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Reviews of How Can I Help You by Laura Sims

How Can I Help You

by Laura Sims

How Can I Help You by Laura Sims X
How Can I Help You by Laura Sims
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jul 2023, 256 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2024, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the author of Looker comes this "compulsive and unforgettable novel" (Mona Awad) of razor-sharp suspense about two local librarians whose lives become dangerously intertwined.

No one knows Margo's real name. Her colleagues and patrons at a small-town public library only know her middle-aged normalcy, congeniality, and charm. They have no reason to suspect that she is, in fact, a former nurse with a trail of countless premature deaths in her wake. She has turned a new page, so to speak, and the library is her sanctuary, a place to quell old urges.

That is, at least, until Patricia, a recent graduate and failed novelist, joins the library staff. Patricia quickly notices Margo's subtly sinister edge, and watches her carefully. When a patron's death in the library bathroom gives her a hint of Margo's mysterious past, Patricia can't resist digging deeper—even as this new fixation becomes all-consuming.

Taut and compelling, How Can I Help You explores the dark side of human nature and the dangerous pull of artistic obsession as these "transfixing dual female narrators" (Kimberly McCreight) hurtle toward a stunning climax.

MARGO

The moment I walked through the front door, I knew. That deep, abiding quiet, and the sense that the outside world couldn't reach me here. I was like someone chased by demons across the threshold of a church, stepping into the library that first time. I could have turned around, right there at the door, and stuck my tongue out at the world.

Can't catch me.

I didn't do it, and besides, the world wasn't watching. Couldn't find me anyway, could it? I'd already changed my hair and makeup, my clothes, my voice, and even the way I walked. I'd changed my name, too. I'd been Jane but I was Margo now. I liked Margo. Jane would have turned and stuck her tongue out, but Margo never would. No, Margo simply stood in the vestibule, shoulders back and head held high like a queen.

I hadn't spent much time in libraries before then. It was quiet as a nighttime ICU ward-maybe quieter, without all the noise that goes with slow dying: the whoosh of respirators, the mechanical beeps of infusion pumps. I...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. How Can I Help You is set primarily in a library, which is described by Margo as a quiet, anonymous, and orderly haven. Alternatively, Yvonne describes it as a lively community center. Whose description is right, and why? Do you recognize your own local library in either or both descriptions?
  2. Margo and Patricia first meet when Patricia lands the job at the library's reference desk. What significance does her new assignment bear in terms of how the story unfolds?
  3. Despite how they present publicly, Patricia and Margo are immediately drawn to each other. Why do you think each becomes the object of the other's fascination?
  4. The novel alternates between two first-person perspectives, and both narrators demonstrate an affinity for the fictitious. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The characters' dueling monologues are brilliantly arch and bookish, perfect for the story's claustrophobic setting. Margo describes Patricia's searching looks as making her feel "as if she's turning me over in her hands, inspecting my spine and pages for wear, thumbing my table of contents." The thrust and parry of their mutual fascination explores the dirty underbelly of obsession, one that at its heart is selfish and self-centered: what can the other do for me? Patricia is a willing audience to Margo's increasingly harsh and erratic behavior toward the regular patrons, scribbling everything down in her notebook hungrily. Knowing the truth about "my calamitous Jane," Patricia wrestles with the moral implications of this knowledge, but the artistic fire raging inside her—so long dormant—threatens to anesthetize her common sense. Indeed, it may just close the book on her life...continued

Full Review Members Only (594 words)

(Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski).

Media Reviews

Shelf Awareness
Ingenious...Without interrupting her plot's momentum, Sims raises intriguing questions about the wellspring of literary creativity—and even more provocative ones about writerly ethics...[For] fans of Shirley Jackson's eerie fiction...How Can I Help You is smartly scary entertainment that will have readers guessing about its outcome until almost the final page...Canny and chilling.

Kirkus Reviews
A former nurse with a cruel streak and an aspiring novelist check each other out in this eerie thriller set in a library.... Watching these two women peer at each other as they terrorize the bookshelves is great fun.

Library Journal (starred review)
A psychological thriller that stands out in a crowded field…Give this unputdownable title to readers who revel in messy and complicated characters.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] brilliant slice of psychological suspense…Sims skillfully alternates between the perspectives of each woman, slowly bringing her simmering plot to a boil, and delivers a stunning climax. Patricia Highsmith fans will savor this unforgettable thriller.

Author Blurb Kimberly McCreight, author of A Good Marriage and Friends Like These
With transfixing dual female narrators and an artful, innovative structure, How Can I Help You is both a riveting commentary on false pretenses and an utterly beguiling cat and mouse thriller.

Author Blurb Mona Awad, author of Bunny and All's Well
A dark and spellbinding descent into jolly madness, How Can I Help You is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson at her eerie best. All of Sims' deliciously wicked powers are on full display in this compulsive and unforgettable novel. A classic.

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Beyond the Book

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Penguin Orange Collection cover of Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Cover is orange and white and features an illustration of a cat with its legs wrapped in front of the Penguin logo. The power of a book is unquantifiable, depending on who reads it. When the character Margo Finch in Laura Sims's How Can I Help You catches her new colleague, Patricia Delmarco, fondly touching a particular title on the shelf at the Carlyle Public Library, it pulls her deep into a world where fantasy and reality often overlap.

Fans of beloved author Shirley Jackson will be delighted to see the appearance of We Have Always Lived in the Castle in the pages of this frenetic literary thriller. Jackson (1916-1965) was an American novelist and short story writer known as a master of gothic horror and psychological suspense. Her most famous novel, The Haunting of Hill House (1959), has been adapted into movies and a television series, but ...

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Read-Alikes

Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

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    Hailed as "breathtakingly suspenseful," Jean Hanff Korelitz's The Plot is a propulsive read about a story too good not to steal, and the writer who steals it.

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