Dolores Redondo’s The Invisible Guardian

“Forgetting is an involuntary act. The more you want to leave something behind you, the more it follows you.”

-William Jonas Barkley

Can you ever, truly, break free from your past, or will it continue to haunt you for the rest of you life, loosening its grip only to tighten it once again? This question is addressed in Dolores Redondo’s international bestseller The Invisible Guardian, where a woman returns home to track a serial killer and confront her long buried demons.

In Basque Country, nothing is as it seems. There is a spirituality to the towns and people that encompass it, beliefs that have shaped the region for centuries. When Amaia Salazar left her hometown of Elizondo, she promised herself that she would spend as little time back there as possible. As a homicide inspector, Amaia seems to be very disciplined when it comes to her work life, but her personal life is a different matter. There’s a reason why she left Elizondo, and as parts of her past start to surface, we see Amaia lose herself deeper and deeper. Her behavior becomes erratic at times and you find yourself wondering if she’ll be able to hold it together long enough to solve the case.

Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the book – or, at least in my opinion – is when Amaia is sitting down with her sister Ros to read tarot cards in search of answers, and Amaia has a flashback to when she was younger and she was doing the same thing with her aunt. At the time, her aunt told her that “sometimes answers are not the solution to an enigma…sometimes the answers only generate more questions, more doubts.” It made me think about how often that is the case in real life. How, more often than not, we are plagued with uncertainty. And it is only when we surrender ourselves to the unknown and stop searching for answers that we are able to find the solutions to our problems. The clues to finding the serial killer are just under Amaia’s nose, but it is only when she stops trying to solve the mystery – and accepts her past – that she will start to see the path that’s laying in front of her.

The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo. Coming March 2016. Atria Books.
The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo. Coming March 2016. Atria Books.

Ashley Hay’s The Railwayman’s Wife

If I could describe reading Ashley Hay’s The Railwayman’s Wife briefly, I would say that it was like going on a journey of the soul. One year in the life of a widow, trying to make sense of a world that took her husband away from her, learning how to navigate life in an unfamiliar way, and discovering new facets about herself. It is about love and loss, and finding oneself again after your whole world has crumbled.

The protagonist, Anikka Lachlan – Ani – goes through quite the transformation. In the beginning of the novel, Ani is content with her life as a wife, a mother, a homemaker. She is a voracious reader, frequently getting lost in the pages of a book, but her life is calm, relaxed. There is a ‘stillness’ about her. She’s careful in her actions, always holding back as though she’s afraid that someone will notice her, afraid to let go and live in the moment. Unlike her husband, Mac, who we get to know – both through Ani’s memories and individual chapters – as a man who isn’t afraid to let life grab a hold of him and lead him. She is docile with him, complacent. After his death, Ani has no choice but to reinvent herself, and by the end of the novel, she is able to act carefree, doing cartwheels on the beach and actually wishing for an audience.

Ani is not the only character that we see go through a transformation. Roy McKinnon and Frank Draper return home three years after the end of WWII changed men. Before the war Roy had been a teacher. He is also a poet, having published a poem while he was away. Roy walks around aimlessly searching for something to write about, discouraged by his inability to write in a peaceful setting, until he befriends Ani, finally finding the inspiration that he needs to write again. As a doctor, Frank saw a lot more death than he could have imagined while he was away and felt helpless to stop it. It is only after he resumes his relationship with Roy’s sister and gets to know Ani that he is able to start enjoying life again.

It only took me three days to read this and I distinctly remember two times when it brought me to tears. The first was after we learn of Mac’s death, and the second when something completely unexpected occurs. The novel is full of beautiful prose and descriptions, and teaches you that life does not end with death, that sometimes it can be reborn.

 

“The oceans and the skies…and the sun coming up each new day. That’s all there is, I think. That’s all that matters to think on.”

The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay, coming April 2016
The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay. Coming April 2016. Atria Books.

Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive

When I first picked up Jessica Knoll’s debut novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, I didn’t really know that much about it other than the fact that it was part of my favorite genre.  It had been getting great press and was being compared to multiple books that I have read including Flynn’s Gone Girl (ok, I have still not read this one, but I saw the movie) and Harrison’s The Silent Wife ( you can read my post here A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife).  So, I decided to give it a shot.  And it was not at all what I had expected.

The book follows Ani FaNelli, a young woman who is striving to create the perfect life for herself.  She has a glamorous job working at a magazine and a handsome fiancé from a well-to-do family, but events that happened in her past keep finding their way to the surface and threaten the life that she has carefully pieced together.

While Knoll does alternate between the past and the present, for the most part, the story takes place in the past.  It is there where we learn of the private pain and public humiliation that Ani (TifAni back then) had to endure.  And while we do feel for her, there is something dark and sinister underlying throughout that at times makes you question just how honest the narrator is being.  But also, it makes you wonder whether it is possible for someone who went through as much as she did to go on living a normal life without unconsciously trying to sabotage it.

It’s always nice when there is a character that you like in a novel, one that you can somehow relate to.  Ani isn’t likeable.  In fact, none of the characters really were, but they were also more in the background.  In Ani, we quickly find a character shift.  In the beginning she is a strong, put together, successful woman, but that soon changes and for most of the novel she is just that scared, traumatized young adult who’s only ‘coolness’ is the façade that she passes on for reality.  Ani wasn’t likeable, but she is relatable.  There are many people out there who never show their true characters, who never let others in for fear of getting rejected or hurt or labeled.  Ani drives this story forward because even though you don’t care, you want to know what happened, you want to know what she went through and you want to know how it turns out.

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Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood

To me, there is nothing creepier than being alone in a wooded area in the twilight. I remember coming home from class at night and having to take two buses. The second bus stop was in front of a park and I would always end up waiting and waiting for it…constantly looking over my shoulder and scaring myself with every movement of the trees. In the back of my mind, I always was prepared for someone to leap out and attack me. Thankfully, no such event ever transpired.

Darkness is always something that has scared me. Particularly when it is time to go to bed. As a child, I was often terrified to go to sleep, unsure of what the night would bring. This only occasionally happens to me as an adult, and it mostly occurs when I am in the middle of a book that has such a hold on me that I just can’t put it down.

In a Dark, Dark Wood, a debut novel by UK author Ruth Ware, and also the debut book of Simon & Schuster’s new imprint, Scout Press, is one of those such books. From the first page, it had me. Nora (aka Lee, or Leonora) is running through the woods getting attacked by branches, slipping in the snow, all the while hoping that she is not too late to stop a car. But who is in that car and why is she trying to stop it? Just the thought of running through the woods at night is unnerving to me…like a person’s worst nightmare coming true.

Next we see Nora in a hospital, badly injured, amnesiatic, and the story unfold from there. Having been invited to a bachelorette weekend for an old school friend that she hadn’t spoken to in over ten years, Nora reluctantly goes, but the weekend seems doomed from the beginning. The bash is being held at a glass house in the middle of the woods, where it feels like anyone can watch your every move. An eerie thought to say the least. But what happened to Nora in those woods? How did she end up in the hospital? And, perhaps most importantly, can she trust herself let alone anyone else?

Alternating between the events of the weekend and Nora’s stay at the hospital, In a Dark, Dark Wood is a dark, twisted psychological thriller that will leave you haunted.

Coming August 25th

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M. O. Walsh’s My Sunshine Away

There has been a trend as of late. I’m not sure if it is an actual trend per say, or if it is more the books that I am picking – although I’m inclined to believe the former, seeing as how I make a conscious effort to not read anything similar in a row. There seems to be a fascination with darkness, with subjects that are disturbing, devastating, unthinkable. Things that have the power to – and do – forever alter a person’s life. These books that I’m describing reach far beyond the shallowness of the shoreline that Nabokov introduced us to with Lolita, which, although unnerving, was quite tame considering the subject matter. They exceed the vast expanse of the sea…their depth sometimes immeasurable…their affects profoundly lasting.

My Sunshine Away is one of those such novels. And I suspect that it will haunt me for a long time. The title alone left me with an eerie feeling – part of a verse from a song I knew in my youth:

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine

You make me happy when skies are grey

You never know, dear, how much I love you

Please don’t take my sunshine away

but it also was the reason that I read it. The heaviness that I felt from those words intrigued me much more than other three-word combinations have. They felt empty, but not because something was lacking, empty because there was something that no longer existed, something that had been taken away. Something that had died.

The story centers on a crime that was committed a few decades in the past. The unsolved rape of a fifteen year old girl and the implications that it had not only on her life, but on the lives of her community, her neighborhood, her family, her friends. There were four suspects in this, including our narrator who remains nameless throughout. From the first page I was on the edge of my seat closely examining the narrator’s words, looking to find holes in his story, trying to decide if he was the one who committed the crime. I won’t say whether or not we end up with an answer to this question because the who or why is not significant. The significance is in what was lost. Innocence.

Innocence, once lost, can never be recovered, especially when that loss happens in such a heinous way. It happens often in literature, as in life, but it’s portrayal here is not something that erases itself from your memory after you’ve turned the last page. It’s something that sticks with you. Just like that song. Please don’t take my sunshine away.

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Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Maybe in Another Life

“Every second of every day, the world is splitting further and further into an infinite number of parallel universes, where everything that could happen is happening.”

Have you ever wondered about what would have happened if you had made a different choice? If you had chosen to follow your heart and not your head? If you had said yes to something, instead of no? How different would your life be? I would like to think that there are certain things that happen in your life that are supposed to happen, and that the choices that we make are just part of the process to get there, that their impact – whatever it may be – is not significant enough to change our destiny. But what if that isn’t the case, and certain choices really do change your destiny? In Taylor Jenkins Reid’s new novel, Maybe In Another Life, she explores the concept of destiny and the affect our decisions have on it.

When Hannah moves back home to Los Angeles after yet another failed relationship and mediocre job, she runs into her high school boyfriend, Ethan, while out celebrating with her best friend Gabby. At the end of the night, Hannah has to decide between going home with Gabby and staying out with Ethan. Such a simple decision, but one that ends up having a huge impact on her life, as we are shown both parallels.

It’s funny how a simple decision can be life altering. Simple, every-day decisions. We don’t think that the little things always matter and tend to take a lot of things for granted, but this novel makes you reevaluate things that you once thought of as insignificant. It makes you question your life and your choices. It makes you question whether or not you are living up to your potential – living out your dreams. This is what I love about Reid. She has a way of conveying emotions that stick with you long after you’ve finished the final page, and her words have the ability to alter your views on life and the way you live it.

Coming July 7, 2015

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Lene Kaaberbol’s Doctor Death

“Around her the city is living its nightlife….But here in the passageway where she lies, there is no life.”

What if understanding death could help the living?

In Lene Kaaberbol’s novel, Doctor Death, the reader is brought back to a time when doctors had to fight in order to perform autopsies. It is 1890s France, and a young woman is found dead in front of her home, but the cause is overlooked because the family forbids an autopsy, and so a diagnosis cannot be properly determined. After a few more bodies are discovered to have some of the same symptoms as the young woman, a pathologist and his daughter Madeleine take it upon themselves to search for the true cause of her death. When her father turns up injured, will Madeleine be strong enough to shoulder most of the work herself?

What I find to be interesting of this novel, and of all period pieces really, is that it takes you to an entirely different world, one where rules were made according to gender (oftentimes) more so than by qualifications. It was unacceptable for women to do many things, and most of them resigned to that fate, to being considered the weaker sex. And here is Madeleine, desperate to become her father’s (Doctor Death) partner rather than his occasional assistant. Her work and success is limited merely because of the fact that she is a woman, but that doesn’t stop her from trying. Which is a big part of what this novel is about. One woman, going against the societal norm in order to pursue her life’s passion.

Doctor Death is at once a gripping mystery and a coming of age story that takes you on a journey to find the truth. It is definitely one to add to your collection.

Coming February 17, 2015

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Karin Tanabe’s The Price of Inheritance

In Karin Tanabe’s second novel, The Price of Inheritance, we are brought into the world of art history, famed auction houses and antiquities, in an occasionally witty, sometimes dark story that will keep your mind turning long after the last page has been completed.

The novel follows Carolyn Everett who, for the past ten years has worked in the American furniture department at the auction house Christie’s, a job that she loves more than life itself, something she took pride in. Having grown up in Newport, Rhode Island, and being best friends with one of the wealthiest families, Carolyn was ambitious, and learned early on that she had to work hard in order to get to where she wanted to go. After a career-defining mistake leaves Carolyn unemployed and, more importantly, unemployable, she heads back to Newport, leaving everything and everyone in NYC temporarily behind to try and create a new name for herself. While attending an auction, Carolyn purchases a Middle Eastern bowl for $20 on a hunch that it was much more valuable. This puts her on a hunt to find the bowl’s origin, and on a collision course with its former owner, marine Tyler Ford. As Carolyn’s relationship with Tyler grows, and she gets closer to solving the bowl’s mystery, she stumbles toward something that has the potential to not only wreck her already tainted career even further, but her life as well.

The Price of Inheritance is as much a story as it is a lesson in art history, but in a good way. The intricacies that befall the novel are told in such a way as to evoke intrigue, even if art is not your forté. The novel also extends the idea that things are not always what they seem, and that sometimes the only thing you can trust is your gut, regardless of what your heart or head may want.

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E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars (YA)

“Silence is a protective coating over pain.”

The Sinclairs are always perfect. No matter what happens, they are a perfect, beautiful family. Nothing is ever wrong, even when the opposite is true. Problems just don’t exist…not for them. They believe that strength comes from burying issues and not dwelling on them. That having feelings makes a person weak. They have turned living in ignorance into an art form, and are content with such. But, is that really possible? Is that really the healthy way to live your life? There comes a point when you can no longer bury your pain. What happens then?

In E. Lockhart’s novel, We Were Liars, Cadence returns to Beechwood Island for the summer after a season’s absence due to debilitating migraines. Having no memory of the accident from summer fifteen (she is now seventeen), Cadence hopes that being around the Liars – Gat and her cousins, Johnny and Mirren – will enable her to learn the truth about what happened. There is only one thing standing in her way. The Sinclairs. Cadence is a Sinclair, and the Sinclairs have no problems. When everyone is refusing to talk about the accident, will Cadence stay in the state of not-knowing forever, or will coming back to Beechwood Island be the key to unlocking the memories that her mind (and everyone else) has tried hard to keep buried.

“Sometimes I wonder if reality splits…[if] there are parallel universes in which different events happen to the same people. An alternate choice has been made, or an accident has turned out differently. Everyone has duplicates of themselves in these other worlds. Different selves with different lives, different luck.”

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Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed

How do you go on living your life, knowing that there’s a part of you out there that is missing?

In Khaled Hosseini’s third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, he explores relationships that we have with ourselves and our families. How, one choice, one decision, has the power to not only change our lives, but theirs as well. How the people that are closest to us will go to great lengths in order to do what’s right, sacrificing everything they can, but also how sometimes people surprise you when you need them the most, destroying hopes that you never knew you had. Spanning generations, Hosseini takes the reader on a journey across continents, delving into the complex relationships of family and how things don’t always turn out the way you want them to.

Starting with siblings Pari and Abdullah, who are separated by extraordinary circumstances, we follow them and others through the aftermath, and witness the true power of love and how the loss of it can stick with you throughout a lifetime.

“It is important to know this, to know your roots. To know where you started as a person. If not, your own life seems unreal to you. Like a puzzle….Like you have missed the beginning of a story and now you are in the middle of it, trying to understand.”

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