“In a Dark Dark Wood” by Ruth Ware

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I’m 28. I’m at the age where most of my friends have recently gotten engaged or married, or are on their way. So bachelorette parties have been on regular rotation as of late. I’ve been to D.C., Ocean City, and Atlantic City and will be heading to Charlottesville in a few weeks, all in the name of penis straws, bride-to-be sashes, shots of Fireball, and “Never Have I Ever.” Maybe that is why I enjoyed In a Dark Dark Wood  so much, because I felt that I could somewhat relate. Although, thankfully, none of my recent bachelorette adventures have included a murder.

In a Dark Dark Wood begins with Nora/Lee/Lenora receiving a random invitation to her long lost BFF Clare’s hen party (British for bachelorette.) She can’t get a feel for why she was invited, but after talking to another mutual friend decides there’s no hurt in going. The hen party gathers in an almost fully glass cabin in the middle of the woods, ready to celebrate bride-to-be away from civilization.

Nora can’t admit to the group that she hasn’t spoken to Clare in over ten years, she isn’t invited to the wedding, and she doesn’t even know who Clare is marrying, without ruining the illusion that she and Clare are blissfully reunited in the name of love and everlasting friendship.

The book alternates between scenes of tequila shots and bumps of cocaine, and Nora in the aftermath in a hospital bed, no memory of the two nights prior. I enjoyed the flipping back and forth, I felt that it added to the suspense and whodunit appeal.

A story of murder, marriage rituals and dark jealous friendships, In a Dark Dark Wood will keep you on the edge of your seat as a quick, thrilling read.

3.75/5 stars.

“Sweetbitter” by Stephanie Danler

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I was super excited to read Sweetbitter after seeing celebs rave about it on Instagram: Eva Longoria, Emma Roberts, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Troian Bellasario, etc. The pink book jacket with broken wine glass cover art was practically screaming my name, and its Insta-fame had me dying to dive in.

I have to be honest, I really disliked this book at first. There was so much restaurant lingo, half-finished conversations, and narrator ramblings that I couldn’t quite catch what was going on and found myself utterly confused. I hit my 100 page mark and really almost gave it back up to the library. But I could feel Spencer Hastings and Chanel Oberlin begging me to read more. And you know what? I’m glad I did. I ended up really liking it. This book was certainly different than my recent reads, and I agree with many Amazon reviews that there really is no true “plot.” But once I stopped searching for the storyline and quit stressing my brain trying to understand the different types of oysters and regions of wine, I let myself enjoy the reality of Tess’ navigation of adulthood. I really truly enjoyed it.

While Sweetbitter is strictly a novel and not memoir, it closely mirrors the journey of author Stephanie Danler as she makes her start in New York City and the restaurant business. The story opens with Tess moving from her vaguely unhappy life in Ohio to a microscopic apartment in Williamsburg (Brooklyn, not VA, for you Virginians like myself.) Determined to find employment of any kind, and with a resume boasting previous barista work, snags a job as a back-waiter in one of Union Square’s most prestigious restaurants. Tess is in over her head, navigating a new city, new job, and completely new lifestyle, all while facing the typical challenges of  young adulthood. She experiments with drugs, alcohol, sex, and her newfound freedom in the city. She experiences complicated adult relationships, as well as heartache, loneliness, and wondering “is this it?” While Tess’ coming-of-age was much wilder and exotic than my own, I felt nostalgia for that confusing and blissful period of early womanhood. By the end of the novel, I felt I had grown up with Tess and could really feel the transformation she underwent in just one short year.

If you are interested in an action-driven, event-filled, cant-put-down read, this novel may not be the best for you, but I would encourage you to give it a go (past the first 100 pages) to experience beautiful writing, gorgeous metaphors, and an appreciation for growing up and figuring out life.

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My blind beagle Gracie loved it, too.

3 out of 5 stars.

“Don’t You Cry” by Mary Kubica

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I read Mary Kubica’s The Good Girl a while back and really enjoyed it, so her other two novels have been on my list to read for quite some time. I managed to snag Don’t You Cry in a large print edition at my local library. I felt like a speed reader turning those pages with the big words so fast!

Don’t You Cry tells two separate stories for it’s first 80%. Storyline A is that of Quinn, early 20’s, entry-level career, trying to make a life for herself in Chicago. Quinn lives in a somewhat decent apartment in the heart of the city with her roommate, Esther. One groggy morning, after a night out drinking, Quinn wakes up to find Esther missing. While not immediately alarmed, panic begins to bubble up as Esther doesn’t return for several hours. Or the rest of the night. Or the next few days…
Quinn spends the rest of the week desperately trying to find out what happened to Esther and why she has disappeared–did she leave on her own free will, or is she in danger? Is Esther really the sweet, gentle roommate Quinn knows and loves?

Storyline B follows Alex (for the first few chapters I thought he was a girl, damn those unisex names) who is working a dead-end job as a diner dishwasher in his run-down hometown. Alex turned down a college scholarship to stay home to take care of his incoherent alcoholic father. The highlight of his day is delivering the lunch orders to his agoraphobic neighbor. His life is dreadfully dull, until he meets a mysterious, and incredibly odd girl in the diner, who he affectionately names “Pearl.”

Quinn becomes more and more suspicious of Esther, after finding dark clues from her past in the apartment.

Alex becomes more and more fascinated by Pearl’s lunacy, but is blinded by her attention and companionship.

The pieces start falling together as to how these two tales will align, and while I thought I had it all figured out, I definitely didn’t.

This was a quick read, although a little slow to start and get into. Once the suspense started building, I found it engaging with a fairly okay twist at the end.

3.75 out of 5 stars.

Halloween Witch Wreath

pastaHalloween is my second favorite holiday (Thanksgiving being my first, I love to eat.) I love to dress up,and love to decorate our house. I don’t go full on cobwebs on the porch, but I like a nice Halloween wreath and spooky pumpkin centerpiece or two.

My Halloween wreaths the past few years have been pretty darn cute, if I do say so myself. So, I needed something equally as fun this year, for our first fall season in our new house. I came up with this super cute witch wreath, with glitter ribbon and fun colors.

I’m usually the hot glue gun’s #1 fan, but the way our house sits, my front door is directly in sunlight during most of the day. I’ve found that the sun gets so warm it actually melts the hot glue on my wreaths, causing decorative pieces to fall to their peril. So, this time around I used stick pins for attaching everything to a straw wreath. Worked like a charm, and I didn’t burn off any fingers, like usual!

What you need:
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  • 10″ straw wreath
  • Two spools wide ribbon for the base color (I used black and white striped)
  • 3 spools smaller decorative ribbon (with halloween prints, colors, glitter, etc.)
  • 1 pack stick pins
  • Witch’s hat (found at Hobby Lobby)
  • Witches leg decorative piece (also found at Hobby Lobby)
  • Decorative bat clips (found at Dollar Tree)
  • Decorative flower clip

What you do:

1. Attach one end of your wide ribbon to your wreath with 4 stick pins. **Do NOT remove the plastic wrapping from your straw wreath!!! I’ve done this before–horrible mistake. You’ll end up with a completely misshapen wreath, plus a floor that looks like it belongs in a barn.**

2. Wrap your ribbon all the way around the wreath, making sure the straw is completely covered. When you’re at the end of your spool, attach the tail to the wreath form.

img_03743. Repeat with second spool of ribbon until wreath is completely wrapped.

4. Repeat these steps with your smaller decorative ribbons.

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5. Attach your witch legs to the bottom backside of your wreath using stick pins. I cut the legs off of a decorative piece I got at Hobby Lobby for $4. They also sold witches legs by themselves (but I didn’t think they were as cute.)

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6. Attach your witch’s hat to the top left corner of your wreath, at an angle, closer to the front of the wreath form, using stick pins.

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7. Clip decorative bats (or other decorative pieces) to the slots in between the wide ribbon wraps on the left side of your wreath.

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8. Do the same with your flower clip, but attaching on opposite side from bats.

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9. Using any leftover ribbon, attach a small loop to the top back portion of your wreath with stick pins to use to hang.

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Happy Halloween!!!!

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“The Girls” by Emma Cline

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I’m really obsessed with cults. I know, I know, that makes me sound like the ultimate emo creep. But it’s true. They’re just so fascinating! I’m really intrigued as to how someone gets sucked into the commune lifestyle, abandons their family and friends, and blindly follows a savior, who inevitably is a decently attractive, charismatic, middle-aged white man. It’s just so hard for me to wrap my brain around, which makes it all that much more interesting. Thanks to my slightly sociopathic obsession, I’ve seen my fair share of cult documentaries, shows, books, etc. and I was super pumped to get my hands on one of the summer’s trendiest books, The Girls, by Emma Cline.

The Girls parallels the story of Charles Manson and his family almost to a T. I think maybe this is why I didn’t love this book as much as I had expected. I was hoping for a more imaginative story, or at least some great insight as to the secrets of the family and their lifestyle. But, being already pretty familiar with the Manson case, I didn’t find this storyline especially shocking.

Evie Boyd opens the novel in modern day, reflecting on her former life as a part of the “family.” She flashes back to age 14 where she is living a life pretty typical of a teenager in the late 60’s. Her parents are divorced, she is an only child, and she spends her days in suburban California drinking beers in her best friend’s basement, gossiping about girls at school and crushing on the upperclassmen boys. There is nothing especially remarkable about her life, but also nothing horrendous enough for me to buy her slipping into the claws of a murderous cult.

Evie happens upon a group of hippie older girls, with whom she is immediately infatuated. The center of her obsession is Suzanne, the 17-year old female leader. She develops what can only be described as a massive crush on Suzanne, hanging on her every word, doing everything she says. Suzanne and the girls bring Evie back to “the ranch,” where she meets, and, unsurprisingly, hooks up with Russell, aka Charles Manson. Evie becomes a daily fixture at the ranch, and gets away with always  being gone from home by telling her mom she’s sleeping over at her best friend’s. This is another thing that didn’t really make much sense to me in the book; even a somewhat absentee mother would start to think it odd after not seeing her daughter practically the entire summer. And the author does nothing to make us think that Evie’s mom is abusive, an alcoholic, plain old horrible, etc. How does Evie become a full fledged member of a cult with her normal-ish mom not even realizing she’s missing? Anyway, I digress.

Evie’s story continues with the family slowly unravelling, eventually to the point of homicide, just as we know to be true in the case of the Manson followers. Sans Helter Skelter. And then that’s just kind of the end. (Did I just ruin it?)

While the literature and prose of this book was gorgeous, I just didn’t love the story nearly as much as I wanted to. And I desperately wanted to love it. I was expecting this book to be one of my favorites of all time, but I found myself struggling to push through certain dry parts. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t amazing. Now, if you’re looking for a stellar first-person life-in-a-cult account, check out Holy Hell on Netflix. One of the best cult documentaries I’ve seen (and again, I’ve seen a lot.) Hours of footage and testimonies from folks actually living inside a cult (for 22 years!!!!!) I’ll let you have that nugget of info for free.

3 out of 5 stars.

The Girl in 6E by A.R. Torre

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Take 50 Shades of Grey, marry it to The Girl on the Train and you’ve got A.R. Torre’s The Girl in 6 E. I thought this was one of the most imaginative and brilliant stories I have read in a while. The author combined two of today’s hottest genres, thrillers and borderline erotica, into this un-put-down-able page turner. I really don’t know why I haven’t heard more rumblings about this book, it was one of my favorites of the past year. While it’s pretty heavy on the (webcam) sex, it’s not sleazy or cheesy (cue, 50 Shades) and it has a really fresh and intriguing plot.

Deanna Madden is young, beautiful and rich. Filthy rich. She also happens to be single, an agoraphobic hermit, and a wildly successful live webcam solo porn star. Oh, and she’s also a virgin.

For the last several years, Deanna has not left her apartment. At all. She has also not had human contact with anyone, because of her fantasies. Not sexual ones, but ones of killing. So, like any good hearted psychopath, she keeps herself deliberately separated from the prey she so desires to hunt. While this idea sounds crazy, she actually seems to make it work without going completely insane, hungry, or disconnected from the outside world. It is the sacrifice she feels she has to make to contain her monster inside.

But when Deana suspects one of her webcam clients of committing a crime against a  young girl, she must make the decision to keep her suspicions to herself, or tear down all of her safety walls and face the outside world. In her mind, someone will get killed either way.

I’ll leave it there, not wanting to give too much away.It’s really not a smut novel (believe me, I hate those) and I wish Amazon, Goodreads, etc. would stop classifying it that way. Seriously, if you want a good thriller with a different, spicier flavor, check out this series.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Eeeny Meeny by M.J. Arlidge

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I’ve recently gotten into crime stories, mysteries and thrillers, and M.J. Arlidge is a fantastic new breakout author on the scene. His books follow DI (Detective Inspector, for us Americans) Helen Grace as she leads her police unit through gruesome crimes and battles her own inner demons. There are currently four books in the series, with a fifth releasing stateside next month. I’m working on catching up so I’m ready to read the newest installment when it comes out. So far, two down, two to go.

Eeny Meeny opens with a ghastly scene that grabs your attention right from page one. A couple awakes in an unfamiliar setting, held in captivity, with no way out. They have no food, no water, nothing to keep them warm; a cell complete bare, except for a gun. A phone rings and tells the couple that only one of them will make it out alive–the only way for one to escape is to kill the other. Hooked yet? Yeah, I was too. I was also having nightmarish flashbacks of Saw, but luckily this book never gets quite that gorey.

Similar situations begin popping up all over the city, and DI Grace’s team finds themselves hunting a serial killer who never actually does the killing himself. Along the way, skeletons from DI Grace’s past begins to pop up, a past she has worked hard at burying. She fights to keep her life from interfering with her work, but soon finds it all completely interwoven.

I thought the storyline was exceptionally dark and twisted, the kind that makes you think “what is wrong with this author????” in the best way possible. However, it also never veered into wildly unbelievable territory and stayed fairly realistic (cue, extra creepy.) It did take me some time to figure out the UK vocabulary. After lots of Googling British police lingo and abbreviations, I was able to match the characters up with who would be their equivalent in Law & Order SVU, and finally started to finally understand who was who in the investigative ranks.

I really enjoyed this book, have already finished its sequel, Pop Goes the Weasel, and plan to read The Doll’s House as soon as I can get my hands on a free library copy. This series isn’t for the faint of heart, but I would recommend for someone looking to get into a new, fresh crime collection.

4 out of 5 stars.