Marie’s Reading: “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” by Ruth Ware

mrs westawayHal is down on her luck–in serious debt and unsure of where to turn.  So when a letter arrives telling her that she is the beneficiary of a will, she finds the opportunity difficult to pass up.  Never mind that the letter was clearly sent to the wrong person.  She’s never heard of a Mrs. Westaway, and there’s no way she’s a long-lost granddaughter.

But when Hal shows up in Cornwall at Trepassen House for the funeral, she finds a family with a lot of secrets and a lot of baggage–and more than a little of it just might have to do with her.  Uncovering the truth, however, might prove fatal.

I like how tight the writing and focus of the story are.  The narrative goes back and forth between Hal and entries in a diary that she finds, but we spend most of the time with Hal.  Her moral quandaries and her desire to finally learn the truth about herself are the driving forces of the narrative.  Her strong bond with her mother plays a huge role, as well.  All of the characters are interesting, and there’s a feeling of looming threat and mystery.  It’s a wonderfully atmospheric story, too–it’s always cold and raining or snowing in this book, lending a bleak and isolated kind of feel.

There are a couple of nods to Rebecca, which suit the atmosphere well.  That would actually be a good readalike for The Death of Mrs. Westaway, as would some of V.C. Andrews’ early work. There’s a wonderful classic feel to this book, even though the setting is contemporary.  If you enjoy Gothic tales of family secrets, old manor houses, and long-buried crimes, give this one a look!

–Marie

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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

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

Marie’s Reading: “Three Graves Full” by Jamie Mason

three gravesWhile working on his property, landscapers uncover human remains in Jason Getty’s yard.  Jason is horrified, but also confused–neither of these bodies are the one that he buried himself.

Years before Jason committed a murder.  He never reported it, and he buried the man at the edge of his property.  He thought he’d covered for himself pretty well.  But now detectives are swarming, and Jason just knows they’re going to find the third grave eventually.  So he has to decide what to do before his crime is uncovered.

 

There’s also the mystery of the identities of the two bodies eventually found in Jason’s yard.   A team of detectives, Bayard and Watts (along with faithful dog Tessa), are working to figure out what happened to them and why.  Watts and Bayard were my favorite characters in the book–they both come across as dedicated, kind guys who are good at their jobs and have great instincts, as well as being great friends with each other.  Their interactions are great to read.

Jason is fascinating as well.  I like how Mason crafts his mindset.  It takes a while to discover how off-kilter he really is, and it’s a nice build.

Three Graves Full reminded me of a darkly comic “The Tell-Tale Heart,” with some police procedural thrown in.  It’s a fast-paced read with entertaining characters and really well-done action sequences.  If you like mysteries with a slightly different angle with lots of threads that come together at the end, you should give this one a try!

–Marie

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

Marie’s Reading: “Shutter Island” by Dennis Lehane

shutter_island_book_coverIn Dennis Lehane’s creepy and suspenseful Shutter Island, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck arrive on Shutter Island to find a missing inmate from Ashecliffe Asylum.  What seems like a routine investigation is swiftly put off the rails by the uneasy atmosphere at Ashecliffe, and all of the secrets the people in charge seem to be keeping.  Teddy has his own demons to work though at the same time, having recently lost his wife.

I can’t believe I’m only getting to this novel now.  I never saw the movie, either, so the ending remained unspoiled for me.  I enjoyed the dark, film noir feel of this, with the tortured war veteran and his dark past, his solitary nature, his desire for revenge.  He’s a great character, flawed yet remaining sympathetic.

The plotting of this novel is so intricate and so well-constructed.   I can’t out-do the Kirkus reviewer on this one: it’s a “lollapalooza of a corkscrew thriller.”  You start questioning your own sanity by midway through, and I mean that in the best possible way.  The twist is revealed in one of the best scenes I’ve read lately, where the stakes are high for everyone involved and the emotion of it all seems very real.

The setting is fantastic, both gritty and Gothic, perfect for the story.  Ashecliffe is depicted as a brutal relic from another century, and its maximum security isolation on an island is perfect.

Lots of diverse readalikes present themselves for this one, depending on what you enjoyed the most.  Noir and crime fiction from the 1950’s might really appeal to you, if you liked that aspect of the story.  The grittier the better. There’s also something very Gothic about the creepy atmosphere and sense of danger at the asylum.  You might enjoy John Harwood’s The Asylum (I talked about it here).  I also thought of The Boy Who Could See Demons while reading this, which you can read more about at this post.

If you want just a smidge more of the Nazi subplot, some aliens, and a ton of Sarah Paulsen, you might want to check out the second season of American Horror Story, which took place at an insane asylum in Massachusetts.  Here, I can show this clip on a family-friendly blog (trust me, the entire season is just as nuts as this, but in different ways).

–Marie

Marie’s Currently Reading…Blizzard Edition!

As most of you have probably  heard, there’s a blizzard on the way to Maine tonight.  CRIPPLING, you guys.  It’s going to be CRIPPLING: http://haggett.bangordailynews.com/2017/02/12/home/crippling-blizzard-on-the-way-for-coastal-and-interior-maine-2/

snowmen
I’ll do my level best not to go insane.  No promises.

Tomorrow is looking like a wash.  A whitewash.  We’ve called a closure already here at the library, because…seriously, CRIPPLING BLIZZARD, guys.   In between shoveling out our driveway from the snowdrifts and baking brownies and praying that the power stays on, I’ve got lots of great books on the go for tomorrow’s snowstorm!

Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air by Richard Holmes–a history of hot air ballooning!  There’s something incredibly inspiring about the early aeronauts and their quest to take to the air.  Balloonists were showmen, scientists, adventurers, and everything in between.

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart–fun, rollicking historical fiction with a fascinating lead and some cracking good dialogue.  It’s about a woman named Constance Kopp, who was one of the first deputy sheriffs in America.

The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stewart–this is a witty and very entertaining novel about a barber in a small French village.  When he starts losing clients due to baldness, he decides that he’ll become the village matchmaker instead.  It’s clever and cozy but not twee.

Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon–I need at least one thriller on standby.  An alcoholic journalist tries to redeem her life and career by taking on an unsolved case.

Not a bad set of companions for the day.  Apart from Snow Shovel, of course, who I’ll be seeing a lot of.  I hope you’re all holed up somewhere snug and safe tomorrow!

–Marie