Review: Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

Paper Ghosts
by Julia Heaberlin

Carl Louis Feldman is an old man who was once a celebrated photographer. That was before he was tried for the murder of a young woman and acquitted. before his admission to a care home for dementia. Now his daughter has come to see him, to take him on a trip. Only she's not his daughter and, if she has her way, he's not coming back . . .

Because Carl's past has finally caught up with him. The young woman driving the car is convinced her passenger is guilty, and that he's killed, other young women. Including her sister Rachel. Now they're following the trail of his photographs, his clues, his alleged crimes. To see if he remembers any of it. Confesses to any of it. To discover what really happened to Rachel. Has Carl truly forgotten what he did or is he just pretending? Perhaps he's guilty of nothing and she's the liar. Either way in driving him into the Texan wilderness she's taking a terrible risk. For if Carl really is a serial killer, she's alone in the most dangerous place of all . . .

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Expected Publication date:  May 15th 2018
Source/Format: ARC/Netgalley
Pre-order links: Amazon | Indiebound | B&N | iBooks | BooksAMillion

My Thoughts:
A nameless young woman regularly visits Carl Feldman in a state welfare house, pretending to be his daughter. During his younger years, Carl was a documentary and fine art photographer, famous for his craft as much as for his alleged crime. But now he is old and suffering from dementia. Though already acquitted by the court, the nameless young woman obtained photographs taken by Carl incriminating him with the murder he was accused of as well as the disappearances of other women including her big sister, Rachel. So the nameless young woman lured Carl into joining her into a roadtrip across Texas to visit the places where the photographs were taken, hoping against hope that Carl remembers anything that will lead her to her missing sister.

I was instantly smitten by the premise. Roadtrips are intimate and suffocatingly up close that we mostly take them with family and friends, people whom we know, can tolerate and trust our lives with. So I was curious with this woman who will pack for a roadtrip with a possible serial killer. I was half hoping that she backs off (but then nothing will happen and there will be no book) and half cheering her to not give up until she finds the truth. The roadtrip style turned out to be both a benefit and a burden to the book.

Let me talk about the benefit first. Making the characters traverse a possible murder trail gives the author an opportunity to pepper the book with interesting people and places. There are glimpses of people they met along the way who left an impression on me. To mention a few: there is Trudy, a real estate agent selling the house where one of the murders occurred, who is paranoid not with the paranormal but with being alone in showing houses to strangers. There’s the feisty DeeDee, the deeply insecure woman who re-married the widow of a murder victim. Then Gretchen, the bestfriend of one of the victims. Even how Carl and the narrator perceive the patrons of a particular diner is interesting.

The travelogue aspect of the book is deftly handled. I got a grasp of the unforgiving side of Texas: a beach front where a girl goes into the sea and never comes back, an unmarked farm which may or may not be “an infinite burial ground”. Even the author’s description of mundane things like the clouds and the moon has this spellbinding ability to draw me in to the book. (Okay, there are a couple of the worn and tired “I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding.”, but other than that, the prose is beautiful) And it also helped that the book has a deep respect in photography. I am kinda creeped out but also somewhat agree with the book’s suggestion that when we look at people in the photos, especially the old ones, those people could be paper ghosts staring back at us. In between some chapters are actual eerie, black and white photos with chilling photographer’s (Carl’s) notes with them. The author in her acknowledgements mentioned that they are actually photographed by Jill Johnson and inspired by the works of Keith Carter.

quoted from an uncorrected proof copy

Now let me get with the burden part. Aside from the casual thieving and lying by both Carl and the nameless narrator, the plot got meandering in the middle. The lull of the roadtrip has no sense of urgency especially when everything is dependent upon Carl remembering despite his dementia. The narrator can only express the immediacy of things through the days passing by (she only has ten days before the state welfare house comes looking for Carl) and her depleting resources (she set a budget money for the trip) but not through her actions. 

The nameless woman narrator is always saying that she came prepared and trained for whatever danger that could possibly happen but when actual danger comes in, she is pulled back from the action. There’s this time when she can could have probably got some ass kicked but she got drunk and has to be saved by a Mysterious Man in the Dark ™. She does not even get to pull the trigger of the gun she is always anxiously holding. After ten days on the road, the book ended but the resolutions to the women’s disappearances came pretty much incidental. I think both the main character and Carl are a bit coddled, their roadtrip plot wanting more grit and macabre.

Diversity Watch:
Nameless Narrator is a white woman. Described as having gray eyes and naturally brown hair that she dyed red.

Carl Feldman is racially indeterminate.

Rachel is the narrator’s dead sister. Described as having straw colored hair and green eyes with a sprinkle of gold.

Lolita is a dark haired teen who regularly visits the state welfare house.

Artie is an Indian kid motel receptionist.

Vickie Higgins was one of the murder victims, described as blond and pretty and pale.

Angel is a Hispanic camera store owner.

Dr. Lucy Blumstein is an expert in dementia. She is a Korean adopted by American parents.

Violet Santana was one of the murder victims, described as blond.

Gretchen is a friend of Violet, described as having dyed auburn hair. Her kid son,Gus, is blond haired.

Andy is an FBI agent assigned to Rachel’s case. Described as black and bald.

Trudy is a real estate agent, racially indeterminate.

My Rating:

Mini-Reviews: David Levithan Books

It just happened that I have three David Levithan books popping on my bookshelf so why not read and do mini-reviews with them?!

Every Day
by David Levithan

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone A wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Genre/s: YA Romance
Series: Every Day #1
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date:  August 28th 2012
Source/Format: Bought/Paperback
Purchase link: Amazon 

My Thoughts:
  • This is a re-read. I’ve read it before my book blogging days.
  • I remember liking this so much the first time that I might have rated it 5 stars then.
  • Such a fascinating premise. I like how the book gives me this unique perspective of A living a different kind of life each day.
  • The book is in A’s first person POV. A’s voice has this mixed innocence and maturity in it. Because of having to switch bodies every day, he has developed a high sense of empathy but he is also naive in other ways, like falling in love for example.
  • David Levithan writes such emotionally raw lines that makes me want to crawl up in a coccoon and weep for a while.
  • I mean: “She is so lost in her sadness that she has no idea how visible it is.” 
  • Also: “ Ultimately, the universe doesn’t care about us. Time doesn’t care about us. That’s why we have to care about each other.”
  • Also, also: “What is it about the moment you fall in love? How can such a small measure of time contain such enormity?”
  • Actually I want to quote chunks of the book, but obvi I can’t do that.
  • I still like it upon re-read, although not as much as the first time. I partially blame the law of diminishing marginal utility applying itself.
  • But more like because I re-read it with its companion book, “Another Day”, and that seriously ruined things for me. I’ll explain more later on my review for “Another Day” below.
  • I would highly recommend if you want to be wrapped in beautifully woven words.

Diversity Watch:
A is the epitome of gender fluidity.

The bodies that A switched into is diverse in race, gender and body rep. Am amazed and happy with this.

There is a positive discussion with regards to mental health when A switched into the body of a girl with suicidal thoughts.

My Rating:

Another Day
by David Levithan

Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin, even established guidelines by which to live: Don’t be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.

Until the morning everything changes. Justin seems to see her, to want to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning. Confused, depressed, and desperate for another day as great as that one, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Then, one day, a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with, the one who made her feel like a real person…wasn’t Justin at all.

In this enthralling companion to his New York Times bestseller Every Day, David Levithan tells Rhiannon’s side of the story as she seeks to discover the truth about love and how it can change you.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Genre/s: YA Romance
Series: Every Day #2
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date:  August 25th 2015
Source/Format: Bought/Paperback
Purchase link: Amazon 

My Thoughts:
  • I know I was excited in the past about the news that there will be a companion novel to Every Day because I tweeted about it.

  • Fast forward to after the time I’m finished reading the said companion book and I’m like I wish I can blow away my excitement before because there is nothing much to get excited about.
  • First, I was deeply disappointed with the “another day” part which is also the ending because it did so little to make this companion book needed.
  • Second, it ruined the pure and lovable images of A and Rhianon for me. I liked them both in Every Day. I kind of rooted for their love in Every Day. But having read Rhianon’s point of view, I get to realize that she cheated on Justin with A. And that Justin is not a total jerk at all and he was hurt with what Rhianon did. I just think that it’s toxic to romanticize things that are really hurtful to others.
  • I recognize the effort to flesh out Rhianon and Justin. I see now that love can be pure on one side but can be complicated on the other. 
  • I just feel after reading it that I really don’t need Rhianon’s side of things. I want my untainted version of the story back. I wish I only read "Every Day".
  • No worries, Levithan’s beautiful writing is still there: “ Most of the time when we think we’re looking for death, we’re really looking for love.”
  • So I will maybe recommend if you are a die-hard David Levithan fan. 
  • I’ve heard there’s a sequel coming this year called “Someday”. I have no feelings about it at the moment.

Diversity Watch:
What stood out for me here was Rhianon’s reactions to A’s different bodies. Rhianon feels less enthused when A is not an attractive cis male. This is not negative because it made me reflect on how I will react if I am on the same situation.

My Rating:

Will Grayson, Will Grayson
by John Green, David Levithan

Will Grayson meets Will Grayson. One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers are about to cross paths. From that moment on, their world will collide and lives intertwine.

It's not that far from Evanston to Naperville, but Chicago suburbanites Will Grayson and Will Grayson might as well live on different planets. When fate delivers them both to the same surprising crossroads, the Will Graysons find their lives overlapping and hurtling in new and unexpected directions. With a push from friends new and old - including the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, offensive lineman and musical theater auteur extraordinaire - Will and Will begin building toward respective romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history's most awesome high school musical.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Genre/s: YA Contemporary
Series: Will Grayson, Will Grayson #1
Publisher: Dutton Books
Publication date:  April 6th 2010
Source/Format: Bought/Paperback
Purchase link: Amazon 

My Thoughts:
  • The book is about two teenage boys who are both named Will Grayson and how their two worlds intersect.
  •  It’s in alternating first person PoV narration by both Wills. One Will is written by John Green and the other by David Levithan.
  •  While reading, I tried to guess which Will is by J.G. and which Will is by D.L., and what do you know, I guessed right! (according to the bonus content at the back of the book)
  • Both Wills are okay characters, I guess. I don’t have much feelings for them. The book owes its charm to the character, Tiny Cooper.
  • Tiny Cooper is the creator/director/actor of a musical aimed to celebrate love and gayness. He is the kind of person who belts out original musical numbers whenever he feels like it. Also he is huge and a linebacker of their football team.
  • Tiny’s enthusiasm with the things he love and the people he care about reminds me of Clarence from the Cartoon Network TV show.
  • Tiny is cartoonish but he is also oh so real. He reminds me too of this super gay classmate I had in college who is a social butterfly and flirts with every guy he meets.
  • It’s a funny book, thanks to Tiny’s hilarious antics and both Wills’ wit and sarcasm. 
  • David Levithan can write funny if he wants to.
  • The friendship dynamics here involves being rude and insulting to each other, not in the spirit of being mean but more like because they are overly familiar and close to each other. (Personally, I don’t like this kind of friendship. I thrive on positive reinforcement.)
  • There is this interesting and layered friendship (or non-friendship) of one Will with a Maura character, that I like.
  • The ending is a bit corny but that’s easily forgivable.
  • I just don’t like it when John Green tries to be unnecessarily deep and complicated. Like in this book, he compared how relationships work with the paradox of the Schrödinger's cat.
  • If you love shows like “Glee” and the “Pitch Perfect” films, I recommend this highly to you.

Diversity Watch:
I love how Tiny Cooper is the "pillar of fabulosity" for gayness. He is described as fat and he carries it with grace and and confidence.

My Rating:

Mini-Reviews: #romanceclass titles

Hello you, it's time for another round of mini-reviews. I’ve been meaning to share some Filipino authors on the blog, so in this post I will say my thoughts on some of my #romanceclass reads.

Bucket List To Love
by C.P. Santi

Aya Contreras is thrilled to be studying in the land of sakura and sushi. Tokyo is a fascinating city to live in—vending machines, cosplayers, karaoke boxes, and bright, colorful conbinis on every corner. And the architectural design program she’s in is everything she dreamed it to be.

The only problem? Her tutor doesn't seem to like her.

Well, she doesn't like him very much either. Sure, Ryohei Mori is talented, and there's no denying he's hot. But he's also a surly, bossy know-it-all who eats too many cookies.

Another annoying thing about him is he's nosy. And when he stumbles upon the crazy bucket list Aya's sisters forced on her, he teases her mercilessly about it.

But when their professor pairs them up for a design competition, things get . . . interesting. Fueled by beer and a whole lot of cookies, can Aya and Ryo cross out some items on her bucket list without killing each other? Or will they realize there's much more to each other than they'd originally thought?

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Genre: Romance
Publisher: Anvil Publishing / Spark Books 
Publication date:  January 2017
Source/Format: Bought/Paperback
Purchase link: Amazon 

My Thoughts:
“Bucket List to Love” met my expectations: it brought me to Japan and it gave me a romantic love story to root for. I love the overall authentic feeling of the setting in the book. The book is even made genuine with its use of Japanese words and honorifics in the characters’ dialogues. I am mildly surprised that even without looking at the meanings of these Japanese words – a glossary was provided in the book at the back page – I can still understand them. I guess my occasional anime binge watching paid off.

I find the characters very likable: Aya for her moxie and Ryo for his just the right mix of suplado (snobbish) attitude. I love the chemistry between them and the thing that endeared me most to Aya and Ryo’s romance is how they are not just attracted to each other physically but intellectually as well. Added bonus likable characters: Aya’s awesome and supportive sisters, Yumi and Kit, whom I heard will have their own books as well soon. You know how I can always do with supportive sibling stories! I am now invested with these sisters, I’ll be right here waiting for the release of their books.

My Rating:

When Sparks Fly
by Ines Bautista-Yao

Twenty-four-year-old photographer's apprentice Regina has always felt like the plain, dull orange next to the shiny red apple that is her best friend Lana. But then she meets Ben—the first guy to ever break Lana's heart, and the first guy to ever make Regina feel that he only has eyes for her. As Regina finds herself falling hard for Ben, she also finds herself breaking all the rules of best-friendship. Will she give up the love of her life for Lana, or will she finally realize that she deserves her share of the spotlight, too?

When Sparks Fly can be read as a standalone novel, but it is also a prequel to Ines Bautista-Yao's other book Only A Kiss.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans. 

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Genre: Romance
Publisher: self-published
Publication date:  August 15th 2016
Source/Format: Amazon freebie/eBook
Purchase link: Amazon 

My Thoughts:
I have a number of concerns with “ When Sparks Fly”. First, it lacks heat. I expected cheek-burning, ovary-stirring kissing scenes and stuff but it did not deliver. The writing is crisp and polished but the story is too dry and maybe not just what I’m looking for from this particular genre.

Second, I’m not sold on the love triangle among Regina, Ben and Lana. The tension between Lana and Regina is not tight enough. I like my love triangles tricky and surprising but this one is too predictable. Also, the resolution of the love triangle felt rushed. Instead of focusing on the love triangle and using it to maximum effect, the book chose to underdevelop it and proceeded to add another character (Alexa) into the mix.

Lastly, the characters have the personality of a paper doll. Maybe because this is a sort of a prequel to another book that I haven't read so I'm missing out on some character nuances? Whatever the case, I feel sorry that I saw no sparks flying between the love birds of this book.

My Rating:

Songs of Our Breakup
by Jay E. Tria

Every breakup has its playlist.

How do you get over a seven-year relationship? 21-year-old Jill is trying to find out. But moving on is a harder job when Kim, her ex-boyfriend, is the lead guitarist of the band, and Jill is the vocalist. Every song they play together feels like slicing open a barely healed tattoo.

Jill’s best friend Miki says she will be out of this gloom soon. Breakups have a probation period, he says. Jill is on the last month of hers and Miki is patiently keeping her company. 

But the real silver lining is Shinta. Having a hot Japanese actor friend in times like these is a welcome distraction. This gorgeous celebrity has been defying time zones and distance through the years to be there for Jill. Now he is here, physically present, and together he and Jill go through old lyrics, vivid memories, walks in the rain, and bottles of beer. Together they try to answer the question: what do you do when forever ends?

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Playlist #1
Genres: Romance
Publication date:  August 22nd 2015
Source/Format: Won from Giveaway/eBook
Purchase link: Amazon 

My Thoughts:
“Songs Of Our Breakup” has a lot of qualities that a lot of romance readers would enjoy, but I hated the characters! ALL of them are these extremely cool people whom I can’t relate to. Take Jill for example. She’s a straight-up manic pixie dream girl with not one, not two, but three boys pining for her affections. The third person PoV placed her far from the reader that she seems to serve no other purpose but to be an object of the male gaze. She watches the stars, pines for forever in romance, by and large basically appearing to have no clear ambition in life. The narrative’s main conflict is to make her run on the hamster wheel of heartbreak, which got frustrating for me. Even when she is alone taking a break from her love problems, she is still fantastically, unrelatably too cool.

Other stuff I’m not too happy about: not enough tension on the love quadrangle, cliches such as drama under a downpour of rain, a lot of “I love you’s” thrown that the phrase lost it’s meaning. It’s a bit of a shame because the book has some great lines, funny banters and steamy love scenes, but those are not enough to save me from losing interest on what’s next with these characters.

My Rating: