Marie’s Reading: “My Lovely Wife” by Samantha Downing

lovely wifeOur unnamed narrator and his beautiful wife, Millicent, have found a great way to spice up their 15-year marriage: they murder young women and then devise ways to get away with it.

The couple has a nice house in the Florida suburbs.  He’s a tennis pro, she’s a realtor.  They have a son and a daughter.  And both Millicent and her husband are stone cold in their own ways.  Yet, since we’re in the husband’s head the whole time and hearing the story from his point of view, his necessary charm and ease come across really well, and you see why he’s so good at his half of what he and his wife are up to.

I don’t want to give away too much of this plot, because so much depends on surprises and twists and turns.  I was enthralled the whole way through, and, as I said, the narrator is great–totally absorbing and convincing, and oh so charming, so good at appearing sympathetic.   And so twisted.

The dynamic of their marriage is a fascinating one to read about.  The husband projects so much onto Millicent, makes her into an almost other-worldly creature rather than a human woman, that you are left wondering what she’s really like.  It’s another nice, unsettling touch to an already unreliable narrator.

The pace of this thriller is fantastic.  It’s compelling all the way through, rockets through the last third, and the ending is a punch.  Downing keeps up the suspense and never bogs the story down.  Every detail is well-placed and the writing itself is very evocative, filled with mounting tension.  There’s some great family detail as well, though, and some well-placed black humor.  It’s not gory or explicit, either.

If you like Gillian Flynn’s books, give this one a try!

–Marie

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Halloween Read: “The Ghost Notebooks” by Ben Dolnick

theghostnotebook

Is it ghosts?  Or is it madness?  Or maybe a little of both?

The Ghost Notebooks follows Nick and Hannah, a newly engaged couple at a crisis point in their lives and their relationship.  Their careers are stagnating, and so is their bond.  In hopes that a big change might help them out of their rut, they take jobs as caretakers for a house museum in upstate New York.

From the first, there’s something eerie and secretive about both the town and the house.  The museum was the family home of a 19th century writer and philosopher who, it’s rumored, dabbled in spiritualism.  As the days wear on in this remote and creepy new place, Hannah starts to unravel.  She stops sleeping, hears voices at night, and becomes obsessed with researching the house and the writer.  Nick can only stand by as something tragic happens.

While there’s some occult and spiritualist elements here, this is less a story about a haunting than it is about minds in crisis.  Is Nick a reliable narrator?  Is something nefarious going on?  Or is everything seemingly supernatural simply the result of grief and trauma?

The narrative voice is often wry and funny, and there are a lot of humorous moments balanced against the heavy ones.  If you enjoy just a maybe-sprinkling of ghosts around Halloween, or you’re fascinated by how human minds might create ghouls and goblins, give this one a look!

Marie’s Reading: “All Things Cease to Appear” by Elizabeth Brundage

all-things-cease-to-appear-1Quick one for today, post-gorgeous holiday weekend.  It’s a blend of suspense, mystery, ghost story, and family story told with rich prose and a haunting tone–All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage.

At the beginning of the story, George Clare finds his wife murdered in their old farmhouse in upstate New York.  He’s the immediate suspect, but his parents manage to bail him out, and the police can’t get enough evidence to bring a case against him.

From there, the story goes back in time to show the backstory of the Clares and the story of their marriage, and how the murder is just the latest crime in a string of them.  We also learn the story of the Hales, who owned the farm before the Clares moved in.  Soon the story shifts to more of a “how-dunnit” than a “who-dunnit,” blending with the story of a poor small town and the people who try to survive there.  There’s also just a hint of the supernatural, but just enough to add another dimension to the story and characters.

The sense of place and the atmosphere is wonderfully evocative–the whole book feels cold, a little desperate, a little bleak.  The intense moments sneak up on you.  This is a very rich, well-crafted story, with strong characters and a good dose of atmosphere.  The pace is slow, but the characters and the mystery keep the story going.

If you enjoy the Dublin Murder Squad books by Tana French, or the slightly-otherworldly intricate suspense of Jennifer McMahon, give this one a try!

–Marie

April Simply Books! Meeting

Thank goodness for the stalwart Simply Books! crew.  Gentlefolk and scholars all.

I was sick on Saturday.  While I chugged Dayquil and herbal tea and watched Spaced on YouTube, four of our regulars got together and had a great meeting.  So I’ll say again: thank goodness for this wonderful group!  I can’t tell you how nice it is that they don’t even need a facilitator around.

Many many thanks to the member who served as scribe this month, and then sent me the list!  I appreciate it immensely!

Here’s the list of books the Simply Books! members talked about this month:

improve marriage the constant princess

wreath

all the lightOur next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, May 23rd at 2pm at the library.  It will be our last official meeting of the season!  Hard to believe summer break is already upon us.  As ever, we’ll reconvene in September.

See you in May!

Marie

Marie’s Reading: “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins

Girl-on-the-TrainWithin the first few pages of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, we learn that our primary narrator regularly gets drunk on the train and has made up names and life stories for a couple whose house she watches out the window at a regular stop.

Yes, I thought to myself.  Totally off her nut.  This is going to be a great story!  Yes!

I wasn’t wrong.

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October Simply Books! Meeting

Hi All!  Sorry for the delay in getting this up.   I couldn’t think of a way to tie in a Simply Books! update with Horror Month.  We’re not all that scary.

So here we are with another great list of books to share.  It’s as varied as ever, and we had some great conversations about this month’s reads.  I always like to share these books in our members’ words whenever I can (read: whenever I take good enough notes), so I’ve done that here.

Enjoy!

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Marie’s Reading: “Starter House” by Sonja Condit

starterhouseThis is a Saturday Afternoon Movie in prose form.   That’s not a criticism, merely the best way I can think to describe the general vibe of this novel.

It’s got a nice even pace, some creepy imagery, a couple laughs, and a few scenes to tug the heartstrings.  The characters are flawed but not too terribly complex.  There’s also enough suspense and mystery to keep you going through to the end, which boasts a reveal that’s a bit out of the ordinary.  It’s not absorbing, but it is compelling.  The structure is cinematic, going from scene to scene and character to character in a nice linear way.

That’s what I mean by a Saturday Afternoon Movie feel.  I was completely absorbed for a few hours, got my entertainment and my suitable ending, and then it was time to go do something else.  Sometimes, that’s just what you need. Continue reading