The Qualities of Wood
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The Qualities of Wood

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  100 ratings  ·  52 reviews
A haunting and beautifully written debut novel by an exciting and new author.

When Betty Gardiner dies, leaving behind an unkempt country home, her grandson and his young wife take a break from city life to prepare the house for sale. Nowell Gardiner leaves first to begin work on his second mystery novel. By the time his wife Vivian joins him, a real mystery has begun: a lo...more
Published January 31st 2012 by HarperCollins Authonomy
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Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews
Strange situations, strange characters, lots of secrets, and a small town.

QUALITIES OF WOOD has all of the above and more. It mainly includes a beautiful, flowing writing style ​and an interesting​ storyline. The author masterfully keeps you wondering about the makeup of ​each character and the secrets that you know they are keeping.​

You will follow the main characters, Vivian and Nowell, through their present lives as well as their pasts. As Vivian and Nowell settle into a family home they are...more
Sandy Hall
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Vivian has been married for 4 years to Nowell and she leaves her job in the city to join her husband at his Grandmother’s house in the countryside. Nowell has taken a break from his work and now writing his second mystery novel. Both are preparing the house for sale. Soon after Vivian arrives, the Sheriff finds a body of a young girl, living in the neighbour. Vivian meets Katharine, who becomes a close friend. Nowell’s brother Lonnie and his new bride Dorothy too arrive.

With time in her hand, V...more
Beth Cutwright
The Characters were strong in their own right and no one was who they seemed to the main character Vivian. I felt that she had big city paranoia. She felt that Abe Stokes flirted with her. She was annoyed when a road construction worker, looked at her legs and figure. There was a page or two alluding to an incident with her brother in law, Lonnie. Although these things were mentioned in the book, they played no part in the story. The story started out rather slow but after the first hundred pag...more
Stevie Carroll
Previously reviewed at The Good the Bad and the Unread:

Having raved about the joys of finding exciting new authors through being offered books to review, I suppose I do have to talk about the downside – the problem of books that turn out to be less fun than I would have hoped from the blurb. The Qualities of Wood isn’t exactly a bad book, and I’m sure it would appear to some readers who aren’t me, but for much of the time reading, it felt like wading through treacle. Actually, make that Golden S...more
Stacey Donaldson
Vivian Gardiner is a city girl at heart. When Vivian and her husband Nowell headed out to the sticks to clean up his grandparent’s home, she knew the country would take some getting used to. But when a young girl is found dead in the woods (practically in their own backyard), Vivian's instincts immediately perk up and she begins to notice everything and everyone around her.

The Qualities of Wood took me completely by surprise. While the cornerstone of the story is the death of a young girl, I fe...more
Bill Wolfe
Posted 5/26/14 on my blog dedicated to literary fiction by women,

The Qualities of Wood
By Mary Vensel White
Authonomy/HarperCollins; June 17, 2014
312 pages, $14.99 (trade paperback original)

When Nowell Gardiner’s grandmother dies, he and his 28-year-old wife Vivian decide to take a year off from their hectic life in the city and move to her now-empty house outside of a small Midwestern town. Nowell believes the isolation will be conducive to writing his second myste...more
Chrissy (The Every Free Chance Reader)
Did I enjoy this book: Yes, very much.

Mary Vensel White is to literature what Norah Jones is to music – subtle, haunting, and engaging.

The Qualities of Wood is a murder mystery without car crashes, gunshots, or ballistics experts. It’s more psychological and creepy.

About half way through the book, there’s an exchange between our main character, Vivian, and the dead girl’s mother, Kitty. “The thing is, you looked like her, like my Chanelle.” It sent chills down my arms because that was the moment...more
The Qualities of Wood is Vivian Gardiner’s story. She has given up her life in the city to join her husband, Nowell, in a small town where they will live in the house he inherited from his grandmother. The plan is that they’ll do some cosmetic work to the property and in a year or so, sell it. Nowell will also use the time to work on his second mystery novel. On the day Vivian arrives at the Gardiner homestead the body of a teenage girl is found in the woods at the back of their property. Althou...more
Anton Chekov is a favorite of mine whose gun is a valuable dramatic principle that resonates in good theatre, but in all other things as well. Chekov wrote:

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.

I think of it often in terms of set design. A good designer knows better than to put anything on...more
Review also found at

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher Harper Collins Authonomy via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Thanks! The expected publication date is June 17, 2014.

I have started and stopped writing my thoughts several times. I am really struggling with my opinion on this read. It is easy to pen my thoughts when a book is outstanding or when it is terrible. This one was neither and hence I do not know what to say.

I really enjoyed this book, the story was interesting and the characters had a mystery about them that kept me even more motivated to keep reading just to find out what they were hiding. Mary Vensel White did an amazing job describing the setting and building a certain strange yet comfortable vibe to the story. The way she wrote this is very misleading (but in a good way), making me draw conclusions that weren't there but made sense in the end. I had only two problems with the book, sometimes I...more
Catherine MacLeod
The Qualities of Wood

I’ll struggle to convey the mesmerising effect of this stunning debut novel, but I’m going to try. Something about the author’s mastery of language, the gentle rhythm of her sentences, the rich descriptive prose, all combine to create a sense of mystery and intrigue from the first page to the last.

I was transported to the woods behind a white clapperboard house in the American Midwest, and I was lost to them. The story is about Vivian, an artist (and how evident that is in h...more
Katie O'Rourke
In Mary Vensel White's debut novel, a young married couple moves to the country to help get a house ready for sale after a death in the family. Vivian joins her husband Nowell after he spends the first month alone and the day after she arrives, they learn that a dead girl has been found in the woods on their property.

The girl's death is ruled an accident, but this never fully satisfies Vivian. I read nearly the entire book without being sure if it was a murder mystery or simply an examination of...more
Paula Margulies
A well-written debut novel about a young woman, Vivian Gardiner, who struggles with decisions about her marriage, career, and the possibility of children while staying with her husband, a mystery novelist, in a house owned by his grandmother in a small Midwestern town rife with legends and history. A murder is committed in the woods next to the house, and when Vivian's volatile brother-in-law and wife come for an extended stay, the tension grows. There are a number of mysterious characters in th...more
Casee Marie
The Qualities of Wood is a striking novel that moves leisurely through its story. Mary Vensel White cultivates a unique impression through beautiful prose, matching the expansive and unmarred countryside setting with her tranquil storytelling and thoughtful, intriguing characters. There’s an element to the book that separates it from anything else the reader has ever known, offering an exciting reading experience that touches the heart and engages the spirit as it stimulates the mind.

Read the fu...more
Judy Adams
Oct 24, 2012 Judy Adams rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys a good read!
Recommended to Judy by: Frank Kusy
Mary Vensel White has a warm, inviting narrative voice. Within moments of beginning The Qualities of Wood, one feels one is in the hands of a master storyteller. The dialogue is well-conceived and intriguing. The story is compelling, the descriptive passages land you squarely inside this thought-provoking tale. I don't wish to give anything away with this review, it's best to discover everything on ones own! Suffice to say that in spite of an unexplained death, this is less a crime novel, and mo...more
Maggie Woodward
Vivian and Nowell are four years in to their marriage, and while it's not on the rocks it is clear the honeymoon period is over. So when Nowell inherits a run down home in a small town, it could be the perfect place for them to get their relationship back on track. But while Vivian grapples with small town politics and a loft full of nick-nacks left behind by an old lady, Nowell locks himself away and works on his next murder mystery novel. Throw in Nowell's unpredictable younger brother and his...more
I was sent a review copy of this novel, I don't usually review books when asked, as I have energy limitations and read relatively slowly, but I was curious about this one. Authonomy is a new imprint of HarperCollins (my own book is with The Friday Project/HarperCollins). Also, I don't often read thrillers, so an unusual book choice for me.

The Qualities of Wood is a great summer read, light with just the right amount of sinister, and a slow-building sense of unease that really gathers pace two-t...more
Vivian and Nowell moved to the country to prepare his grandmother's house for sale. Nowell moved ahead of her since he was an author working on his second novel. Vivian arrived as Nowell's brother, Lonnie, was leaving. Soon after her arrival, a 17-year-old girl was found dead in the woods. The death is ruled an accident but as Vivian gets to know her neighbors, she is puzzled by some of their strange behavior. Her husband, Nowell, is also acting strangely and is growing more distant. Lonnie retu...more
Jessica Powell
Vivian and her husband Nowell have moved to his grandmother's old place out in the country - he wants to write his second book, while she does the place up ready to sell on. The day Vivian arrives the body of a young local girl is found at the edge of their backyard, and everything stems out from there.

I really enjoyed Qualities of Wood, and found it a page turner, finishing it in one sitting. The characters were believable, and the mystery was strong enough to keep me engaged. My only criticism...more
Jessica Degarmo
There is an exquisite, haunting tone to this book I found mesmerizing. The plot kept me guessing, and Ms. Vensel White's characters were deeply layered, multidimensional and real. I would highly recommend this stunning piece of literary fiction.
Lisa Bernstein
I thoroughly enjoyed being taken away by Mary Vensel White's debut novel. Her vivid descriptions of scenery and detail drew me in and captivated me from beginning to end. I will be keeping my eye out for more books by this promising new author!
If you like psychological mysteries this is one you'll love, it's creepy and complicated. Guaranteed to make you stop for a moment and think about it. A great read for a debut novel, it will keep you guessing till the end. The kind of book I enjoy reading. Vivian and Nowell are preparing a house for sale when the body of a girl is found on their property. Police ruled her death an accident...but it wasn't.

No one in the town trusts anyone, there are rumors and gossip going around that is very in...more
After I have finished a book I usually have a definitive feeling about it. Either I liked it a lot or a little, etc. The Qualities of Wood certainly kept my attention as I read it very quickly but I kept waiting for something to happen and nothing ever did. I guess it was a book about a couple and their relationship with not only each other but a few other people in their lives. I thought the book was about the death of Chanelle and getting to the bottom of what happened but that was really only...more
In THE QUALITIES OF WOOD we first meet Vivian, a twenty-something wife who is being picked up by her husband Nowell at the airport. Nowell has been at his grandmother's farm for the last month writing his second book. Vivian and Nowell had agreed to uproot their city life and move to the Midwest after his grandmother's death. Nowell planned to write while Vivian cleaned and organized the place to prepare it for sale. The story is told from Vivian's point of view and we are limited in the story t...more
Jennifer Moville
I received this book as part of Good Reads first reds

this book is the story of Vivien who has been married for 4 years when she goes to live with her husband at his grandmothers house when she dies

Nowell her husband leaves his job to start work on his second book. But a mystery begins to unravel , secrets are revealed and the story truly comes to life.

I loved following the strange happenings and the lives of these 2 people and couldn't put the book down

A great book to recommend to any-one who lo...more
About a weak ago I received a review copy, and marveled at how, even thought it started simplistically, it was a very easy read to keep on reading. Days after my fondness of the book seemed to pass, and I was compelled to read it to finish it.
This is why.
The language usually flows well, despite one or two awkward sentences, and there are little gems in it, the characterization's were generally good; but it just missed direction.
An exampkle of this is with the main character, who seems very femin...more
Kellie Poulin leibovitz
This book was not what I expected. I thought it was going to be a murder mystery but it ended up being more about relationships and friendships. I was a little disappointed in the ending because throughout the book I kept waiting for something to happen. I wanted the mystery solved. This book really lacked a consistent plot. I did enjoy getting to know the characters in the book and I would read a sequel if one came out to find out more. I still think HE did it! The book was an easy read and flo...more
Annie Michelle
a great 3 star read, review to come...:)

This book "The Qualities Of Wood" was a very slow going read for me.
What happened in the woods behind the big old house where a dead girl is found?
This book is about a young couple who after the death of his grandmother move into her old and rambling house in a small town to get it ready for sale. Nowell goes out first so he can have time to write his mystery novel and Vivian shows up later. leaving her job and moving to the house in the small town is ha...more
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Mary Vensel White was born in Los Angeles and raised in Lancaster, California. She graduated from the University of Denver and lived for five years in Chicago, where she completed an MA in English at DePaul University. Her short fiction has appeared in The Wisconsin Review and Foothills Literary Journal. The Qualities of Wood is her first novel.

Vensel White currently lives in southern California w...more
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