A Letter to the Readers About NaNoWriMo and Works in Progress

The first time I won NaNoWriMo I learned that I could finish something. The second time I won, I learned that writing is not something one can do in isolation, not successfully at least. The third time, this time, I learned that I don’t have to give up on myself.

A blue, black, and gold banner that reads "National Novel Writing Month Winner 2019"

It used to be a defense mechanism. To give up on myself before someone else could. Perhaps it comes from being bullied frequently as a child, or being praised for things that were completely ordinary because I’m Hard of Hearing. Or maybe it’s just fear. No matter the cause, it’s not healthy. I want to be honest about it and hope that we can learn to be honest with ourselves together. Whatever my reasons, holding myself back is something I’ve held on to for years. But thanks to the support of some wonderful writer friends on Instagram, my friends and family, and the concept of NaNoWriMo itself

This year, for reasons I can’t quite find the words for, I knew it would shatter me as a writer if I didn’t hit that 50,000 mark. It probably would have wounded me more deeply than that considering the fact that I’ve been working on this particular story for 17 years.

I have to admit, I was at a total loss for a while there, wondering how I’d hit 50k. I was still over 10k behind on November 29th. November 30th came, I hit the snooze button more times than I should and dragged myself off to the local library. I found it very motivational to take breaks, browse the books and to pre-order myself a celebratory pizza for dinner. I rather tripped over 50k. I was writing, and then I hit the word count. I finished up my sentence and called it a day. My brain (and poor hands!) were fried.

But I can’t say that I wrote a book. I only wrote one fourth of a book. The book in question is House of Moons: The Phoenix Mirror, the first in a dark fantasy young adult series. This will be a four book series with a plethora of other surprises. So, on I write! But I will be slipping in some short stories and novellas as I continue to write the House of Moon series. Regardless, I’m beyond holding myself back thanks to this year’s NaNoWriMo.

I hate that I have to wait before I can let you read HoM book 1. I love this story so much and I’m eager to see people find themselves and their friends in the story. But I also want to give you an escape from the everyday, and some hope too.

Alas and alack! I can only write and edit so fast. But if you want to keep up to date on HoM you can check out my Instagram or Facebook, both of which will have goodies for the upcoming series. As of now, I can’t give you a promised ball park release date. I can only promise that I’m writing as fast as my fingers can tolerate on this and other projects.

January will undoubtedly bring more book reviews and more writing on my part. In the mean time, enjoy the holidays, but don’t forget to take some quiet time for yourself.

Of Growth and Noveling

In 2008, when I was some now forgotten grade in high school, I stumbled upon NaNoWriMo. If you haven’t the foggiest what that is, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), is a month long challenge where you try to write the rough draft of a novel (50,000 words) in 30 days. If you hit that word goal, you win serious bragging rights and have a finished draft of a novel. I won that first year, with a story I had been working on since I was twelve.

Fast-forward to now. I’ve been working on said story off and on for just under twenty years. Writing that sentence makes me feel much older than I actually am, which brings us back to NaNoWriMo.

A blue, white, and gold banner that says “NaNoWriMo 2019 Writer.”

This year NaNo (as we affectionately call it) turns twenty. It seems appropriate that I’m doing a story I’ve been working on almost as long as NaNo is old. It’s been delightful to watch NaNoWriMo become a world wide phenomenon, helping people put down that first draft and help them on their way to publication.

As NaNo has grown, so have I. Blessedly growth is inevitable over the course of seventeen years. And as I’ve grown, so has my story.

When I was twelve, I was idealistic and downright naive. I thought I could write a book that everyone would be allowed to read and want to read. I did my best to make the story a carbon copy of a bestseller-that-shall-not-be-named (brownie points if you catch the reference) and came close to succeeding. When I was thirteen I realized that was called plagiarism and I worked on making something unique. And here we are, sixteen years later. For the twentieth anniversary of NaNoWriMo I’m writing the start of a dark Young Adult fantasy series. A large leap from my typical, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited for a story as I am for this one.

Looking at the plot, the world building, the characters, I can still see some of that twelve year-old idealism. And frankly, I like that. There’s that pool of darkness, and within it there’s a drop of hope. That hope comes in the shape of diversity, magic and snark. And of course a fair dose of idealism on the part of some of the characters. But sometimes that’s what you need. A little bit of idealism, a little bit of hope.

That’s the spirit of NaNoWriMo after all. Setting a seemingly impossible goal, coming together, and doing your best. Win or lose (and trust me I’ve failed far more times than I’ve succeeded), the results are beautiful.

A square banner that says “Dedication: 1. What it takes to finish your novel. 2. The place where you’ll expect to see your name in your writing buddies’ published novels.”

By the time you read this I’ll be four days into the madness and joy that NaNoWriMo gives me. If you’d like to know more about what I’m writing and get cryptic hints, you should mosey on over to my Instagram or Facebook page. If you’re one of the many doing NaNo this year I would love to learn about what you’re working on and toss some encouragement your way! After all, learning about other’s writing projects is half the fun.

Whatever your goal is, to read more, to write a novel, or just survive the month, I’m rooting for you. We’ve got this.

Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House

“Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more.”

While moving a couple months back, my thoughts lingered on the types of homes we encounter in fiction. Some are wonderful places we wish we lived in, others are home to terror and pain. But perhaps no fictional home is as iconic as Hill House. I saw the 1963 movie The Haunting on Halloween years ago, and swore to myself I would read the book. Apparently this is a lucky October for me.

Synopsis: Hill House is a blight that holds nothing but terror, or so the legends say. An occult scholar, Dr. Montague, rents the house in hopes of discovering irrefutable evidence of a haunting. With him come three people, the charismatic and colorful Theodora, Luke, the heir to Hill House, and Eleanor, an outcast who sees her time at Hill House as her first real adventure. All are tied to the paranormal, but none have experienced it with such intensity. Hill House is watching them, and it is waiting.

Thoughts: The movie, while iconic, doesn’t hold a candle to the book. The Haunting of Hill House is a classic for a number of reasons. The characters, the writing style, and the setting are iconic. Those coupled with the pacing of the story makes for an intense and memorable read.

Eleanor is actually a shockingly sympathetic character in the book. For those of you familiar with the 1963 version of the film, you’ll no doubt recall that while the main character, Eleanor is hardly sympathetic. In the book her thoughts are fluid and coherent. She has been hurt by the world as many of us have been, and wants a better life for herself. She’s stubborn, whimsical, and curious. Ultimately she wants to be a part of something larger than herself. These things will eventually come back to haunt her (and the others), but that makes her and her relationships with the other characters all the more interesting.

While Luke, Dr. Montague, and Theodora are all interesting characters, aside from Theo, none of them interested me quite as much as Eleanor. Which is precisely the point of the book. Although the book starts from Eleanor’s perspective, and arguably remains from her point of view, as the story progresses we as the reader become more and more aligned with how the house sees Eleanor and her friends. It’s an uncanny experience and the core element that makes this book so frightening.

What makes the book so terrifying is the writing style. The writing style is somehow simplistic and yet beautifully detailed. Jackson has a talent for picking out the right details and weaving them in. Details that crop up at the start of the book find their way deep within the novel. The repetition of some things, and the lack of it for others, helps add suspense. One is never quite sure how something will come into play. The writing style, filled with shockingly long sentences and paragraphs, is unusual, but absolutely brilliant within the book. I don’t think many, if any, other writers could pull it off. In short, the long paragraphs and sentences add on to the suspense, forcing the reader down an odd rabbit hole, trying to absorb each detail.

And finally, the plot itself. I believe the beauty of the plot lies within its simplicity. Four strangers staying in a legendary haunted house. Each of them have some tie to the paranormal or the house itself, and yet each one has their own doubts. There are so, so many things that could go wrong with this scenario, and things do indeed go wrong, but none of it in the way one anticipates. And this is coming from someone who has memorized the 1963 film. The simplicity allows the reader’s imagination to run away with them, and be surprised and frightened over and over again.

This is one of those books where the cliche of “a beautiful and haunting book” is actually quite fitting. If horror is your thing, then you really can’t go wrong with Jackson’s masterpiece. If you’re a fan of classics, again, this is a solid book and worthy of your bookshelves. As a writer I found myself enthralled with the choice of words and the brilliant details. As a reader I was curled at the edge of my sofa, reading, trying to absorb and unravel each mystery presented to me. Jackson is truly a master of horror and has quickly made her way firmly onto my list of favorite authors.

Of Summer Heat and Surprises

July is simultaneously one of my favorite and least favorite months. For one, in the south, the heat is at its all time high, humidity is nearly a solid, and there is simply not enough ice to go into one’s iced tea.

But it’s not all bad. July means we’re deep into summer. I can finally start to relax. I find myself spending my evenings outside listening to the crickets and frogs, watching the stars and fireflies flicker together. There’s also a number of birthdays to celebrate during the month, mine included. While I’m hardly a party person, there’s something wonderful about being with loved ones and getting to celebrate them. And of course, there are those strange summer surprises that always seem to sneak up on me.

But you get surprises too! The first is a month long sale. From July 1st (today) until July 31st, Of Secrets and Sound is half off exclusively on Smashwords. Instead of $1.99 it’s now priced $0.99. Smashwords allows you to download e-books in a number of formats, including the formats required for Kindles and Nooks, so you don’t need to worry about compatibility with your preferred device.

The year is 1873 and society has no room for deaf Edward Rollin. Despite being a social outcast, Edward is desperate to help his friends Ambrose Walsh and Abigail Hunt stop a growing plague. As Edward and his friends hit more dead ends in their investigation, he decides to try a new method of searching. This brings him closer to a cure, but far closer to danger.
Told through both Edward’s letters and third person, Of Secrets and Sound is the long awaited sequel to Of Secrets, Letters, and Lions.

A number of other authors are also putting their books on sale, so browse a while and see what’s up for grabs. This is a brilliant time to support authors and find new books.

Tomorrow will hold another surprise in the form of a second post. I’ll be sharing a bizarre summer surprise life recently tossed me and address the frequently asked question of inspiration. Things will go back to normal in August, with only one post on the first Monday of the month.

I hope you enjoy the sale and find new stories to fall in love with. Life is full of surprises, but may you find the good in each of them.

Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

“…I wish I had it in me to feel remorse for the dead thing. But this was the forest, and it was winter.” ~Fyere

I have no words for this book. The beauty, depth, darkness and light within it, all deeply moved me. Even so, I’ll do my best to review A Court of Thorns and Roses. After all, I’m the sort of person that when I fall in love with a book, I must talk about it.

A red and black book with silver text on it. On the left side of the book a young woman in a black dress stands, a black flowering tattoo on her arm. The text reads "A Court of Thorns and Roses" by Sarah J. Maas

Synopsis: Fyere is a 19 year old woman who kills a wolf in the woods to help provide food for her family. Her world is shattered when a powerful beast comes to claim her as retribution. Taken to the half of the world where no human has ventured and come back alive from, Fyere discovers her captor is none other than Tamlin, one of the immortal and exceedingly powerful Fae. But Tamlin and his companions hold secrets, secrets of a power that is slowly destroying the world of the Fae, and Fyere’s human world. As Fyere learns more about Tamlin, she starts to realize just how little she knows about her world, the Fae, and how little power she has to stop the rising evil.

Thoughts: I had a number of hesitations coming into this book. For one, while “Beauty and the Beast” is one of my favorite stories, it’s also one of the more popular retellings. Secondly, while Fae mythology has always interested me, I’m quite worn out from the watered down Fae. I was afraid that despite the hype surrounding the book, it wouldn’t appeal to me. So somehow, I began reading with high expectations, but low hopes. By the end of the first chapter I was enamored, and my love only grew as I read.

The first thing that captured me was the narration. Maas made a wonderful choice by telling the story from Fyere’s point of view. Fyere’s practical, stubborn, hurt, and yet she’s deeply loyal, desperately trying to hold on to what little beauty life has to offer. From the start, Fyere knows herself and her motivations are clear. As the story progresses and her world view is challenged, Fyere starts to question her motives. This is one of the driving forces of the plot. I personally loved this element because it lead to a lot of character interactions and each one of those pushed the plot forward, adding depth to the story.

It’s impossible to talk about Fyere without talking about the other characters. To go into detail about each one would make this post quite long, so I’ll simply summarize. As much as I enjoyed seeing Fyere and Tamlin’s growing relationship, I still felt that Tamlin was too distant overall. He was certainly interesting, but I still couldn’t fully get behind him. I have a feeling this is purposeful on Maas’ part. I do appreciate that the depth of his actions (or lack of actions) is clarified as the book continues. This leads to some lovely conflict and plot twists.

But it was Nesta and Rhysand that became out of the blue insta-faves for me. At the start of the book Nesta, the oldest of Fyere’s sisters, is cold, selfish, and yet she shows a shocking amount of love and loyalty to Elain, the middle sister. She mostly remains so, and yet she still shows a delightful amount of growth throughout the book. Her relationship with Fyere broke and mended my heart. And then there’s Rhysand. I was surprised with how quickly I fell in love with his character. Sassy, smart, always thinking a few steps ahead, Rhysand is shrouded in mystery. And for someone who is so mysterious, he still was an extremely fleshed out character, and a delight to read.

Of course, characters cannot exist in a void. The world building that went into A Court of Thorns and Roses is breath taking. It brings to mind the detailed fantasy worlds of Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. Not because this book is anything like them, simply because the magic, the belief system, the politics, and the geography are all so well thought out. Even from the first chapter there is a darkness hovering. I wasn’t expecting a terribly dark book, but this book was darker than I anticipated on a number of levels and I loved it. This book also pulls on a number of fantasy tropes and is a fascinating take on the original “Beauty and the Beast” story. But there are also other faerie tales that are referenced in the book, which I found to be an absolute delight.

For a number of reasons this book broke and mended me. I can’t point to any one thing and say “This is what made me love this book.” All of the elements, the way they were woven together, made me fall in love. The elements all tied into the plot. Nothing was mentioned needlessly, and that will always win me over in a book. A Court of Thorns and Roses hits on everything I want in a fantasy book. It pulls on old troupes and transforms them into something formidable and unique. It has a detailed, character and world based plot, suspenseful plot twists and a plethora of other things. If you haven’t read this series yet and are looking for fantasy with an edge, I highly recommend A Court of Thorns and Roses. It’s a deeply immersive book that holds your heart and keeps you in its world long after the book is finished.

Dear Reader,

If you’ll give me a moment to be more honest than I’m comfortable being, I think you’ll find it worth your while. Especially if you’re interested in my writing and what the future holds in that respect. Even if you’re here mostly for the book reviews (and I won’t be upset in the least if you are! I would take it as a complement), I hope you’ll find this at the very least entertaining.

The name "A. E. Moseley" is written in a silver white text, tree branches coming from the "A", "M, and "Y". On top of the letters, in the center, is a crow.

As you can see I have new logo design. Obviously, I have to take this opportunity to show it off. I absolutely adore it and all its variations (FB , Twitter , and Instagram all sport the new logo). Whimsical, mysterious, and dark, it truly touches on everything I want and need it to. The team at Deranged Doctor Design did a brilliant job capturing the essence of my current work and long term creative goals.

But I digress. I promised to be honest and to talk about my writing.

I have always loved the darkness. Even so, it took time for me to learn that the darkness wasn’t to be feared. That it adds beauty to life. The darkness is our shadow, the shade of the trees. It helps the moon and stars shine more brightly, it lulls us to sleep at night. The darkness does not hurt us, it is what is in the darkness that is to be feared. If you have ever stepped on a Lego barefooted in the dark, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

But I was always encouraged to be interested in other things. Polite things, less morbid things. After all, as a child, and to this day, I’m a kind and optimistic person. My interests by and large clash with my personality, or so I’ve been told.

And when you are told things enough, lies or otherwise, eventually it becomes hard to ignore those words. And so I held back. And back. And back.

I’m quite done with all of that. I am no longer holding myself back. It is not fair to myself and it’s certainly not fair to my readers. After all, if I’m holding back, I’m limiting the stories that I can and want to tell. Considering the fact that I write to give back, to give back to the writers who have indirectly healed and helped me through their works, by writing my own stories so that others may grow and heal, well to hold back is unacceptable.

I still adore the stories I have written previously. They have taught me so much and I will certainly finish the Secrets of the Lion series (although if I’m honest, it’s giving me a bit of trouble at the moment, hopefully my other works will inspire the final story in that series). But, they only touch on what I want to explore.

For many years I have wanted to expand my writing. Go deeper, darker, edgier. Life is full of sharp edges and jagged rocks. It’s filled with seemingly bottomless pits and black nights. I want to explore that. Not for the shock value, but because that’s true of life. Jagged rocks can be gems, the bottomless pits do indeed end and lead to the most extraordinary of places. And of course, we all know that the darker the night, the brighter the moon and stars. There is a beauty in the darkness. I want to try to express that in my writing.

I’m so very excited for the future. I’m already working with close friends to expand what I bring to you, in both my stories and other outlets. The book reviews and blog posts are not going away. I will simply be adding on to what I already do.

I hope you take this as an invitation. I hope you decide the darkness is worth exploring with me, that through exploring the darkness we can learn to love the light all the more. Whatever the reason that brought you here, thank you. Thank you for your time and your curiosity. May we always find something beautiful and appealing, even in the darkest of moments. And may we never hold ourselves back.

Book Review: The Silence of the Lambs

“Problem-solving is hunting; it is savage pleasure and we are born to it.”

I adored the movie Silence of the Lambs when I first saw it years ago and have seen it many times since. I promised myself that one day, I would hunt down the book and read it. When I finally got around to reading it, I devoured the book.

Book cover with a woman's hand is held out and above it flies a yellow and brown moth with a human skull on its back. The cover reads "Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs"

Synopsis: Clarice Starling is a bright young woman, a hardworking student at the FBI Academy. Thanks to her work ethic and skills she is asked to do a seemingly impossible task: go to a maximum security prison and talk to the renown serial killer Doctor Hannibal Lecter. Starling’s surprise success opens doors for her. But these doors lead to Buffalo Bill, a serial killer just as twisted as Doctor Lecter. Buffalo Bill keeps is victims alive for only a short time. His latest victim is the daughter of a powerful senator who is putting pressure on the FBI to work like they never have before. To save lives Clarice must make deals with a number of people, including Doctor Lecter, a man hellbent on regaining his freedom.

Thoughts: This book is everything I want in a mystery/thriller. It’s intricate, twisted, and dark. I found it delightfully easy to sink into the story.

This book is both strange and delightful. The characters, the setting(s), the underlying themes, all are deeply relatable, and yet seemingly removed from real life. I think a fair bit of this can be attributed to the writing style. It goes from past tense to present tense, but if you’re alert, you’ll catch on to where this happens and it’s easy to see why. It took a couple of chapters for me to get used to it, but I found it delightful overall. It added to the suspense and fast pace of the story.

If serial killers and psychology weren’t enough to capture my attention, the way that these topics and others were handled certainly did. While Harris brings up excellent points about how people treat one another through his characters, the book never once falls into the trap of preaching. Whatever is said is always tied into the plot. This was not only incredibly refreshing, but it also heightened the suspense.

One of the key elements in the book is trans-sexuality. There are very few, if any transsexual characters, but the topic is integral to the plot. I was happy to see statistics, acknowledgement of the struggles that those who transition go through, and how people stood up to protect their privacy. That is a huge and welcomed difference from the movie.

Speaking of the movie, if you’ve seen it but haven’t read the book, fret not. The book is hardly spoiled for you. Although I knew the ending, there were many more details and twists that I didn’t see coming. The ending is a fair bit different than how the movie portrays it to boot. I was delighted by the book’s ending.

From start to finish The Silence of the Lambs is an immersive book. The characters, even the most minor of them, are fleshed out, challenging topics are handled with grace, and the pacing is as close to perfection as one can get. This became an immediate classic when first published, and the book is certainly deserving of such praise. This became an instant favorite for me. No doubt I will enjoy reading it many times in the future.

A Long Short Month

The month of February found me curled up in bed with either a trashcan or a box of tissues nearby. My glorious plans of a timely post and finishing chapter four of my current project were thoroughly dashed by drain on my inspiration, a stomach bug, and a week later, the flu. Needless to say, for such a short month, February was a long one for me.

And yet, it wasn’t an entirely unproductive month.

I got ready for Read An E-Book week by putting my books on sale on Smashwords. Two of my stories are on sale this week (March 3rd-9th) : Of Secrets, Letters, and Lions is free, and the sequel Of Secrets and Sound is half off at $0.99.

I also came to an odd realization. The more ill I am, the more inspired I become. Maybe it’s the fever induced dreams, or maybe it’s because I do so little aside from lying in bed and letting my mind wander. In an odd stroke of inspiration I decided to go back and edit what I had of my current project.

Although I’m still editing (it’s near impossible to edit when one is running a fever), the idea to go back and work on what I had has really worked for me. I also decided to share a bit of my editing process on Instagram. But now I want to share more details. While writing is a solitary experience, it’s more fun when parts of the journey are shared.

Three papers are on stone tile, each paper is labeled from bottom to top "2nd draft: Chapter one" "1st draft: Chapter one" and "Chapter one". The topmost paper has many notes written on it. On top of the papers are three books, each related to thrillers, psychology, or murder.

My editing process consists of me reading through the chapter and making notes in different colors. In this case blue was what I wanted to add, and purple was what I needed to change. Once that’s done, I go back and I read over my edits. If it doesn’t flow the way I like, I edit my edits. Eventually I’m satisfied and type it up.

I was pretty content to keep going forward with my second draft. But I’ll repeat the process quite a few times before I release this into the wild. Regardless, I’m looking forward to it. I love writing, the pouring out of words, but I also love editing. I love carving away what’s not needed and getting closer to how I envision the book.

Of course, if I’m sharing this picture from my Instagram, then clearly there’s a reason I chose those books to star in the picture. The three books (Zodiac by Graysmith, Outliers by Gladwell, and The Tattooed Girl by Burstein, De Keijzer, Holmberg), all touch on elements in my WiP. While there are no serial killers, there’s obsession, mystery, powerful people, and a darkness that I haven’t touched on in my other works. In a way that makes the book easier to write. There’s no limits, except my own. On the other hand, it’s more difficult. How far can I push myself? How do I write about very real, very dark topics, with respect? Like any story, it’s a journey, and despite some lingering sniffles, I’m quite enjoying it.

This is Not a New Year’s Post

I promised myself I wouldn’t write a New Year’s post. This is largely because I don’t celebrate the holiday. Taking stock at New Year’s has never made sense to me personally. I’ve always had other ways to track my goals and progress. I’m also rather private about those sorts of things. After all, my heart and my goals are my own. I figure it will all come to light when I’m ready to share.

I am happy with where I am. After many years I’ve become fearless in what I want to read and write. I’m not afraid to put a book down if I don’t enjoy it, and I certainly am in no competition with myself or others to write a certain genre or write at a certain pace.

If I have any bookish goals at all for this year, it would be to finally read Lord of the Rings. There is little else more appealing to me than a thick book, especially when it’s high fantasy. Currently I’m reading a chapter a night. It’s a lovely way to end the night…usually. It’s slightly less appealing when I dream I’m being chased by Ringwraiths.

Of course I can’t talk about books without talking about writing. I’ve always loved exploring the darker side of life. I’m more fearlessly embracing this side of myself and channeling it into my writing. Of course the Secrets of the Lion series is not all sunshine and roses, but my current project is quite different from anything I’ve written thus far. For one, it’s darker, and for another, it takes place in modern times. It’s also a novel. I’m in the earliest stages of it, only a few chapters in, but I am in love with this story. As the year goes on I’ll be sharing more about it, but for now, let’s just call this foreshadowing.

Book Review: A Simple Favor

“Your mother is a monster.”

December is a time for companionship of all sorts. Family, friends, significant others, pets, it doesn’t matter. Of course this season can also be extremely trying. So it’s important to do simple, loving things for yourself. Simple favors you might say. I found the book A Simple Favor shortly after I saw the movie by the same name. I adored the movie and had to hunt down the book. The book did not disappoint.

ASimpleFavor_Bell_Cover

Synopsis:  Brought together by their young sons, Stephanie and Emily quickly become best friends. Their afternoons are spent bonding over motherhood, work, and love. They tell each other everything, and are more than happy to help each other. One day Emily calls Stephanie to ask for a simple favor: pick up her son from school and she’ll pick him up from Stephanie’s house after work. Midnight comes and goes, a day passes, then two. Suddenly Stephanie wonders how much she knew about Emily, and how much she can rely on Emily’s husband to help. Motherhood is lonely, but now it just became deadly.

Thoughts: If you’ve seen the movie, don’t worry. The movie does the book justice, but the book is a dark and beautiful beast of its own. Even if you’ve seen the movie, you won’t see the ending coming. If you haven’t seen the movie? Read this review, read the book, then hunt down the movie.

A Simple Favor hits on hard topics. That’s what makes the book so fun, yet so disturbing. Normal people are involved in abnormal things. Death, suicide, incest, affairs, abuse. Somehow, the cast is convinced they’re normal, and yet they’re convinced that they’re anything but due to their involvement in these issues. These are hard and ugly issues, yet I felt the book handled them well. After all, as difficult as they are, these issues are deeply real problems.  The dark realism is what makes this book work. But it did lead to a few slow parts at the start. Thankfully the book picked up speed rather quickly once Emily vanished.

At the end of the book I was left wondering who the real victims were. How do we measure the value of life when we can so easily warp it, twist it, and create excuses for the inexcusable, convincing ourselves we’re sane? It’s an odd question to be pondering at the end of a domestic thriller, but weeks after I closed the book, I’m still thinking about it.

There’s no question about it though, life is valuable. How valuable it is, well, maybe that’s up to us. Or in the case of this novel, our dear narrators.

I’ve always been a sucker for unreliable narrators, and this book is a glorious study of them. I loved the narrators. They seemed like horrible people, but at the same time they were deeply relatable. Some were insecure, some thirsted for power and love, and others weren’t quite sure of what they wanted. Bell does a fantastic job of crafting characters that we know are wrong, but we can’t help but root for. There’s just enough redeeming or relatable qualities to each character. As the lines between reality and right and wrong blur for our narrators, those lines blur for the reader as well.

If you’re turned off by the idea of domestic thrillers, thinking them tame, this book will no doubt help you think differently of the genre. This is Bell’s first book, and I surely hope it’s not her last. I’ve found a new author to add to my favorites. I’ll be treating myself with re-reads of this book for many years to come.

TL;DR: If you’ve seen the movie, don’t worry. The book will still hold plenty of surprises for you. The book is a masterful dark domestic thriller, with twists galore. The characters are perhaps unlovable, and yet, they are deeply relatable. The pacing is a little slow out the gate, but when it picks up, the pace is breakneck and brilliant. Get your fuzzy blankets, your favorite hot beverage and treat yourself to A Simple Favor. You can thank me (and yourself) later.