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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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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Cynthia Bond’s Ruby

In Cynthia Bond’s debut novel, Ruby, she explores many themes including: cult rituals, blindness in faith, and the true strength of love. At its core though, the novel is about one woman’s struggle to regain control of her life amidst a sea of destruction and the man who tries to help her do it.

Ruby and Ephram met as children in the woods one afternoon. Ruby spent most of her time working for a woman a few towns over, so she was barely home, but Ephram never forgot how beautiful she was. From there, Ruby went to NYC in search of her mother who had long since run away, leaving everything behind her, or so she thought. On the outside, she was educated, and she knew how to put herself together, but she never could completely shake away the horrors of her youth. Decades later, she returns to the small Texas town from which she grew up, becoming increasingly haunted by the past, allowing it to reclaim her soul and take over her life in ways that she never could have imagined. It’s only when Ephram gains the courage to show her what it means to be loved unconditionally that Ruby starts to realize just how far she has fallen. Slowly, Ephram brings back the woman that she once was, but will that be enough to drag Ruby out of the darkness, or does the past have too strong a hold on her? Will Ruby be able to let go of it all, or will she remain a prisoner of her own mind forever.

How strong is the power of unconditional love? How strong is the power of faith in yourself, that you can get through anything you set your mind to? Bond asks us these questions again and again in Ruby, but does she give us the answers that we want to hear, does she leave us with a more ugly truth, or does she leave these questions unanswered altogether. In life, we are constantly faced with questions or problems, but rarely a solution. We walk through life with uncertainty, but only the best of us are able to keep living without the answers.

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Emily Giffin’s The One & Only

For her first novel with Random House, Emily Giffin’s The One & Only is, in some ways, quite a bit different from her other novels, revolving mainly around college football and the lives of those involved (directly or indirectly) in it. But, if you look beyond all of the sports discourse, you can see that, at its core, it is still a Giffin novel, just with love and relationships as a secondary focus instead of the main one.

The novel follows Shea Rigsby, a woman whose life completely revolves around football – something she has been passionate about since before she can remember. Her best friend, Lucy, is the daughter of famed college football coach Clive Carr, who not only is the head coach for Walker University – in the town of the same name that Shea grew up in – but also has been a role model and father figure to her due to her father’s absence. The Carrs are Shea’s second family, so when tragedy strikes them, naturally she empathizes and tries to do everything she can do to help them through it. But, with tragedy comes reflection; it’s what makes people reexamine their lives and make changes that they wouldn’t have done otherwise, and Shea is no different in that aspect. Maybe Walker isn’t everything. Shea makes big changes in both her personal and professional lives that, although seem to be the right paths for her, ultimately leave her wondering: what if everything she could ever want or need was there all along. What if Walker really was everything?

There is a major focus on football, but does it work for Giffin? Can her fans get passed the overwhelming assault of an emasculating sport or will they be thoroughly disappointed? Although I was slightly taken aback as to the sheer volume at which football comes into play in The One & Only, I think her writing stands for itself. What I love about Giffin novels is their ability to make me not only feel for and relate to the characters in the story, but also, their ability to make me turn inward and self-reflect. So many of us have aspects of our lives that we are not happy with, whether it be a job that doesn’t interest us, a love life that doesn’t challenge us, or just a melancholic feeling towards ourselves in general. Sometimes, changes have to be made in order for us to be happy, but often times, it’s just more a matter of changing our perception on things, as Shea experiences. Sometimes you need to take a step outside of yourself and your life to realize that everything you ever could have wanted has been there the whole time.

Sometimes you only get one shot. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury to think or wait or plan. Sometimes you have to reach out and seize your moment. Your best, last, or only chance.”

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Morgan Matson’s Second Chance Summer (YA)

Every so often something comes along that really tugs at my heart, and Morgan Matson’s Second Chance Summer is one of those novels. Categorized as young adult fiction – perhaps because the protagonist is a teenager – the novel follows Taylor alternating narratives between the present day and events that happened five years in the past.

What would you do if a loved one was dying and you could do nothing to stop it? Would you run away from it, or would you have the strength to face it head-on? In Second Chance Summer, we see a family that appears normal on the surface, but underneath is struggling just to make it through each day.

On Taylor’s birthday, her parents sit her and her siblings down, and inform them that their father has just been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer, with only four months left to live. The family decides to go back to their summer lake house in the Poconos – which they’ve rented out for the past five summers – to have one last summer together and bond as a family while they still can; something that none of them are used to doing, as they are all closed off and rarely speak about their emotions with one another. Taylor, in particular, has a habit of running away from things that frighten her, love, friendship, anything emotional. Five years ago, she ran away from the lake house and the two people that she was closest to in the world. Will Taylor be able to face her past and her father’s rapidly deteriorating health, or will she do the one thing that is most natural to her? Will she run away?

Second Chance Summer is about many things, but I think the most prominent theme is time and how it runs out. Without warning. You can’t run away from time any more than you can run away from pain or heartache or the possibility of falling in love. Time doesn’t wait until you’re ready, it keeps moving, ticking away the hours. In one way or another, we are all guilty of running away from something or someone, but, like Taylor realizes in the novel, there are some things that, no matter what you do, you just cannot run away from. You have to stand still. And, by choosing to face it, you will become stronger.

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Amy Hatvany’s Safe With Me

In Amy Hatvany’s new novel, Safe With Me, published in March by Washington Square Press, she weaves a tale of abuse, loss and unconditional love through three distinct alternating narrations of two women and one teenager, who are connected long before they meet.

It had been nearly a year since Hannah Scott lost her daughter as she was biking out of their driveway and hit by a car. Since then, she threw herself into her work, opening up a second hair salon and moving into an apartment above it, trying to pick up the pieces when all the while she’s still devastated by it. It’s not until a new friend walks into her life (and her salon) with a connection to her daughter that she is finally able to face the situation and start healing.

Olivia Bell has lived her life in fear for a long time, fearful of her husband’s sometimes abusive tendencies, and fearful of her daughter Maddie’s struggling health, which, after an organ transplant a year earlier is finally improving enough that she can return to school. It is when Olivia picks Maddie up on her first day back in tears that she decides to make her daughter feel better…by taking her to the grand opening of a new hair salon in town. Little do they know that their trip to Hannah’s salon will change their lives forever.

At the heart of this novel lies the concept of the power of emotions and how strongly they can affect us, sometimes without us even knowing it. Hatvany makes us take a look at our own lives and relationships, past the ideals, past the rose-colored glasses, and allows us to see them for what they really are (were).

“We try on personalities like second skins, learning to present only the best versions of ourselves to the world, fearful of what might happen if we reveal just how imperfect and vulnerable we really are. But it’s these imperfections…these struggles, that truly connect us.”

The Life & Death of It All

It’s been a while since I’ve heard anyone utter that expression, but due to recent events in my life, this popped into my head this morning. I am reminded of a scene from the finale of Dawson’s Creek (yes, I was a fan back in the day), where, to paraphrase, Dawson says that the opposite of life isn’t death, that life has no opposite.

It has been a long time since that show aired, but that line has stuck with me through the years, mainly because of how true it is. Birth is the opposite of death because birth is the beginning of something and death the end, but life…life is existing. Can there be a true opposite to that? I don’t think that there is, and I think that that is a thought that is overlooked more often than not. Many people go through life without a care in the world, ignorant of the very real fact that they are on a once-in-a-lifetime journey, because when life ends, that’s it. There are no second chances or do-overs. It’s just over. Then there are others who strive to make a name for themselves, to leave a legacy, but they have it all wrong too. These people are so wrapped up in leaving something behind that they, too, are ignorant in the rarity that is life, and therefore miss out on the little things, which, as we know, really are what make up one’s life. Not that there is anything wrong with living either of those ways, it’s just that often times a person’s life isn’t really appreciated until circumstances threaten its very existence. And it shouldn’t be that way.

We tend to obsess over the little things that really have no significance, something of which I am definitely guilty of. But, I often find that while I am obsessing, something big or traumatic happens to someone that I care about which always forces me to take a step back and reexamine my life, and brings me to the realization that all of my obsessing is just wasting time that should be spent doing/thinking about other things. That, if I put as much effort into my life and my relationships as I do obsessing, I would be leading a much fuller life and, hopefully, not missing out on the things that truly matter.

Right now, in the midst of a life or death situation of someone that I truly care about, I sit back and think about everything that I thought was important, people who I once thought would be with me forever but have faded away, and I realize that, while some of these people I do miss, the only thing that matters is right now: this minute. And that everything else just isn’t as important as I once thought. That the only thing to do is to live in the present, because everything else just isn’t living….

Life has no opposite; life is existing.