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

in a dark dark wood

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s After I Do

“Just because you can live without someone doesn’t mean you want to.”


In Taylor Jenkins Reid’s second novel, After I Do, she explores what happens to relationships when you compromise too much of yourself – your wants and your needs – in order to make the other person happy and avoid conflict. Not only does it have the power to tear two people apart, but it also can make you forget the person that you once were.

Eleven years ago, when Lauren first started dating Ryan, she knew that what they had was special and that it had the power to last. For a while things were perfect, until, suddenly, they weren’t. After yet another argument – spawning from losing their car and ending with a vase being thrown against a wall – they come to the realization that the love they once shared has faded. Not ready to admit failure, they decide to take a year off from their marriage, living separate lives – with zero contact – in hopes that after the time is up, they can regain what they lost.

At first things are really hard, but as the months go on, Lauren gets closer to her family, discovers new interests, and realizes that she can be happy without her husband. She starts questioning everything about herself and her relationship, no longer sure if what they had is fixable or if she even wants to fix it, at the same time that Ryan starts to realize that it is and they can. But, is Ryan’s faith enough to save them in the end when Lauren’s is starting to run out?

After I Do is about what happens when love fades, and about giving everything you’ve got in order to get back what you lost. It’s about how your heart breaks when you say goodbye to the one person that you thought would be in your life forever, and what you do to cope with that loss.


“All that matters in this life is that you try. All that matters is that you open your heart, give everything you have, and keep trying.”



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.


Laura McBride’s We Are Called to Rise

Published last month by Simon & Schuster, Laura McBride’s debut novel, We Are Called to Rise at its core, is a story about hope and innocence, and trying to preserve hope when innocence is lost. Told in four alternating narratives, we are introduced to a different side of Las Vegas, one that humanizes it and shows you that, in most ways, it is just like everywhere else.

Bashkim is an eight year old boy whose parents immigrated to the US from Albania and own an ice cream truck as a means to providing for the family. Bashkim has a younger sister, Tiriana. They are very poor, often are behind in their bills and sometimes cannot afford to eat. Bashkim’s parents are very old world and there are cultural differences which they cannot understand – although, it could be more a refusal to accept rather than a complete incomprehension. This causes problems for the family from time-to-time, and is the key component to what is essentially the disembodiment of the family.

Luis is an Iraqi war veteran, who’s at a hospital in Washington DC while he recovers both physically and mentally from injuries sustained overseas, and from events that haunt him. Through Bashkim’s school, Luis and Bashkim become pen pals, sending letters back-and-forth. Though neither of them is completely truthful with each other, the letters somehow are able to help both of them in the end.

Roberta is a social worker that really gets into her job, the kind that is affected by the kids that she cannot save, and she cannot save them all. When Bashkim’s life falls apart, she is assigned his case and goes above and beyond, doing everything in her power to bring a little bit of peace to Bashkim and what’s left of his family.

Avis is the mother of Iraqi war veteran, Nate, who is a new member of the Las Vegas Police force. Amidst her crumbling marriage and, subsequently, her life, she sees changes in her son from his last deployment, ones that could become a hindrance given his new place of work. She fears for what her son will do, but is she strong enough to take action towards getting him the help he needs, or will someone fall victim to his mental instability?

We Are Called to Rise, is a brilliant novel about misunderstandings and second chances, and how quickly one’s life can be turned upside-down and forever changed. Simply put: it is amazing, and it has the power to stay with you long after you have finished it.

“There are times when all this pain, all these misunderstandings, all this hatred, has made me wonder if we deserve this beautiful world; if we human beings should really be left in charge of it. But if, sometimes, an unspeakable horror arises from the smallest error, I choose to believe that it’s possibly for an equally unimaginable grandeur to grow from the tiniest gesture of love. I choose to believe that it works both ways. That great terror is the result of a thousand small but evil choices, and great good is the outcome of another thousand tiny acts of care.”


Lauren Weisberger’s Chasing Harry Winston

Although not a favorite among critics, I found Lauren Weisberger’s Chasing Harry Winston to be highly entertaining and fun.  It tells the story of three best friends, Emmy, Adriana and Leigh, who, on the verge of turning thirty create a pact (bet?) to drastically change their lives.  Emmy vows to do away with serial monogamy and play the field a bit.  Adriana decides to mend her boy-hopping ways and settle into a full-fledged relationship.  Leigh chooses not to do anything at first because her life seems perfect, but as the story progresses we see that that may not be the case after all.

The story unfolds as Emmy, who thinks that her longtime boyfriend is about to propose to her, gets dumped, while Leigh’s boyfriend, Russell, proposes unexpectedly.  Emmy is heartbroken because, despite her ex’s cheating ways – something that she overlooked – she was optimistic that they were going to last.  She tries to be happy for Leigh, but she can’t help but feel sad.  Emmy end up taking a job that requires her to do quite a bit of globe-trotting, as a means to get away and stay busy.  I think that her decision to play the field stems from a few things (heartbreak, Leigh’s engagement, etc), but it ultimately turns out to be the best thing she ever does, because it allows her to gain control over her life and date/define relationships on her terms instead of just going along with whatever the guy thinks.  In the end it pays off by giving her the confidence that she had been lacking; the one thing that will get her exactly what she wants.

Confidence is not something that Adriana is in need of; in fact, at times one could say that she may have too much confidence, if there is such a thing.  She lives a carefree, pampered life due to the fact that her parents have a ton of money.  Her decision to settle down – or at least attempt to – partially stems from Emmy’s situation (what better way to encourage your friend to change her lifestyle than by changing your own as well?) and partially because, although she does love her life, I think that she was a bit bored with all of it.  She needed to add a bit of depth.  For her, monogamy was a challenge.  She had no problem getting a guy, the question is, would she keep him?

And then there’s Leigh.  Throughout the novel, Leigh experiences a bit of emotional turmoil.  On paper, her life is perfect.  She’s an editor at a major trade publishing house, and she is engaged to one of the city’s most eligible bachelors, but something is off.  She doesn’t feel the spark that you’re supposed to feel when you’re in love, but Russell is perfect on paper (and to everybody in her life), so she stays with him.  It’s not until Leigh is introduced to Jessie, her new client, and starts traveling to his Hamptons’ home on the weekends to edit his new novel, that she lets these feelings of uncertainty with Russell come to the surface, and starts to explore the idea of not being with him.

Chasing Harry Winston is good for anyone who is in the mood for a really fun, girly read.  I think the parts about Emmy are particularly entertaining, as she is the only character who puts a name on her year of boy-hopping, appropriately called “Tour de Whore” (how awesome is that?!).  The characters of Adriana and Leigh are great too.  All in all, this is a great book that I did not want to put down.  I was able to read it in less than a week.

Mary Alice Monroe’s The Summer Girls

No matter where you go in the world, you cannot run away from the people that are close to your heart and the secrets that they keep for you.  In Mary Alice Monroe’s The Summer Girls, we are shown just that with the reunion of three half-sisters Dora, Carson and Harper, at the request of their grandmother, Mamaw, for her eightieth birthday.  All three girls travel to Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina, to their beloved Sea Breeze, in search of a glimpse into the carefree summers of their youth, and rediscover the bonds they once shared with each other.

Dora is a stay-at-home mom, caring for her autistic son, Nate, and facing the start of a divorce from her husband, who claims that she didn’t pay enough attention to him, which was true.  She is obsessed with caring for Nate, who is a smart child, but at the same time isn’t comfortable in group settings and, heartbreaking to Dora, can’t stand to be touched.  Dora lives in South Carolina, under an hour away from Mamaw, and therefore is the only one of the granddaughters that still visits every summer.  She brings Nate to Sullivan’s Island even though the invitation specified that it was a girls’ only weekend, because he husband refused to spend any time with him.  Dora is depressed over the way that her life has turned out and becomes jealous when she sees her son bonding with Carson.

Carson is a photographer living in California who recently lost her job due to the cancelation of the show that she was working on, and is in need of a change of scenery.  Unlike her sisters, Carson grew up a bit differently.  Her mother died in a fire when she was little, which led to her spending a few years with Mamaw at Sea Breeze (the name for Mamaw’s house on Sullivan’s Island) before her father (their father) Parker, came back to claim her and they moved to California.  Carson loves the ocean, and takes out her surfboard whenever she has a chance, until a close encounter with a shark frightens her and she retreats to the bay.  There is a good thing that comes out of the shark though; Carson makes a new friend, a dolphin, whom she names Delphine – which is how she and Nate start to connect a little: the dolphin fascinated him.  Carson starts dating Blake, a marine biologist who works with dolphins, and struggles with the possibility that, like her father, she too may have an addiction to alcohol.

Harper lives in New York with her mother, working at a major trade publisher as her mother’s assistant, describing their work relationship as Andy Sachs and Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada.  Harper’s mother was displeased that she had decided to go to Sullivan’s Island, making it clear that she was only to be gone for one weekend.  After a phone call between the two, Harper decides to quit her job – further angering her mother – and stay for the duration of the summer.

From the beginning, Mamaw seems like she is hiding something, that this visit with her granddaughters is more than what it seems.  She unearths family secrets – mainly of Parker – that had long been buried, which threaten to pull them even further apart than they already had become…but will they be able to resurrect their strong bonds in order to move forward together?

The Summer Girls is a great novel for the end of the summer season, because throughout it, you get a sense that something is fleeting, life as each of these characters knows it is fleeting, and I feel like that sense that something is fleeting is felt around this time of the year.  The carefree days of summer are fading and the winter is on the horizon, moving towards us faster than we would like.  Monroe brings us back to the beginning of the summer season, where the hopes and anticipation still exist, and, as this is the first book in a trilogy that is set to revolve around these characters, it is only the beginning.

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Forever Interrupted

“’I love you Elsie Porter Ross,’ he says, and he bends down to the couch to kiss me.  He is wearing a bike helmet and bike gloves.  He grins at me. ‘I really love the sound of that.’”


Three pages into Taylor Jenkins Reid’s debut novel, Forever Interrupted, and it looks as if Ben and Elsie have the rest of their lives in front of them.  They were married less than two weeks ago and seem deliriously happy, the kind of couple that is meant-to-be.  By the end of that same page however, Elsie is running barefoot in the street to the sound of sirens, and Ben’s body is being placed into an ambulance, Fruity Pebbles scattered in the street.  He had gone out to get them for Elsie and was hit by a truck a block away from home.  At the hospital Elsie meets her mother-in-law, Susan, for the first time…a woman who didn’t even know she existed.  Their relationship starts off rocky – Susan can’t understand why her son had never told her about Elsie – but after a while they both realize just how much they need each other in order to heal, or, at least, to start healing.

The story alternates every few chapters from the six months that Elsie and Ben were dating to Elsie dealing with the grief of Ben’s death.  At times her grief is so overpowering that it leaves you in tears – okay, more than half of the time…I cried a lot while reading this.  Why read it then?  Because, simply put, it is amazing; I honestly could not put it down.  For all of the sad points of Elsie’s grieving it really is worth it…an unconventional love story of sorts.  At one side you have Elsie and Ben.  You get to watch their love story unfold – see their chance meeting over takeout pizza one rainy night, their first date where Ben caught Elsie trying to break into her house, how they were moved in together and married after only six months of knowing each other.  Then you have Elsie and Susan.  At first Susan seems mean and unreasonable (understandably), but she has more in common with Elsie than either of them realize.  She also is one of my favorite characters; she is stronger than she knows.  It’s a shame that it took Ben dying for them to meet (his reasons are valid…sort of), but something tells me that was the way it was supposed to be.  Elsie needed a mother figure in her life, someone to love her having not been close to her parents, and Susan needed to be needed since both her husband and son were no longer alive.

I really loved Forever Interrupted, and there’s a good chance that I pick it up again soon.  Perhaps the second time around I will cry a little less, then again, perhaps not.  I leave you with a quote (because I love quotes).  It is from a conversation between Elsie and Susan.  Elsie had just gotten home from jail for punching someone at work.  Her friend Ana had called Susan and brought Elsie home.  Susan got there and Elsie started crying and fell apart, and this was Susan’s advice, right before she suggested that Elsie come spend time at her house to grieve.  I thought it was very powerful…and it still brings me to tears reading it.


“…you have to find a way to remember him and forget him.  You have to find a way to keep him in your heart and in your memories but do something else with your life.  Your life cannot be about my son.  It can’t.”

Lauren Weisberger’s Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns

Rarely have I found a sequel to be as entertaining, or capture as much energy as the original book that inspired it.  More often than not, the author tries in vain to achieve the same level of perfection, but never quite reaches it.  Thankfully, the latter cannot be said of Lauren Weisberger’s Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns, the long awaited sequel to her 2003 novel The Devil Wears Prada, based on her experience of working as an assistant to Vogue’s Anna Wintour (published June 4, 2013, by Simon & Schuster).  In the ten-year interim, she has written three other novels (of which I may check out quite soon), but really, Revenge is what we (fans of both the novel and subsequent film) have been waiting for.

Interestingly enough, Revenge is set ten years after The Devil Wears Prada (coincidence? I think not!), bringing back Andrea “Andy” Sachs, Emily Charlton and Miranda Priestly.  It opens on the morning of Andy’s wedding to the handsome Max Harrison – who comes from a family of stature, but has recently experienced some financial setbacks – and she is best friends with Emily – which is odd, but somehow they have a good dynamic.  Andy and Emily founded and head a high-end wedding magazine together, called The Plunge (what Runway is to the fashion world), of which is how Andy met Max in the first place; he was a friend of Emily’s husband Miles (yes, Emily is actually married, although there is talk throughout the novel of Miles’ play-boy ways), and was at the party that Andy and Emily threw to get investors three years prior.

All that being said, Andy is awoken on the morning of her wedding from a nightmare, where she was still working as Miranda’s assistant and going crazy trying to meet her impossible demands.  She is comforted briefly by Max who snuck in to see her, only to become paralyzed with shock upon the discovery of a letter to Max from his mother Barbara, begging him not to go through with the wedding, just moments before having to walk down the aisle.

From that day forward, Andy’s life is never the same.  Miranda begins courting Andy and Emily in hopes of purchasing The Plunge.  We see a softer, “almost human” side of her as she tries to woo the girls into giving her what she wants, which, we all know is just a formality, because no one says no to Miranda.  Emily is thrilled and ready to sign the magazine away, except Andy doesn’t want to sell for a few reasons, one being that there’s a clause in the contract that states that the editorial staff stays on for at least a year after the acquisition…and Andy does not want to work for Miranda again.  Andy also has things going on in her personal life, she becomes a mother, and she crosses paths with her ex-boyfriend Alex, the one who broke her heart not too long after she quit working for Miranda, the one whom she still obsesses about…the one who got away.

This is where Revenge matches up to The Devil Wears Prada.  The extravagant parties and fashion are still there, the anxiety of Miranda is still there – Miranda is still there, which, as we all know makes the book; she’s the character that you love to hate – and over the course of one evening, Andy learns that no one is who they seem to be, not her husband Max, not Emily…and she will have to decide whether to leave her life behind completely and start over, or stay in a life where she might never have a chance at true happiness.

Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns may feature Andy as a wife, mother, entrepreneur…it answers our question of what happened to her after she cursed out Miranda in Paris and left the job “a million girls would die for” at Runway, but at the same time, it’s nice to know that she hasn’t changed all that much, she’s still the same naïve woman that we empathized with ten years earlier.  I’m not sure if this needs to be turned into a series, but it would be nice if Revenge was optioned for a film…with the same case of course.