Happy Halloween! This week Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is a Halloween-themed freebie, so I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite horror stories that pay homage to classics! I couldn’t quite come up with ten, but here are some books, TV shows and movies to occupy your Halloween 2018.
The River Wife is one of those books that I both enjoyed, and didn’t. Beginning with the New Madrid earthquake of 1811 in Missouri and ranging through to the bootlegging days of the 1930s, it’s an interwoven story of the fates of multiple women linked together by a shared family history full of hope, sorrow, secrets, and violence. If you’re a fan of historical family sagas or American Gothic meets frontier adventure, then this novel sounds like the perfect pick for a long afternoon curled up in your favorite reading spot.
So, what is it that made me DNF?
Basically, I would blame a simple mismatch of book and reader at this time. The River Wife moves like the river in its pages, slow and steady, lazy and meandering in many parts, with occasional hidden bursts of speed. Agee’s lines unfold in a slow, dreamy fashion that’s perfect if you’re in the mood to savor a slower-paced drama, but I found my attention wandering. I put this aside for now and may return later, but in the meantime I’m going to pick up something with a faster pace and see if that better suits me.
The River Wife, by Jonis Agee (393 pages). 2007. Historical fiction. Three out of five stars.
Do you ever read a book and not even know where to start with the review? Because that’s exactly how I feel about The Silent Wife. It’s a bummer that this is the only piece of fiction Harrison completed before her death, because it’s a slim but potent tour de force. Harrison has that gift of sucking you into a story with such an ebb and flow you don’t want to put the book down even when it’s well past your bed time, but more than that, I honestly had no idea how this story would end until I was on the very last page. No exaggeration.
Okay, let’s back up a little. At the beginning of The Silent Wife, Jodi and Todd seem to have an enviable marriage: they have a luxurious condo, where they share luxurious meals every evening and enjoy a seemingly flawless relationship. But as the story progresses, we start to see the cracks, and soon it becomes apparent the illusion of their happiness is maintained only largely through Jodi’s silence. As the cracks grow larger and threaten to shatter all they share, both parties begin to take extreme measures as they battle for what’s rightfully theirs. When they’re both playing for keeps and there is no quarter, just how far will they go?
The blurb for The Silent Wife promises that it “ensnares the reader from page one” and that couldn’t be a more accurate description. If you love psychological thrillers than don’t start this book late at night, because you’ll be unable to put it down until you’ve finished. (Luckily it clocks in around 300 pages, so that’s not too daunting of a task.) Much of the time when I read a thriller novel I hit a point where it’s fairly easy to suss out where the characters are headed and how it all will end, but I really was on pins and needles until the last page. I really had no idea what would happen to these two until I closed the book, and that’s what pushed this book up into five star territory. Hence, the exclamation of “Damn!” that opens this review, because that kind of thrill ride is rare, especially once you hit a certain saturation point in a genre.
If you’re a fan of Gone Girl then this is a must-read (and I don’t say that lightly, as a huge fan of Gillian Flynn). If you’re looking for your next one-sitting read for the pool or for a day off when you can just relax with a book and a bottle of wine, this is it. But if you’re looking for a casual read to carry over a week, move on, because this book is not your number.
The Silent Wife, by A.S.A. Harrison (paperback, 326 pages). Mystery, psychological thriller, drama, crime. Five out of five stars.
What psychological thrillers can you recommend to me? Any recs for a Gone Girl fan? What books have kept you up past your bedtime lately? Let me know in the comments!
Quentin and Lottie are the epitome of a modern matrimonial nightmare: too angry with each other to stand marriage any longer, yet too broke to go their separate ways. Stuck with each other, at least for the present, and forced to downsize their living expenses, they leave London for a countryside rental until they can get back on their feet and formally part. Of course, things don’t pan out the way they intend, and soon enough the couple finds they have bigger problems at hand than budgeting for a divorce…things like the murdered tenant who last occupied their home. Who would kill a quiet piano teacher, and why? And are they still lurking nearby?
The Lie of the Land is basically the literary version of those BBC crime dramas I’ve loved all my life: a rural gathering of mixed classes, from the slightly-better-off outsiders to the farmers who have lived in this town for years to the immigrants finding out the promise of a better life in Britain doesn’t necessarily hold true for all. Mix in a headless corpse, a creepy housekeeper, and the reclusive aging rock star who lives at the edge of town, and, well, you’ve basically got the formula for a juicy, dark, slightly comical British mystery.
On the subject of the murder itself: honestly, it takes a backseat to all of the other drama in the book, but that isn’t a bad thing. It’s still an enjoyable whodunit in the background, just be aware that this book is less straight crime thriller and more atmospheric drama with a mystery woven within.
What pushes this book a notch above the pack is the way Craig wields a pen; she’s one of those writers with the gift of making the words flow along in such a way that you’re entirely unaware of how many pages you’ve read until you hit the end. It’s like slipping right into the storyline and standing there in the damp outside the farmhouse, or on a London street, watching these characters all take turns bickering and lying, having the omniscient eye that sees how each story doesn’t match up and wondering just how long they think they’ll keep on like this. They all have something to hide, even as they get angry at each other for keeping secrets.
I think that’s part of what made this such a compulsive read: even as you loathe the characters in turn, you also find reasons to sympathize with them, and then by turns want to shake them. I found Quentin absolutely deplorable (an intentional choice on the author’s part, I think), but I also found the relationship with his parents to be surprisingly sad and touching. Anna was another character that both found my pity and my exasperation for some of her choices (no spoilers, but you’ll see what I mean at the end!). The overarching theme here seems to be that every relationship, no matter how it looks from the outside, involves some kind of whitewashing within. These characters alternately judge each other for the flaws in their marriages or mistakenly believe their neighbors have found a way to avoid problems, but in the end, the idea of a “perfect” relationship is a lie.
But is that a bad thing? Is there a way to get past the imperfections or indiscretions and still be happy? I’ll let you read The Lie of the Land and decide for yourself if these characters manage to do so, or if believing it’s possible is yet another lie being told!
I haven’t done one of these roundups in quite a while, partly because I’ve been having trouble actually finishing any new media I start. I’ve mentioned in other posts that this summer has been crazy busy with changes at work and home (and I plan to post about that soon!) but in short, it hasn’t left a lot of time to read full-length books, or finish a whole TV series, etc. But last month I had a few really great books, TV shows, and even a podcast to recommend, so here they are for your consideration!
What I read
The Silent Wife is, sadly, A. S. A. Harrison’s only fiction novel completed before her death. I say sadly, because this book, though slim, blew me away with just how quickly it slips under your skin. I put it down only because I worked early the next day and needed sleep! It’s a gripping mystery/thriller about the breakdown of a relationship and I’m not kidding when I say I had no idea how this story would end until the very last page. That’s high praise considering how many crime/thriller books I read and how I’ve started to become accustomed to patterns within.
A Death of No Importance is the debut adult novel from Mariah Fredericks, and follows maid Jane Prescott through upper-crust New York society in 1910 as she tries to solve the murder of her mistress’ playboy lover. This was a fast-paced book and very hard to put down, and I hope Fredericks will pen more mystery novels soon!
What I watched (Netflix)
The Frozen Dead is a French crime thriller about the cat-and-mouse game between an aging detective and the serial killer he sent to a mental hospital. When the sister of the killer’s last victim enters the picture, Investigator Servaz must try to find redemption while untangling a new string of brutal murders. Safe is based on Harlen Coben’s novel about a group of families living in a gated community whose sense of safety is shattered when a young man turns up dead and his girlfriend missing. This was a binge-worthy show and makes me eager to check out more of Coben’s thrillers. Requiem is billed as horror but it’s honestly a creepy mystery more than anything. Following her mother’s suicide, a young woman becomes obsessed with the possibility that she is actually a girl who disappeared as a child from a small Welsh town. This show has a total WTF ending but I think it perfectly suited the overall mood of the show!
What I listened to (Spotify)
I admit, I’m a podcast virgin, but The Black Tapes has me totally hooked on the concept. The fictional show follows a journalist as she investigates supposedly unexplained supernatural mysteries in the files of a doctor who may just be the world’s biggest skeptic. But are all unexplained horrors so easily dismissed? This podcast can be suuuuuuper creepy at times so I really don’t recommend listening to it at night! I just wrapped up season one and can’t wait to dive into seasons two and three.
Do you have any good book, TV or podcast recommendations for me? (Especially mystery/crime?) Let me know in the comments!