What Lies in the Woods

Secrets, secrets are no fun.

Naomi, Olivia, and Cassie were 11 years old when they were brutally attacked in the woods by a well-known and hunted serial killer who was also wanted for the deaths of countless other women.  The woods: once their safe-haven, once their backdrop to live out their fantasy game of spirits, potions, dungeons, and goddesses.  The woods: the place where their lives would change forever.  The woods: the link that would always connect them to each other.  The woods: the keeper of so many secrets and lies.  They have tried to move on, each in their own way.  When the girls, now adults, received phone calls from the authorities that their attacker had died in prison, the news should have brought them a sense of peace and closure.  Instead, it caused them to revisit the past, both physically and figuratively, and caused them to question the stories they had told detectives, lawyers, juries, and themselves. When Olivia contacts Cassie and Naomi and tells them she must come clean about one of their deepest and darkest secrets, the girls can’t help but think their actual reality and perceived reality is about to be turned upside down.  Naomi, especially, questions her memory of events as she was the one who suffered the most physical injuries in the attack.  On her quest to find truth and a release from the burden of living with the knowledge that her testimony put a man in prison for the rest of his life, Naomi starts to uncover more parts to the story that cause her to question her memory, her family, and her friends.  The more she more she finds out, the more she questions; and the more she questions, the more she wraps herself in a dangerous web of lies.

Trigger warnings: Language, death, suicide, murder, mythological stories involving potions/spells/sacrifices, sexual content

Why I read it: Book of the month pick

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

The Last Green Valley

Fleeing one dictatorial, evil regime to live under another dictatorial, evil regime.  Trying to decide whether life is worse as an ethnic German under Adolf Hitler or a native Russian under Josef Stalin, a family will go to desperate lengths to stay together and survive some of the darkest years of world history.

The Martel family, with German ancestry but Russian ties, knew that their lives in Ukraine were doomed as Stalin’s forces moved in to occupy the area.  They had a choice to make; they could stay and continue farming under the control of Stalin who was famous for spying on, starving, and murdering his own people, or they could flee and claim their German lineage to live under Hitler who, up until the summer of 1944 seemed to be unstoppable in his military victories and territorial takeovers.  With heavy and reluctant hearts, they packed up everything they owned and joined a wagon train of Ukranian refugees to attempt survival under the watchful eyes of the German SS rather than the equally evil Soviet regime.  Their journey to German territory was nothing short of unbelievable, horrifying and, yet, truly inspiring.  Just when you think they can’t endure another atrocity on their quest for freedom, another unthinkable thing happens to them, and they must somehow muster up enough strength to overcome the newest obstacle.  They know they are better together, but staying together might get them all killed.

Why I read it:  Recommendation in a Facebook book group

Trigger warnings: language, rape, violence, young death

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

The Island

Tom, his wife Heather, and his two kids Olivia and Owen are on vacation in Australia where Tom, a respected orthopedic surgeon, is expected to give a speech at a doctor’s convention.  Olivia and Owen are still mourning the unexpected and tragic death of their mother as they adjust to Heather, their new stepmom.  On an afternoon drive, the makeshift family stops at a roadside stand where they inquire about places to see Australian wildlife.  The two men who greet them also encourage them to visit their family’s island which is not only off the beaten path, but it is very much off the grid.  On the ferry ride over, Heather quickly discovers that her cell phone doesn’t work and, although they are only a mile from the mainland, they might as well be on a totally different planet as the island is completely isolated from civilization.  During their one hour “self-guided tour” on the island before they are expected back on the ferry, a tragic accident causes them to panic.  A series of very unfortunate events leads to the realization that they are not as alone on the island as they originally thought.  The inhabitants of the island operate under their own jurisdiction, and they have no intention of letting their guests leave alive.  An intense game of cat and mouse follows where the roles of hunter and hunted change with every turn of the page.  They must learn to listen to each other, listen to the land, and listen to their own instincts if they are to have any chance of survival.  However, just when you think you fully know a character in this book, well, think again.

Trigger warnings: Murder, unexpected death, violence, language

Why I read it: Recommendation from a friend

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle

In the height of WWII in Britain, everyone was expected to do their part to support the Nazi defeat in Europe.  The war fundamentally and permanently changed England’s social hierarchy.  Germany’s Blitz on Europe didn’t distinguish between upper and lower class citizens as all people regardless of status had to share bomb shelters, and people were left figuring out their new roles in the reorganized ladder of society.

When Cressida Westcott’s upscale apartment and fashion design office were destroyed by a Nazi air raid in downtown London, she is forced to find a temporary residence in the countryside at her family’s manor.  As the black sheep of the family who refused to conform to her family’s traditional expectations, Cressida knew she was less than welcome to stay at the manor while her brother was alive; however, his recent death means that the manor is now under the management of Hugh, her nephew who splits his time between his landlord duties in the country and a political career in London.  Violet, her niece who is fully invested in the old way of life that honors English nobility and prides itself on royal bloodlines and strategic marriages, is more than happy to have her chic aunt stay with them.  During her stay, Violet introduces Cressida to Grace, a simple girl who is the vicar’s daughter and is engaged to a clergyman ten years her senior, and the rest of the local sewing circle which is made of a group of women who find comfort and camaraderie during their weekly meetings where they do their patriotic duty by sewing and repurposing old clothes to accommodate the fabric and clothes rations imposed during the war.  Grace’s impending nuptials prompt her to search for and find her deceased mother’s wedding dress which, to her disappointment, was disintegrating due to years of moths feasting on it in the attic.  As they, along with the rest of the sewing circle members, commit to working on the wedding dress to prepare for the big day, Cressida, Violet, and Grace, respectively, embark on a personal journey toward self-discovery as they each navigate their way through this unprecedented time in history.  Through their unique and individual experiences, they each realize that the only things of which they can be certain are life’s uncertainties.

Why I read it: My Book of the Month pick

Trigger warnings: N/A

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

We are the light

Need some light?  Be the light!  And, never deny the presence of your guardian angel.

Lucas Goodgame is a high school counselor who survived an unthinkable tragedy that rocked the small town of Majestic.  A disturbed teenager, someone who Lucas had counseled at school, opened fire in a crowded movie theater assassinating movie theater patrons in an “every other” pattern as they sat in their seats.  Months after the unthinkable tragedy that took the life of his beloved wife, Lucas notices a camping tent go up in his backyard that is inhabited by none other than Eli, the younger brother of the killer (I know, it’s a weird premise…but oh so good!  Bear with me).  As they begin to rely on each other to mentally heal from intense trauma, both Lucas and Eli come up with the idea to bring together not only the survivors of the Majestic Massacre but the entire town through a collaborative project in a showing of strength and solidarity.  As they unite in their grief, they also unite in their commitment to move on and reclaim their friends, their city, and their emotional stability.  It is only when Lucas grasps the idea of his future beyond the haze of trauma that he realizes his grasp of the past is just as muddled, confused, and uncertain.

Trigger warnings: Violence, suicide, details involving a massacre, mild language, mild sexual content

Why I read it: It was my Book of the Month pick

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

All I ask

It’s all about the timing.

Tegan was the most well-known girl in her small-town high school.  She was beautiful, popular, and…frankly…quite mean.  True to the stereotype, she was dating the star of the high school team and, together with her trio of mean girls, they ran the school.  As luck would have it, she was assigned to be a math tutor for one of the “nerdy kids,” Derek.  Their first sessions were less than pleasant as they had very little in common, and Tegan was not ready to confront his brutal honesty when he called her out for being incredibly rude.  However, over the course of their years in high school, they became the best of friends.  It seemed obvious to everyone else that their friendship was turning in to something more, but, the timing; they could just never get it right.  They graduated and attended separate colleges while staying committed to their close friendship. Derek had a string of girlfriends, and Tegan was stuck in a dead-end relationship with her high school “sweetheart.”  Tegan was planning to break up with her long-time boyfriend when she discovered she was pregnant.  After Tegan announced her pregnancy to him, Derek realized that their relationship would never be more than a close friendship.  Their paths took different directions, and they grew apart.  He married another girl, they had a baby, and Derek and Tegan’s friendship ultimately dissolved after one devastating phone call.

Fast forward thirteen years, and Tegan and Derek’s fated paths crossed again.  After a horrific tragedy, Derek found himself back in his hometown and forced to confront Tegan who was still deeply hurt by the way their friendship ended.  There were so many obstacles they must overcome to repair their friendship, and even more drama awaited them when their two teenagers became enemies at school.  On their quest to revive their practically deceased friendship, they realized they both want more from their relationship than just a good friend.  It’s a race against their horrible timing to see if they can finally be who everyone thought they should be so many years ago.

  • Why I read it: Sent to me by a member of one of my book clubs on Facebook
  • Trigger warnings: Language, sexual content

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

Winter Garden

Well, she does it again.

Meredith is struggling.  Her oldest child is on her way to becoming a doctor, and her youngest child is beginning her freshman year of college.  This should be one of the easiest and happiest times of her life; yet, she is having a hard time adjusting to her role as an empty nester.  Her marriage, while strong in its longevity, is in a free-fall as it struggles to survive the inevitable changes experienced when the baby of the family leaves home.  She works overtime at her family’s orchard that was started by her father upon his return from serving in World War II.

Nina is struggling.  She works crazy hours in third world countries as a contracted photographer always looking for the perfect shot that accurately conveys the suffering unknown to many in America.  She is in a relationship, but it’s hardly stable as she finds it hard to commit to the idea of a seemingly boring domestic future that her sister, Meredith, has whole heartedly embraced.

Even though Meredith and Nina are sisters, the similarities between the two are few and far between.  It is hard to find any common ground except for the love and devotion they both feel for their father.  The girls’ childhood has been stained by the harsh words and actions of their mother, a Russian immigrant named Anya whose affection they have been deprived as she keeps them at a safe emotional distance and destroys their perception of love and acceptance through her emotional outbursts and confusing reactions.

To make things worse, their beloved father is terminally ill.  His dying wish is for his daughters to not only reconcile with each other, but also with their mother who seems to be stumbling mentally between reality and fantasy.  Their father insists the only way for all 3 girls to understand each other is for their mother to continue telling them an old Russian fairy tale that she recited to the girls as children complete with dragons, black knights, and other mythical creatures and structures.  Attempting to honor his wishes, Anya agrees to finally tell the conclusion of the Russian fairy tale, except, the girls are beginning to wonder if this story is more fact than fiction.  As Anya tells of unthinkable atrocities, the sisters are brought together to find out the truth about themselves, their father, and their mother whom they discover has secrets as deep as an ocean and as dark as a Russian winter.

  • Why I read this book: Recommendation in a Facebook group
  • Trigger Warnings: violence, tragedy, mild sexual conduct

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

These is my words: The diary of Sarah Agnes Prine 1881-1901

This is an amazing “based on true events” narrative that had me thinking of my childhood playing “Oregon Trail” and/or reading “The Little House on the Prairie.”  If you’re like me and adored the “Dear America” series, this book is for you.  However, before gifting it to a young girl without reading first, please be advised that it includes some events that, while unfortunately realistic and appropriate to the book’s time period, might be confusing/upsetting to a young reader (or older reader, for that matter).

Sarah Prine, the narrator, embodies everything that it took to survive a harsh journey across America’s frontier in hopes of settling in a forever home in the vastly unclaimed western land.  She quickly discovers that her family’s journey is going to be very, very hard.  Even though the land is unclaimed and not recognized by the American government, it is largely inhabited by Native Americans who present a constant threat to all of the characters throughout the book.  Sarah tells her harrowing story of traveling, settling, falling in love, falling out of love, gains, losses, and the importance of keeping a fighter’s spirit through life’s best (and worst) of times during this unique point in America’s history.

  • Trigger warnings- violence, unexpected death, alluding to rape
  • Why I read it- recommendation from a friend

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)