Marie’s Reading: “Bitter Orange” by Claire Fuller

91Qzwi5HkMLThere’s a very old-fashioned feel to this psychological thriller.  In style and tone Bitter Orange reads a bit like Patricia Highsmith or Shirley Jackson.  The writing is elegant and the mystery a hook from the get-go.  The perfect book to curl up with on a December evening!

Frances Jellico, elderly and nearing death, recalls the summer of 1969 in an old country mansion in England.  That summer she was at Lyntons to study the garden’s architecture.  A couple named Cara and Peter have taken the rooms below hers.  Soon Frances befriends the young couple, only to find that there’s a lot more to both of them than they let on.

Fran, middle-aged and lonely and clearly with a lot of emotional baggage, is giddy to have friends.  Cara, strange and beautiful, finds an easy audience for her fantastic and romantic stories in Frances.  And Peter soon becomes the object of a crush.  I like how, as the story continues, it becomes clear that Fran is hiding something.  You begin to question exactly how reliable a narrator she is.

The back and forth of the narrative adds to the tension.  You’re aware as you’re reading that some sort of calamity is going to happen, and that Fran is actively hiding details.  It’s the bomb under the table sort of suspense.

Fuller’s writing is incredibly rich.  She sets a lovely scene, and her descriptions are wonderfully immersive and evocative.  There’s a touch of the Gothic here, too, with the dark and sinister secrets and things going bump in the night at Lyntons.

If you liked The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud for the narrator and tone, give this book a look!  The Talented Mr. Ripley fans might find a lot to like here, too, as well as those who liked The Haunting of Hill House.


TBR Challenge 2017 Update #7

I’m back from vacation!  It was incredibly restful and already feels as if it happened months ago.  I even managed to get most of the books I had on my list read!

From the TBR List:

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.  I really hadn’t read this!  Tom is a totally amoral semi-con-man who is sent to Italy to bring back Dickie Greenleaf, at his father’s request.  Eventually, Tom decides he wants to be Dickie, and will do anything he needs to do to meet this goal.  The slow build is great, and there’s an undercurrent of unease to up the suspense.  A nice reminder to not get into boats with weirdos!  Trust your instincts!

Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories by Lauren Groff.  I really enjoyed her novel The Monsters of Templeton, so I wanted to try her short stories.  Groff’s writing is lyrical and detailed.  Just about every story is about troubled love, in one way or another–between married couples, between lovers, between friends.  And each one has its own tone and style and feel.  I especially liked Lucky Chow Fun (set in Templeton, the setting for her first novel) and The Dictator’s Wife.

Meddling Kids by Edgar CanteroI skipped to the front end of the TBR list for this one.  Clever, scary, and hilarious–check back at Halloween for more!

The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill.  This mystery is going to get a post all to itself.  Stay tuned!

I think I’ve been thoughtlessly adding titles to my GoodReads to-read list for book club and such, because now I’ve got 755 books on the list.  I’ve completely lost track of how I’m doing, but that doesn’t matter!  I’m reading titles I’ve been meaning to get to, and that’s what counts.


Marie’s Reading: “A Simple Favor” by Darcey Bell

simple favorHere’s a novel that actually lives up to the “next Gone Girl” hype: A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell.  Twisted people doing twisted things to each other and a few people wind up dead.  It’s like a disturbing soap opera.  A few criticisms of the book I’ve read suggest that it might be a touch too twisted for some.  The characters in particular.  However, I thought it was a perfectly enjoyable thriller with a very nice open ending.

The basic plot is this: Stephanie, who runs a mom-blog, is left picking up the pieces after her best friend Emily simply disappears.  But soon it becomes clear Emily’s disappearance is anything but simple.  Alternating narrative voices between Stephanie, entries from Stephanie’s blog, Emily, and Emily’s husband Sean, we begin to realize that none of these people are entirely what they seem.

A Simple Favor has all the elements of Gone Girl  (the dastardly plan, the bizarre marriage dynamic, the one character who is seriously nuts), but somehow it all plays out in a less threatening and disturbing way than that book did.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a disturbing cat-and-mouse kind of thriller, and it’s got suitably disturbed characters, and it is certainly evocatively written with great idiosyncratic voices.  Yet there’s something about these characters, and about the game they’re playing, that really feels like a soap.   I say that just to give you an idea of the tone, not as a criticism (like I said, I enjoyed this very much!).  Also, there’s more than a dash of VC Andrews in with the Patricia Highsmith.  If you get my drift.

A Simple Favor does me the favor of offering up its own perfect readalikes in-text.  If you enjoy this book, or Gone Girl, or books like it, definitely try Patricia Highsmith if you haven’t already.  Strangers on a Train would be good.   For a watch-alike, go classic with a Hitchcock movie.


Marie’s Reading: “The Woman in Cabin 10” by Ruth Ware

woman-in-cabin-10Lo Blacklock is a reporter for a travel magazine, and she just got a great opportunity: she’s going to cover the maiden voyage of a small luxury cruise ship in Scandinavia.  On the first night, however, Lo believes she witnesses the murder of the woman in cabin 10, the one next door to hers.  When she informs security, she’s told that there isn’t anyone booked in cabin 10.

All the drunken uncertainty of The Girl on the Train along with all the intrigue of an Agatha Christie manor house  murder, with some Patricia Highsmith stuff thrown in for fun.  Lo is desperate to solve this bizarre mystery, because she’s positive that she spoke with a woman saying in cabin 10–and just as positive that she witnessed her murder.  She finds herself stymied at every turn, and tries to pick out suspects from those on board the ship.

I shared this at Simply Books! on Saturday, and found myself unable to give any detail about the plot and overall feel except for the references I just gave above.  One of the other members spoke up and asked, “If people aren’t familiar with the genre and don’t get all the references, is it still a good book?”

Ooops.  I was quick to reply with a resounding “Yes!”  Because The Woman in Cabin 10 is clever, has a fantastic setting, a main character who’s both flawed and enjoyable, and some great supporting cast members.  I won’t spoil the climax and the ending, but I thought it was nicely done and left an eerie sort of chill.

As in many cases, I think I’ve just reached the point where I’m burned out on thrillers.  They’ve become a game, almost, since I’ve read so many of them so close together.  It’s spot the reference, spot the influence, spot the twist. (I mean come on though one of the characters in this book is straight-up reading a Highsmith novel at one point so those in on it know just where this story’s going…)  For me, that’s always been part of the fun of thrillers.  I love seeing all that in a novel because it adds layers to my reading experience.  There have just been so.  Many. Of.  Them.  I’m tapped out.

If your Thriller mojo is still working, though, definitely give this one a try!  Ware’s work is twisty and smart, and she’s a deft hand with misdirection in her narrative.  She’s also got a great feel for detailed settings and atmosphere.



Marie’s Not Reading This

Lots and lots of blogs and websites present a feature where they talk about the TBR (“to-be-read”) pile.  Those ominously swaying stacks on your coffee table, the scribbled list on a napkin you carry around in your pocket, your “to-read” virtual bookshelf on Goodreads, they all count.  Your TBR Pile consists of the books you have on-deck, the ones you’ve been meaning to get to, the ones you’re going to start soon.

Marie at home.

I haven’t really got one of those.  What I do have, though, is a Not Reading This pile.

I’ve talked about this before.  I’m not saying I’m not reading these books because I don’t like them.  I’m actually hoarding them because I like them so much.  I read a chapter or two here and there of each, and just cycle through the pile as the mood strikes me.   I’m particularly bad at this when it comes to books I own.  There’s an entire shelf of books in my office containing books that all have bookmarks in them.

So here are the books I’m not reading.  Or just barely reading.  The list is in descending order based on how long I’ve been working on them.
The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor by Flannery O’Connor
The Provincial Lady in America by E.M. Delafield
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950’s America by Laura Shapiro
The Shape of Snakes by Minette Walters
The Crooked House by Christobel Kent
Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Morris Dickstein

In my defense, those first two (which, incidentally, live on that shelf I mentioned above), are really nice nightstand reads, ones to keep close and dip into as more of a comfort kind of thing.  The others…I have no excuse besides the simple fact that everything just looks so good.

I’ve also been reading Dancing in the Dark pretty hard, even though it’s taking me a while.  Book club is coming up, so I have to focus!

In closing: I hope you accept this list in lieu of actual content.  A proper post will be forthcoming.  I’ve just got a lot I’m not reading.



“Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives : Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense” Edited by Sarah Weinman

We’ve been getting much too scary lately.   Yeesh, there’s a Horror Month twist ending for you–turns out Horror fan Marie has been a wimp all along.

Shown: Marie, October 2014
Shown: Marie, October 2014

Let’s dial back the Horror as we ease into Halloween proper, and pump up some classic dark Domestic Suspense.

Troubled Daughters

This wonderful collection contains dark stories by the likes of Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith.  They’re the big names, so it was nice to get to know the work of other writers of short domestic suspense.  If you’ve burned out on Horror this month right along with me, Domestic Suspense is a good way to soothe yourself while still remaining dark just before Halloween.

What is Domestic Suspense, you ask?  Let’s go to the expert–editor of this collection, Sarah Weinman!  In her view, this subgenre can be described as:

To my mind, it’s a genre of books published between World War II and the height of the Cold War, written by women primarily about the concerns and fears of women of the day. These novels and stories operate on the ground level, peer into marriages whose hairline fractures will crack wide open, turn ordinary household chores into potential for terror, and transform fears about motherhood into horrifying reality. They deal with class and race, sexism and economic disparity, but they have little need to show off that breadth.

That seems pretty accurate to me.  I’d also add that these stories have a few hallmarks of Suspense and Dark Fiction, and even a touch of Horror–a sense of unease, of waiting danger, unreliable narrators, mounting tension, and a not-always-neat ending.  The Domestic part comes, as Weinman notes, from the tight focus on interior and domestic life.  It’s the seedy underbelly of straight-up Domestic Fiction.

Each of these tales is a gem, sure to entertain and wrong-foot you.  They’re short and well-paced, so it’s a great book for dipping into a bit at a time.  That’s assuming, of course, that you’re able to put it down at all.