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’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 Reading: “Don’t You Cry” by Mary Kubica

don't you cryDon’t You Cry by Mary Kubica is everything I want in a thriller.

I love thrillers.  I love the suspense, the just-this-side-of-credible motivations and reveals, the mystery element, the cliffhangers, the insanity, the secrets.

(Reading over that list just now I realize I’m also describing why I love Gothic fiction, too–just throw in some heavy atmosphere and deep sense of the uncanny to the above, and you’ve got Gothic!)

Anyway, Don’t You Cry is a great choice if you’re a fan of books like The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins or Her by Harriet Lane.  It’s got a fast pace, a great puzzle, and a really good reveal at the end.  It’s very cinematic, too–the writing is very scene- and plot-focused, almost like a crime show.  Actually, that describes the overall tone and feel of this novel pretty well: it’s like a TV drama.  There’s a very good dose of Crime Fiction in this particular book.

The story is told in two alternating voices.  There’s Quinn, who awakes one day to find that her reliable, kind roommate Esther has disappeared.  Quinn finds some mysterious letters among Esther’s possessions, and begins to try to unravel why Esther has gone missing.  The other story is told by Alex, a recent high school graduate who feels he’s wasting his young life in his small town taking care of his alcoholic father.  Then all of a sudden a mysterious young woman shows up in town, and Alex is immediately smitten.

For both Quinn and Alex events turn dark and sinister very quickly.  Only at the end do we see the connection between these storylines.  All the way through, though, there are themes that tie everything together beyond just the plot–Kubica puts a lot of emotional focus on the relationships between parents and children, and the theme of abandonment.   There’s a nice emotional buildup right alongside the intensifying plot buildup, which makes the ending more satisfying.

If you’re after a fast, compelling, and twisty thriller, give this one a try.



Marie’s Reading: “The Good House” by Ann Leary

good houseHildy Good is one of the top real estate brokers in her small town in Massachusetts.  She’s a respected businesswoman, and her family has lived in town for generations.  She’s even descended from one of the women accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, a fact she plays up when showing new folks around town hoping to sell a house.

Hildy is also an alcoholic in recovery, though lately the definition of “recovery” has begun to slip for her.  Though she’ll be the first to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying some wine of an evening.  The story of Ann Leary’s The Good House involves Hildy becoming friends with a new woman in town, Rebecca, at the same time that she rekindles a relationship with a man she’s known for years.

The Good House is a dark piece of domestic character-centered fiction.  And it’s not a leisurely story.  There’s lots of drama and it’s very quick-paced.  But Hildy is just so compelling it’s hard to break away.  The descriptive, evocative writing helps to make you feel a connection to Hildy.  The first-person narration helps the connection as well, creating a character that feels real and truthful and sometimes pitiable and unlikable.

At its core this is a story of a woman working through alcoholism, her own angry, private struggle.  She’s lugging around a lot of baggage, and we’re witness to all of her cringe-worthy drunken episodes.  At least, those she can remember.  It’s due to Hildy’s alcoholism that the story takes its dark turn toward the end.

The Good House is also a story of a small New England town, and the way they are changing.  Many people in this area will recognize the gentrification of a beautiful coastal community, and the way townies whose families have lived somewhere for hundreds of years can no longer afford to live in their hometowns.  Hildy’s being a real estate agent was a good choice, in that it lends this extra dimension to the story.  Even though she’s a bred townie, she still cheerfully and competitively sells houses to rich people from away.  There’s a wonderful sense of place and community (both good and bad) in this novel.

Readalike possibilities: Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh, though darker and with more of a mystery element, might still appeal to those who enjoyed the darker side of The Good House.  It also shares the small-town New England setting. Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs might be a good choice, both for the narrator’s anger, unreliability, and the high drama. Last, Paula Hawkins’   The Girl on the Train could also work, particularly Rachel’s storyline.  There’s more violence and thriller aspects in that one, but it’s still very character- and relationship-centered.




Marie’s Reading: “Her” by Harriet Lane

HerHi.  How are you?  Great.  I’m okay, thanks.

So I finished one of the novels I was excited to read when last we met.  It’s the one called Her, about a woman named Nina who has a mysterious connection to a woman named Emma–a connection that could probably be called a grudge.    From the start we know that Nina remembers Emma, but Emma does not remember Nina.  We also realize quickly that Nina is not altogether quite right upstairs (she indulges in quite a bit of distanced psychological torture and gaslighting).  Emma is simply overwhelmed by her current life circumstances, and in just the right place emotionally to fall into Nina’s traps.

Sounds good, right?  Remember?  I was all:


Her by Harriet Lane is a novel that eases along, sidling up to you, until it grabs you by the neck in the final few moments.  You never reach a crescendo, nor are you desperate to keep turning pages.  The reveal, when it comes, seems so small–but to Nina, it is huge. The ending is a flurry of panic and a moment of realization which puts the novel’s events into perspective.

Lane uses a dual narrative, going back and forth between Emma and Nina.  But instead of a strictly linear narrative, you see events through the eyes of both characters.  After finishing the book you get a sense of how this device really does help reinforce the novel’s ending as well as Nina’s actions.  Nina and Emma have distinct voices and well-drawn concerns.  When you’re in Emma’s world you feel her annoyances and her disappointments and she’s a lot more sympathetic than when you see her through Nina’s eyes.  It’s a good device for getting characters across, along with their first-person voices.

In all, if you’re expecting a thriller in terms of pacing, your reaction to this novel might be more like this, as mine was initially:


But then, the more I thought about it, the more I recognized how insidious the plotting and character development is.  You’re not watching a trainwreck or a roller-coaster, but rather a spider building a web.  Her is a slow burn attached to an uncertain explosive.

I was reminded a lot of Patricia Highsmith’s early stories when I got to the end.  Give those a try for a readalike.  Liane Moriarty or Kate Morton might appeal as well, if you enjoy stories where there are secrets to be revealed and dark motivations to uncover.  The recent The Girl on the Train, which I talked about here, might also appeal to those who enjoy the narrative voices and construction of Her.