Category Archives: English authors

Two Wondering Widowers: The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

Two more to add to my growing list of novels and memoirs about widows and widowers. The memoirs are heartbreakingly poignant, but the novels make me wonder about the death of a spouse being such a frequent starting point for fiction.

The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick are two novels about men reflecting on their marriages after their wives have died first, written by women and marketed to primarily female audiences.

Is it a comforting thought to underappreciated wives that a husband — after years of comfortable familiarity and little introspection or reflection on his married state — might be confronted by something after his wife’s death that causes him to suffer months of anguish over whether his wife was really who she thought she was? Is it an imaginative response to the women’s-magazine dictum to keep a little mystery in your marriage?

cover image of The Third Wife hardcover

The Third Wife
by Lisa Jewell

Adrian is a grieving husband. His marriage to Maya, his third wife, was short and ended abruptly with her death. He has two ex-wives and children from two previous marriages, who all get along well and got along well with Maya. Everyone was one big happy family; but now Maya is dead and Adrian is alone, and there is something mysterious about Maya’s death. Why was she where she was and was it really an accident or was it suicide?

This family drama has flashbacks and gives readers points of view of many of the different family members. The story carried me along and the characters, all with various baggage, had clear personalities and individualized middle- to upper-middle-class problems. There were flashes of humor in the writing, but not as much as you find in Liane Moriarty’s novels or in the authors who have blurbs on the back cover of The Third Wife: JoJo Moyes, Sophie Kinsella, and Anna Maxted.

In the end, though, I may have just read too many family dramas in a row, or I’m too impatient with the format of the slow reveal of the mystery as the characters work it out when the author has made it clear to the reader that she knows the whole story and is just not telling. Or maybe I just couldn’t get over Maya’s death at such a young age, despite all the healing of old wounds it brought about.

The Third Wife was a good read and could spark a good book club discussion, but the family dramas by authors like Joanna Trollope (The Other Family) and Anne Tyler (The Beginner’s Goodbye) go deeper.

The Third Wife
Jewell, Lisa
Atria (Simon & Schuster)
Feb. 2016
320 pp.

cover image of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
by Phaedra Patrick

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick comes out in May, and is likely to appeal to readers who liked the quirkiness of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye by Rachel Joyce or The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. (Even the titles sound alike, don’t they?) Again, these books go deeper into the vagaries of the human heart, but The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper does have its charm. (You knew I was going to do that.)

It’s about a 69-year-old widower who finds a charm bracelet belonging to his wife that he had never seen before in all their years of marriage and goes on an unlikely quest to discover the story behind each charm…

Each story is more farfetched than the last, but the author presents with wry English humor, Arthur’s reactions and observations about his neighbors, his adult children, and the people he meets along the way. and pulls off this bittersweet tale of a cautious Englishman throwing off his quiet, suburban routine to follow the mysterious trail that the charm bracelet leads him on.

If you liked The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye but wouldn’t mind something a little lighter, give this first novel by short story writer Phaedra Patrick a try.

Check out the book trailer!

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
Patrick, Phaedra
Mira (Harlequin)
May 2016
$24.99, U.S.


Shadowy Victorian London: The Quick by Lauren Owen @steeldroppings R.I.P. IX

cover imageThe bookish cover design and these blurbs from authors I really like lured me into reading The Quick by Lauren Owen – over 500 pages of subtle suspense or passages of normal Victorian life, broken up by occasional scenes of intense horror.

“A suspenseful, gloriously atmospheric first novel, and a feast of gothic storytelling that is impossible to resist.” – Kate Atkinson

“A sly and glittering addition to the literature of the macabre…As soon as you have breathed with relief, much worse horrors begin. It’s a skilled, assured performance, and it’s hard to believe it is a first novel.” – Hilary Mantel

“Ambitious, elegant, atmospheric, and often deeply poignant, The Quick is a seamless blend of Victorian London and rich imagination. This is a book to savor.” – Tana French

 Literary fiction with horror elements, The Quick is an engrossing story of love, loss, bravery, and fear, set in a Victorian London where one of the many exclusive, men-only clubs is especially secretive about its mysterious members and club activities.

Oh, yeah. Almost forgot to mention…it’s a vampire novel!

RIP IX Badge
Art credit to Abigail Larson


Notes from an Alien Assassin: The Humans by Matt Haig @MattHaig1

cover image of The HumansIn The Humans by Matt Haig, an alien from outer space (way, way out in space) has been sent to Earth on a mission to prevent humans from knowing too much, and is sending updates on his progress back to his home world.

“I know that some of you reading this are convinced humans are a myth, but I am here to state that they do actually exist. For those that don’t know, a human is a real bipedal life form of midrange intelligence, living a largely deluded existence on a small waterlogged planet in a very lonely corner of the universe.”

In order to infiltrate the human race and discover who has the dangerous knowledge before it can spread further, this alien assassin assumes the identity of his first victim – Andrew Martin, the Cambridge University mathematics professor who stumbled on the theory that could take human civilization beyond the safe confines of their own universe.

The humor and pathos of the novel comes from the observations about human society that this ultimate outsider makes; his efforts to fit in with Andrew Martin’s colleagues and family without arousing suspicion; and his growing understanding of humans – all reflected in his increasingly subjective reports to his own race. The more the alien interacts as Andrew Martin with the human Andrew Martin’s intimates, especially his wife and son – who were supposed to both be eliminated pretty much immediately – the more he understands that the highly developed civilization he comes from may not be superior in every way, as he had automatically believed when he first arrived on this backwards planet.

Though technically science fiction, I suppose (because of the arrival of a representative from an alien race), the math and science in The Humans is pretty much at the comfort level of a liberal arts major, so I would put it in the category of literary fiction. The theme of the novel – what it means to be human – is more philosophical than scientific.

The Humans is pretty dark, over all, but has a lot of humor and some touching moments, as well. Its Matt Haig’s seventh novel for adults, but it’s the first one I’ve read so I can’t compare it to, say, The Radleys or The Dead Fathers ClubThe Humans reminded me in some ways of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks and Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, because they also have an outsider as narrator making observations about how humans behave.

Recommended for readers looking for an unusual narrator’s perspective along with thought-provoking social commentary.

The Humans
Haig, Matt
Simon & Schuster
July 2013

304 pp.
$25.00 US, hard.
Disclosure: I borrowed The Humans through the public library.
Other opinions (very good to excellent):