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

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?

Clariel (Abhorsen #4) by Garth Nix

Have you ever read Garth Nix? Wait, no. More specifically, have you ever read Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series? If you haven’t, you should go out and get them. Train, plane, kindle, library, stealing/borrowing from your local bookstore (or the more traditional route of buying the book..) however you wish that will get your eager little paws in possession of these stories, it’s imperative you go for it.

The first three, Sabriel, Lireal and Abhorsen are wonderful. They’re all incredibly distinct adventures in this world Nix has created. A world that teeters between the normal world, in a city named Ancelstierre, much like our existence (no magic) and the Old Kingdom (full of magic.)

In the first adventure a young lady named Sabriel is at school in Ancelstierre when her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing. The Abhorsen is the person who protects the world from the malevolent dead. Those spirits that have been enslaved, gone astray or are naturally evil. The Abhorsen uses bells to bind and send the spirits where they’re supposed to go, beyond. So in a search for her missing father, Sabriel dones a set of bells, accompanied by a smart-aleck cat, Mogget, who talks, accidentally wakes up a prince and goes on an adventure to save her father.

In Lireal we meet the Clayr, cousins to the Abhorsens. They see the future and can give a hint to how it all ties together or what needs to be done to avoid disaster. Lireal, never having gained the sight, feels unwanted and out of place in her home with the Clayr and ends up embarking on a journey that will show her who she is and what she is meant to become.

In Abhorsen, Lirael’s adventures are extended as she learns what it will truly take to save the world from an ancient evil.

And then, comes Clariel.

Thus far, all of the Abhorsen stories have more or less ended positively. The characters undergo great losses and suffer quite a bit, but in the end they mostly end up with a brighter tomorrow for the greater good and their own life journeys. Clariel, though, is a bit darker.

Clariel is forced to move away from her beloved forest to live with her family in the city of Belisaere. She hates the masses of people, the high walls, the politics, the society and how her future is being decided for her. The King is disintegrating into his own mind and the Guiltmaster Kilp is taking control to use power for his own evil ends. Her parents are blind to all of it due to their grand new life as part of the Goldsmith’s guild. As a plot to put Clariel on the throne and overthrow the king comes to light, Clariel ends up running for her life. She seeks help from an unreliable source which eats away at the very essence of her being and changes her path to an irrevocably destructive one. Though Clariel’s intentions are good, some mistakes cannot be fixed. Though she survives her adventures, Clariel’s fate is a dark one foretold in the earlier Abhorsen books.

And though we suspect that she is who we think she is, as the ending creeps closer we can only hope it is untrue and that we’re ultimately wrong. We hope that some magical resolution will make Clariel’s story a little brighter, a little less despairing. But in the end, it is all as we feared and nothing more.

Clariel is yet another excellent addition to the Abhorsen series, if a darker, more hopeless version than anything we’ve read by Nix before.

‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ offers delightful dysfunction, adventure

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple is a hilariously quirky rendition of a dysfunctional family in Seattle. Bernadette lives in a crumbling home with her genius husband, Elgin, who works at Microsoft, and her loving daughter, Bee.

Bernadette used to be a revolutionary architect in Los Angeles, but after a disaster with her project, she moves to Seattle to hide and pull herself together. Though she means to restore their decrepit home as a way to get back on her architectural feet, she ends up leaving it to crumble more into ruin instead. And with the aid of some bad luck, wild choices and a crazy mom at school, she too, begins to fall apart.

Bernadette’s downward spiral begins to gather speed when Bee gets perfect grades on her report card and they plan a family trip to Antarctica. Bernadette, experiencing full-blown social anxiety, doesn’t sleep and uses her online personal assistant out of India to book their vacation and make purchases so she doesn’t have to face people out in the world.

As the trip gets closer, Bernadette is unsure how she will face going to Antarctica when she can’t even make a call to the local restaurant to make a dinner reservation for the holiday.

As Bernadette battles her inner demons, she also deals with craziness from others. A mom at her daughter’s school is completely nuts, accusing Bernadette of running over her foot in her car, sneaking onto Bernadette’s property to cut out her blackberry bushes (a first step in a wildly funny confrontation that ends with no injuries but lots of property damage) and generally makes Bernadette’s daily struggles much harder with her trivial issues and overblown complaints.

Bernadette is a great character. She handles just about everything with a sense of humor and flair. Despite all her personal problems, she tries to focus on the most important aspect of her life, her daughter Bee.

Bee is incredible. She is smart, accomplished, loves to help other children at school and is excited to go to boarding school the following year. She cheers on her mother’s odd antics and humorous confrontations with full support and compassion. They’re best friends.

One day, when Bernadette’s father, an FBI agent and a psychiatrist all end up confronting her together in a complicated climax of events, Bernadette goes missing.

Bee, heartbroken but determined, sets off to find her mother, using emails, Post-Its, confidential FBI papers and her own smarts to bring her mother home.

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is a sweet and zany novel about a woman and the confluence of events that lead to her disappearance. Her story is funny, touching and surprising throughout.

As we watch the complicated and absurd plot unfold, we cannot help but be hopeful that Bernadette will find her way back to her family, her love of architecture and, ultimately, herself.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

New Yorker Theo Decker survives a shocking tragedy at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that takes the life of his mother when he is only 13 years old.

At the behest of a dying stranger, Theo picks up “The Goldfinch,” made in 1654 by Carel Fabritius, unintentionally beginning a chain of events that propels him into a hectic and dangerous future unknown to him until much later in life.

After his mother’s death, Theo is taken in by various friends and family. The situations range from abusive, neglectful, indifferent and scattered but loving. No matter where he currently resides, Theo experiences constant anxiety about his painting, his one treasured secret that simultaneously haunts and sustains him after his mother’s death.

Throughout “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, Theo’s world is made up of just a few key people who appear and disappear through happenstance reminiscent of Dickens. Characters feature heavily for a short time, vanish suddenly and then pop up later to upturn his story with fateful occurrences and new revelations.

The cast of characters that surround Theo is small but colorful. It includes an affluent Upper West Side friend’s family; an alcoholic father; a drug-addled, vodka-loving Russian best friend; a frail, red-haired young lady he loves from the moment they meet; an annoying little dog he protects; and a friend, Hobie, who protects him.

His childhood is sporadic and disjointed as he traverses from a loving home in New York to a crazy, drugged-half-unconscious existence in Vegas and then back to New York and eventually Amsterdam.

Theo’s character seems to teeter between an aptitude for beauty, love and accomplishment and his pivotal mistakes. He is able to recognize great art; he loves to help Hobie with the craft of restoring priceless furniture, and he desperately seeks out love from those around him.

But Theo is struggling to survive the only way he knows how, so he makes plenty of bad decisions. Whether they are through fear, anxiety or need, he often does the wrong thing even when he sets out to do the right one.

Theo is no bright, innocent protagonist for a reader to worship. He is a young man shattered forever the day he lost his mother and acquired his secret. When he finally attempts to put himself back together, it turns out to be a long trek full of violence, fear and unpredictability.

He is irrevocably shaped by the events of his past. Paranoid, anxious, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and an addiction to drugs, he is stuck emotionally within his childhood self, yearning for everything and everyone he was attached to as an adolescent, unable to move on.

Tartt paints Theo’s sharp and flawed existence with gorgeous prose and incredibly vivid imagery. Her writing, whether describing a dirty drug dealer’s hovel or the snow glistening on a street lamp, is detailed and evocative. The world she creates sparkles even in its darkest corners.

“The Goldfinch” leaves us wondering if maybe our lives are truly fated – if it could be, as her character says, that our “pattern is preset.”

Maybe even through many mistakes, great feats that are meant to be will happen.

Maybe a great many wrongs can make one glorious, fateful right.