Book Review: My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

My Lovely Wife
by
Samantha Downing

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In this debut thriller/dark humor novel, a picture-perfect marriage has shocking secrets beneath its shiny facade. To outsiders, Millicent and her husband have the perfect life. They live with their two teenagers in Hidden Oaks, the good part of Woodview, Florida. She sells real estate and her husband teaches tennis at the country club. They have friends. They go to work. Their kids play sports. And they are loyal to their traditions: family dinners, movie night, a standing lunch date after Saturday soccer, and guaranteed ice cream after a trip to the dentist. But Millicent and her husband play a secret deadly game. And when the stakes and pressure rise, they take greater risks to keep their secret hidden, until the dynamics of their marriage betray them.

Narrated by the husband, we learn the couple’s backstory, how they met and fell in love, and their early years as young parents. We also learn about their disturbing second life and how it fuels their marriage. When they change course, their actions begin to affect their children and the people in town. Soon, the husband reveals his own secrets and we see the trust between them erode.

Sandwiched between Millicent and her husband’s schemes are the daily activities of a normal American family and the typical problems that arise for working parents, moody adolescents and the ever-growing presence of social media and the news media. Similar in mood to shows like You, Dexter and Ozark, the characters’ mundane problems in My Lovely Wife offer comic relief to stories in which people lead secret lives which would be too dark by themselves.

Despite the obvious creepiness and some disturbing violence, I liked My Lovely Wife. While its main characters are mostly despicable, the husband reveals a glimmer of conscience, something interesting to think about. Readers who search for at least one likable character will find a couple in the side characters. Several entertaining twists, including a big reveal in the final pages will force the reader to look back and decide who is bad, who is worse, who is a little of both and what the future holds.

I recommend My Lovely Wife to readers who like thrillers and dark humor and I look forward to more books by Samantha Downing.

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Book Review: Looker by Laura Sims

Looker by Laura Sims

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Here’s a fast, psychological thriller about a woman’s obsession with her neighbor, a beautiful and famous actress. The story is set in an unnamed urban neighborhood (Brooklyn?) and is narrated by the woman. It begins just as her marriage has ended, marking the onset of her psychological decline. Years of unsuccessful fertility treatments have left her feeling like a failure and she obsesses with her actress neighbor’s perfect life: a successful career, three beautiful children, and a gorgeous husband.

At first, she takes comfort in watching the actress walk by, with her baby or off for a jog. She notes everything about her beauty, clothes and healthy glow. At night, she peers in the actress family’s window, noting the seemingly effortless life inside. When that’s not enough, she fills her spare room with discarded items the actress has left at the curb.

She tells herself it’s all okay, that her life is under control. And she even starts to like the cat her husband left, his cat, she notes. Her job as a poetry professor seems to be okay too, but she soon falls into a relationship that will put her career in jeopardy. At this point, the narrator begins to step in and out of reality and makes rash and reckless decisions, many times after a lot of beer or wine.

Readers are certain of a train wreck, but the suspense is in not knowing how it will happen. A neighborhood party marks one of the last stops before the crash.

I tore through Looker, not just to see what happens. Readers also get a good look into an unraveling mind, which is not just a series of irrational and bad decisions. The author shows the narrator’s fragile and desperate efforts to be acknowledged as a human, and not judged because she can’t get pregnant. As the narrator looks inside the actress’s window she thinks, “Let me in. I too, am cherished and kept.”

I enjoyed reading this quick story about envy and jealousy and recommend it to readers who like psychological novels. I’ll be looking out for more books by Laura Sims.

Laura Sims is an American novelist and poet. She is a professor of creative writing, literature and composition at New York University.

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Note: created with block editor – finding my way!

Who’s That Author? Linda Holmes

Image: Amazon.com

Linda Holmes is a writer, culture critic and interviewer. Her debut novel is the New York Times Bestseller Evvie Drake Starts Over, published in 2019 (read my review here). She is also the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour, a roundtable podcast on NPR.

Holmes is originally from Wilmington, Delaware. She graduated from Oberlin College and earned a law degree at Lewis and Clark Law School in 1997. She practiced law in Minnesota for ten years and, during that time, wrote about television and film for several websites, including Vulture.com and MSNBC. In 2007, Holmes gave up law and moved to New York to devote her time to writing. She was hired by NPR in 2008.

Holmes talks more about her career on her website, thisislindaholmes.com:

My side hustle is moderating live events where I interview people in front of audiences. I’ve talked to TV and movie folks like Shonda Rhimes, Ron Howard, Connie Britton, Lauren Graham, Trevor Noah, B.J. Novak (also a writer, of course), and Joe and Anthony Russo. I’ve also talked at the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Sixth & I synagogue to authors like Jane Smiley, Maria Semple, Elizabeth Strout, the hosts of Welcome To Night Vale and, in a moment that my 12-year-old self still doesn’t quite believe, Judy Blume.”

I also found a great quote about her experience as a first-time novelist from this Penguin Random House Interview:

As a debut author, is there anything you wish you had known before you started writing this book? Do you have any advice to share with other first-time authors?

I didn’t know how much I would have to just keep going at times when it seemed like I had no idea what I was doing. I think there’s always part of you that wonders whether you can really do it, because a novel is a big undertaking. I think it’s very natural to stall out a couple of times, just feeling unsure that you have a middle of the book. I think a lot of people have a beginning and an end, and figuring out what the middle is catches them off-guard. That’s a time to just keep going, because you may change a lot of it later anyway. Try to understand the characters. Try to make sure you know what the emotional arc is, and you’ll find the rest.

That’s encouraging advice!

You can learn more about Holmes at thisislindaholmes.com and npr.org.

Have you read Evvie Drake Starts Over or listened to Pop Culture Happy Hour?

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Who’s That Indie Author? Geoffrey M. Cooper

whos-that-indie-author

Author name:  Geoffrey M. Cooper

Genre:  Medical Thriller

Book:  The Prize

Bio:  Geoffrey M. Cooper is an experienced cancer researcher and scientific administrator, having held positions as a Professor, Department Chair and Associate Dean at Harvard Medical School and Boston University. He is the author of a leading cell biology text, The Cell, as well as several books on cancer. The Prize is his first novel, in which he brings his background in medical research to life in a tale of fraud, deceit and murder. His second novel, dealing with sexual harassment in science, is in the works.

Favorite thing about being a writer:  Immersing myself in a story and developing characters that take off on their own.

Biggest challenge as an indie author:  Promotion and marketing! Much harder than writing.

Favorite book:  All of Robert Parker’s work, especially his Spenser and Jesse Stone novels. I also love Robin Cook’s and John Grisham’s books.

Contact Information:
Website: geofcooper.com
Twitter: @GeofCooper
Facebook
Amazon


Are you an indie author?  Do you want to build your indie author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com for a bio template and other details.

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Friday Fiction: Jessica Ch 1 Jimmy

Friday Fiction

Jessica

Thank you for visiting Book Club Mom’s Friday Fiction. Below is Chapter 1 of Jessica, a story about a nineteen-year-old woman who is trying break the pattern of loss and unhappiness that has defined her childhood. What Jessica wants most is to build a life with her boyfriend, Jimmy, but Jimmy is trapped in a dangerous family dynamic. When Jessica learns the truth about Jimmy, it’s up to her to save him. To do this, she must turn to the one person who has hurt her the most, her father. A series of events pushes Jessica beyond anything she can imagine and forces her to define happiness and love in a different way, and at a heartbreaking price.

Chapter 1 -Jimmy

I used to love to drive the two-lane road that led to Jimmy’s house. I raced through every twist and turn, but it was never fast enough. My heart pounded every time I saw Jimmy and when I felt my body against his, I knew the joy that ripped through me would make all the other things that pushed down on my heart melt away. Jimmy was the center of my life.

As I was racing towards Jimmy, I was also running away from my house, just an empty frame that was once filled with happiness. There was a time when Dad would walk in through the side door with a loud “Hello! Who’s here?” and Stevie and I, small and excited, would drop what we were doing and shout, “We are!” Mom would laugh and call out “Me too!” with a wink to Stevie and me. And Dad would stand there looking at her with one of his warm and open smiles that told us there was something real between Mom and Dad.

None of us was like that now, not me, not Mom. And Dad and Stevie were long gone. Whatever the special thing was that had held Mom and Dad together then had unraveled or dissolved or exploded into nothing and one day when I was twelve, Dad walked out the same door he’d been coming through all those years. He left and he didn’t come back.

For awhile it was just the three of us, but we were already broken by then and hanging onto nothing or reaching for something that was gone. Stevie hung around for a few years, but they were ugly and sad years full of anger and shouting and on most nights they left Mom sitting alone at the kitchen table staring at the wall. As soon as Stevie graduated high school, he left our house and never came back either except for the one time at Christmas that gave Mom and me a moment of false hope until the shouting began. Then Mom and I were left again to pick up the pieces, but we never did figure out how to carry on the right way.

I thought I had found another way to feel right and that was with Jimmy. He was broken like me and together we had built ourselves into something. We’d met two years earlier in high school and from the start we could sense the need in each other and feel the comfort of being together.

Mom didn’t like Jimmy. “He’s not steady, Jessica,” she’d tell me. “You can do so much better than that.” She thought Jimmy was holding me back.

Mom couldn’t see what Jimmy and I were building. She thought I should be going to college to build something for myself. “You’re throwing away your future, Jessica,” she’d tell me. But I didn’t want to go. I was making money and I was saving it for Jimmy and me.

“How would you pay if I went to college anyway, Mom?” I’d asked her.

Mom’s face pinched tight. “Your father has the money for your college education.”

My father. I hadn’t talked to him in seven years. He didn’t care enough to stick around while I grew up, but he had money for me to go to college. I didn’t want it.

“Tell him no thanks,” I answered.

Jimmy wasn’t weak, he was hurt like me, but I thought he’d had it worse. At night Jimmy would pull me close and I could just feel his body pulling strength from mine. “Don’t ever leave me, Jes. I need you,” he’d say. Those words gave me joy and purpose and I lived for that feeling. If he needed me, I was there. I believed in him.  Jimmy was my family.

Jimmy had a job in Farmington, fixing computer equipment. He didn’t want to work for his brother Stu, building decks. “Stu’s always telling me what to do and it’s never good enough for him,” he’d tell me. “Let Gene follow him around and take his orders. I don’t need him.” So Jimmy let Stu take over their younger brother’s future and Jimmy stayed clear.

After high school I got a job waitressing at the Springs Diner in East Lake. Every night I drove to see Jimmy after we both got off work. We spent most of our time at Jimmy’s house, but on warm nights we’d head to the lake. We had each other and we had a future. I already knew I wanted to marry Jimmy. I was just waiting for him ask.

At night, Jimmy and I would sit in the front seat of his truck, parked far away on the other edge of the lake, down a barely visible dirt road we knew about and felt we owned. He’d pull out a six-pack that he’d taken from his brother Stu and flip up the top for me before he handed me the lukewarm beer and I would think he was so gallant, doing that nice thing for me. I knew the small things were just as important as the big ones. But Mom never could see that Jimmy was good. She only saw weakness. I didn’t see weakness. I saw a life and it was in reach.

Jimmy lived with his dad and his two brothers, Stu and Gene.  They weren’t much of a family. They were just four people living in the same house. It hadn’t been the same for them since Jimmy’s mom died. His dad fell to pieces after that. He could have pulled Jimmy and his brothers close to make them strong. Instead he gave up. Stu was sixteen back then. Jimmy was ten and his little brother Gene was eight. “That’s when Stu started running my life,” Jimmy told me.

Last week I drove the long way to work past Jimmy’s house. I liked to take the long way so I could pass his house and see his truck parked in the driveway. It made me feel close to him. Seeing his house and his truck in the driveway reminded me of what was great between us and what lay ahead. Jimmy and I were working toward the same thing, us.

Only five hours earlier I had crawled out of his bed and gone back to my own house to sleep until dawn and to get ready for work. My radio was blasting that morning. I was living in the moment of that music and I turned it up louder. The sound was full, with noisy guitar and screaming lyrics and I felt strong and bursting with power as it played. I liked the same kind of music Jimmy liked and I played it loud the way he did because I could feel it draw us together.

As I drove towards Jimmy’s house, I knew that soon he would be getting ready for work. I smiled when I thought about how he might do the same thing in a couple hours, play his music loud and think about me.

I was singing as I turned my head to see his truck in the driveway. I was sure I would see his red pick-up, but the spot where he parked was empty. My stomach tightened. I wanted to stop but I would be late to the Diner. Where was he? Why hadn’t he told me what he was doing?

That was the beginning of a flood of uncertain feelings and anxiety that flowed through me and took hold of me, like a lost log in a raging river, bouncing against rocks and the river banks, becoming tangled in branches and debris, and moving towards an unnamed place.

_____

Thank you for reading.  All comments are welcome.

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Leaping

I’m taking a leap tomorrow. I’m not going sky diving or bungee jumping, but it will feel like it.

Tomorrow I start a new feature on my blog. It’s called Book Club Mom’s Friday Fiction. Every Friday you will find a new chapter of Jessica, a working title of mine.

It’s unedited, full of flaws and who knows if my plot even makes sense. But I’m putting it out there. I hope you will want to follow along and see what happens. All comments are welcome.

So check back tomorrow for Chapter One, “Jimmy’” and we’ll see how my jump goes.

Thanks for visiting!