Cover Image: How Can I Help You

How Can I Help You

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Member Reviews

A short fast read , two women , obsessive in their own ways and fascinated by the other, engage in a cat and mouse game with possible tragic ending.    Starts a little slow but builds up to a climax, that while expected in some ways, in other ways, surprising and disturbing.  Could there be room in this world for the two of them, is there a way for them to work together or will they destroy each other  4.5
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Thank you to Penguin Group Putnam and NetGalley for this ARC of How Can I Help You. 

A sociopath and an opportunist pair of librarians, books, and a library! What a delicious read! 

The author herself is a librarian and she perfectly characterized the public/private nature of a library. The magic, the secrets, the public exposure. 
How books, and some characters, can metamorphose a person into obsession.

I loved the intimate inner monologues of both murderess/liar Margo/Jane and the weak-willed, failed writer Patricia who found her muse, morals be damned.

I read author Laura Sims’ earlier book, Looker, and rated it five stars. I rate the same to How Can I Help You.
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This short little story is one of the best, most messed up, books I’ve read this year. I *loved* it. 

It brought memories of my time behind a circulation desk of my own library. The dust motes in the sun, the crinkle of a library book cover, helping patrons with things that were not entirely in my job description. But Margo takes that to the next level. 

This book was utterly diabolical and easily devoured. It was fun, it was wild. It packed a punch in its short time, and it truly left me wanting more.
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A library-centric story with a noir vibe, Laura Sims' sophomore novel How Can I Help You is a sinister tale of deadly obsession.  Taking place in a small town library, this book explores what happens when a former nurse with an insatiable blood lust for killing her patients takes a job at a public library and attempts to lead a relatively normal life in hiding until her world collides with a new reference librarian and aspiring novelist intent on using her deadly secrets for writing inspiration.

Sims, a reference librarian herself, perfectly captures the rural library aesthetic, turning the traditional buttoned up librarian stereotype onto its head.  You may never look at your local librarians the same again after reading this wholly unique and pithy novel!  Sims has crafted a curious, yet ominous story that deftly explores the theme of passion manifested in polar opposite coworkers.  Whether squeezing the life from a patient, patron, or the page, Sims' characters explore just how far they are willing to go in the name of obsession.

Despite its gristly subject matter, How Can I Help You is such a fun, gripping read.  Sims keeps the tone light and playful while shadowing her characters in dark overtones, keeping the most gruesome bits right on the periphery of readers' minds without fulling engaging in their consequences.  This is a book about the clever game two library workers play with each other, dancing in and out of reach in an attempt to uncover each other's truth.  If you vibe on noir films, workplace relationships, and of course, libraries, this book might just be for you.
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*****I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

When a killer nurse hides in a small town library will  her secret be safe? It all depends on who moves to town and what their motives are. Patricia could be Margo’s downfall. 

I LOVED this book!  It was written from the perspective of 2 main characters and how they interact together. It kept me interested from the first few pages!
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Thank you to @netgalley and @putnambooks for this early review copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Soooo…. About this book.  

I love unreliable narrators. I love thrillers.  I love slow-burn mysteries. Add in a murdering librarian? Yes, please!

But here’s the thing- 
This didn’t really deliver on any of that. 

The writing was decent, and the premise was intriguing. A new librarian who has a past where she was a nurse and patients died in her wake.  Another new librarian, failed at writing a book, and now is delving into Margo’s life.  Two narrators, neither likable, but sadly, neither all that interesting. 

This premise has been done before - sure, not maybe the murdering librarian, but the unreliable narrator who isn’t who they seem and is - more or less- a total creep. It’s been done, and done better, by many.  

The ending was unsatisfying and there were too many loose ends for me. 

Interesting idea, good writing, poor execution.  

This one releases July 18.
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As a librarian myself, I couldn't WAIT to get my hands on this read. I did not disappoint and I am ever so grateful to have been given an ARC. To not give any spoilers away, all I'll divulge is this: our protagonist may want to seek out a new line of work, as we all aren't best suited for what we do on the daily... sometimes we're better at something else. Way better!
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Call me old-fashioned if you like, but the style of entertainment that includes television shows like “Dexter” and “Breaking Bad,” content built around deeply flawed protagonists, just leaves me cold. In the same vein, I’m perfectly happy to say that if I don’t like the characters in a book, it’s a pretty safe bet I won’t like the book. That’s the reason Laura Sims’ How Can I Help You just didn’t click with me at first: I wouldn’t turn my back on either of the protagonists.	

There’s Margo, who used to be Jane, a librarian who used to be a nurse, living in a small midwestern town instead of the Northeast (where authorities are still looking for her). Jane was a wonderful nurse who helped a lot of people… into eternity, we gather. And then there’s Patricia, the bored research librarian who’d rather be writing the great American novel than cooling her heels in some downstate farm town. To that end, she has a half-written novel stashed in a drawer.

Margo’s well-ordered life hits the skids, however, when Patricia shows up in her library to fill the long-vacant research librarian slot; skids greased by the unexpected death of a patron in Margo’s arms. Watching the life leave the woman’s body awakens a longing in the one-time angel of mercy; an awakening to which the new hire is an unwitting witness. After that event, Patricia finds herself fascinated by her coworke;, so much so that she discards her unfinished novel in favor of a character study of the unnamed “M.”
Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game as the two women maneuver cautiously around each other. Patricia spends her days plotting a new novel featuring “M” even as Margo sheds her librarian persona and reverts to Jane under her watchful eye. It’s only a matter of time…

In her first novel, Looker, Sims developed a reputation for writing female characters with outsized egos and questionable character. Margo, especially, fits that bill (Charles Cullen, anyone?); but Patricia, too, has her moments. Though slow-paced, as perhaps befits a novel about librarians, How Can I Help You still manages a thrill or two and even a surprising twist.

I guess I liked it after all. But I still wouldn't want to meet either Margo or Patricia in a dark alley...
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Delicious, evocative, and addictive — this novel was a perfectly paced delight.

Laura Sims writes with precision and not a word is superfluous. Her characters are well-written, sharp, and complex. 

This angel-of-death style female killer intrigued me. She kills, despite the stereotype of that killer, not to bestow mercy (at least, not always) but sometimes for recompense, revenge, or even to quiet her rage. I know a bit about this topic as a forensic psychologist whose dissertation was on female serial killers and the need for a less sexist depiction and understanding of their kills. It turns out, women are just as capable of rage and violence as their male counterparts. I thought this character spoke to that female rage and urge to commit violence and was smartly done. 

As for things I wish were different (and why it is a 4 star read and not 5 for me): 
I felt it ended prematurely. Margo is a nuanced character that I desperately wanted to know more about. I also would have loved more development between Margo and Patricia (as friends? Confidantes? More? Maybe) - as the undertones of that relationship held weight and were, in some ways, just beginning to take shape by the end. 

This is one I will recommend far and wide. Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Group Putnam for an ARC of this title. 

Look for How Can I Help You by Laura Sims when it is published on July 17, 2023.
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More cat and mouse than psychological thriller, this is a quick and easy read. As a librarian I’m always interested to see how authors portray the profession, and this is pretty spot on (though I’m confused by the Reference librarian that doesn’t know what her job should entail and therefore pretends to look at the computer half the time). 

Anyway, with two whacked out characters and a cast of typical patrons, the reader embarks on an oddly amusing and sometimes horrifying journey to see who will crack first. 

Recommended - an odd little palette cleanser.
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Pretty goo, I liked the unhinged nature of Margo.  I wish it had a little more action, or we could see what happens post final scene but not a bad read.
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Meet Ms. Margo Finch – an upbeat, cheerful, and ever-helpful librarian at Carlyle Public Library – a position she secured based on false credentials and under an assumed name.  Unbeknownst to everyone she works with, she has a sinister past– a past that she misses and believes was her true calling - and is wanted for a series of crimes.She seems to have found a sanctuary with her new life as a librarian, though she does spend most of free time alone, indulginging in reminiscence.

Enter Patricia, the new reference librarian, an aspiring novelist who is looking for a place to land after the "GREAT REJECTION" of her debut manuscript. She observes a few slips in her colleague’s carefully constructed façade and when Margo mentions her previous occupation in casual conversation, that is all Patricia needs to dig deeper into Margo's past and uncover her true identity. Not only does her research into “Margo” provide a thrilling angle to her otherwise boring job, her fixation with Margo also fuels her motivation to write – and so she writes and writes and writes – with hopes that this would lead to a great book, fulfilling her dream of becoming a successful writer and eventually exposing Margo for who and what she really is. But Margo is nobody’s fool, and exposing her won’t be easy, nor will it be easy to hide the fact that she is onto her.  

<b>How Can I Help You</b> by <b>Laura Sims</b> is an engaging read with an intriguing premise. This is a slow-burn psychological thriller that revolves around two very interesting female characters. The narrative, shared through dual first-person PoVs in alternating chapters, is mildly repetitive but given that it is a short book (barely 250+ pages, easily a one-sitting read) and we get into the heads of both characters, it does not detract from the overall reading experience. Though the plot isn’t what I would call twisty (we know everything about the characters well before the halfway mark), I did enjoy the cat-and-mouse game between the two characters and the author does a good job of building up the tension as the narrative progresses. However, I found the ending a tad underwhelming after such an intense build-up, which is why I really can’t give this novel a higher rating. Overall, this is a good read that could have been better!
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Received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley.

I have been telling all my library coworkers about this book. The author’s depiction of life of a library is spot on! 

Also, personally I love We Have Always Lived in the Castle. So, I loved that this title was mentioned out of all the books that could have been discussed. 

This book gave me King’s Misery vibes. I loved every minute reading this book.
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wow…Wow…WOW! This book is crazy good - emphasis on crazy!
Margo is an unassuming librarian living a boring life. At least, that’s what she wants everyone else to think. Patricia is the new reference librarian who is really a wannabe author. Her writing instincts kick into high gear when she meets Margo. What follows is a psychological game of cat and mouse. 
I found the relationship between Margo and Patricia to be a push/pull series of tension filled interactions. As time goes on, they seem to rely on one another. And the ending is a fitting (if messed up) conclusion to this story. 
I received a copy of this book for free from NetGalley and I am leaving this review voluntarily
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An awesome librarian thriller

Bet you never thought you'd heart those words

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
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Sims’ story is a reminder that the dark side of human nature lurks everyplace—even where you might not expect it.

Though it is set in a library, this short book flies by with unseemly haste and very un-library-like tension. Margo works in a small library in a small town.  She has floated along in safe anonymity for two years, with only the occasional spark from her past flaring up inside her, demanding action.  And then Pa-tree-se-ah arrives; she of the raven hair and the same whiff of running from something.  Patricia has things she isn’t sharing as well—a history she is trying to leave behind—but both women are having difficulty truly scraping off the past.  What ensues is like a fire at both ends of a fuse with each end burning toward the other, leaving the reader racing to figure out what is going on before the explosion and destruction.

The tension in this story ratchets up early and strong, but it doesn’t come from wondering who “Margo” really is—that is obvious very early on.  The puzzle comes more from Patricia, who enters Margo’s orbit as an unhappy failed writer running from her placid life with her accountant boyfriend.  We hear about her obsession with her first novel, which was rejected multiple times before she stuffed it in a drawer and ran away from that part of her life.  She is obviously someone who is compulsive about whatever she engages with, however, and it soon becomes clear that she is now obsessed with the mysterious Margo, whose carefully-crafted life begins to crack apart just as Patricia arrives on the scene.

May I Help You? was enjoyable to read and very fast-paced (I finished it in under a day) and Margo’s pathology is eerie and convincingly described.  The plot falters a bit for me in the rapid shift of Patricia’s obsessive/compulsive attention from writing more generally to compulsively writing about a specific situation.  We do not know what her first novel was about—was it a similarly obsessive character study?  Because of this, the climax of the story doesn’t really gel for me, though it is certainly dramatic.

Verdict: a fun weekend or vacation read; don’t overthink it.
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When newly minted reference librarian meets circulation desk employee Margo, a cat and mouse game begins. A wonderful library setting with a host of unusual patrons makes this novel a winner. Thanks to NetGalley and the Publisher for allowing me to be an early reader in exchange for my review.
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This book was a great easy read. I loved both perspectives of Margo and Patricia which had irony sprinkled in! This captivate my attention and kept me wanting to read. I wouldn’t say there was a major ‘twist’ but the ending was satisfying to the story. Although it did feel rushed. I wish we would have known if Patricia went to the police and if Margo’s body was found.
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How Can I Help You captured the day to day feel of a public library, with the addition of some killer suspense, from the viewpoint of both the Circulation and Reference desks. I don't want to spoil anyone's experience of the plot twists, so I'll just say it's worth the journey to see what the characters feel compelled to do!
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How Can I Help You tells the well trod tale of two characters, one of which has an unhealthy fascination with the other. Patricia is just starting her library career, and has joined the Carlyle Illinois library, transplanting from Chicago where she graduated, and joins Margo and the team there. Having the two trade off alternating perspectives on the same events back to back is a fun angle on the telling of the story, and it also has the ancillary benefit of papering over the thin plot and open, brazen character motivations. There’s no mystery about the identity of the killer, as the other character performs a google search to figure her backstory out, so the book becomes more about how one character deals with the ramifications of this knowledge while managing what becomes a slow-motion breakup and reaffirmation of what her goals are, which is, in my mind, the beating heart of the story. There is ancillary discussion of librarian matters, which is interesting, but I think only to people in the orbit of book lending. Ultimately, clever framing devices aren’t enough to elevate the material above its tawdry airport thriller roots.
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