Posted in Book Reviews

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

Posted in Book Reviews

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

Posted in Booklists, Uncategorized

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/

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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

 

 

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews

Marie’s Reading: “Behind Her Eyes” by Sarah Pinborough

behind-her-eyesI assumed this thriller has a mind-blowing, unpredictable tweest.  The jacket copy asks you first thing: “Why is everyone talking about the ending of Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes?”

I love this kind of guessing game!  Uh, let’s see:

  • It was Earth all along
  • Turns out it’s man
  • It’s made of people
  • Nicole Kidman was the ghost the whole time
  • The entire novel was a dream
  • The entire novel was a paranoid delusion
  • The entire novel was a fantasy played out in a snowglobe
  • Identical twins
  • Christopher Walken is a robot
  • They’ve been dead the entire time
  • It’s the sled
  • He’s been dressing up like his dead mom
  • There are two killers
  • It was an Army test
  • It was aliens

Is there a prize if I guess correctly?

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough is an engaging and twisty thriller with plenty of psychological suspense and tension.  Pinborough has a background in writing horror and dark fantasy, and it really shows here.  The story involves Louise, a single mother in London.  One night she meets a guy named David in a bar, who confesses he’s married.  And then it turns out that David is Louise’s new boss, and they both find it difficult to deny their attraction.  On top of that, Louise becomes friends with Adele, David’s troubled and mysterious wife.

Louise gets dragged into the dysfunctional relationship between David and Adele, and she’s not sure which of them she can trust.  If she can trust either of them to be telling the truth about their backgrounds and pasts.

The narrative goes back and forth between Adele and Louise, and with Adele in particular, you’re never quite sure how much to believe.  As the book goes on, you’re drawn into an intense triangle between these characters–the friendship between Louise and Adele, the passionate affair between Louise and David, the mysterious and perhaps sinister marriage of David and Adele.  The plot is intricate, playing with past and present, with perceptions and secrets, until the final confrontation and shocker ending.

Yeah, about that ending.  I don’t want to spoil it, but I will tell you this, my fellow thriller and mystery fans: it’s definitely unpredictable.  Dirty pool.  So blatantly entirely impossible that you’d ever figure it out that this is all I could think of after finishing:

truman-capote
“You’ve all been so clever for so long you’ve forgotten to be humble!  You tricked and fooled your readers for years.  You’ve tortured us all with surprise endings that make no sense!”

My Lionel Twain-esque initial reaction aside, though, I did enjoy this novel immensely.  It’s well-engineered, it’s atmospheric, it’s twisty, and the cat-and-mouse aspect is great fun.  I liked the growing sense of dread and unease, and the crazily building tension.

Just open your mind to the idea that you’re in a psychological thriller that doesn’t play by the usual rules.  Once you get over the shock, it’s actually pretty refreshing!

–Marie

Posted in Book Reviews

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

 

Posted in Book Reviews, Halloween Countdown, Uncategorized

Not-So-Horrific-Horror: “Security” by Gina Wohlsdorf

Okay, that’s a lie.  It’s pretty horrific for a thriller.  I’m talking blood, slashers, more blood, chase scenes, Michael Myers costumes, and yet more blood.  But it’s not straight-up Horror so I’m putting in the Not-So-Horrific category.

It’s also a quick, compelling read, so you might even finish it before the big day tomorrow!

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Manderley, an expensive luxury hotel, is in the final stages of preparation before its grand opening.  Several employees are inside the building.  There’s also an unexpected early guest–a knife-wielding murderer who takes out the employees one by one.  And all the while, a mysterious first-person narrator is watching everything on Manderley’s state of the art security system.

It’s a very complex book stylistically–the formatting of a page will sometimes reflect all of the many things going on in different cameras, to different characters.  Black humor and a love story play out against the gory backdrop.

Really, I’m not kidding you.  Gory.  Blood in the elevators, bodies in the bathtubs, bits  of employee strewn around various rooms.  But even so, the characters are wonderful and the story is so compelling you get past it.

The narrator is revealed slowly over the course of the story.  As the story unfolds and you learn more about the narrator and his background, as well as his present circumstances, you realize how elegant and original the “twist” is.

Enjoy, and see you tomorrow, pals!  I’m putting candy out again this year, so come on down to the library!

–Marie

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews

Marie’s Reading: “Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch

darkmatterJason is a physics professor who lives with his artist wife, Daniela, and their son Charlie in Chicago.  They’re moderately prosperous and happy, but both of them always wonder what might have been–before they had their son, they were both on track to become brilliant in their respective fields.

Then one night, Jason is abducted by a stranger in a mask, and from there is thrown into an alternate reality.  All he wants is to get back to his home, his family, and his old life.  But it’ll be a long, dangerous road to get there.

Dark Matter is an action packed thriller with a lightning-quick pace, lots of dialogue, and some mind-bending moments.  Crouch constructs scenes with texture and depth.  There’s enough emotional heft to Jason’s quest to give the book a solid grounding, which isn’t always the case with thrillers.  There are some nice sci-fi touches, too, but Crouch never really goes into the details of how the whole thing works (as the title suggests, it’s something to do with dark matter).  If you’re willing to suspend disbelief, you’ll be rewarded with a smart and poignant story about identity and the nature of the self, as well as what makes the sum total of a life.

With plenty of gunfights and daring escapes.

–Marie