoyable, but many of which have a sadness and burden to them that he still carries with him today. When confronted with a chance to act in a situation similar to the one that scared him in his youth, he takes action, which then spurs him to more deeply consider himself as a person.

The structure of the story was engaging as it flipped between the past and the present to offer explanations for how this man’s life turned out; however, it took a while for the pieces to connect as two parts of one whole, leaving me questioning the point of the seemingly disparate narrative threads. It was interesting how the main character hadn’t really developed emotionally beyond his formative youth, as demonstrated in his actions and his constant defining himself in relation to those around him well into his adulthood. I did enjoy the fascination exhibited in overthinking the mechanical side of bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles working in tandem to pilot the meat vessel that is a human body because it’s something that I have also thought of on occasion but hadn’t ever taken the time to put into words.

Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Shakeups at the Startup

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The culture at a startup company has become a common image for contemporary audiences as an ideal work environment, particularly in light of shows such as Silicon Valley. The intricacies of navigating these often incestuous waters is explored in Doree Shafrir’s Startup.

TakeOff app creator Mack McAllister is trying to secure further funding for the app to help develop and present the next version of the app that helps to gauge the user’s emotions and mindfulness. Adding to the stress of securing an investment before running out of money, Mack’s casual hook-ups with coworker Isabel have been taking a front seat in his mind as Isabel’s interest seems to be declining. After attending a tech scene party, reporter Katya Pasternack is with her boss’s wife, Sabrina, who also happens to work at TakeOff, when they see some compromising messages come in on Isabel’s abandoned phone. Katya has a choice to out Mack in a sexual scandal and further her career after seeing the messages on Isabel’s phone, but her hand is forced when audio proof of the incident is shared on Twitter by an unknown tech handle, causing the dominoes of the situation to rapidly fall.

While the story was light entertainment and a decent look behind the scenes of the tech world, I thought that the narrative ends right as a more interesting story started. Instead of following the events that led to three women becoming disenfranchised or disillusioned by the male dominated tech world, it would be more intriguing to follow what these women do after the fallout of their actions to make changes to the already entrenched industry. I also wasn’t sold on how the thread with the unknown Twitter account was handled with a middle aged white man masqueraded as the outlet for a marginalized voice in the industry when there were other marginalized characters present in the narrative.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Decisions and Desire

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Familial heirlooms and legacies can carry with them meaning, a sense of identity, and responsibility. The Address by Fiona Davis explores the meaning that family carries across a century.

Sara Smythe is an efficient manager of hotel maids in her London job, but having caught the attention of a rising American architect Theodore Camden, Sara is persuaded to move across the ocean to be the lady managerette of a new hotel-type apartment residence called the Dakota. While learning her new duties, Sara and Theo become close, drawing them into a delicate situation that causes Sara to face some daunting issues. 100 years later, in 1985, Bailey Camden is struggling to get back on her feet after a stint in rehab. By finding a place to stay in her cousin Melinda’s Dakota apartment, Bailey is charged with renovating the historic space to her cousin’s eclectic design tastes. While working to please her cousin, Bailey begins to uncover some intriguing details about their family through the Dakota’s history that could mean changing who is entitled to the Camden trust fund.

A fast-paced read that straddles historical eras, as well as fact and fiction, the narrative was entertaining and engaging as details are uncovered. Moving between Sara and Bailey’s lives, separated by a century, their connection gradually strengthens as Bailey investigates the history of the Dakota and Theo Camden; however, the reveal of how exactly they are connected was rather predictable, as was the actual perpetrator of Theo’s demise. Both Sara and Bailey were enjoyable characters, with a spark to their characters that helps portray them as acting upon their own agency, particularly through their quick-thinking and strong sense of humor.

Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.

The Pilfered Prize

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Artists can be some strange people, but in Augustus Rose’s The Readymade Thief, Marcel Duchamp is portrayed as an incredibly enigmatic artist, leaving a legacy and body of work eagerly embraced and replicated by an odd group of men in the current day whose actions greatly impact the life of a teenage girl.

Lee is a seventeen year old girl with a knack for stealing things. After taking the fall for the only real friend she had she gets sent to juvenile detention, which she manages to escape from. On her own on the streets of Philadelphia, Lee finds ways to survive, one of which being a place called the Crystal Castle, where many homeless children reside. It’s in the Crystal Castle that Lee is introduced to some men she begins to believe is responsible for the drugging and disappearances of children in the area. Having stolen a seemingly strange object she later learns is of keen interest to these men, Lee is rescued from them by Tomi, who shows her his art, the beauty of exploring abandoned buildings, and the secrets held beneath the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which both answers and raises questions about the item Lee stole and the men after her.

As someone who lives in Philadelphia, it was interesting to read about the city as it was presented within this story with its (accurately) vast differences from abandoned buildings to snug suburban homes. With a fair amount of intrigue built up around an intricate web of deceit and manipulation to drive Lee’s actions, which was quickly devoured, there were a lot of seemingly coincidental, circumstantial events that were conspiring together to influence her in particular ways, which felt a bit forced for the sake of incorporating the various threads of plot in the development of the overarching plot.

Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Obliterating Observation

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Observing others takes patience and can yield insights, good or bad, into a person. Being observed, however, can foster feelings of paranoia. In Asa Avdic’s The Dying Game the stakes are high in a test centered upon observing.

In Sweden in 2037, a test is being conducted to find the best candidate for a sensitive position within the intelligence community. Anna Francis finds herself not a candidate but a hidden observer of the candidates, whose job it is to observe how they react to her “murder” and report back after 48 hours. When one of the candidates happens to be a former coworker, Henry Falls, whom Anna can’t help but think about, her mind starts to go into overdrive to figure out what game might be playing out for them all. As candidates start disappearing from the secluded clifftop house where the test is being conducted, Anna is worried that someone is actually killing people, driving her into action that goes against her orders and changing the game in an unforeseeable way.

While the ultimate outcome of this not overly outlandish premise was utterly predictable, I found that the way in which it was written was relatively compelling and certainly made for an incredibly quick read. There was little background to develop how the world got to the moderately dystopian stage it did or other details to invoke deeper investment in the story, which was confusing and would have helped to strengthen the narrative. The mental games played on Anna were fascinating, if disturbing, and demonstrate the drastic means taken in political and governmental circles to secure a desired end, no matter what the cost might be.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

A Museum’s Mystery

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There’s a mystery to unfold within the walls of a New York art museum in Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives.

Stella Krakus has had a tough time recently with her not-yet-finalized divorce and a fling with a colleague that is rather one-sided and has been falling apart. The sudden disappearance of one of her colleauges, Paul, further complicates her life as she gets drawn in to the mystery surrounding Paul. Investigating the secret files and work that Paul was researching in the museum before his untimely end consumes Stella’s life as she tries to gain an understanding into who Paul was and what could have possibly driven him to the fate he met.

There was lots of beautiful writing and interesting metaphors presented within the text; however, this rather poetic language, while well-crafted, detracted from the story and a reasonably paced progression. While there were aspects to the misanthropic nature of Stella that I could relate to, I found that she and the other characters weren’t likable – not that it’s a necessary component to a narrative, but without anyone to connect to it only added to a feeling of dissonance for me; the narrative wasn’t particularly engaging with the build of the mystery Stella attempts to uncover taking too long and failing to captivate. Paul’s fate seemed more like a means to an end to create a plot versus being an actual part of a plot or something more meaningful.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.