Marie’s Reading Thrillers: “Tips for Living” and “The Lying Game”

I always want to read thrillers and suspense in late winter.  It’s a great time of year to hunker down with books, and something about the cold and dark lends itself to darker stories.  I’ve been reading a lot of Minette Walters, as well as re-visiting Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books.

Here are two thrillers that got me through some dark and snowy afternoons recently!

In Tips for Living, Nora has finally gotten her life back on track after her husband’s affair and their subsequent divorce.  But then her ex-husband and his new wife move into Nora’s adopted small town.  Shortly thereafter, the two are found murdered in their home.  Even worse, Nora is a sleepwalker suffering a relapse, and cannot remember her whereabouts on the night of the murders.  Nora has to clear her name while all the while wondering if, in fact, she did commit the crime.

As a bonus, I think anyone who lives in a small community with a large summer population will totally understand a lot of the snarkiness displayed in the newspaper article subplot of the book (the “Tips for Living” of the title).  There’s great small-town atmosphere, that sense of community that’s sometimes claustrophobic and insular.

Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game is less of a who-dun-it mystery than Tips for Living, and more of a thriller with many layers of deception.  It’s about four friends who have been hiding a secret for years, only to have it come back to bite them.  The scene-setting is great and the characters are interesting–Ware has a talent for atmosphere and dialogue.  If you like Paula Hawkins and S.J. Watson, you might like Ware’s books.

Though I enjoy whiling away winter afternoons with thrillers, I’m definitely looking forward to springtime and being able to read them with more sunshine and an open window!

–Marie

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Marie’s Reading: “The Cellar” by Minette Walters

CellarThough the blog doesn’t reflect it, I’ve been on a Minette Walters kick lately.  I like her unlikeable characters, and I like her feel for misdirection.  The Cellar is different than her other books, and it’s a dark, sad, creepy story.

A family of African immigrants brought along their slave, Muna, to England.  She has been with them since she was eight years old, when they stole her from an orphanage.  Muna is forced to live in the cellar, to cook and to clean, and to endure all manner of abuse from the Songali family.  And all this time, she’s been plotting her revenge.

There’s a slow, creepy build to this story.  At the start, one of the sons of the family has gone missing, which brings police to the door.  To cover Muna’s true place in the household, she’s finally given real clothes and a bedroom.  As the tale continues, you discover how much Muna knows and understands–from the fact she can speak English to the lengths she’ll go to to exact some vengeance on this family.

There’s no one to like in this novel, but you can certainly understand how tragic and twisted poor Muna is.  Even in the more grotesque moments, it’s hard to feel much but a sick pity for her.  This is one of those horror stories that unwinds the disturbing truths slowly, and stays with you for a while after reading it.

If you enjoy claustrophobic horror stories and tales of revenge, give this a look.  But if the winter darkness already has you in a funk, maybe put this one off until summertime!

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “The Perfect Nanny” by Leila Slimani

perfect nannyThis French thriller is a slim, quick read, but it packs an emotional punch.  The story is about a nanny named Louise, hired by a French couple to care for their two children.  Over time, and via flashback, it becomes clear that Louise is not as wonderful a find as her employers supposed.

This novel is quite understated and character-focused.  Readers who are tired of rote police procedurals and lots of heinous crime will likely find the style and tone refreshing.  The reader is also aware from the first page of both the crime and who did it, and the narrative does not focus on an investigation nor the gory details.  Instead, we get a glimpse into this family and into Louise’s life, and can intuit the reasons behind the tragedy that opens the book.  The story is compelling and unsettling, with lots of dark corners.

The Perfect Nanny has less to do with a crime and investigation than it does with motherhood and with caregiving, and how oppressive those roles can be even as they bring a lot of joy.  Slimani also examines the tensions of class.  Readers who enjoy intensely focused, character-centered novels should give this one a look!  I’d also suggest it to readers who enjoy old-school domestic thrillers.

–Marie

January Staff Picks

Wear-1

A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney.
This book is quite unique as it is really one of the first to really examine the friendships female writers had, in their historical contexts. These authors point out that unlike the studies of the male literary friendships in history (ie Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Byron and Shelley) these friendships were multifaceted in that they served as a support for each of these women but in most cases there was rivalry and competition as well due to their time periods and the lack of support society had for female authors. A fabulous read for anyone who loves these authors or is fascinated with women’s studies.
–Stephanie

Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich.
Bernd Heinrich was a former Professor of Zoology at the University of Vermont, who now lives in the western mountains of Maine. Maine winters can be long, but this book will take you on an outside adventure without leaving the warmth of your house.

“On a cold Maine day in 1984, Bernd Heinrich saw a flock of ravens sharing their food and apparently summoning other ravens to join in…Bernd’s adventures in the teeth of the Maine winters over the next four years, make an exciting detective story complete with false leads, apparently contradictory clues, and finally hard evidence.”
–Sarah
Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America by Michael Ruhlman.
Who knew grocery stores could be so fascinating?  Ruhlman blends a history of American grocery stores with a look at our current health issues and the way we interact with our food.  His style is funny and personable, and he’s very passionate about consumer education and about food.  Valuable insight into how food is marketed and sold in our country.
–Marie
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
This is a story about a young girl raised by a witch, a swamp monster, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon who must unlock the powerful magic buried deep inside her. It was an easy read with some great insights into magic even for old timers :).
–Sandra
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan
Although the book is fiction, it is based on the true story of Pino Lella, a 17 year old in Milan during WW II. After the bombings begin in Milan, his parents send him to a camp he used to attend as a child, where the priest in charge of the school sends him off to hike a different route everyday. This is practice for when he finally helps guide Jews who are fleeing Italy over the Alps into Switzerland. When he turns 18, his parents fear that he will be sent to the Russian Front so they force him to join the German army. By some stroke of luck he becomes the chauffeur for General Leyers. In this role he brings his observations back to the resistance which is then relayed to the allies.
–Mary
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, narrated by Stephen Fry
As I’ve said before, I generally don’t “do” audiobooks; I usually just can’t stay engaged.  But I am absolutely hooked on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes read by Stephen Fry.  Fry’s reading is so lively yet subtle that I find myself picking up my headphones every chance I get.  (Even just the way he has Sherlock Holmes say, “ah,” is part of the characterization.)  And if that audiobook merely whets your appetite for Stephen Fry, you’ll find his reading of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy laugh-out-loud great!
–Diane

Marie’s Reading: “The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer” by Sydney Padua

lovelace and babbageI loved The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.  It’s consistently charming, hilarious, smart, and incredibly informative.  What a great way to give Lovelace and Babbage a wonderful adventure and a happy ending.

Based on the very real friendship and partnership between Ada, Countess of Lovelace and Charles Babbage, this graphic novel takes place in a “pocket universe” where the two of them actually built the Difference Engine (Analytical Engine, if you want to be precise, but as Padua notes, Difference Engine sounds cooler).  Adventures and hijinx ensue, with tons of cameos from famous Victorians.

analytical_engine

Padua’s writing and art are both delightful, lively and entertaining.  The footnotes and endnotes are extensive and fourth-wall-breaking.  Padua does a great job of explaining and contextualizing the history of computer science and mathematics (and pocket universes). This book grew out of her webcomic, which you can find here.  Her site is great, chock-full of fun extras and an adventure that didn’t make it into the book.

If you enjoy a blend of humor and history, and/or if you’re a Kate Beaton fan, you should give this a look!  Steampunk fans might find a lot to like, too.

invention of geek

–Marie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marie’s Favorites of 2017

Here we are, nearly at the end of another year of reading, and it’s time to tally up the favorites!

Below please find my list of my favorite books of the past year.  These aren’t necessarily books published in 2017, just ones I read this year.  If I wrote a blog post for a title, I linked to it.  If I didn’t, I linked to the Goodreads page.

It’s been a pretty good year, as far as books go.  I found a couple of new favorite authors (Amy Stewart and Karen Maitland) and re-visited some old pals (like Ottessa Moshfegh).  I ended up enjoying quite a bit of weird/fantastic fiction, which isn’t usually my thing.  Nice to get out of the old comfort zone!

I suppose it’s a little pessimistic to say I’m not going to find another favorite book in the next three weeks, but I don’t think it’ll happen.  Unless my current reads really take a turn and deliver something extraordinary, I think I’ll leave it here.

Marie’s Favorite Reads of 2017:

The Hike by Drew Magary

Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions by David Quammen

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

When the English Fall by David Williams

Slade House by David Mitchell

Enjoy the last few reading weeks of 2017!  I hope you found lots of new favorites this year, too!

–Marie

November Staff Picks

Wear-1

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth: A Graphic Novel by Isabel Greenberg.
This graphic novel is an intricate story about stories–about storytelling, myths, and folklore, and how they shape human experience.  The art and words flow together, with so much detail in every picture.  It’s also got a lot of humor, both visual and textual.  The core story is about a storyteller from the cold land of Nord, and his travels to find the missing piece of his soul.  References to ancient cultures and their myths abound.  This is such a rich, rewarding story (or set of stories)!
–Marie

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
This real and very raw book is hard hitting from the beginning!  It is a no holes barred story in the trenches of the inner city projects in Chicago.  It involves gangs, police injustice, discrimination and a fuel to use words to make change happen.  The language is rough, but it was a story so relevant to today’s world and I loved Starr and her family! A must read for teens and adults in the world we live in today, where we must remember to treat everyone with respect, even when we disagree!
–Miss Amy

Revolution Downeast: The War for American Independence in Maine by James S. Leamon
It explains a lot about the place of Maine in the British Empire, how the end of the French and Indian War finally allowed Camden and the Penobscot area to be settled, how the new settlements were not yet on their feet when the Revolution arrived, how Maine got little support from Massachusetts, even though we were part of Massachusetts, how and why Maine eventually separated from Massachusetts. The “two Maines” are present right from the very beginning and in all the politics of the era.
–Ken

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandrai Marzano-Lesnevich.
As recent law-school graduate, the author was working for an anti-death-penalty program when the case of a child murderer hit her desk.  The perpetrator’s story compelled her to dig deeper into his history and, to her unhappy surprise, stirred up her own childhood memories.  A true-crime/personal-story balancing act, The Fact of a Body leads readers into sometimes uncomfortable terrain to explores the ways in which society often fails both victims and criminals.
–Diane

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.
I revisit Virginia Woolf’s brief masterpiece every couple of years, reveling in the brilliance of the prose and the depth of Woolf’s grasp of the wonders and horrors of everyday experience.
–Diane

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater.
It was gorgeous. Fiction woven with legend, this is a tall tale that seems like it could really happen. Stiefvater has a gift for character-writing that makes everyone just so HUMAN. There is Beatriz Soria, “the girl with no feelings”, who turns out to have some very deep ones. Pete Wyatt, the boy with a hole in his heart searching for a future. Joaquin Soria who dreams of being a radio DJ and reaching the hearts of his listeners.

Daniel Soria is The Saint of Bicho Raro, who is able to call hidden darkness out of pilgrims and make it visible. The problem, then, is what the pilgrims do about the visible darkness. Some live with it for years – the girl with a constant rain cloud over her head, the twins bound together by a fierce black snake, the priest with a coyote head. For as long as anyone can remember, the Soria family has been warned that they cannot interfere with the pilgrims while they struggle to solve their problems. But now, Daniel has been claimed by the darkness in the name of love, and the Soria cousins are determined to find a better way and save him. The book is shot through with fantastic details of the desert, owls, black roses, and the trials of love in all forms – romantic and familial. Above all, it is about learning to forgive yourself and trust hope.

–Cayla