Sunday, November 10, 2019

Review: Recursion

The premise on the book jacket of Recursion is intriguing: people are being flooded with false memories.

Blake Crouch's story goes further than you could possibly imagine — and it will keep you turning pages long into the wee hours of the morning.

NYPD Detective Barry Sutton comes face-to-face with a person afflicted with False Memory Syndrome as she contemplates her own demise from the side of a high rise building in Manhattan. For her, the memories are real, vivid, and heartbreaking. But how can they be, when reality provides different facts? 

Sutton isn't convinced she is right — but he also is not convinced she is wrong. On a hunch, he pursues the case to Long Island, a decision that changes his life.

Time is running out for Helena Smith's neuroscience research: her mother is losing all of her memories due to advancing Alzheimer's. She wants to find a way to save her mother's memories and halt the devastation of the disease. One night, she is offered a chance to work on her project in a way she never thought possible.

Alas, in Blake Crouch's thriller, nothing is as it appears. With twists, turns, and amazing leaps, characters careen near disaster in ways that keeps readers riveted.

I literally did not put this book down once I started it. I buried my nose in it and walked slowly from room to room, propping it up for meals, moving it off my lap to make room for a cat from time to time. I stayed up way past my bedtime — and only when I was exhausted did I find a safe place to slip in my "quitter strip" until the next morning.

I liked the characters: a police officer with tragic loss and soaring opportunity, a desperate neuroscientist racing for a cure to a heartbreaking disease, a handful of good-intentioned scientists who try to do the right thing, a sad spouse with all-consuming grief. I even liked the villains: the person who removes all limitations so Helena can save the world, the good-intentioned bureaucrats who have no choice but to follow bad decisions or lose all access to the tool they should not have loosed in the first place.

The ending was perfect, and the acknowledgements were charming; Crouch seems like a good friend as well as a bang-up writer. I have one of his earlier novels on my shelves; once I get my breath back, I may step into those pages, if I dare.

Read this book if you like excitement, wonder, just enough science to make the fiction believable, and just enough fiction to make the science approachable. 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Review: Evvie Drake Starts Over

Evvie Drake lives a life of layers, mostly hidden from everyone — including herself. She is a local, the wife of a beloved local doctor, the daughter of an adoring lobsterman, and the best friend to Andy. (Some may say "too" best.)

But she is none of these. She is a woman who, when she finds the strength to do what's right, receives an awful gift that takes away her power and replaces it with something insidious: expectation.

Linda Holmes' amazing, compelling, and powerful novel Evvie Drake Starts Over shows readers how someone can evolve from what she was into what she intended to be all along — with a little unexpected help from unexpected people in her life.

Evvie (which rhymes with "Chevy") has taken the literal first step to leaving her life when she gets a surprise phone call from the hospital where her husband works. She isn't leaving after all.

As Evvie rattles around her huge house in her hometown, trying to avoid well-meaning people who want to help her mourn her loss, she is stuck. Her late husband is beloved as the local kid who made good and came home to serve his community. Only Evvie knows how different his public and private personae were — and readers discover it as Evvie herself has the courage to think about it.

Along comes Dean Tenney, a former major league baseball pitcher drummed off the diamond and retreating to his hometown. Evvie's best friend Andy proposes a win-win: Dean moves into Evvie's adjacent apartment to get away from prying eyes while Evvie gets some company (and a little cash). Dean and Evvie agree to two things: he will live there for a short time, and they won't talk about their elephants in the room.

Evvie's commits small (and not so small) acts of deception, whether it's telling people what they want to hear or not admitting to unhappiness while living in a perfect life. Or just not saying anything at all. And readers very well may understand: Whether we doubt ourselves or the support we may (or may not) receive, whether we feel believed or even seen, we have the ability to cover up so many things. Evvie is a Master Illusionist, with the willful ignorance of those around her, and her life could have continued with dishes she didn't want in a house she didn't want and the (late) husband who also was a Master Illusionist. I totally bought Evvie's angst: she could't come clean, but she couldn't live with the image — so she just limped along and hid as much as possible.  Linda Holmes captured Evvie's situation with compassion and honesty.

Even better than the build-up was the resolution. Evvie found an unexpected ally. Could this friend provide enough support to coax Evvie out of her non-life? Help her dispatch her demons? Could Evvie find her way back to herself? Could she discover the courage to build the life she wanted and adjust the relationships in her life to be more honest and meaningful? 

At every turn, Evvie's cast of characters were rich and robust, fairly portrayed, and compassionately developed. I liked Evvie and ached for her hidden pain. I liked Dean, a decent and honest man who needed to be told that he asked for things in ways he didn't realize. I liked Andy, despite the unbalanced (and surprisingly unhealthy) relationship. 

I recommend this book. It's full of surprises, and chances are readers may see themselves occasionally. Maybe some of Evvie's courage will rub off on, or at least spark awareness. And if not, it's still an enjoyable debut novel.