Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive

When I first picked up Jessica Knoll’s debut novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, I didn’t really know that much about it other than the fact that it was part of my favorite genre.  It had been getting great press and was being compared to multiple books that I have read including Flynn’s Gone Girl (ok, I have still not read this one, but I saw the movie) and Harrison’s The Silent Wife ( you can read my post here A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife).  So, I decided to give it a shot.  And it was not at all what I had expected.

The book follows Ani FaNelli, a young woman who is striving to create the perfect life for herself.  She has a glamorous job working at a magazine and a handsome fiancé from a well-to-do family, but events that happened in her past keep finding their way to the surface and threaten the life that she has carefully pieced together.

While Knoll does alternate between the past and the present, for the most part, the story takes place in the past.  It is there where we learn of the private pain and public humiliation that Ani (TifAni back then) had to endure.  And while we do feel for her, there is something dark and sinister underlying throughout that at times makes you question just how honest the narrator is being.  But also, it makes you wonder whether it is possible for someone who went through as much as she did to go on living a normal life without unconsciously trying to sabotage it.

It’s always nice when there is a character that you like in a novel, one that you can somehow relate to.  Ani isn’t likeable.  In fact, none of the characters really were, but they were also more in the background.  In Ani, we quickly find a character shift.  In the beginning she is a strong, put together, successful woman, but that soon changes and for most of the novel she is just that scared, traumatized young adult who’s only ‘coolness’ is the façade that she passes on for reality.  Ani wasn’t likeable, but she is relatable.  There are many people out there who never show their true characters, who never let others in for fear of getting rejected or hurt or labeled.  Ani drives this story forward because even though you don’t care, you want to know what happened, you want to know what she went through and you want to know how it turns out.


Lene Kaaberbol’s Doctor Death

“Around her the city is living its nightlife….But here in the passageway where she lies, there is no life.”

What if understanding death could help the living?

In Lene Kaaberbol’s novel, Doctor Death, the reader is brought back to a time when doctors had to fight in order to perform autopsies. It is 1890s France, and a young woman is found dead in front of her home, but the cause is overlooked because the family forbids an autopsy, and so a diagnosis cannot be properly determined. After a few more bodies are discovered to have some of the same symptoms as the young woman, a pathologist and his daughter Madeleine take it upon themselves to search for the true cause of her death. When her father turns up injured, will Madeleine be strong enough to shoulder most of the work herself?

What I find to be interesting of this novel, and of all period pieces really, is that it takes you to an entirely different world, one where rules were made according to gender (oftentimes) more so than by qualifications. It was unacceptable for women to do many things, and most of them resigned to that fate, to being considered the weaker sex. And here is Madeleine, desperate to become her father’s (Doctor Death) partner rather than his occasional assistant. Her work and success is limited merely because of the fact that she is a woman, but that doesn’t stop her from trying. Which is a big part of what this novel is about. One woman, going against the societal norm in order to pursue her life’s passion.

Doctor Death is at once a gripping mystery and a coming of age story that takes you on a journey to find the truth. It is definitely one to add to your collection.

Coming February 17, 2015


Tana French’s The Secret Place

“It hits her at the bus stop, in the cool-edged morning air. At first she thinks she actually is sick, that what she’s doing has called down some curse on her and now all her lies come true. She hasn’t felt it in so long and it tastes different now. It used to be vast and dark-bloody; this is metallic, this is alkaline, this is like scouring powder eating through your layers one by one. It’s fear. Holly is afraid.”


As a huge fan of Tana French’s work, I was extremely excited for the arrival of her fifth novel, The Secret Place, preordering it months in advance of its recent publication. For those who are unfamiliar with her work, I’d like to say that French is unlike most of the writers out there. Not only is her writing amazing, but her novels as a whole are as well. She has a way with language and story telling that is truly atmospheric and at times haunting. More than once have I gone to sleep after reading one of her novels and woken up in a fit of panic. They’re just that good. Although she tries a somewhat different approach in her newest novel that I am less than fond of, the core of her remains the same.

The Secret Place tells the story of a murder that happened at an all girls’ school, and the investigation of it a year later. Detective Stephen Moran is brought back as the main character (this time) who leads the investigation, as well as Holly Mackey and her father Frank – all of whom were in French’s third, and arguably best novel to date, Faithful Place. The novel opens with Holly paying a visit to Detective Moran at the Dublin police department where she produces a photograph that she found on a bulletin board at her school, St. Kilda’s. The photograph is of Chris Harper, the boy who was murdered on the grounds of St. Kilda’s the previous year. And there is a caption. It reads: I Know Who Killed Him. Moran brings the new evidence to Antoinette Conway, one of the detectives who had originally worked the case. Together, they return to St. Kilda’s in hopes of finally solving the murder…but are they too late?

How far would you go to protect your friends, knowing that they were somehow involved in a crime? Would you stay silent forever, or would you find a way to get it out in the open, to once and for all uncover the whole truth? These are the questions that circulate from beginning to end in The Secret Place, questions that ring true for many of us. We befriend others who we have things in common with, and, as our bonds deepen, our loyalties toward them increases as well. But…how far would you go? Some say that no line exists for true friendship, but that is just not possible. There is always a line. Told in alternating narratives between past and present, French weaves a tale of friendship where loyalty is so strong that it is the only thing that stands in the way of solving the murder.



A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife

Referred to as this year’s Gone Girl, of which I cannot draw comparison seeing as how I’ve never read the former, A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife is anything but your ordinary thriller.  Told in an alternating duel narrative with chapters labeled “him” and “her,” the reader is thrown into the deteriorating relationship of Todd and Jodi: Todd is a serial cheater and Jodi lives mostly in denial.  We are told that Todd becomes the victim of a murder.  We are also told that Jodi is the one who kills him.  We know the end, but what we don’t know are the details leading up to it, or, for that matter, the details of the murder itself…which makes for an interesting story.  With every page I turned, I found myself constantly trying to put the pieces together, but it was not until it was actually happening that I knew.

Jodi and Todd had been together for twenty years, living in a spacious two-floor condo with a waterfront view as man and wife, only they had never actually gotten married.  Todd had proposed to Jodi multiple times, but due to a fear that stemmed from her childhood, she never said yes…a fact which later on in the novel she comes to regret.  Todd owns a real estate development business, making most of the money in the household; he owns the condo that they live in and supports Jodi.  Jodi works part-time as a psychotherapist, seeing patients in her home, making up funny names for them like Miss Piggy.  Through the years that Todd and Jodi have been together, Todd has strayed for the occasional affair but he has always come back.  Jodi has been aware of these, but since she seeks to avoid confrontation at all costs, has never brought up her knowledge to him (although Todd knows that she knows), instead choosing to punish him in different ways, as we are witness to one of these in the beginning of the novel.  Todd’s newest affair however, turns out to be the beginning of the end for him and Jodi, when Natasha, a young twenty-something devises a way to keep Todd in her life for good: she becomes pregnant.

The situation wouldn’t have become as complicated as it did if Natasha wasn’t the daughter of Todd’s best friend Dean (Jodi and Todd had literally watched Natasha grow up), and if Natasha wasn’t so controlling.  While I have yet to pick out a favorite character in this novel, she is definitely not on my short list.  Natasha is an instigator, constantly demanding things of Todd, the first and foremost of which is to marry her and pay for an expensive wedding complete with couture brides-maid gowns. I love fashion, but one has to ask the question, is that really necessary?  I think not.  Had Todd lived (because we know that he doesn’t live happily-ever-after), could Natasha have been exactly what he needed to settle down for good?  Probably not.  As the novel progresses, Natasha becomes more and more unreasonable, and I think that it was only a matter of time before he would start another affair and go back to Jodi.

Aside from a slow beginning, and a few awkwardly written sessions of Jodi with a therapist she had to see as part of her training (and I say awkwardly written because it’s structured like dialogue in a play, which seems a bit off-putting for a novel…at least to me), A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife will have you guessing until the very end.