Blog Tour | In a Dark, Dark Wood, Ruth Ware

23783496Within the first few chapters, I knew I was going to absolutely love this book. The stage is set for a classic Agatha Christie-style mystery: a group of strangers is brought together in a house deep in the titular dark, dark wood where there is no cell reception, no easy way to escape, and where the characters are all bound by dark secrets from their past.

In Ware’s take on this classic trope, the characters convene for a bachelorette party organized by a rather obsessive perfectionist maid of honour named Flo for her BFF Clare. The main character is Leonora “Nora” Shaw, who is surprised to be invited since she hasn’t spoken to Clare since a falling out years ago. She decides to attend anyway, and as any mystery lover can attest, this cannot end well. What follows is a hilariously awkward weekend with people who mostly can’t seem to stand each other, and then someone is murdered. The novel opens with Nora in a hospital bed, trying to piece together what had happened.

In a Dark, Dark Wood is a classic mystery thriller. I couldn’t put it down, and I felt compelled to keep reading not only to find out what actually happened but also to find out how the various relationships develop. There are some aspects that stretch belief somewhat, for example that a bad breakup when Nora was just 16, could still have this much effect on her ten years later (why hasn’t she moved on yet?!), and also some twists and revelations that felt more convenient that believable. The motive behind the crime also felt odd, and I almost wish Ware had set it up a bit more like Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley character, which will possibly help us understand better how someone’s psyche can be so messed up that murder seems a sensible response to this motive.

That being said, I absolutely loved this book. I’m a sucker for classic Agatha Christie whodunnits and I think Ware captures this feel wonderfully. The house in the woods is a perfect setting for such a creepy mystery, and I absolutely love the twisted interlocking webs of messed up relationships that drove this story forward. Finally, I think the cover is just beautiful.

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Author Q&A with Ruth Ware

  1. I love the classic Agatha Christie whodunnit feel. How much was And Then There Were None an influence on this book, and how much is Agatha Christie herself an influence in your writing?

I loved Christie as a teen – well, classic crime full stop, really – so it’s definitely something that was there in the back of my head. However it wasn’t really a conscious decision to channel those influences into In a Dark, Dark Wood, but when I’d finished writing it I handed it to my agent who immediately said “you know, this has a very Agatha Christie-ish feel” and I realised she was right, and Christie’s influence had definitely seeped through into the text. The reference to And Then There Were None in the text is my little acknowledgement of that!

  1. What inspired this story? Where did the idea come from?

The original seed was a conversation with a friend who said she’d never read a thriller set on a hen night and would love to read one. And I realised in that moment that I’d never read a thriller on a hen night either, and would love to write one! On the tube on the way home I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea, and eventually it became In a Dark, Dark Wood.

  1. Why do you think the name change (from “Lee” to “Nora”) is so important to Leonora? Why is Clare so insistent on calling her “Lee”?

Well, one of the themes of the book is identity and self-image, and the way we choose how we to appear to others. Often the person we are at school is radically different from the person we are when we grow up – and Nora’s name change is a way of her owning that, I suppose – acknowledging that she’s more than Clare’s best friend (Clare was the person who bestowed the “Lee” nickname on Nora and it’s something she’s ambivalent about.) I suppose for Nora, making people use her grown-up name rather than her teenage nickname is a way of asking them to acknowledge that she’s not the same person she was back then, whereas Clare is maybe trying to do the opposite – remind Nora of who they used to be to each other.

  1. Will you be involved at all in the motion picture adaptation? How well do you think your story will translate to screen?

I know that some writers adapt their own books for screen, but I can’t imagine doing that. I’m not sure I’d know how! I think (I may be biased!) that it could be a great film, it’s certainly very visual and I think the dark woods and the glass house could make a great setting. A lot of the action takes place in Nora’s head though, and the tension comes from inside her. You’d need a good actor and director to convey that.

  1. Clare pretty much ends up having the bachelorette party from hell. What has been your most memorable (good, bad or simply hilarious) bachelorette party experience?

I’ve not had any really hideous experiences myself, but I did have a lot of friends unburden themselves to me after they read the book. I think the worst anecdote I heard was a party where the stripper failed to turn up, so the bar tender offered to make a few calls and find a replacement. Eventually a guy turned up, but the first clue that all was not quite well was that he folded his clothes neatly as he removed them! There followed an excruciating quarter of an hour as he got naked. When he had finished he turned and put them all back on again and quietly left. It turned out that he was the bar tender’s nephew or something, and an accountant and had never stripped before!

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and thank you to Ruth for participating in the Q&A!

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Blog Tour and Contest

This review is part of the Simon Schuster Canada Perfect Pairing Blog Tour. Check out the full schedule below.

Also: nothing pairs up better with a book than a cup of coffee, so heads up on an awesome contest: Simon and Schuster Canada is giving away a set of books AND one year of free coffee from aroma espresso bar! Enter at readchillrepeat.com.

Summer Fiction Blog Tour

Blog Tour | Lily and the Octopus, Steven Rowley

27276262By page 3 of Steven Rowley’s Lily and the OctopusI knew this book would make me ugly cry, and I honestly wasn’t sure if I had the guts to keep reading. I tweeted my trepidation, and the author responded, “So much laughter, adventure and love in the pages ahead. If you cry, I hope the journey will have been worth it.” So I decided to continue, and I’m so glad I did. This book is one of the most emotionally affecting ones I’ve ever read. I ugly-cried like I hadn’t since Patrick Ness’s A Monster Callsand that’s a good thing. The best books rip right into your heart and make you feel as you’ve rarely let yourself feel before, and then stay with you long after you turn the last page. Lily and the Octopus was such a book, and I can say with full certainty that yes, the journey was beyond worth it.

The story begins with Ted on a typical Thursday night, debating with his dog Lily about which celebrity Chris was the cutest, when he notices an octopus gripping tightly to the top of Lily’s head. We realize what the octopus wants long before Ted allows himself to, and by page 3, you can probably tell where this story is going and whether you want to stay for the ride. Lily and the Octopus is a beautifully written story of love, of the fierce connection between us and our pets, and of how love can make us afraid to face the truth.

I love how Ted was afraid he was incapable of love until he met Lily:

When I held my new puppy in my arms, I broke down in tears. Because I had fallen in love. Not somewhat in love. Not partly in love. Not in a limited amount. I fell fully in love with a creature I had known for all of nine hours. (p. 22)

How beautiful is that? And how many of us with dogs or cats or other pets of our own can relate to that sense of instant, intense connection, that feeling that they have chosen us as much as we have chosen them and that we will from that point forward be inextricably bonded? This passage certainly rang true for me; I went from wary pet owner to crazy cat lady in the space of a few seconds, and knew exactly what Ted was talking about.

I also really love how absolutely full of joy and energy Lily is. Her conversations with Ted are hilarious, and her sheer happiness at the silliest things — a red ball, an inflatable shark — is just a joy to see. There is indeed much laughter and joy in these pages, and it was wonderful to see Ted and Lily together. Ted’s love for her shone through, and I couldn’t help but fall in love with her too.

The book faltered somewhat for me during a scene involving a boat. I wasn’t sure what was or wasn’t real anymore, and while Rowley may well have intended that ambiguity, I was too distracted by trying to figure it out to really lose myself in the scene, as I had throughout the rest of the book. That being said, for the most part, I was completely caught up in Lily and the Octopus’ roller coaster ride of emotions, and I’d never hated an octopus more.

I read the entire book in a single afternoon, mostly because I was unwilling to put it down and leave Ted and Lily’s story behind. Even while reading it, I knew I would be recommending it to all my friends, especially those who love animals. I did ugly cry in the end, and grabbed my cat for cuddles and a belly rub. I like to think the look he gave me wasn’t of puzzlement but rather of concern. I just didn’t want to be alone after reading this book, and am glad my cat was there to be with me.

This is a beautiful, moving book, and one I highly recommend. Read it, laugh out loud at its silliness, and let yourself ugly cry if you need to. Then put it back on your shelf and give your dog or cat a huge squishy hug. Just because.

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Blog Tour and Contest

This review is part of the Simon Schuster Canada Perfect Pairing Blog Tour. Check out the full schedule below.

Also: nothing pairs up better with a book than a cup of coffee, so heads up on an awesome contest: Simon and Schuster Canada is giving away a set of books AND one year of free coffee from aroma espresso bar! Enter at readchillrepeat.com.

Summer Fiction Blog Tour

Blog Tour | All the Missing Girls, Megan Miranda

23212667Nicolette Farrell returns home after ten years to care for her aging father. Shortly after she returns, a young girl Annaleise, goes missing. This is particularly creepy for Nic as the reason she left in the first place was that her best friend Corinne had disappeared when she was about Annaleise’s age, and the story behind Corinne’s disappearance had haunted Nic, her brother Daniel and her ex-boyfriend Tyler all the years since.

All the Missing Girls is a thriller told in reverse. After Nic returns home (Day 1), we jump in time to Day 15, when the town is searching for Annaleise, and Tyler had disappeared. The story unravels in reverse, counting down from Day 15 all the way to Day 1, and slowly elements of both disappearances emerge.

The mystery itself is fascinating (what happened to Annaleise, and is it connected somehow to what happened to Corinne?) but the structure felt too gimmicky and left me feeling confused and impatient throughout. I was more interested in what happened after Day 15 and moving the story forward rather than inching back day by day only to be left with the same questions I had at the beginning of the book, namely what happens after Day 15? Often, the significance of conversations in one chapter will only be revealed in the next chapter, with an incident from the previous day, but I felt somewhat cheated because I already knew what would happen next. There were certainly surprises, and the big reveals at the end were satisfyingly surprising, but the impact was somewhat lost on me as it just made me want to think back to Day 15 and what could have happened after.

I’m also glad that Miranda does provide a bit of an epilogue to let us know how things turn out after Day 15. Part 3, with its urgency contrasted with a sense of bleak resignation, wasn’t quite a happy ending, but it felt right.

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Thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Blog Tour and Contest

This review is part of the Simon Schuster Canada Perfect Pairing Blog Tour. Check out the full schedule below.

Also: nothing pairs up better with a book than a cup of coffee, so heads up on an awesome contest: Simon and Schuster Canada is giving away a set of books AND one year of free coffee from aroma espresso bar! Enter at readchillrepeat.com.

Summer Fiction Blog Tour

Review | Invincible Summer, Alice Adams

27161851I love the idea behind this novel — four friends from college graduate and drift off into separate lives, the novel dipping into their stories intermittently over the next twenty years. I love coming of age stories, and I especially love stories where the “coming of age” chronicles the transition into adulthood and the various milestones (job, marriage, children) that come afterwards.

The main character is Eva, who is secretly in love with playboy Lucien in college and who graduates to become an investment banker. (Kudos to Alice Adams — I think an investment banker heroine is fairly rare in popular fiction, particularly with the amount of industry-specific detail included here. The author’s background in finance is evident, with so much financial terminology and dialogue that it reminded me of my experience watching The Big Short — slightly confused and slightly struggling to care about what are obviously very big and exciting deals.)

Secretly in love with Eva is Benedict, a physicist who, kudos to him, moves on to other women when it’s clear Eva isn’t interested in a relationship with him at that time. Lucien is a playboy in college who goes on to become a professional partier in adulthood, age turning him from charming to sleazy and from fun-loving to rather pathetic. Lucien’s sister Sylvie is an aspiring artist for whom adulthood is a harsh dose of reality.

I enjoyed this story, particularly as it chronicled the shift from the rather rosy expectations the characters have in college to the reality of adulthood, where your talent may not be enough to build a viable career, where the man who pined after you for years may no longer be available when you decide to reciprocate his feelings, where you can land your dream job and do everything right and still not succeed.

Sylvie really stood out to me as the most compelling character, with her descent from popular talented college girl to a woman who can barely make ends meet and can’t figure out what to do with her life. She and Lucien took a much smaller role as the story progressed, with the main focus being Eva’s career and her on-again/off-again will they/won’t they type of romance with Benedict, but I couldn’t help wishing Adams had given us much more of Sylvie’s story.

Invincible Summer is a good book and well-written, but it never quite latched on to me or made me feel so invested in the characters that I had to keep reading. I think it’s because the characters mostly fell flat for me. The character I found most compelling (Sylvie) was relegated to the backseat so ended up feeling flatter than she could have been, whereas the character who was the primary focus (Eva) was okay but a bit too bland to carry the novel. Lucien almost felt unnecessary — he was set up as Eva’s crush in the beginning, but never really stood out as all that appealing, even for a young woman in the mood for a bad boy, and after graduation, he mostly just seemed inserted into the story at sporadic moments, seeming more like the vaguely creepy guy you avoid on the subway than someone who is truly menacing, truly charismatic or truly pathetic. Benedict had potential to be interesting — he is on the team working on the hadron collider! — but his marriage seemed tepid at best, more an obstacle to his happily ever after with Eva than an actual emotional impediment.

Still, it’s a quick read, well-written, and an interesting peek into the lives of 20- and 30-year-olds. Fans of One Day may enjoy the format.

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Thanks to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Blog Tour | The Girls in the Garden, Lisa Jewell

27276357Eleven year old Pip, her thirteen year old sister Grace and their mother move into a cozy London neighbourhood flat where their neighbours have all grown up knowing each other. One summer evening, Pip discovers Grace lying unconscious and partially undressed in a hidden corner of the neighbourhood’s communal rose garden. The mystery around who did what to Grace drives the story, and Jewell takes us to the weeks before the incident and to the days in its immediate aftermath.

The Girls in the Garden is a gripping tale with a dark and twisty cluster of relationships among the neighbours. Jewell creates an entire cast of characters, and I admit that at times, it became a bit confusing to figure out the characters’ relationships and feelings towards each other. Grace and her peers are central to the story’s plot, and Pip is the narrator who observes everything, but the parents in the neighbourhood are just as entrenched in the developments. The attack on Grace somewhat mirrors a murder in the same garden years ago, and old suspicions and accusations surface.

Initially, the answer to the mystery seems obvious, even if the perpetrator’s identity is still to be determined. However, Jewell doesn’t give us the obvious. I found the reveal to be darker than I’d imagined, and the characters’ responses to the reveal made it even more disturbing. I felt like there was so much more to unpack in that reveal than we’re given, and I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about that ending. On the one hand, it felt deeply unsatisfying in its seeming neatness; on the other hand, I actually can imagine real people responding like this, particularly within a small, enclosed neighbourhood, and that itself is probably the darkest, twistiest bit of all.

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Thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Blog Tour and Contest

This review is part of the Simon Schuster Canada Perfect Pairing Blog Tour. Check out the full schedule below.

Also: nothing pairs up better with a book than a cup of coffee, so heads up on an awesome contest: Simon and Schuster Canada is giving away a set of books AND one year of free coffee from aroma espresso bar! Enter at readchillrepeat.com.

Summer Fiction Blog Tour

Review | I’m Your Biggest Fan, Kate Coyne

27161824I’m Your Biggest Fan is a fun and funny collection of anecdotes about celebrity encounters from Kate Coyne, executive editor for People and formerly a reporter for Page Six of the New York Post and entertainment editor for Good Housekeeping. She begins the book with a story about her emotional first encounter with Robert Downey Jr, as a teenage fangirl who burst into tears at his autograph and later bumped into him with her eyes still puffy and her nose still swollen. The chapter is titled “Robert Downey Jr. Thinks I’m Emotionally Unhinged,” and that tone of self-deprecating humour sets the tone of hilarity for the rest of the book.

Coyne has what is arguably many readers’ dream job — the chance to hobnob with A-list celebrities and get paid for it. I can only imagine how awkward I would be face to face with RDJ, NPH and all the other celebrities she writes about, so it’s nice to read that someone who does this for a living is still just as starstruck as I would be, though admittedly more professional than I may have managed to act.

 

Coyne’s stories made my laugh (RDJ) or swoon (Tom Cruise, surprisingly, and Tom Hanks), and in one of my favourite chapters, served as a reality check that regardless of how friendly a celebrity is, the interview is still a job, and celebrity journalists are still an acquaintance at best and not necessarily a friend. In this particular chapter, Coyne interviews Mariska Hargitay and is blown away by how warm and friendly Hargitay is. Near the end of the interview, Hargitay makes an offhand suggestion that Coyne and her husband drop by sometime for a game of charades. I’ll be honest: I love Mariska Hargitay, and if she ever invites me over to charades, I may very well respond as starry-eyed as Coyne did, and will likely set myself up for the same disappointment she experienced when the follow up invitation never came. The punchline of the story comes years later when Coyne encounters Hargitay at the Emmys and blurts out something about the charades invitation apropos of absolutely nothing, and then proceeds to make it worse by babbling about the context for her comment. Coyne writes, “As I cackled like a lunatic, Mariska’s gorgeous Louboutin stilettos took two steps backward. She was physically trying to get away from me. She was slowly backing away from the scary stalker that I had become” (p. 67).

Coyne’s writing maintains its light and breezy tone. Listening to her stories felt like chatting with a friend who happens to be invited to amazing events with all the cool people in Hollywood. In another of my favourite chapters, this one featuring Tom Hanks, Coyne is feeling idiotic after a particularly awkward encounter with Neil Patrick Harris and Hanks notices her mood and kindly strikes up a conversation and makes her feel better. I’ve always loved Tom Hanks’ work, and this anecdote makes me just want to hug him.

Coyne also relates some more serious stories, such as her encounters with Kate Gosselin, who is really an object of sympathy unjustly maligned by the tabloids and with Michael Douglas, with whom Coyne shared a lovely moment reminiscing over a childhood encounter with his troubled son. There’s a chapter at the end about a bout with an eating disorder, which felt out of place with the rest of the book. Coyne keeps the tone as light as self-deprecating as ever but in this instance, the tone feels almost discordant with the content, and I wish that, if this part of the story had to be included, that it had been given a bit more space to unpack rather than treated as a throwaway amongst many other anecdotes.

I’m Your Biggest Fan is a fun, humorous look at celebrity journalism and having the dream of a lifetime chance to speak with celebrities you admire.

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Thanks to Hachette Book Group Canada for an Advance Reading Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Trust No One, Paul Cleave

23492648Jerry Grey, a crime fiction writer with Alzheimer’s, is convinced that the murders he wrote about are real, and that he is the one who committed them. The plot thickens when he learns of other murders not in his novels, ones he may have committed and forgotten about. Is Jerry a killer? Is he guilty of the murders he remembers doing, those he doesn’t remember at all, and those with victims he doesn’t even recognize? When he can’t even trust his own memory, how can he tell what is and isn’t real?

Paul Cleave’s Trust No One is a fantastic page turner that keeps you guessing and second-guessing yourself throughout. We see the story mostly through Jerry’s eyes, and so end up as uncertain as he is about what actually did happen. There’s an added layer of complexity with Jerry’s writer persona Henry Cutter, who isn’t a pseudonym so much as a frame of mind Jerry puts on when he writes his crime novels. The book includes excerpts from Jerry’s journal, chronicling events since he learned of his diagnosis, and whenever a situation gets too emotional, Jerry copes by turning the pen over to Henry. Is it possible that Jerry doesn’t remember the murders because it is actually Henry committing them? Midway through the book, a friend of Jerry’s named Hans steps in to help Jerry find the truth, and I was so caught up in the confusion around Henry’s potential role in the murders that I wondered if Hans was even real, or if he was simply another personality in Jerry’s psyche. (Jerry’s wife mentions not trusting Hans, but never actually talks to him directly.) We’re so entrenched in Jerry’s head that we experience how confusing his reality is, and it’s difficult not to slip into the paranoia and distrust Jerry feels towards everything and everyone around him. To me, that’s the sign of a great thriller, and kudos to Cleave for creating that effect.

The major hiccup for me was the ending, which confused me with all the big reveals. I’m a bit unclear about the motive and logistics behind some of the murders, and about whether or not one of the murders was a pure red herring or actually had a connection. It felt like there were so many twists and turns that they didn’t all quite fit neatly into the truth. The final chapter felt unsatisfying, though inevitable, and honestly I wish some of the characters (the police, the neighbour, the care facility staff) showed a bit more smarts throughout the novel than they actually did.

Trust No One is a heckuva thriller to dive into and immerse yourself in. Set aside a few hours to delve into Jerry Grey’s world and enjoy the ride.

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for a (signed!) copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.