“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.

“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.

“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.