The Ghost Downstairs by Molly Ringle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
MC Lina takes a job as the live-in nurse at a small retirement home after an unfortunate incident at the big hospital where she's on staff. I could have told Lina that reading Stephen King when your job involves staying up all night is a major mistake! (My wife finally made me turn the lights out at bedtime a week after I finished "It.") Her new digs are a funny old place though. It's an elegant mansion, a former sorority house, rumored to be haunted by one of the former sisters. Lina is sceptical, and far more concerned with her feelings for Ren, the "houseboy." It's not just that he's the sole occupant anywhere near her age, he's also kind, something she needs in her life just now, and quel coincidence for a romance novel, he's also kind of hot. His aloof manner and mysterious comings and goings give her pause though. Is the attraction all one sided?
This is a really good read. It is a bit hard to review, though, because there is a big ole twist, and although it's not that hard to spot, nonetheless it's much more fun to encounter it yourself, without a nasty spoilerboots ruining all the fun. So, I'll just talk a bit about the characters and the atmosphere, which honestly to me were the richer part of the reading experience in any event.
Lina ia so charming and sweet, you are rooting for her to find something good in her life from page one. I think Molly Ringle has a major knack for creating super relatable female characters. From a guy perspective they are that elusive combination of smart, sweet, funny (without knowing it), strong but vulnerable, and of course, cute, that makes them irrestible. Lina is a lonely girl though, and we find out why as the story progresses. Her story is poignant and tender, and it's great to see her find friends among her patients (? they're not sick, just elderly, but I'm not sure what else to call them, the residents?). She seems to find the family she needs among them, and seeing her come out of her shell is a touching part of the story.
Ren is enigmatic and elusive, but not in a way that makes you think he's a jerk. On the contrary, it's clear he too has suffered, and that he and Lina are just what each other needs.
The city of Seattle is another major element of this book, and Molly conveys a beautiful sense of the city, which is very important to Lina. Here's a passage from the beginning of the book I thought was beautifully and sensitively written:
"A fresh September dawn bathed the eastern sky. Lina stumbled along the sidewalk, blinking at buildings and citizens and seagulls. Salmon-colored sunlight gleamed on the cars; roasting coffee filled the salty air with its scent; a beeping bread truck backed up into an alley."
For some reason that just put me totally into the scene, it felt poetic but also real. Which, is actually a pretty good way to describe Molly Ringle's style in general. Obvs this book has a lot of fantastical elements, but she does a good job of maintaining credibility and pulling you in so that it's all believable. Another thing I like about this book is that even the "bad guy" sees a little redemption at the end, and has motivations and a humanity that contribute to the aforementioned credibility.
After you've read a few books by an author, it's tempting to try to sort of "rank" them by quality or as "favorites." It's hard with Molly though, because each book I've read is so different. One thing they share though is a fun lyrical style, engaging, endearing characters and a heartwarming empathy for them. They all have their flaws and issues - some of them are pretty serious. And it's not just that it makes them more "real," it makes their stories deeper, more meaningful than if they were somehow less scared, scarred and worried. Haha, the more I talk about this book, the more I like it! Check it out, I bet anything you will too!