The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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Lo Blacklock, a journalist for a travel magazine, has been given the opportunity of sailing away on the Aurora for a week long luxury cruise. The Aurora is a small, intimate ship with only a few cabins and the select special guests who were picked for her first voyage. Mixed in with socialites and other journalists, Lo is ready to relax and enjoy the plush beds, fancy food and endless champagne.

On her first night on the ship Lo is getting ready for the formal dinner and she realizes she forgot some of her makeup. She knocks next door, at Cabin 10, and borrows mascara from the woman there before going back to her cabin to finish her preparations.

The night goes as planned; beautiful dinner, schmoozing with the other attendees and drinking a little too much.  After a mostly pleasant evening, Lo returns to her cabin to snuggle down into her bed for her first real night of sleep in a week.

Then, a scream. A splash. Lo rushes to her balcony only to see swirling dark waters and what she thinks might be blood on the glass of Cabin 10. But before she can process what might have happened, the blood is gone, the night is silent again.

When she investigates the cabin next door with security, it’s empty. They inform her that the planned guest for Cabin 10 never arrived and that no passenger is missing. The cabin is bare, as if that woman had never existed.

Now Lo must get to the bottom of what she heard and saw, while trapped on a small boat with a group of people she doesn’t know. Who was that woman? Was she murdered? Was Lo dreaming? What really happened that night?

“The Woman in Cabin 10” is a claustrophobic murder mystery with a few surprising twists to keep us turning those pages. Eery and engrossing, this book is hard to put down. Ware has a talent for picking locations for murders that are deliciously creepy in their own natural ways. A glass house in the heart of a forest (In a Dark, Dark Wood) and now a small boat in the middle of an empty ocean.

After finishing this novel, you’ll check the locks on your doors before sleeping at night and possibly think twice about that vacation you were planning.

After all, boats can be very dangerous places.

Release date: July 19, 2016

Leave Me by Gayle Forman

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Sometimes being an adult feels too hard. The constant obligations. The daily responsibilities. The million tiny pieces that pile up to overwhelm us until it all feels impossible.

Until we just want to run away.

Maribeth, a mother of twins who works full time as a magazine editor, does just that.

She’s so busy with scheduling, shuttling, editing, meetings, cooking, answering emails and dealing with the stress of having two twin babies and a husband who doesn’t help out – that she doesn’t realize she’s having a heart attack until it’s almost too late.

After emergency heart surgery and a measly week in the hospital, Maribeth returns home to recuperate, only to realize that she’ll never be given that opportunity. Her husband treats her recovery like an imposition and her children still demand all of her that they did before. When she begins to feel worse rather than better, she makes the radical decision that everyone wishes they could make at one point or another when life just feels like too much to handle.

She leaves.

Maribeth packs a duffel bag, extracts some money from the bank and exits her life with an ease that surprises even her.

But a little time and some perspective can go a long way. While hiding out in her new apartment in her new city with new friends, Maribeth is finally able to be honest with herself, and those she loves, for the first time in many years.

In “Leave Me” Forman writes human nature in a way that lets us see ourselves in her characters. There is no major villain or insurmountable obstacle that takes Maribeth out of the realm of our everyday reality. She is just a person with the same problems, emotions and obligations as the rest of us. Her story feels refreshing and genuine.

And it is not just a book in which you can vicariously relish the liberation of leaving everything behind as an adult. (Though that part was quite enjoyable, I admit.) It’s about love and all that love entails. The terror. The responsibility. The joy.

It’s about how we can give so much of ourselves to others, that we lose ourselves.

And how maybe, sometimes, running away is the only way to find your way back home.

Release date: September 6, 2016

We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman

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The lesson here . . . Sometimes people throw things away. That doesn’t mean those things aren’t really, really good. Most of the time, it just means that person didn’t know what they had.

In the style of Jonathan Tropper, Matthew Norman writes a humorous middle-age self discovery novel about a man named Andy.

Andy runs away from Omaha after his marriage falls apart, he causes a scene at his best friends wedding and loses his job. He lives in a tiny apartment in New York working as a bartender with an angry cat who he occasionally feeds cap’n crunch. Despite doing his best to avoid his hometown where his ex-wife, ex-best friend and family live, he suddenly has to go back when he finds out his grandfather is dying.

When he arrives home, he discovers that his ex-wife now lives with her new boyfriend in his old house, his mom has undergone a makeover to become a big right-wing radio personality and his ex-best friend is still mad at him. As he navigates each of the relationships he ran away from confronting, he also has to find a way to say goodbye to his grandpa.

Then he meets a young lady named Daisy. Daisy is quirky, mysterious and randomly decides she wants to make Andy whole again. She is determined to help him dress better, recover from his heartbreak and mend his life.

Though the plot is a bit typical – middle aged man is dumped by his wife, leaves his life in ruins and runs away before being forced to come home and confront/fix all his previous problems while he happens to meet a ‘different’ woman (she has tattoos! she dresses creatively!) who makes him see himself in a new way – the book is an enjoyable read. The ending is not extremely predictable and the characters don’t all fall into perfectly happy endings, which was much more satisfying than if they had.

If you liked “This is Where I Leave You” and “The Rosie Project” you will enjoy “We’re All Damaged” as well. A slightly wacky novel about getting back on your feet after life throws you a few curveballs, “We’re All Damaged” is a fun novel filled with humor, drama and devious squirrels.

The Girl of Ink and Stars

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I’m a sucker for a beautiful book.

I was on twitter the other day looking at what other people were reading and someone tweeted about The Girl of Ink & Stars and I admit, I took one look and wanted it. It’s not just the cover, which is lovely, but the inside pages are strewn with star trails. And it actually sounded like a great read.

Isabella is the daughter of a cartographer. He used to explore the world beyond Joya (their island) and make beautiful maps from his adventures. Then an oppressive Governor arrived. The Governor doesn’t let the people go beyond their small sectioned off part of the island, which is rigged with bells to alert his guards of anyone trying to leave. Isabella dreams of seeing beyond their little hometown after years of studying the maps on her walls and growing up with her father’s stories of the world that exists beyond their boundaries.

When Isabella’s friend from school dies in the Governor’s orchard, Isabella gets in a fight her with other schoolmate Lupe, the Governor’s daughter, and blames her. Lupe runs away into the forgotten territories to find out why their friend died. Wracked with guilt and regret, Isabella cuts off all her hair and disguised as a boy, joins in the search party to find her.

As the search continues, Isabella realizes there is much more to be saved than her friend. Their whole island is on the precipice of destruction.

Definitely written for young readers, the characters are simple and the plot is straight forward. Interwoven through Isabella’s trek into the forgotten territories are aspects of the myths she grew up with. The balance between good and evil, the concept of sacrifice for the greater good and ultimately, the end of a myth that began long before she was born.

Though it didn’t engross me the way I wish it could have, it was a fun read that kept me interested to the last page. As an adult reader, my biggest disappointment was that the characters felt flat. The author doesn’t give them enough depth that we really care what happens to them in the end.

Though it’s not a book I would highly recommend to adult readers, for a young reader just discovering fantasy and mythology, it may be a perfect choice.

in a dark, dark wood by Ruth Ware

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I picked up “in a dark, dark wood” by Ruth Ware partially because – let’s be honest here – the cover is really pretty. But also because I felt like a good thriller. With the beginning of that crisp fall chill in the air, I wanted something a little creepy that would keep me turning the pages while curled up under my blanket at night. The inside jacket compared it to “Gone Girl” (which I didn’t love) but also to “The Girl on the Train” (which WAS good!) so I figured I had a 50/50 chance of enjoying it.

Nora is a writer who lives in a small flat by herself where she works, drinks coffee and generally just… exists, and pretty successfully too. One day she checks her email and discovers an invitation to a hen weekend (bachelorette weekend for us Americans) of her best friend from school, Clare, who she hasn’t seen in 10 years. Curiosity gets the better of her and Nora agrees to go as long as her current best friend, Nina, tags along.

Clare was beautiful, popular and cruel in school. She was the queen bee who manipulated and orchestrated to get what she wanted. Nora, who was more awkward and introverted back then, is hoping Clare has changed in their years apart.

The weekend of the hen party arrives and so do the guests – driving up a bumpy dirt road to a creepy glass house in the middle of the woods that has no cell service. Here we already know, someone is going to die! Woot! You know at least one person is going to be murdered in a dark grisly fashion when a book puts all the characters together in the woods with no cell service – it just wouldn’t be right otherwise.

The other attendees at the hen weekend are a small mixed group. Tom, a gay male friend in the theater business. Flo, the very intense, slightly crazy and extremely controlling current best friend of Clare. Another friend who we don’t need to name because she disappears quickly from the plot when she misses her baby too much to stay. And of course Nora, Nina and Clare herself. Overall, a typical gathering of stereotypes thrown together for this one weekend of pre-wedding intrigue and murder.

So the stage is set – the guests have arrived, the creepy house beckons and the woods are waiting. Clare rolls up last to her hen weekend and immediately informs Nora that she’s marrying Nora’s ex-boyfriend (whom Nora is still in love with) and we’re off! Love, betrayal, lies and the slow unfurling of their past.

The guests play games, drink and as they get to know each other, the menacing hints begin. Footsteps in the snow, the main phone line being cut, a door flying open in the wind while they’re all sleeping. Is someone or something in the woods with them? Is someone or something in the house with them?

“in a dark, dark wood” kept me turning the pages even when about two-thirds through, I was pretty sure I knew who killed who and why. I quite enjoyed the book despite it’s slightly predictable cast of characters, setting and plot twists. It’s definitely a fun novel for fans of light thrillers, murder mysteries and anything with a little old school love and betrayal-by-my-former-best-friend in it.

Less irritating than “Gone Girl” but not nearly as good as “Girl on the Train” – “in a dark, dark wood” will keep you happily entranced for an evening or two, but it won’t make you hide behind your couch with an ax when someone rings your doorbell.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

“Perdu reflected that is was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books. They look after people.”

I admit, it sends me into a slightly irrational rage when people say they want good “summer reading” or “beach reading” because the connotations of that are that they only want light, fluffy books that won’t make them use those braincells that they’re about to fry by laying in the sun all day drinking tequila and red bull. Inevitably from June to August when I suggest a wonderfully moving or intense book I recently enjoyed, I am immediately rebuffed with exclamations of “too serious!” “too long!” “that looks heavy…” and other nonsense that makes me just wish summer was over so that ‘summer reading’ would be over too.

That said, “The Little Paris Bookshop” is probably the perfect ‘summer beach read.’ It’s sweet and straight forward, engaging without being difficult – this little adventure follows Monsieur Perdu in his floating bookstore barge on a quest to figure out what happened with the love of his life all those years ago. She disappeared from his life, leaving behind only a letter that he has never been able to make himself open.

Perdu fancies himself a literary apothecary, subscribing books for what ails people – whether its loneliness, fear or self-doubt. He finds the books that will build them up, give them hope, confidence and a lust for life again. He finds the books they need to heal, but cannot find the book that will heal himself.

One day Perdu is forced to open the letter and learns that the ending of their relationship was not what he thought. Full of fresh grief and guilt – he flees by picking up anchor and traveling on his floating bookstore for the south of France.

In his travels Perdu picks up passengers, trades books for food/assistance, makes new friends and finally begins to heal.

An adorable story about a floating bookshop, the power of the written word and how far a little bit of love can spread – “The Little Paris Bookshop” is a delightful gem of a novel from start to finish, whether it’s read on a beach or not.

Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Rachel’s life is a mess. Her ex-husband is now married to the woman he had an affair with, she lost her job, is constantly drunk and is pretending to commute to work in London each morning to hide the shambles of her life from her flatmate. Rachel is struggling with the absence of everything she previously treasured; her house, her husband, her career. One of her only bright moments each day is when she gets a peek at the life of what she believes is a happily married couple through the train window.

Every day her train stops at her old neighborhood and she glimpses a couple, who she names Jess and Jason in her head, as they drink coffee and have breakfast on their deck. She begins to feel like she has a connection to them, making up the background of their life together in her imagination. They seem beautiful, happy and she admires them from afar through her despair and drunken haze.

Then one day Rachel sees something that throws everything she thought she knew about the couple into doubt. As she goes to the police with what she thought she saw, her life becomes irreversibly entangled in theirs. The deeper Rachel goes, the more people whose sordid pasts become unveiled.

“Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins is a page tuner with unreliable narrators, shifting perspectives and awful characters who perpetuate great cruelty as their entwined histories are revealed. Though we can’t help but feel deep pity for Rachel; her lying, meddling and drunken blackouts cause frustration as we try to figure out what really happened.

It becomes obvious we cannot trust any character in this book as secrets are divulged one by one, changing the story as we thought we knew it thus far. As we stumble deeper and deeper into betrayal, lies and possibly murder; we can only wonder, is anyone ever who they seem to be?