Day 1018: The Beautiful Dead

Cover for The Beautiful DeadEve Singer is a crime reporter. Although her boss is horrible, Eve is desperate to keep her job, because she is supporting her father, who is deep in the grip of dementia.

Eve is on the way home from reporting on a murder when she hears a man approaching her. Sure she is going to be attacked in the dark street, by instinct she turns to him and asks him to walk her home. What she doesn’t know is that the murder she has just reported on, of a woman just feet away from a busy street, is the latest in a string of serial killings. The man who walks her home is the murderer.

The trust Eve shows him hypnotizes the murderer, so he begins calling her to lure her into cooperating with him. At first, she doesn’t and turns to the police, agreeing to keep some clues secret. But later, a fear for her job makes her broadcast details about the crimes that she promised to hide.

link to NetgalleyAfter the killer lures her and another news team to the death of one of her rivals, Eve gets a police bodyguard. But when the killer kidnaps her father, she realizes she is going to have to think like a serial killer.

Although The Beautiful Dead belongs with the usual dark thrillers that Bauer usually writes, she is experimenting with throwing in the lightest touch of romance and more likable secondary characters. This is a good move for Bauer, as it lightens up what would be an extremely dark book and gives her more to work with. I think I enjoyed this novel more than the last few as a result.

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Day 1006: The Vanishing

Cover for The VanishingJulia Bishop is a recent widow whose husband bilked people out of millions of dollars before killing himself. Now Julia finds herself in a difficult position. Her friends have all dropped her, assuming she knew what her husband was doing, and some of his victims have threatened to sue her.

Adrian Sinclair comes to her with a solution. He would like to hire her as a companion for his mother, who lives on a secluded estate near Lake Superior. She would disappear completely, and if she wanted to emerge later, he would provide her with a new identity. Julia accepts his offer and finds as an added attraction that his mother is Amaris Sinclair, the famous horror writer, long thought dead.

Julia feels at home at Havenwood from the moment of arriving, but something odd is going on. The figures in the paintings seem to move, and she hears childish singing in some of the rooms. Also, someone seems to have followed her there.

I read this book because it promised to be a page-turning ghost story, but I found myself disappointed. For one thing, Julia’s reactions to things seem all wrong. First, she accepts a plan to disappear without a trace from a man she’s never met before. Then, there’s a whole lot of chuckling going on, even at the most inopportune moments. I confess to having seldom heard anyone chuckle, and yet someone does so on almost every page. Julia is oddly undisturbed by the most fantastic occurrences.

The writing is hackneyed and the dialogue is downright dull. There is no sparkling wit in this novel. And let’s face it, the scary parts aren’t scary.

There are a couple of clever twists at the end of the novel, but the more I thought about the last one, the less sense it made. On the one hand, it seemed a master stroke, creating doubt about everything that came before. On the other hand, it was impossible.

I know that Webb’s first novel was very popular. Maybe it was better. I, for one, won’t be finding out.

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Day 978: Eileen

Cover for EileenJust by coincidence, I read Eileen before it ended up on the Man Booker Prize shortlist. So, unusually for me, I have already read a book on the list and can publish a review shortly after they announced it. Since I have only read one book on the 2015 short list so far for my project, this is really getting ahead of the curve for me.

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Eileen is an astounding combination of character study and thriller. What is more astounding is that very little happens until the end of the novel, which still draws you along and builds suspense.

Eileen is an unhappy young woman who lives with her alcoholic, verbally abusive father in a suburb of Boston. She is deep in self-hatred and combines an ignorance of the world with a fascination with grotesque and ugly things. She is outwardly prudish but secretly obsessed with sex and bodily functions. All-in-all, she is deeply unpleasant, but we still manage to have some sympathy for her and understand how she got that way.

Eileen works at a prison for boys, where she has a crush on one of the guards. She spends a lot of her free time stalking him.

link to NetgalleyBut then she meets Rachel and becomes completely infatuated. She does not realize that Rachel is not the person she seems. Eileen’s occasional comments from many years later indicate that she has only a few days more in her hometown, and the suspense builds as we wonder why she left. One thing we know is that it involves Rachel.

This novel is a masterful character study of a deeply troubled person. She is all too human and believable.

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Day 950: Arrowood

Cover for ArrowoodArden Arrowood has returned after many years to her dying home town of Keokuk, Iowa. She has inherited her grandparents’ house, a stately old home on the banks of the Mississippi. Although she has yearned for home, it is the place of her family’s greatest tragedy, the disappearance of her baby twin sisters when she was eight years old.

Arden has been a troubled young woman, and she is hoping to make a fresh start in her home town. But incidents keep pointing her back to the tragedy. She has been contacted by the site owner of Midwest Mysteries, for example, who thinks the man believed to have kidnapped the girls is innocent.

link to NetgalleyArden has also been hoping to reunite with Ben Ferris, her best friend as a child and her first boyfriend. She is surprised to find he has joined his father’s dentistry practice. But then again, she herself has failed to complete her graduate degree in history and has a secret reason for having quit school.

This novel is atmospheric and gripping. Although it is not difficult to figure out that one character is a bad guy, the solution to the mystery has a couple of twists. I was reminded when reading this book of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. Although I think Sharp Objects is the better novel, I enjoyed reading this one.

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Day 945: Literary Wives! How to Be a Good Wife

Cover for How to Be a Good WifeToday is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in modern fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs. Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

Ariel of One Little Library
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Kate of Kate Rae Davis
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

My Review

Marta has stopped taking her medication. She has been on it for years, and the only other time she stopped, she suffered symptoms of severe depression. This time she keeps glimpsing a young blond girl. Although the girl doesn’t speak to her, she seems to be trying to tell her something.

Marta has been married to Hector for many years, and they have a grown son. Marta seems inordinately upset because their son has left home to go to college. Her marriage to Hector seems almost cartoonishly old-fashioned. Her mother-in-law gave her a book about being a good wife when she married Hector, a book that was out of date when she got it. But she has tried to follow it. Aside from behaving like a 50’s housewife, she has been set limits by Hector beyond which she is not allowed to drive. It is not safe, he claims.

The more we learn about Marta’s life, the more disturbing this novel seems. Are we to believe that Marta is descending into madness, or does it seem as if her memories of her past life are oddly murky and she’s finally remembering?

I’m not sure if we’re to believe that Marta is an unreliable narrator or not. Certainly, no one in the novel ultimately believes her, but I do. I found this novel chilling and completely compelling.

What does the book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?

Caution: My answer to this question involves spoilers, so if you don’t want to know, stop reading now.

I don’t believe we can generalize at all from this novel, because Marta’s is a peculiar circumstance. If we believe her, then she was captured as a young girl and held captive by Hector for two years under the house. She eventually escaped, but he recaptured her, kept her drugged, and created false memories for her to convince her she was a different person. She has lived as a drugged captive, trying to please her husband and feeling love only for her son.

Again, this is a novel about power, and Hector holds all the power in this relationship. The only power Marta has is in subversive minor disobedience, like smoking and pretending to take her pills. Although Marta finally escapes, it is at a terrible cost, since no one believes her. Are we to believe there is really no record of her kidnapping or that they either didn’t look hard enough or she is delusional? I know what I believe, but you may not agree.

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Day 942: Siracusa

Cover for SiracusaNews flash! The Man Booker long list was announced today, and I have actually reviewed one of the books!

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Siracusa is a sometimes shocking story about a disastrous vacation in Italy. Two couples, linked by a friendship between the husband of one and the wife of the other, vacation together with one couple’s pre-teen daughter. The trip this year has been planned by Taylor except for a detour to Siracusa, Sicily, planned by Lizzie. The story alternates among the points of view of the four adults.

Lizzie’s voice seems the most reliable, but all of the adults are unreliable narrators for one reason or another. Lizzie, a writer, is deluded. She is in love with her husband Michael and does not know he is unfaithful. Michael, a formerly famous playwright who has been working on the same novel for years, is a liar who likes power games. He has been cheating on Lizzie with a waitress named Kathy.

Finn is a restaurant owner who smokes too much and is serially unfaithful. His wife Taylor is snobbish and shallow, and she is so overprotective of their 10-year-old daughter Snow that she talks for her. At some point, Taylor begins making a play for Michael, whom both she and Snow adore.

At Siracusa, a tragic chain of events begin when Kathy appears as a surprise for Michael and begins trying to maneuver him out of his marriage. It isn’t until then that Michael realizes he wants to stay with Lizzie.

link to NetgalleyThis novel is complex and interesting, with a shocking conclusion. I was rather freaked out by one of the characters from early in the novel, and my impressions turned out to be right. From starting out to be a fairly mundane story of relationships, this novel works up quite a bit of suspense.

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Day 919: The Cellar

Cover for The CellarI have been reading and enjoying Minette Walters’ chilling thrillers and mysteries for years, ever since her spectacularly creepy novel, The Ice House. But The Cellar is something else again. Walters’ vision has become even darker with this short novel, about what happens when a person is abused for too long.

The Songolis are an African family living in England. One day their youngest son Abiola disappears, and it takes a while before the family notifies the police. This time is taken up with trying to hide evidence that 15-year-old Muna is a slave who sleeps in the cellar. The family presents Muna to the police as their daughter and tell them she has brain damage and cannot speak English.

Muna does speak English, though. She has learned it through watching television and listening to Abiola’s lessons with his English tutor. Her situation improves as the investigation goes on, because the Songolis are afraid to abuse her when a police officer may come to the door at any time. It is quite obvious that the police suspect the father, Ebuka, but for some time we do not learn what happened to Abiola.

We do slowly learn that Muna was removed from an orphanage in Africa under false pretences when she was eight. Yetunde Songoli arrived with forged papers showing that she was Muna’s aunt. Ever since then, Muna has worked and slaved for the family. Physically abused by Yetunde and Abiola and sexually abused by Ebuka, she suspects she will soon also be sexually abused by the older son Olubayo. But with this dischord of Abiola’s disappearance already in their midst, Muna finds ways to create uncertainty within the family and drive them apart.

This novel is a difficult one to read. I can’t say more without giving too much away, but I can’t imagine a novel being much darker. I actually have to recommend one of Walters’ earlier novels if you haven’t read her yet. The Ice House is an excellent start.

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