*One of Crime Reads' 10 New Novels You Should Read in April*
*One of Publishers Weekly's Most Anticipated Thrillers of Spring*
*An Amazon Editors' Pick: Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense*
With help from Pondside Manor’s quirky, twentysomething kitchen worker Foster Kresowik, wheelchair-bound resident Robert Kallman creates The World of Pondside, a video game that delights the nursing home’s residents by allowing them to virtually relive blissful moments from days long past—or even create new ones.
One-legged Duane Lotspeich is overjoyed when he can dance the tango again. Octogenarian Laverne Slatchek cheers on her favorite baseball team from the stands at Candlestick Park with her beloved husband—who died years ago. Even the overwhelmed Pondside administrator escapes her job by logging into a much more luxurious virtual world.
Robert’s game enlivens the halls of Pondside Manor, but chaos ensues when he is found dead, submerged in the pond, still strapped into his wheelchair. If any resident witnessed his death, they’re not telling—either covering up or, quite possibly, forgetting. And it’s far from clear to anyone—including the police—if the death of this brilliant man, who suffered from ALS, was suicide or murder.
When Robert’s video game goes dark, its players grow desperate. The task of getting it back online falls to young Foster, who enlists help from a raucous group of residents and staff. Their pursuit—virtual and real—has unintended consequences, uncovering both criminal activities and the dying wishes of Foster’s friend Robert. From Pondside Manor, this unlikely bunch of gamers embarks upon an astonishing journey—blissful, treacherous, and unforgettable.
Packed with sharp wit and compassion, Mary Helen Stefaniak has written a rousing, perceptive, and utterly original novel.
A Note From the Publisher
Creighton University, she teaches fiction writing in the M.F.A. program at Pacific University and in the International Summer School at Renmin University in Beijing. Mary Helen is a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She and her husband John live in
Iowa City, in a 165-year-old former stagecoach inn that they restored, and in Omaha. The World of Pondside is her third novel.
“Stefaniak infuses an often forbidding and depressing environment with joy and dignity in this Agatha Christie–esque cyber caper.”
“This is a really wonderful, wonderfully funny book. I laughed more times than anyone could count. Nearly every sentence has a grin to it, or a touch of wit, or just something unexpected. The World of Pondside delivers what I have always looked for in novels but haven’t seen in years and years: the freshness and the lovely sentences and all the funny stuff. The joy of life always finds a way to shine through.”
-Mike Magnuson, author of Lummox: The Evolution of a Man and The Right Man for the Job
“With infinite compassion and great good humor, Mary Helen Stefaniak takes us on a wild, suspenseful ride through a world most of us normally shy away from…Deeply moving, as heart-poundingly suspenseful as the best video games … and just plain fun.”
-Eileen Pollack, author of The Professor of Immortality
“I devoured The World of Pondside, cover to cover. There was really no way to stop. A mystery pulls us in and carries us while Stefaniak turns us this way and that, peeling back layers, giving us a view of life in a nursing home that we’ve never seen this close, this personally. Immediately engaging and perfectly phrased in Mary Helen Stefaniak’s consummately comic voice, this novel will shake you to your core. There is no turning back once you’ve opened the cover. It’s a wonderful book.”
-Pete Fromm, author of A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do and If Not for This
“There’s so much I love about this novel. It manages that rare of feat of being many things at once: funny, endearing, heartbreaking, suspenseful, hopeful, and tragic. Welcome to the world of Pondside Manor nursing home. A real gem of a book that I couldn’t put down.”
-Willy Vlautin, author of The Night Always Comes and Lean on Pete
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Author website: www.MaryHelenStefaniak.com
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Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 29 members
I absolutely love this book it was sort of like Cocoon meets a thriller. It had a great setting and great characters. I absolutely loved it.
Ms. Stefaniak delivers a highly entertaining and cleverly satirical look at modern reality. I love hese types of stories because they provide humor and entertainment; I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Her realistic characters and storyline quickly engage and hold the reader. Her portrayal of the absurdity of modern life makes for worthy contemplation while provoking analysis and increased empathy, hopefully. I loved this story, had trouble leaving the book, and obviously recommend it to all readers.
The World of Pondside, much to its credit, isn't very much like any other book I've encountered this year (or any year, really; I don't think there are very many other techno-thrillers set in nursing homes). Its balance of tense action and touching character relationships, balanced with a healthy dose of quirkiness and whimsy, builds up a world both entertaining and engrossing.
One thing I particularly like about this novel is the complexity with which it portrays both the lives of nursing home residents and the lives of the people whose work is to care for the residents. No character is written to be either heroic or villainous, either purely nice or completely nasty; the messy, complicated reality of being human is always on display in their stories. As every character is written to have more than a few facets, all those angles make for truly captivating storytelling. While I felt the ending was a little bit rushed, the buildup was so intricate and interesting that ultimately I found the book immensely enjoyable.
I'd recommend this one to any reader looking for something a little different, particularly if they like their funny stories tempered with poignancy and their sad stories leavened with humour.
I received a free e-ARC of this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my review.
This was quite a change from my usual reading fare, but I thoroughly enjoyed it! The general concept reminded me a little of Sword Art Online, with elderly residents of a nursing home reliving the highlights of their lives through an interactive computer game. However, there's a lot more to the situation than meets the eye.
My favorite part of this book was the characters for sure, especially Foster. He was so clueless and down-to-earth and relatable. I loved the wide cast of characters and how they all interacted. They each had a distinctive personality without descending into stereotypes. The way the game was presented was very interesting and different. The story in its entirety was different and original.
I was given a free copy of this ebook by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
Welcome to the world of Pondside Manor where things are about to get dark. With a wonderful array of astutely drawn characters and with a sharp pen the author draws the reader effortlessly into this often bizarre world. A keenly observed, empathetic and well crafted work.
A tender and deeply realized novel. It took a while for me to warm up to the book, but I loved its focus: the lives of nursing-home patients and their caregivers, coupled with the possibilities brought on by computers and virtual reality. The author creates a memorable and enduring cast of characters, each with their own quiet tragedy. But this novel gives them all a chance to speak, and we as readers give them attention. I also loved the conceit that the elderly and the young CNAs at Pondside bond over learning about computers -- that was a really interesting move that made me stop and think. This novel was touching, not just because of its content, but because of its genuine portrayal of nursing home patients' lives, the history of how they ended up at Pondside, and how they spend their final days.
This was a charming, interesting read! The premise is unique -- a murder mystery meets tech thriller, all the languishing backdrop of a nursing home. This has a sense of irreverence to it, similar to the movie "I Care a Lot" released on Netflix in 2021. The characters all have a real presence on the page, and are complicated to think about as a reader, each in their own way. The cast is all very gray, which is to say they feel like real people. I think at this moment in time especially, this is a book that would resonate with a lot of people. The desire to find solace in comforting tech, specifically in a video game, is one that really rings true after the Animal Crossing craze of the early pandemic, as well as with the popularity of other games that allow the player to live an alternate life, like The Sims. This is a unique book, and I really think there are a lot of people out there who would love it too!
powered through this book whenever I had a moment to spare. Part crime novel, part critique of assisted living homes, and part homage to life simulation video games - a place to escape to when real life becomes unbearable - this book has wonderful characters that will steal your heart and give you hope.
Getting old is not for the weak; nor is trying to figure out what you want to do with your life when you’re in your early twenties. The World of Pondside examines these two extremes, and the bonds that can form between the people living these lives.
While there were times when I had trouble keeping track of which character was which, eventually the major characters took on more solid personalities.
Thanks to Blackstone Publishing for the ARC in return for an honest review.