Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

The apartment building at 101 Bury Street in Beacon Hill is a hotbed of lonely pensioners,her-every-fear voyeuristic neighbors, apartment-swapping cousins – and now a murder.

Kate Priddy needs a new beginning.  She’s taken a fair amount of time recovering from a horrific kidnapping by her ex-boyfriend, during which she was locked in a closet for days.  When her American cousin suggests that they swap residences for six months (his in Boston, hers in London) she at first is skeptical but then is glad to accept.

His apartment at 101 Bury is large and quite nice.  But one of the first people she meets in the apartment building is a panicked friend of Audrey, a resident next door who has been unresponsive, and Kate, in her precarious state, suspects the worst.

She would be correct, and the first week of her half-year in America is a fear fest for Kate as she tries to make sense of the tragedy next door and suspects that she is not alone in her apartment.

Making things even stranger are her encounters with an ex-boyfriend of Audrey’s who is convinced that Kate’s cousin Corbin was the killer, and the nice-looking man living directly across the courtyard from Audrey’s apartment, who has a bizarre secret of his own.

Her Every Fear is a pot-boiler told in multiple voices that begs you to skip bedtime.  Some parts of it are a bit derivative (think Rear Window for the digital age) but that’s minor.  The author has written a quick read thriller that will make you check the door lock a few times after you finish reading.

Caution – in places, not for the squeamish.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis

thequeensgambitBeth Harmon, orphaned at eight, finds institutional life at Methuen Home tedious but the chess game the janitor plays in the basement intriguing, and begins sneaking down there during chapel time to learn more.  Mr. Shaibel the janitor is at first annoyed and then surprised by her growing adroitness with the game.

Chess soon becomes Beth’s reason of being – that, and the comfort of the tranquilizers the staff at Methuen Home give to the kids there to keep them quiet.

When staff there catch Beth breaking into the orphanage pharmacy,  her discovered chess sessions are forbidden to her until the Wheatleys, an unlikely couple, adopt her when she is nearly thirteen.

“Unlikely” becomes even more apparent when Beth goes to live with them.  The husband goes on an interminable business trip that largely drops him out of the picture.  Mrs. Wheatley is nice enough, but has a tad of a drinking issue and is often oblivious to Beth’s needs.

Her interest in chess is such that she filches money from her adoptive mother and schoolmates to buy literature about the game and to pay the entrance fees to a nearby tournament, which she wins.

Her mother takes much more notice of Beth, particularly as finances are dicey from the absent husband, and arranges for Beth to play in even more lucrative tournaments across the country and beyond.

Beth’s fame as a prodigy spreads, so that by the age of nineteen, she is a U.S. champion and ready to compete with the best of the internationals in Moscow.  Will she lose to the Russians, or play their own game better than them?

The Queen’s Gambit is a re-imagining of the world of chess competition circa the 1960s, in which someone like Beth would have been a shock to its cloistered men-oriented circles.

Interestingly enough, the author Walter Tevis wrote The Hustler years before he wrote this one.

I found out about The Queen’s Gambit through a recommendation in the New York Times “By The Book” column; this one was in an interview with Ayelet Waldman.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist, grew up in Raleigh and is a Duke graduate. vinegar-girl Although she has lived in Baltimore for many years, we still claim her as a North Carolina writer.

In this novel, she retells the basic story of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” in a modern-day United States setting.  Since the play involved an arranged marriage, this presents a challenge, but Tyler is up to the task!

Kate is a 29-year-old college dropout living with her father and teenage sister.  Her job as assistant to a pre-school teacher is in jeopardy due to her lack of tact and diplomacy when dealing with parents.  She isn’t sure she ever wants to get married – and no men have shown interest in her since her late teens, when she had some first dates and even a few second dates.

Her father, a scientist, considers his lab assistant, who’s from a foreign country, essential to the success of his research project.  However, this young man has almost come to the end of his three-year visa.  Desperate, Kate’s father tries to persuade her to consider a green card marriage to Pyotr before his visa expires.

You don’t need to read the Shakespeare play to enjoy the eccentric characters and the humor in Vinegar Girl.  As always, Anne Tyler is an author well worth your time – and this book is short enough for the busiest readers!

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

man-called-oveThis book by a Swedish author has been on the New York Times bestseller list for weeks, and the film version is an Oscar nominee for best foreign film of the year.

Ove, a grumpy 59-year-old widower, keeps trying to commit suicide, but every time he thinks he has the perfect plan for meeting his adored wife in the afterlife, a neighbor needs help, and he postpones his death for another day.  Little by little, he becomes involved in the lives of the people around him, and it becomes clear that a doctor’s diagnosis – his heart is too big – can have more than a medical meaning!

The book includes humor, sadness, and many heartwarming moments.  I watched the film when I’d read about half of the novel, and I found both the book version and the movie version superb!

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

Shelter in Place by Alexander Maksik

Joe March is bipolar, and his mother is a murderer.shelter-in-place

Joe has a somewhat aimless life.  He’s twenty-one and tends bar in early 1990s Los Angeles.  His driven older sister Claire has moved to London and is financially successful.  The two, close in childhood, are at odds with each other in terms of motivation.

Joe’s parents live in Seattle, and life for them is fairly uneventful – until his mother beats a man to death with a hammer after seeing him abuse his wife and children.

Things change abruptly.  Joe’s dad moves from Seattle to the coastal town near the prison where his wife resides.  Joe, at once wanting to be there for his father but hesitant to deal with his family, takes a few detours getting there.  While on an extra long stop in Cannon Beach, Oregon, he meets Tess and is smitten by this edgy, beautiful woman.  She, however, finds Joe’s mood swings a challenge, and some time later, Joe travels alone to his father’s house.

Tess eventually meets up with Joe in White Pine where his dad lives, and they begin visiting Joe’s mother fairly frequently.  It turns out that certain local college students see Mrs. March as a cause célèbre for women’s issues, but Tess is more vehement than most – enough to exact her own brand of justice.

At the present time, a middle-aged Joe narrates the book.  Tess has left him, and Joe still lives in a house they built themselves after a successful time of running bars in Seattle.  The book flashbacks to his earlier self, when he was madly in love with Tess and his father was trying to hold things together.

Shelter In Place is a dreamlike tale of mental illness and love that takes a meandering pace.  Those wanting a quick driven plot line will probably need to look elsewhere.  Other readers wanting a more nontraditional narrative will find lots here to ponder, as the writing style is good and in keeping to someone experiencing depression and the slow destruction of a family.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

House of Echoes by Brendan Duffy

house-of-echoesAfter the major success of his first novel, Ben Tierney’s publisher expects great things from his new book-in-process; unfortunately, it is a stalled venture.  This is bad news, as Ben’s wife Caroline has just lost her high-profile job and they’ve got two young boys – and New York City isn’t cheap.

Ben inherits property in rural upstate New York, and while they are there inspecting things he and Caroline decide to buy a huge decrepit country house with the intent of turning it into an inn.  The price is right, and they also figure it will be a fresh start for their older son Charlie, who has been traumatized by events at his school.

The Crofts, as the house is known in the local community, at first is a refuge to the family.  Charlie is in thrall of its vast grounds and the forest that surrounds it.  Caroline, despite the stress of bipolar disorder, throws herself wholeheartedly into making the old house habitable as a bed and breakfast.  And Ben is getting new ideas for his second novel.

There’s too many uncanny things happening for their stay to be an idyllic retreat.  Some of the locals are welcoming enough; others are not.  Certain behaviors of the community are downright antiquated.  There’s a quiet menace that grows in the surrounding area, and Charlie, an introverted kid, becomes even more withdrawn.

The harshest winter storm of the season tests the Tierney family in more ways than one, and trust is no longer something they have with the natives.  If only they could leave The Crofts…

House of Echoes is a decent page turner that has enough spooky elements and jump moments to make it work.  The book follows in the tradition of The Shining and other books where the house and land themselves become personified and terrifying.

If you like this one, try The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian or A Sudden Light by Garth Stein.

(William Hicks, Information Services)




We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman

Andy Carter does go home again, and he has a boatload of messes to clean up.were-all-damaged

Moving to New York City from Omaha to live in a miniscule apartment and work as a “third-favorite” bartender is a relief to Andy.  After all, his wife divorced him, and he has alienated friends and family alike in the aftermath of his breakup.  Let’s not even talk about his best friend’s wedding reception.

When Andy learns that his grandfather is dying, he returns home to face reality.  His mother has gained some local notoriety for being an outspoken host of a right-wing radio show, his father has retired and feels completely restless, and his older brother, family man and overachiever, manages to annoy Andy the minute he steps off the plane.  The saddest thing is that his grandfather, to whom Andy was close, is so far gone with medications that he barely recognizes Andy.

It’s kind of obvious that Andy has some self-esteem issues.  Except for obsessing on his ex-wife, Andy is rudderless, a well-meaning oaf who wants to do better by family and friends.  By chance, he meets Daisy, a tattooed opinionated young lady who provides Andy some needed backbone and a friendship that almost turns into something more.  With prodding from Daisy, he tries to patch things up (sometimes really badly) with all involved and establish his place in the world.

Oh, if only Daisy wasn’t hiding something.

We’re All Damaged puts the “fun” in dysfunctional and gives it a dizzying spin.  You’ll pull for Andy as he makes amends and groan when he stumbles – a lot.  Andy is often clueless, but he’s not a bad sort, and you’ll want a happy ending for him, assuming that he ever gets there.

Watch out for painted squirrels and the Glitter Mafia.

(William Hicks, Information Services)