Review: ‘In a Dark, Dark Wood’ by Ruth Ware

Whenever I read books about a group of strangers meeting in an isolated place and being thrust into a horror story, I often can’t help but roll my eyes. If you remember my review of ‘The Rules’ in October, you may recall it kind of left a foul taste in my mouth. It was by no means terrible, but it left me wanting more variety and depth. I wanted an original story with new characters, a sense of chilling atmosphere, and be genuinely scared and care for the characters.

Well…Ruth Ware’s chilling novel ‘In a Dark, Dark Wood’ is that book. Continue reading

Review: ‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon

To celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, I thought I’d review a random romance novel that caught my eye. Looking at the cover, ‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon seems like an average book in the YA romance section. However, knowing what it’s actually about and reading it from cover to cover, I couldn’t stop reading it even on school nights. It has a good personality, engrossing leads, and a touching but cynical atmosphere that’d make ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ blush. It did keep me interested, but maybe I was expecting a little more, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Madeline Whittier is a young teenage girl who has an extremely rare disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), which makes her literally allergic to the outside world (yeah, remember the movie called ‘The Boy in the Plastic Bubble’? That’s this in a YA romance). Besides taking online classes and spending her days in a white house built with an airlock, Madeline is catered by her overprotective mother and a loving nurse. She never changes routine, and always wonders about the world outside.

But one day, a new family moves next door to Madeline, and the oldest boy is a teenager her age named Olly. Unlike her, he embraces the outside and spends his days either doing parkour on the roof or dressing like a Goth off the set of ‘American Horror Story’. As predicted, Madeline falls head over heels for him, and he begins to see the tragedy of her lifelong predicament. However, will Madeline risk her life for a chance of real happiness?

This is a book that cynics like myself may hate because of the choices and life-threatening decisions Madeline makes to see her love interest. On the one hand, you understand how this is the first time she’s probably been in love, but you do have to side with the mother when it’s life-threatening.

However, going into the first two-thirds of the story, this kind of reminded me of the popularly criticized book ‘Into the Wild’, with the main character being cooped up in one place for a long time and making piss-poor decisions of living one day to live life like it was meant to be lived. Sure his decisions are stupid and the risks he takes are beyond insane, but at the same time you have to admire the passion he holds into following his dreams and how naïve but gently determined he is.

Madeline is the same way. She’s a person who’s never been sick like a regular person, never smelled fresh air, and knows not much about the outside world than what she’s seen on a laptop or in books. Even knowing the risks she’ll take to just see Olly across a living room, you have to admire the naïve passion she owns, the intellectual optimism, and the cynical pessimism she has for the future. It is almost like seeing an animal in a cage, but with a human being.

Then we have Olly, who at first is at first nothing but eye candy in the first third of ‘Everything, Everything’, until you start to learn more about him next to Madeline. He may dress like a Goth, but he’s surprisingly intellectual when it comes to mathematics and astronomy. Olly knows the risks of seeing Madeline much like she does, but is also passionate to know the girl more. Much like the book, his personality shines as the story progresses.

In fact, I love how the novel tell you about the character in a simple way to know their struggles and understand what’s going on. For example, there are chapters where Madeline and Olly are sending texts and IMs to each other over the course of several weeks and that’s it. Over their conversations, they hint at what we miss in-between chapters, and give vague enough answers for us to know how protective Madeline’s mother is, and how violent Olly’s father is. It is the right balance of giving details without giving answers.

Aside from the decisions Madeline makes in the first two-thirds, my only main problem is surprisingly the ending. I won’t try to spoil anything here, but the climax of the film feels out-of-synch with the rest of the book. For a majority of the novel, we believe Nicola Yoon is giving us a quirky but dramatic tragedy, but suddenly gives us a sudden twist that was never built on. Granted, the ending chapter is bittersweet yet heart-warming, but I never felt that the ending of ‘Everything, Everything’ lived up to its full potential.

Overall, ‘Everything, Everything’ has all the greater elements that should be in a good YA romance novel. It isn’t great, but it is dramatically entertaining with a sweet couple and an enriching personality. If you enjoy this kind of thing, I highly recommend it for anyone in the spirit of Valentine’s Day!

~*~*~*~*~

Follow me on Facebook @

https://m.facebook.com/readersboulevard

And feel free to click on the post to leave comments! 🙂

Review: ‘Dark Places’ by Gillian Flynn

I was recommended ‘Dark Places’ a few months back regarding a friend of mine, and barely heard of Gillian Flynn outside of the book. Fans of the author called her novels well-written and very addictive for readers interested in drama. Naturally, I was curious, especially when I learned what ‘Dark Places’ was about. After I got myself the time, I decided to see if the hype for it is well-deserved. And honestly? It didn’t disappoint my expectations.

The year is 1985. The location is a farm outside a small town in Kansas. Libby Day is the youngest daughter in the Day family, a family struggling in poverty and keeping their household together. The father is estranged and drunk, the mother works her butt and sanity off to raise the four kids, and the eldest son named Ben is having darker thoughts he tends to speak more about.

Then, tragedy struck on the early morning of January 3rd, 1985, when Libby’s entire family was murdered by Ben. Satanic symbols were drawn over the walls in their blood, Libby barely escaped, and Ben was tried for manslaughter and given a life sentence. Libby was only seven.

Now, with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the murders coming up, Libby is a thirty-something woman struggling on her own since the fame of her survival died down. That is, until she’s met by a man named Lyle Wirth, a member of a group that calls themselves the ‘Kill Club’. They’re people who make their own inquiries in murders whether they’re solves or unsolved, and are led to believe Ben Day never killed his mother and sisters that night.

Understandably, Libby wants nothing to do with the Kill Club, until Lyle says he can help her with her financial issues. It isn’t long though until the reluctant survivor begins to question what did happen that night, and figure out a mystery that’s haunted her since she was seven.

The strangest thing about this novel going in is that I wasn’t thrilled at first. I found adult Libby annoying at first and found the pacing very slow in the beginning chapter. However, it’s the next chapter that really hooked me in, and made me fully realize how gripping and heart-pounding Gillian Flynn’s novels truly are.

Like I said before, I didn’t find Libby interesting at first. But over the chapters, I grew fond of how cynical she can be, and fell in love with how much the murders have scarred her for life, and know the reasons why she wants to both push the truth away and know at the same time.

Speaking of which, there’s the best part of the novel. I forgot to mention that ‘Dark Places’ switches different points-of-view throughout its pages. One chapter it’ll focus on Libby’s perspective in the present as she’s solving the mystery with Lyle, and the next it’ll switch to Patty and Ben Day’s perspective on the day of the murders, showing all the twists and depth of what led to the Day murders. The reason I bring this up is because so many mystery writers, even popular and well-loved ones like Agatha Christie, focus on how events happen more then why they happen. Don’t get me wrong: it’s important to know the events of what led to a murder, but it’s more important to know the motive and emotional stages behind the killer.

Gillian Flynn’s ‘Dark Places’ is what a great mystery should be defined as. Right next to Libby, my mind was racing a mile a minute on who could’ve committed the murders, and it all led to big reveal after big reveal that kept me at the edge of my seats.

So here’s the big question you’re all wondering: is there anything I don’t like about this book? Well…sort of. ‘Dark Places’ is sometimes advertised as a book for young adults, but there are some very disturbing moments in this book that fit more for college kids, or at the very least late high school. There’s unsettling imagery, heavy references to pedophilia, a scene involving a fifteen year-old having sex (to answer your question, it only lasts half a page), and a substantial amount of blood that can make ‘I Hunt Killers’ blush.

What am I getting at anyway? I’ve read stories with even more disturbing imagery than this anyway. As far as a best-selling novel goes, ‘Dark Places’ is such a dark delight. I loved following Libby and Lyle solve the mystery as well as seeing Ben and Patty’s perspectives on the day of the murders. If you have the time, and a lot of patience, unlock yourself a book that will take you to dark places in your memory.

~*~*~*~*~

If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!