Review: Dark Matter

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**5 Goodreads Stars**

I was late to the party with this book, as it was published last year with much acclaim. Given the book’s hype, I had high expectations of Dark Matter. I love sci-fi, but I don’t consider myself an experienced reader of the genre. I’ve read many of the classics, but again, it isn’t the first genre I read after a long day at work.

Dark Matter was a really adventurous read, one that made me connect to the main character, Jason. The book opens with Jason enjoying his life as a physics professor at a lower-tier teaching university and family man as a father to his son, Charlie, and husband to his adoring wife, Daniela. Daniela and Jason have both settled into their family-oriented lives, and in the process have given up many of their professional ambitions. They are a happy family unit, however, and neither Daniela nor Jason could imagine abandoning what they have for their careers.

Many of us have often wondered what life would look like if we had chosen a different path, whether that means pursuing a different profession, rekindling a relationship, or putting more energy towards one’s profession. Dark Matter explores this concept in depth. Are we the same person if we take a different path in life? Is who we are as a person and individual defined by a series of choices we make, or are our personalities and range of choices predetermined at birth?

This is one of those books that could really work well on a screen. It draws upon many familiar sci-fi tropes while still managing to carve out an entirely unique plot and set of characters. Definitely one of my favorite reads of 2017!

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Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

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**4 Goodreads Stars**

“She had what I craved: that all-encompassing self-possession. Even standing in her shadow I’d felt stronger. But not anymore.”

When I really, really love an author, I try to read their entire repertoire of books. I first picked up Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 earlier this summer, and then followed with her new book, The Lying Game, courtesy of Ruth Ware, NetGalley, and the publisher. Her writing is superb, her plot keeps me on the edge of my seat, and her characters are multi-layered and nuanced.

In a Dark, Dark Wood did not disappoint. I was a little worried when I read negative reviews of it, but once again Ware’s writing and characters grabbed me. The main character is Nora, a crime fiction writer who lives alone in London. Her quiet, structured life as a writer and avid runner is upended when she receives an email invitation to attend a childhood friend’s bachelorette party (or “hen” party).

She feels uncomfortable accepting the invitation as she hasn’t spoken to this friend, Clare, for 10 years. She notices that another friend from her youth, Nina, was on the invite, and asks that friend if she plans on attending. The two agree to attend the party together, though they both question Clare’s motivations for inviting them after failing to keep in touch for so long. The invitation notes that the party will be held over the course of a weekend at Clare’s friend’s house in a remote, woodsy location.

When Nora arrives at the house, she immediately feels uneasy. Something is wrong with the setting, and the house amplifies Nora’s discomfort. Ware provides numerous haunting descriptions of the house and its surroundings, making the reader feel like something terrible is going to take place at any moment. Here is a couple of those richly detailed passages:

“Perhaps then it was a house for looking out of, across the forest. But now, in the dark, it felt like the opposite. It felt like a glass display case, full of curiosities to be peered at. Or a cage in a zoo.”

“When I opened my eyes, the light blazing from the house onto the snow hurt my retinas. It was so brash, so wasteful – like a golden lighthouse, beaming its presence into the darkness. Only a lighthouse was to tell ships to keep away. This place was more like a beacon, like a lantern drawing in the moths.”

The odd mix of friends invited to the party also raises a red flag for Nora. Why did Clare summon Nora here after 10 years of not talking? Who are these “friends” of Clare’s who seem so different from one another? Is Clare the person that Nora recalls from her school days?

The book’s crescendo involves a murder, and Nora becomes one of the suspects. To solve the murder and be found innocent, Nora must reconsider her past and every single thing she thought she knew about Clare and Nina.

If you like Ware’s newest book, The Lying Game, you will like In a Dark, Dark Wood. Both books feature smart female leads who must refract events taking place in the present tense through the lens of their youth. Both characters come out stronger and more secure in who they are as individuals as a result of such reflections.

Review: Friend Request

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**4.5 Goodreads Stars**

What if your entire life hinged on an irresponsible decision you made as a teenager? And what if you spent your entire life pushing everyone away in the hope that you can keep one life-changing decision secret, hidden from everyone but a select few who know what happened?

This is essentially the premise of Friend Request. The book follows the life of Louise, who, against her better instincts, desires to be part of the popular clique in high school as a teenager. To be part of this group, she is pressured to try drugs, drink alcohol, and change her looks. Sophie, beautiful and glamorous, is predictably the leader of the clique, and Louise wants nothing more than to be Sophie’s best friend and confidant.

To gain Sophie’s unfettered attention, Louise bullies girls who aren’t in the clique. One fateful night Louise, Sophie, and their male sidekicks, Matt and Sam, take things way too far.

The book picks up nearly 20 years later with Louise living a safe, solid middle- to upper-class life. Louise has divorced from Sam, one of the male clique members. She has cut ties with the clique, and the poor choices she made as a member of it. She has an adorable preschool-age son who she loves and cannot imagine life without. She will do anything to keep her son safe from her past discretions, especially when they begin to rise to the surface.

Louise’s tightly controlled world is upended when she receives a Facebook friend request from one of the girls she and her clique relentlessly teased: the friend who disappeared the night the clique’s prank went awry and was never found or seen again. This missing friend, Maria, knew (or knows?!) everything about Louise’s past sins, and threatens to unravel the quaint but comfortable life Louise enjoys with her 4 year old son.

I loved this book’s heart pounding plot. I also loved that this book raised philosophical questions about the emotional and physical turmoil of youth, both of which can painfully linger long after high school has ended. Can we escape who we were as teenagers, or will that period of life forever define us? Should someone (Louise) suffer eternal guilt for a horrible decision she made as a teenager?

Throughout the book, I kept second guessing the characters surrounding Louise and asking questions about the event that left Maria missing. Is Maria alive? What exactly happened the night of her disappearance?

Thank you to the author, Laura Marshall, NetGalley, and the publisher, Grand Central Publishing, for the advanced reader copy of this fantastic thriller!

Review: The Lying Game

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The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**5 Stars**


…I am thinking about how, however much we struggled to be free, this is how it always ends, the four us, skewered together by the past.


Why didn’t I realize that a lie can outlast any truth, and that in this place people remember?

I was so excited to receive an ARC of The Lying Game after finishing Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 last week. The Woman in Cabin 10 was such a fantastic read that I knew I needed to read Ware’s other two books as soon as possible.

The Lying Game is not the page turning, heart pounding read of The Woman in Cabin 10. Yes, as many reviewers pointed out, this book isn’t The Woman in Cabin 10, but it certainly outshines most of the mysteries I’ve read by a long shot. It’s gorgeously written, and involves a luscious and mysterious setting with a backdrop of a boarding school. While The Woman in Cabin 10 kept me on the edge of my seat, The Lying Game is a long slow burn, one that keeps you guessing with every page. The book is a different kind of thriller, one that spends a much more time sketching out the motivations and backgrounds of its characters. I believe Ware did this to build up the suspense, to make the reader question every word the characters utter. After all, this book is entitled The Lying Game for a reason.

The plot revolves around four women who were close friends at a remote boarding school for girls. The boarding school is regarded as a “last stop” for most of its boarders, as many of them have been booted out of other schools. Isa, the main character, finds her way to it when her father feels incapable of taking care of her due to her mother’s cancer diagnosis and treatment. Fatima, who quickly becomes Isa’s friend, is sent to the school because her parents are spending time abroad in Pakistan as doctors. The other two girls, Kate and Thea, are a year older than Isa and Fatima and are troublemakers. They run into Isa and Fatima while riding a train to the school, and immediately take them under their wings (for better or worse).

Thea and Kate are notoriously known for lying to everyone but each other. Feeling displaced and lonely, Isa and Fatima cling to Thea and Kate, copying their malicious behavior and agreeing to carry out their requests to lie and tease classmates. Soon Thea, Kate, Isa, and Fatima form a clique, one that other girls in the school regard with hatred and envy. On the weekends, the girls escape to Kate’s house known as “The Mill,” which is situated on a beautiful river known by the girls as “The Reach.” They spend countless hours frolicking in The Reach’s warm water, to the point that they begin sneaking out of their boarding school to spend an inordinate amount of time there.

Kate’s father, Ambrose, lives at The Mill, and also teaches at the boarding school. Thea, Isa, and Fatima see Ambrose as a father-figure and friend, a relationship that soon attracts the attention of a number of teachers and students at the boarding school. What is going on between the girls and Ambrose? Why are they spending so much time there?

A catastrophic event takes place at The Mill that results in Thea, Isa, Kate, and Fatima’s expulsion from the school, one that will also have a ripple effect in the girls’ adult lives. The book follows Isa as she attempts to understand what happened at The Mill on that fateful day, to make things right and be able to live her life free from the guilt and anxiety that has plagued her since her teens.

I love Ware’s gift for storytelling and her ability to weave a mystery without relying on cliches. I also loved the side story of Isa trying to grapple with being a new mother, and learning how to walk the fine line between preserving your pre-parenthood identity and autonomy and being a good mother and parent. Here is one of the many gems of quotes about this struggle: “Freya’s cry is like a hook in my flesh, pulling me inexorably across the darkened marsh.”

I can’t wait to read Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, and hope she keeps churning out these fabulous mysteries!

Thank you to the author, Ruth Ware, Gallery/Scout Press, and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy of The Lying Game.

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