Mary Higgins Clark Reading Spree: What I Learned

Besides the fact that I can accomplish the things I set my mind to?! Again! Hair flip! Another TICK on the list! Drumroll! All that good stuff. Using bookmarks like I mean it and reading standing up between the parts that making breakfast consits of. It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride.

But in all seriousness. . . This is one of my favourite writers I’m talking about here. Her books have accompanied me multiple times from my early teens in to adulthood, each time providing new viewpoints both on the novels themselves and life as I was experiencing it at the time.

This year I set out to reread all the suspense novels she had written so far that I had on my bookshelf, starting with the terrifying debut Where Are The Children and finishing with one of her latest, All By Myself, Alone. The novels span several decades of publishing, from the mid-seventies to today. After spending time with 34 books from January to mid-November, what have I learned?

Mary Higgins Clark has the gift. Her prose is seamless, structured, not overloaded, her descriptions are spot-on and her storytelling skills are mesmerizing. She knows how to draw a reader in.

Stand-out qualities in the pages she has written include a steady, continuous sense of sincere empathy – there are words and descriptions you simply cannot fake. There’s also a clear distinction between right and wrong, even good and evil, if you will. She writes with honesty and precision, but without preaching, deftly interweaving and examining complicated issues within the story.

Her books are a compliment to the intelligent reading experience, with plenty of visibly solid research that becomes an integral part of the story without reading like a lecture or textbook even when something needs to be explained. The experts in her novels are believable, and readers end up ecoming curious about various topics not just due to the strong plot. From American history in various regions to actual famous murder cases, to burial customs. to reincarnation, to biblical scholarship, the palette is a colorful one.

It’s refreshing to have an author, and a bestselling one at that, who writes about relatable and likable heroines who are still as compelling and complex, just as much as any other. Their likability makes us see ourselves or someone we know in them, and this is part of the reason we get hooked. The “good girl” also has a place in literature. Most of us have known or know women like those who are at the center of Mary Higgins Clark’s novels. Many of us are like them, hard-working, at times struggling, faced with hard circumstances and loss, holding on to values and integrity, even sanity, loving with fear and sincerity at the same time and fighting for a sense of self in a difficult world.

I have discovered something for myself in every novel, but as in most cases of continued reading, a few already well-thumbed favourites that I know I will pick up again and again are on my list. These are Remember Me, Moonlight Becomes You, On The Street Where You Live, Daddy’s Little Girl, No Place Like Home. Some of the reasons for these gems topping the list include heroines with creative professions, among them writing, a house with a tragic past, sisterhood, parenthood, family ties and dealing with loss, developing love stories. And heck, the crime.

Mary Higgins Clark is turning 90 this year and in a recent interview she made it clear that she has no intention to stop writing – YES! People will still ask her why she does it. She loves it and gets paid well for it! I want to punch the air and say Atta girl!

Now I have to go buy her newest novel Every Breath You Take, which came out while I was busy finishing my reading spree. The journey continues!

 

 

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November Repeat Playlist

I’m a regular re-reader, re-watcher, and the same can be said for songs. Sure, there are old favorites that always work, there are new discoveries, sometimes by chance, there are new albums we’re excited to listen to, and then again, and again. But some songs just grab you by the ear and I literally listen to them on repeat four or five times in a row. I would even go so far as to say it’s vaguely comforting in a world where you are peppered with offers of the newest hot thing every minute of your life. Yes, throw all that confetti at me, I don’t care, I’ve got my own!

Whole Heart by Rachel Platten

Fresh off her newest album Waves, I was excited to hear the new work after getting a feel for her musical energy and lyrics beyond Fight Song on her previous album Wildfire. This current favorite is a substantial pop-song with heart (no pun intended) that seems to follow a conversation about figuring out a relationship as I imagine it.

We were at the beach and you were hiding on your phone

You said nothing’s wrong, but something’s wrong

A powerful chorus rounds off the gentle, but firm point made in the lyrics. Romance and vulnerability without pathos or undue drama, as well as clear-cut vocals and a thought out story.

Cars+Parking Lots by Cimorelli

From cars and parking lots

I still think about him a lot

The last time we talked we fought

He’s gone but I never forgot

There’s always room for some nostalgia about our teenage years, especially when days are shorter and those autumn nights gradually turn to winter ones. Cimorelli effortlessly captures that teenage vibe of everything revolving around young love, and the sound just makes me think of all those classic 80s movies and the whole world (of course) being concentrated in one small town, during one summer, the universe of driving and dating, emotions running high and musical notes too. Great harmonies and easy to sing along to.

I’ll Make It Up To You by Imagine Dragons

‘Cause honey it’s been a hard year
It seems like we’re going nowhere
You’re crying inside your bedroom
Baby I know it’s not fair

This one is off their new album Evolve, which I’m enjoying very much. The thing I find coolest about Make It Up is how it takes off in the chorus, how the beat just picks up in the chorus, from contemplation to a firm statement, with a touch of wistfulness and, of course, hope. As always, the lyrics are observant, thoughtful and relatable. It also feels like a continuation of previous songs from other albums, like Every Night, which is similar to wondering about how characters you rooted for in a story were doing after you finished reading and then finding out in a (hopefully good, it can happen) sequel. Amazing guitar playing (heck, ALL the instruments) and soaring vocals in the background towards the end make me come back for more.

Don’t Hold Me Down by Colbie Caillat

Don’t hold me down
Oh, I was getting so far
Don’t hold me down
Cause I don’t wanna fall apart

This one is just always a good pick-me-up regardless of how I’m feeling and it’s been with me for years. Colbie Caillat’s trademark warm, energetic vibe and smooth vocals make for a feel-good, positive number that’s good for re-centering or just singing along to. It just fits in everywhere, anyime, any place.

Even The Rain by Gabe Dixon feat. Allison Krauss

You lean in close like I am your black umbrella
We run for cover, wind up in the doorway of a
Brownstone on the corner of west 17th
Out of the blue it’s coming down in sheets

I was shopping and heard the last lines of this in the background before it finished playing. It’s been around for a while. Luckily I remembered what I heard and a few keystrokes later I found this gem, which I couldn’t stop listening to since. It’s obviously perfect for the current rainy weather, but since it rains almost any time of year, its appeal is timeless. Obviously it’s more than being literally suitable to the weather outside. It’s the perfect blend of whimsical, romantic, quirky songwriting that makes me want to walk the rainy streets daydreaming under an umbrella.

 

 

Lindsey Stirling Became a Robot on DWTS

Lindsey Stirling is an artistic chameleon, pushing the boundaries of creative self-definition and repeatedly blowing people’s minds. The same can be said about Mark Ballas, her dance partner on the current season of Dancing With The Stars, a show I would watch if it broadcast here, but thankfully there’s YouTube.

It’s a dance partnership made in heaven. Like many others, I was not expecting a sci-fi theme for their tango. I was also convinced after the first few seconds of viewing that Lindsey Stirling had special powers and had indeed turned in to a robot. I would believe it of her. And not just any robot, but one of the most stylish, disturbingly attractive and potentially menacing robots I’ve ever seen. At least on a dancefloor.

Mark Ballas is immediately recognizable as a mad scientist drilling with enthusiasm in to what appears to be a severed future robot leg, as smoke trails across the floor of the darkened stage. Three robots start to move with precise, elegant jerking of limbs a short distance away. The suave sounds of Human by Sevdaliza successfully meld with the robot’s mechanical, yet pristinely executed movements. The music matches the story unfolding – the Frankenstein and Pygmalion elements, the thrill of invention and the lines of passion, as well as the threatening possibility of machines going loose on the world.

It’s a complicated, interesting, out-of-the-box take on the passion element that is part of tango as such. It’s also simply visually stunning, as my friend @junperlu put it. Lindsey Stirling’s unwavering multicolored gaze has you hooked as she tangos her way through the number. But what sealed the mind-blowing aspect of this whole performance for me was how she nailed those mechanical movements in time with the clicking noises from the song. I’d say the head turns in the beginning win hands down.

The fact that they got a perfect score was immensely satisfying.

 

Take Me to the Yule Ball

When I was reading/ living in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I remember my initial reaction when I first came across mention of the Yule Ball was like the stepmother and stepsisters from Disney’s Cinderella when they first get the letter about the upcoming evening of dance and fun at the royal palace. “There’s to be a ball…” – “A ball?!” The scenes that followed when I finally arrived at the respective chapters became some of my favourite in the book. The way the films handled them didn’t disappoint either. Indeed, who could forget this:

Or this:

And now the Internet is telling me I can do this IRL?! Somebody get me some cold pumpkin juice. What you need to know:

Event: Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter.

Location: Great Hall in Leavesden, UK.

Dates: December 11-13, 2017. Sooooon.

Tickets sales start on: October 24, 2017. Go, go, go!

Ticket price per person: £240. Well, hmmm, OK, but how many times in your life will you get to go? Yule Ball experience with meal, studio tour and a WAND included.

 

 

 

On The Street Where You Live by Mary Higgins Clark

The first entry was dated, September 7, 1891. It began with the words “Madeline is dead by my hand.”

Now doesn’t that chilling quote just make you immediately want to pick up the book? On The Street Where You Live is yet another masterpiece by Mary Higgins Clark and one of my favourite novels among all that I’ve read so far.

Similar to Remember Me, this book also contains an impressive amount of historical research from life in the state of New Jersey in the late nineteenth century, specifically a real town called Spring Lake, which exists to this day and retains many of the features that make you understand particular descriptions in the novel. Coastal, charming, attractive, based on a quick YouTube search it does look like the kind of place that combines a restful retreat with the possibility of hidden stories from the past just waiting to be discovered.

After my virtual stroll, I can picture vividly what it felt like for the novel’s protagonist, criminal defense attorney Emily Graham, to walk the streets of Spring Lake as it gradually moved towards summer, as well as her reactions and admiraton of buildings and houses in the town. Houses play a particular role in On The Street Where You Live, as in several other of Mary Higgins Clark’s books. A house, a home, is a smaller world unto itself, and Emily enters one when she repurchases a house that belonged to the family of one of her ancestors who mysteriously vanished in 1891. Yep, that ancestor was the very Madeline mentioned in that cold-blooded note at the beginning of the novel.

We, the readers, learn of Madeline’s fate before Emily does, and wait with baited breath until Emily herself starts searching for the truth as she makes increasingly frightening connections about not only Madeline’s murder, but the disappearance of other young women, both from the past and the present…

Worlds within worlds spring up cunningly in this confection of a suspense thriller. On one hand present-day Spring Lake emerges as Emily is coming to know it, on the other the ghost of the town from the 1890s is constantly moving parallel to us, becoming more visible through the book within a book Emily is reading to get aquainted with the past and try reconstructing the chain of events that led to Madeline’s disappearance and death. It is eerie, but in a delightfully addictive way, how 1890s Spring Lake becomes almost as alive for the reader as Emily’s Spring Lake. The insistent, almost mystical idea that past and present are imminent of colliding in some way is successfully rooted in our minds by the author and doesn’t let go until the very last words of the book.

Last but not least, the diary of a serial killer, while not overdone, is a disturbing world of its own as well. In fact, the results of writing are represented prominently in On The Street Where You Live, and this is done in contrasting ways. There’s the factual reporting in newspaper articles from the past, the dark aforementioned secrets written down for posterity with perverse dilligence and the nostalgic, absorbing memoirs from a girlhood spent in Spring Lake in the 1890s. The fascination and power that the printed word can evoke is displayed within a novel that in itself is a testament to both.

 

Siren

Well, this is certainly attention-grabbing. While mermaids have long since been part of popular culture across the world and enjoyed regular depiction in various interpretations in literature, TV and film, it looks like the momentum is gaining with the upcoming 2018 addition of a new TV show. But unlike the bright colours and sunny summery vibe of the popular Australian teen show H2O: Just Add Water, Siren aims at dark, mysterious and even scary.

The setting for the show is a fishing town, Bristol Cove, with some dark history as far as mermaids are concerned. We can expect a case of the past not staying hidden, however long ago that past took place, and erupting in all sorts of hair-raising ways. Mysterious new arrival in the form of an unusual-looking young woman, a town rooted in murder and all that thrashing in the water we see in the trailer – it’s not mythical, it’s real! “What would it take for you to believe me?”

 

 

 

 

Moonlight Becomes You by Mary Higgins Clark

“This is my child! I didn’t give birth to her, of course, but that’s totally unimportant.”

That’s one of the passages that stayed with me ever since I read Moonlight Becomes You by the great Mary Higgins Clark for the first time, a book that went on to become one of my favourite works of fiction.

Maggie Holloway, a successful photographer from New York City, goes with a date to his family reunion party. While the date quickly leaves her to her own devices after arriving, entirely by chance, Maggie runs in to her former stepmother, Nuala Moore. The closeness the two women had shared in the past, some twenty years ago, when Nuala was married to Maggie’s now deceased father, is immediately rekindled as Nuala recognizes “her child”, and the two piece together the circumstances that lead to them falling out of touch. The themes of family, always present in Clark’s novels, as well as family ties forming outside of blood connections, are opened as Nuala embraces Maggie and the two look forward to once again being a part of each other’s lives.

Sadly, the mutual happiness of the two women is cut short. Shortly after meeting, Nuala is murdered.

In pure genre tradition and with Clark’s unmatched skill for threading suspense like beads on a wire that becomes more taut with each page-turn, Maggie makes the decision to follow the trail of troubling questions filling her mind and becomes embroiled in the search for Nuala’s murderer.

The terrifying opening of the novel, almost suffocating in its depiction, grips readers, and grips them hard, not letting go. A classic, tested tactic, yet despite being a first-class whodunit, as all of Clark’s novels are, there is so much more to this book than just the finely executed components of a classy suspense thriller.

Maggie is a creative, sensitive, resourceful and independent heroine, whose own personal history unfolds throughout the book, giving the reader insight in to the reasons for her decisions, desires and actions with Clark’s trademark empathy and non-preaching descriptions. Anyone who has experienced the joy of being creative, the irresistible pull of molding the ideas in your head in to something tangible, will relate to Maggie’s literal molding of clay as she tries to make sense of the weight on her mind and in her heart.

Then there’s Neil Stephens, one of the love interests. Despite being successful, independent, well-raised and having a wonderful relationship with his parents, Neil apparently has some romantic involvement issues. These issues influence not only his treatment of women, but also, ultimately, their treatment of him, something he runs up against with Maggie. While Neil is never disrespectful, rude or uncaring towards his dates, Clark once again manages to examine an ever-present societal development. While Neil’s parents are proud of him, and their happiness when they see their son leaps off the page, they don’t pull any punches. Clark lends voice to Neil’s sympathetic mother, who hits the nail on the head in a conversation which is not necessarily entirely about marriage, but in the context of the first-time romantic brooding Neil is going through, she couldn’t have put it better.

“You know, Neil, a lot of the smart, successful young men of your generation who didn’t marry in their twenties decided they could play the field indefinitely. And some of them will – they really don’t want to get involved. But some of them also never seem to know when to grow up.”

Add the clearly meticulous research of a chilling historical topic and the lovely seaside city of Newport, Rhode Island, and you’ve got yourself a book I was (re-)reading slower on purpose. Moonlight Becomes You is another memorable masterpiece I will be coming back to again and again.