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The Qualities of Wood

3.18 of 5 stars 3.18  ·  rating details  ·  241 ratings  ·  87 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
Published January 31st 2012 by HarperCollins Authonomy
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Sandy Hall
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 goin
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Denise Vasak
This book should NOT be filed under Mystery - at least not in the true sense of the word. This is a book with a lot of woods and a lot of characters that aren't truly developed. Threads of this story seem to be dropped and randomly picked up throughout. Vivian has a friend we spend a lot of the beginning of the book with her. Then she just disappears when Vivian's brother-in-law and his wife appear. We have NO real sense of time in most of this novel. Another instance of people disappearing? The ...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
Anna (BooksandBookends)
I received a copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads giveaways and I'm really thankful and overjoyed to have won a copy too!

This was a really great book and I loved reading it from start to finish. It wasn't at all what I was anticipating, Vivian and Nowell have moved into Nowell's grandmother's house. After his grandmother's passing, they intend to renovate the house in preparation for reselling the house and it's contents. What Vivian doesn't anticipate happening is the death of a seve
2.5 stars. 2 feels harsh and 3 feels unearned. The prose is lovely in sections, but the plot was...let's say underdeveloped. Lots of threads were introduced and never followed up on, and the final scene felt forced and didn't resolve much of anything. I was pretty disappointed with that, honestly, because the book did feel as though it was building to some kind of point, but it was not. As I try to pinpoint my frustration, I think it has to do with the lack of character growth. The characters se ...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
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
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
Tina Robison
The Qualities of Wood is a magnificently written debut novel by Mary Vensel White.

Nowell Gardiner's grandmother has recently died, and he has inherited her old, neglected house in the country. He and his wife Vivian decide to leave the city for awhile to get the house ready to be sold. Nowell, who is a writer, arrives first so he can work on his new novel without interruption. Vivian arrives a month later, and the day after she gets there, the dead body of a girl is found in the woods on the pro
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
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
Nasim Marie
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
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
Douglas Bornemann
Literary with a dash of mystery, Mary Vensel White’s debut novel invites the reader to accompany twenty-something Vivian as she moves to the small-town birthplace of her novelist husband. There they intend to spend a year renovating an old house they inherited from his grandmother as he works on his second novel. This seemingly idyllic arrangement is disturbed by the discovery of a body in the woods behind the house. Although the local authorities rule the death an accident, Vivian discovers thi ...more
From the beginning, there is a perception of things being a bit out of sorts in the relationship between Vivian and Nowell Gardiner. They’ve been married for four years and she has now given up her job to come to his late grandmother’s country home [where Nowell has been ensconced for the past month, presumably writing a mystery novel] but when she doesn’t recognize Nowell at the airport, it’s a pretty obvious sign that something is amiss. Despite events that seem destined to steep the reader in ...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
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!
I have started to make note of where I heard about a certain book when I put it on my Goodreads list partly because of this book. I have no idea why I got it. It must have been a BookPerk or something. It was well written and parts were interesting, but I never felt like I knew why I was reading the book. clearly there was tension variously among the characters. It wasn't until the last few pages where all the loose ends had been tied up that I understood all the loose ends. I continued to read ...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 about Mary Vensel White...

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