3/15/2017 12:01:00 AM On the Bookshelf: Girls, Girls, Girls
by Maggie Kane
Gone Girl? The Girl on the Train? Luckiest Girl Alive? Chances are, you've read one of these bestsellers, and were shocked, intrigued, or exasperated by the problematic female leads. Below is a reading list of new "girl" books, albeit taking a slight step away from major plot elements like marital infidelity and police procedurals. Don't worry; there are still plenty of twists and turns to keep the pages flying.
Dead Letters, by Caite Dolan-Leach (Random House, $27.00)
Twin sisters, Ava and Zelda, have relied on one another their entire lives, through their parents' rocky marriage to the collapse of the family business to coping with their mother's failing health. Ava is cautious, responsible, willing to pick up the pieces when the passionate Zelda explodes. One undisclosed incident is too great for Ava to ignore, though, and she severs ties with her sister once and for all. This independence lasts until a drunken Zelda dies in a fire, leaving Ava bewildered and shocked; how can the world keep spinning when the most important person in your life is gone? Days after she returns home, Ava receives ominous emails from her sister's email address, containing details only Zelda would know. As the emails continue to trickle in, Ava faces plenty of questions: Was the fire really an accident? What had Zelda been up to after Ava left? And, most pressing, is Zelda somewhere watching all of this unfold?
Behind Her Eyes, by Sarah Pinborough (Flatiron, $25.99)
I'm warning you right now; the ending is a doozy. To avoid giving anything away, I'll try and stick with the basics. Louise, a recently single mother, stumbles across one awkward encounter after another. Her impulsive, liberating one-night stand? It was with her new boss. Her new friend, the soft-spoken beauty living under her abusive husband's thumb? Her boss's wife. She must decide which side to take, especially when the emotional stakes become steeper and steeper. There are many sets of eyes that the reader sees through, which leads to a constantly fluctuating game of cat and mouse. As blindsided as I was by the conclusion, I have to give Sarah Pinborough props for leaving her unique mark on the thriller genre.
The Possessions, by Sarah Flannery Murphy (Harper, $26.99)
Any watchers of Joss Whedon's short-lived Dollhouse series might recognize the premise of this book. Edie works as a "body" for the Elysian Society. By taking a lotus pill, Edie's body can be briefly possessed by the spirits of past loved ones; imagine a séance with a prescription instead of an Ouija board or flickering candles. In this line of work, detachment is literally part of the job description, and any abuse of the lotus can result in serious, even fatal, consequences for the living person involved. Edie's carefully monitored life is thrown out of sync when she becomes obsessed with a kind widower, Patrick Braddock, and his dead wife Sylvia. Sylvia's death wasn't a mystery; she drowned. But her marriage to Patrick is full of unanswered questions, to the point that Sylvia lingers in Edie's mind long after she was supposed to fade away.
The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes (Mulholland, $16.00)
Older than the other books on this list, with a greater emphasis on the fantastical, The Shining Girls is nevertheless a page-turner. Harper Curtis is the world's first time-traveling serial killer, and he has a very specific victim in mind: young women full of promise and potential, the kind of women that capture the country's attention when they go missing. Harper adds a 21st century shining girl to his collection when he kills Kirby Mazrachi, a Chicago woman out walking her dog. Or, at least, he thinks he does, which buys Kirby enough time to piece together the identity of her bizarre attacker, and determine if there's anything she can do to stop him. With tenacious characters and a plot that continues to surprise, The Shining Girls is worth a read if you're looking for a different breed of thriller.
Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls, by Lynn Weingarten (Simon Pulse, $10.99)
Suicide Notes was one of my favorite young adult picks from last summer; imagine a more concentrated dosage of Pretty Little Liars. June's life is finally coming together. School is going well, she has a stellar boyfriend, and, possibly of greater importance, his family has welcomed her with open arms. This quiet, peaceful interlude is interrupted when June hears that her childhood friend Delia committed suicide. Critical of the police's decision that this is an open and shut case, June is pushed to conduct her own investigation, including re-examining why she attempted to block her own best friend from her new, picture-perfect life.