Book Review: The Reconstructionist by Nick Arvin

The Reconstructionist by Nick ArvinRating: 4.5/5
I read this in: English, the original language
I got this: from Harper Perennial for review
Number of pages: 336
First published: 2012
Genre: contemporary fiction

What a title! Someone suggested to me that there were a lot of …nist titles out recently. I did read The Informationist by Taylor Stevens not long ago, but I think that’s it. Let me know what ...nist book you’ve read. It would be fun to make a list!

Edited to add this list:

  • The Reconstructionist by Nick Arvin
  • The Informationist by Taylor Stevens
  • The Technologists by Matthew Pearl
  • The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler

A reconstructionist works on road accidents, it’s a forensic job in which the exact cause and effect of a road crash is researched, usually to find out who or what is to blame.

The Reconstructionist: What it is about

Ellis Barstow works as a reconstructionist and together with his boss John Boggs, they travel to fatal-accidents sites. They also research cars that have been involved in those accidents and reconstruct what most likely happened during the accident.

Ellis is obsessed with Heather, Boggs wife, who was his brother’s girlfriend when they were teenagers. His brother, Christopher, had an accident in which he died, while Heather was burned in her face.

Ellis is in a difficult situation: John Boggs is not only his boss but also his friend, but Ellis now has an affair with Heather. This makes him feel guilty, but given his obsession with her, he can’t seem to end it. Also, having had his brother die in a car accident, the job of reconstructionist is maybe not a good choice for him, although he is good at his work.

When Boggs disappears, Ellis tries to find him and travels all over the country back to the accident locations that they have resarched together in the past, as he expects to find him there.

The Reconstructionist: What I thought

I’d say this is more of a men’s book than a women’s. At least, it’s a man’s story, his obsession for doing his job well, his obsession with Heather, and the topic that-cannot-be-discussed: his brother’s accident.

Saying that, I very much enjoyed the book. It wasn’t a book that kept me busy thinking about it when I was not reading it, but every time I picked it up again, I was glad to be back in Ellis’ world.

Ellis really has too little to do. Besides his job and his affair with Heather, he has nothing much happening in his life. In fact, his life is a bit of a mess and he knows this has to change. But like most people, he finds it easier to keep going.

The reconstruction of accidents at first, and the road journey to find Boggs back later on, are sufficiently interesting to keep reading. I loved reading about the accidents and how Boggs and Barstow analyse the information they have. The search for Boggs got a little boring after a while, but since I was quite certain he would find Boggs or evidence of him, eventually, I enjoyed reading on.

The story only slowly moves forward. It’s written beautifully but not in a difficuly, heavily literary manner. My only complaint is Heather. I didn’t find her a very nice person and I couldn’t quite see why Ellis was so obsessed with her.

This book is more a psychological investigation than a plot-driven action novel.

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Book Review: Agorafabulous! by Sara Benincasa

Agorafabulous by Sara BenincasaGenre: Memoir
First Published: 2012 (February 14th)
I read this in: English, the original language
I got this book: for review from the publishers, William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins)
Number of pages: 255
Rating: 4/5

I love reading memoirs.Not those by famous people, I don’t care one bit, but I do like memoirs by special people, people that overcame some obstacle in their life, or (temporarily) lived a life different from most of us.

In this case, the author suffered from agoraphobia, generally known as a fear of public places.

Agorafabulous!: What it is about

Sara Benincasa tells in an amusing way about her mental illness, agoraphobia. She had been having panic attacks before, but on a high school trip to Italy, she had a panic attack while travelling in a bus and had to be taken to hospital.

Later, as a college student, her illness develops for the worse. Even though she’s been taking medication, she becomes so frightened of leaving the house, that she stays indoors all the time. Even worse, she knows there’s something scary about the bathroom and refuses to visit it. When her friend finds her all dirty and with bowls of urine under the bed, she calls Sara’s parents, who take her home.

A new life starts for Sara, living back at her parents’ at first, and later living on her own again. The book describes  the jobs she takes while considering how to get a college degree after all, and how eventually she ends up in New York as a stand-up comedian.

Agorafabulous!: What I thought

4 out of 5 stars This was an entertaining story about someone suffering from a mental illness. If that sounds bad, so be it. Sara Benincasa doesn’t hold back and tells things as they are, but in an easy-going, uplifting way.

On the one hand, this was a great way to write the book. The reader learns about agoraphobia without having to deal with heavy, difficult descriptions. On the other hand, he book was a little too light-hearted for me. I wouldn’t have minded learning a bit more about her situation. Especially the chapter where she’s refusing to leave her house seems to take only a small part in the book. But I guess there isn’t all that much to say about a time when you were spending weeks at a time in bed.

What I found very interesting was that she explained that going outside wasn’t just scary for her, but she knew, she had this insight, that she would die if she went outside. So, really, by staying indoors, she was behaving rather sensibly, you could say!

The book describes her life mainly from early to late twenties. I liked her as a person and loved to read how she got over her anxiety (for the most part). I haven’t heard of her outside the book, and so my reading of the book wasn’t at all influenced by what I knew about her already.

I very much enjoyed reading this book, a kind of coming of age story, but then of a twenty-something growing to become a more grown up grown-up. It’s a bit more light-hearted than I would have liked but I loved spending some time with Sara in the book.

Extra: You can win this book during the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop (from Saturday 18th until Wednesday 22nd)!

Book Review: Vanished by Liza Marklund

Vanished by Liza Marklund
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Genre: thriller
I got this book: for review from the publishers, Transworld
First Published: 2000 (English edition February 2012)
I read this in: English, the original language is Swedish (Paradiset)
Number of pages: 304
Rating: 5/5

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Vanished: What it is About

Annika Bengtzon is a copy editor at a newspaper in Stockholm. Her colleagues are working on a double murder that happened in the harbour. Annika hasn’t got much to do so when gets a call from a woman who wants to meet a journalist to talk about her Paradise Foundation, she agrees to meet her.

The Paradise Foundation, it turns out, is set up to help people change identity and leave no traces behind of their old identity (for instance, because they have been threatened and the police can’t do anything about it). When Annika comes across a foreign woman called Aida who was present at the harbour murders and escaped death herself, she puts her into contact with the Paradise Foundation to help her stay away from her pursuer.

But is the Paradise Foundation all that it seems? Annika researches the foundation in more detail and is assisted by a council employee who is also doubtful about them.

Endangering her own life, Annika manages to get to the bottom of the Foundation’s work, and in the meantime also finds out about the murders in the harbour.

Vanished: What I thought

5 stars (out of 5) There is a lot going on in Annika’s life: a mysterious organisation that she wants to investigate, her work: because she is really a copy-editor she shouldn’t be out and about interviewing people, there is the disappearance of Aida, Annika’s grandmother is ill, and she has a bit of a love affair.

But it’s not too much to keep track of for the reader. In fact, the balance of working life and home life makes the story feel quite realistic, especially the love interest. Some of the details to do with the Paradise Foundation and the missing woman were less realistic. But as it made a nice story it didn’t really matter.

This story is set at a time earlier than The Bomber which I read last year. In that book, Annika is a more senior journalist and married with children. In Vanished she is single and living in rather poor housing. As I didn’t remember the details about her husband in The Bomber, the relationship-part of Vanished was still a good read, I had no idea whether the man in question was the same as her husband in the next book, and whether the relationship would last in the long run.

For me, Marklund’s book are fast and satisfying reads. I like it that the books (there are more in the series) have the same protagonist. With only the background story (her home life) developing through the series, you can easily read them out of order because the main story in each book, the thriller, is finished when the book is finished.

Book Review: Spin by Catherine McKenzie

Spin by Catherine McKenzieGenre: contemporary fiction, chick-lit
First Published: 2009 (this edition 2012)
I read this in: English, the original language
I got this book: for review from the publishers, William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins)
Number of pages: 440
Rating: 4.5/5
Extra: My review of Arranged by Catherine McKenzie

Since Mari of Bookworm with a View was also reading this book at the same time, we decided to post our reviews on the same day as well as ask each other some questions about the book. You can read my answers to Mari’s questions below, and her answers to my questions are on her blog, here.

Spin: What it is about

Kate Sandford is invited to a job interview at her favorite music magazine and this happens to be on her birthday. She goes out and celebrates both her birthday and the interview the night before, arriving at the interview still rather drunk. She doesn’t get the job.

A few weeks later, she gets a call from the magazine, who also run a gossip magazine. They want to make a deal: if she goes undercover to a rehab facility to follow a famous “It” girl around, they will give her a job at the music magazine afterwards.

Kate accepts and enrols in the rehab programme. She meet It-girl Amber and befriends her, covertly sending back gossip to her new boss.

But Kate gets more and more involved in the rehab programme and it seems that she could do with a 12-step programme herself. She also starts to feel guilty about writing a gossip story about her new friend. Some serious issues need to be resolved before she leaves the programme.

Spin: What I thought

4.5 out of 5 stars I enjoyed this book a lot. The cover looked like chick-lit and I’d say that is what this is. Just like in some of Sophie Kinsella’s books (the Shopaholic girl in particular), the main character, Kate, was a little silly, not really in control of her own life. She wasn’t happy to grow up, so she lived a student life and told everyone she was 25 (rather than 30) and that she was still studying.

I found a lot of elements of the book very unlikely (like a filmstar bringing his personal assistant to rehab, Kate’s parents never wondering where she got the money for the expensive ($1,000 a day) rehab, and many more). That was a pity as it did lower my enjoyment of reading the book. But not much, because it was a fun story.

I would never want to befriend a celebrity because of their status but in Kate’s case, she had to do so for her job (and she seemed pretty obsessed by Amber in the first place). I thought she did it very unobtrusively, which was good. However, I did think the story was too much about her friendship with Amber and not enough about the reason she was there. Her boss seemed to be pretty relaxed and didn’t ask for much. I would have expected him to be more pushy especially because she was not a very experienced journalist yet (and not a reliable person – hadn’t she shown up drunk at her job interview?).

There is also a love story in the book, which is pretty standard in chick-lit. Kate’s love interest was a nice, unassuming person with some good looks as well as a brain, so what else can a girl ask for?

This was a light read in some sense, but it also addressed deeper subjects, such as, what is Kate doing with her life, when are you an alcoholic, do you forsake a friendship only to get a job?

Questions asked by Mari of A Bookworm with a View

Mari- Kate doesn’t believe she has a drinking issue throughout most of the book and self-admits herself into rehab for a story.  How did your opinion of Kate, and her eagerness to get a story, change from the first to last chapter of this book?

Judith- I thought Kate grew up a bit. Not a lot, but enough to be a stronger person. She also started to realise that maybe she did have a drinking problem. I especially liked it when she revealed the age at which she first started drinking and didn’t think anything of it until the therapist told her that wasn’t normal. She became more focused on her own rehabilitation and almost coincidentally became Amber’s friend. After she had already jeopardized one friendship for the magazine job, she was more careful in her friendship with Amber.

Mari- Faithfulness, Addiction and Trust are three important themes in the novel.  Pick one and explore how this impacted Amber and Kate’s friendship.

Judith- Addiction: Kate’s addiction to alcohol was really an addiction to having a good time with friends but alcohol also helped her to get to sleep. Only when she didn’t get the job she really wanted, she realised that there was a (small) problem. Amber and Kate meet because of Amber’s addiction and Kate’s supposed addiction. This is one of the very few things they have in common. It wasn’t very handy that Amber invited Kate to a bar to meet her other friends after they got out of rehab. They should have spent some quiet time at each other’s houses rather than base the future of their friendship meeting in places where people are supposed to drink alcohol.

Mari- Kate was a horrible friend, sister, person at the beginning of the novel.  At one point in the novel she says ‘she was going to write a book about a woman struggling to stay faithful.. after 30 pages she realized that she knew nothing about faithful love’. Do you think Kate is a better person at the end of the novel?

Judith- I think she’s a little bit better, but still has a lot to learn. She has realised the value of friendship, she’s a bit better at keeping a relationship (I think!) and if she can keep off the drink, she’ll have a much improved life, too. But if this was a real-life story, I don’t know how long the realisation would last that it was time to put her life in a different direction. She may try to better her life, find it difficult, and end up the same (or worse off) than before. I’m hopeful but not too hopeful.

Check out Mari’s review and her answers to my questions to her, here.

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