Read it in a Day Rec: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Not sure what to read anymore? Are all of your days blending together in a gray blur, as if highlighters no longer had neon ink but dull? My “Read it in a Day” book recommendations are for whiling the day away.

Title: The Guest List
Author: Lucy Foley, who has the kind of name I wish I had.
Release Date: 2020 Reese’s Book Club edition
Genre: Isolated island thriller
Describe it in a sentence: 
A bunch of privileged guests with money and secrets gather on a gloomy Irish island for a wedding.
TV/movie character who would like it: The cast of Lost, who would say, This is nothing!

Books about entrapment. Books where characters are dealing with the idea that there is no way out, no way off this ride. I bet it’s no surprise that books like this are particularly fascinating to me right now (cough: quarantine). I like seeing what happens to people, how their personalities change, when forces are closing in on them. I guess you could call them “claustrophobic books,” though they needn’t take place in elevators. It’s almost like they’re preparing me for what my life could be like this winter as the temperature drops lower and lower and I can’t leave (Lucy Foley let me know if you need inspo for a new horror novel).

Currently I’m reading Tina Brown’s brilliant biography of Princess Diana, called The Diana Chronicles. After the wedding, it sinks in that she’s really going to have to spend the rest of her life with these stodgy people and their stuffy rules, so old that dust would come up if you blew on ’em. Naturally, she freaks out.

The characters in The Guest List don’t have to spend the rest of their lives on that tiny island off the coast of Ireland, barely inhabitable. But they do have to spend the rest of their lives with themselves. And based on the revelations in this carefully plotted mystery novel, that’s enough of a shame. The setting, an island so small you can walk the circumference, separated from the mainland by a rough passage, complements the almost spiritual claustrophobia of secrets. They can’t run from themselves any longer.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind being trapped on an island like this, thx

The Guest List has whiffs of HBO’s Big Little Lies (rich people behaving badly, plus a timeline that goes back and forth) and Agatha Christie (a medley of voices, any of whom could be the killer). It’s the kind of book you can read in one day, and be happy you did—I was totally surprised by the ending, making the race to the finish worthy. OK, maybe not totally, but pretty much surprised. It still gave me that longed-for jolt of attention: I should’ve known!

Here’s the deal. This obnoxious couple insists on planning a destination wedding even though the destination is universally inconvenient for everyone, themselves included. They’re these kind of people: “But it’s all about the moment, a wedding. All about the day. It’s not really about the marriage at all, in spite of what everyone says.”

They want to have a “special” and “unique” wedding. Based on the baggage and secrets on both sides of the wedding party, their wedding would’ve been “special” and “unique” everywhere (and I use those words in exactly the tone you think I’m using them). But thanks to the rough terrain of the island that stormy night, the party becomes…dun-dun-dun: Homicidal.

Christine Quinn of Selling Sunset WISHES her “Gothic fairytale wedding” were this dramatic

Foley lets the story unfold in the voices of multiple characters (and potential victims and suspects): The bride, the plus one, the best man, the wedding planner, the bridesmaid, and the body. Foley’s writing flows effortlessly and easily—deceptively so. Since the characters are all speaking in first-person, if you read too fast, you might mss what they’re saying. Pay attention and it’s totally possible to see the ending coming toward you like headlights in the fog.

Naturally, I had to cast all of these characters. Except for the body—no spoilers. Here are my deranged castings:

  • The bride, Jules, is a media tycoon so I pictured her as Stella Bugbee from The Cut.
  • The plus one, Hannah, is skeptical of all of the people at the wedding. I saw her as the English actress Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley).
  • Johnno is the best man. I imagined him as the mix of an ex and the actor Daniel Mays (who is in White Lines).
  • Olivia the Bridesmaid is absolutely Xanthippe from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Dylan Nicole Gelula).
  • Aoife the wedding planner had to be someone foreboding and austere. She is Harriet Walker, queen of stern and sly old women.
  • The groom, Will, is smug TV host of an adventure show. I pictured him Jack Whitehall in hiking gear.
  • Charlie is Jules’s bestie. Due to the overwhelming stickiness of Lost, I can only picture people named Charle as Charlie from Lost.

I think I also liked this book because it was skeptical of all the same things I’m skeptical of: Namely, blowout weddings for couples who only just met. My antenna is always up when that happens IRL, but it was fun to have the chance to be freely judgmental. I guess that’s another lesser-acknowledged virtue of reading. Judge away. Characters can’t have their feelings hurt when you roll your eyes at them.

Are there any claustrophobic books that have spoken to your current situation? Or are you reaching for the opposite kind of book now—travelogues and escapist fantasies? Let me know!

BuyThe Guest List here.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

61467918_1847418322025053_4237299821543809294_n(1)Title: The Turn of the Key
Author: Ruth Ware
Release Date: August 19
Genre: true psychological thriller, in the sense that you don’t know if she’s actually seeing ghosts or if she’s actually just cray! 
Describe it in a sentence: 
A young woman takes a “perfect” job nannying for a wealth family in a Scottish highlands “smart” mansion — soon, the house starts playing tricks on her (or the kids? or the ghosts? or her mind?)
TV/movie character who would like it: The governess in The Turn of the Screw, who would feel a real solidarity with our girl Rowan.

Summer, as you and I know, is the season for tearing through books. I want books that leave pages shredded in their wake. I want the desire to read to be near-violent. Everything else pales the the book. I’d safely put The Turn of the Key in that category. I finished the book in a day — and told a lot of people about the book during said day. The Turn of the Key is my first Ruth Ware book, though I doubt it’ll be my last. You could wring out the pages and it’d drip Britishness. WE LOVE A GOOD BRITISH READ.

Anyhoo, let’s do the quick “summary” part. The book begins with a young woman writing to a lawyer from prison. She claims she’s been wrongfully convicted for murdering one of the girls she was nannying. She was typecast as murderer. It adhered to the tropey worst nightmare “troubled nanny” story you occasionally see on the news or an Adele Slimani novel. But in this case, the story wasn’t true.

Rowan’s here to salvage her reputation, and maybe get out of prison along the way. She knows her story isn’t perfect. There are phenomena she can’t explain. What were the noises coming from the attic in the house? Why had this family gone through so many nannies? What was the force that ejected people from the house? She knows her story has holes. But she’s hoping she can explain enough of the space around those holes to redeem herself

As someone who grew up babysitting, Rowan’s story was harrowing. She shows up for her first day of nannying in a house like the one in the movie Smart House – each room has cameras and a Siri-equivalent. So yah, she’s being spied on by her type-a employer who reminded me of Gwyneth Paltrow. Then, on her second day of work, the parents DIP OUT for an undisclosed period of time, leaving her with the four daughters (!) one of whom is straight out of a horror movie. She has that limp stare like the kid in a movie poster. Unsurprisingly things get……..out of hand. It doesn’t help that Rowan is kept up at night by terrifying noises. Maybe the same lingering Victorian ghosts that drove out the other nannies.

So, what HAPPENED during those weeks in Heatherbrae House? The book is driven by those big “wtf” questions that you’ll be desperate to answer. In some ways I found the ultimate conclusions somewhat predictable but I also enjoyed the journey there.

If you like any of the following things — Scotland, mysteries, mischievous children, time-hopping books, smart houses, women like the women in Big Little Lies, the book The Turn of the Screw — then point yourself toward Ruth Ware’s latest book.

Agatha Christie & Surgery Recovery

There’s nothing like the immense satisfaction of an Agatha Christie book to use as momentum for recovering from a surgery. After my deviated septum surgery last Monday, I’m confined to the house for at least a week, when this cast on my nose comes off. I refuse to leave the house because I look like a puffy Shrek-like figure, and am unable to do much that requires a lot of concentration. I’m just not really myself quite yet.

I had the foresight of taking a trip to the local library to stock up in rations for the recovery. It was similar to what some people do before hurricanes–go to the grocery store, got water and emergency kits. However, instead of “practical” items, I got ice cream and lots of books at the library. (Oh how I missed the public library at home! It’s like stepping into my childhood and the wide world of Adult Literature discovered years too early! But that’s a whole ‘nother topic).

While browsing the shelves, I discovered something I could absolutely *not* pass up. A beautiful edition of Christie’s Hercule Poirot books. I had only read Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None prior to this week. And Then There Were None kept me up at night, and I think I read Murder on the Orient Express in practically one afternoon after a long day of middle school.

The Doctor Who episode where the Doctor and Donna meet Agatha Christie and a giant wasp put Christie back on my radar.

The Doctor Who episode where the Doctor and Donna meet Agatha Christie and a giant wasp put Christie back on my radar.

Anyway, while in the library I came across a RAINBOW edition of her books! And if there’s anything I can’t resist, it’s beautiful books (see: Penguin Drop Caps editions).

How could I resist the lure of RAINBOW MYSTERY BOOKS?!

How could I resist the lure of RAINBOW MYSTERY BOOKS?!

I picked up two for now, and only have read one: the salmon-colored Peril at End House. Next on the roster is the beautiful blue-toned Murder on the Nile. As you can see, the color really is important.

I admire Christie for her imaginative plots and the twists and turns her books take. Poirot is a riot–a delightful and impossible Frenchman. I cracked up while reading the book. But hands down the best part of reading this book was that I felt I was in good hands throughout. Even when Poirot faltered, I knew Agatha would lead us all to safety. Poirot wouldn’t fail, and ultimately, I would get a damn good ending. And what an ending it was!

This is the kind of book I need for recovery: something that makes me think and playfully try to find out who the killer is, but also lets me have someone else think for me. And damn it, sometimes that just feels good.

Peril at End House was the EXACT opposite of Paul Auster's amazing but admittedly frustrating post-modern collection of mysterious, which, of course, have no resolution

Peril at End House was the EXACT opposite of Paul Auster’s amazing but admittedly frustrating post-modern collection of mysterious, which, of course, have no resolution

When I read Murder on the Nile, I might blow through some of the characters’ cute and mindless chatter. And I’ll entertain the false leads as Poirot flails about on a boat in the Nile. BUT what I’ll really enjoy is the ending, when it all comes together in a beautiful and well-crafted surprise!

Broadchurch's ending may not have been as surprising or even as imaginative as Christie's, BUT I really did appreciate it ~had~ a conclusion. And also, it had David Tennant, so that's a lot of points.

Broadchurch’s ending may not have been as surprising or even as imaginative as Christie’s, BUT I really did appreciate it ~had~ a conclusion. And also, it had David Tennant, so that’s a lot of points.

Agatha Christie is like Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock but cute and less confusing. She won’t give you anything as spectacular as a Reichenbach Fall. Her plots are down to earth, and yet as a result more plausible. They’re not plot pyrotechnics, they’re just human people committing crimes that a very smart human eventually figures out.

So, if you’re looking to cuddle up with a delicious book (because that’s what they are–sort of gruesome, but definitely delicious) I will suggest giving our dear old Agatha a shot. She might be antique, but is there anything as satisfying as a good ending? You’re always guaranteed one of those with Agatha.