Wednesday, December 9, 2015

"In a Dark Dark Wood": A Bachelorette Party Gone Awry

Looking for a gift for someone who loved the book 'Girl on the Train' by Paula Hawkins?  Ruth Ware's debut novel 'In a Dark Dark Wood' might be the best gift ever for someone who loves a fluffy thriller in the same vain as 'Gone Girl' and 'Girl on the Train.'

Ware's hen party (the UK name for bacholerette party) gone awry tale garnered rave reviews and even won a spot as Amazon's top book pick for August 2015.  It was a bestseller and received lots of book buzz as a summer 2015 best books pick.

The story centers around Nora (formerly known as Lee by her school friends) who reluctantly decides to attend a hen party for her ex- best friend Clare who she has neither seen or heard from in over a decade.  Because Nora's friend Nina also decides to go, Nora makes the creepy trek to the isolated glass house in the English countryside for a weekend of unknowns.  Why would Clare contact her out of the blue even though she didn't even receive a wedding invitation? Who else would be there? What exactly were they going to do for the entire weekend.

Nora likes her privacy choosing a life of writing and running and living in a tiny apartment alone in London.  She is unprepared for the catty behavior of the women and man invited to the hen and even less prepared to find out that Clare is marrying the love of Nora's life who she never really got over.

Told in alternating past and present chapters and narrated by Nora, this book is very quick, but it's also very odd.  Do grown women really behave like middle schoolers when thrown together in a big glass house? Ouija boards? Truth or Dare? Playing with guns? Scathing and bitchy comments towards each other? Maybe some people actually act like this and talk like this, but I am glad that I am not stuck in a big old glass house in the middle of a creepy forest with them for an entire weekend.

I guess there was some suspense and the mood was ultra dramatic as well with the house almost taking on a personality of it's own. The dark dark woods also add to the scare factor symbolizing both freedom for Nora when she goes for her runs to clear her mind and also the suffocating fears of the unanswered questions.

People seem to really like this book, so maybe it's just me.  I don't get the whole "psychotic women who have troubled pasts and harbor ill feelings that turn them into mental nightmares who are okay with gruesome killing" thing.  I also have an issue with reading books that don't have even one likable character.  It's hard to care if someone is fighting for their life or sanity when you don't care if they live or die.  And that's exactly how I felt during this book.

Maybe for some people the revelations throughout the hen weekend and while Nora is in the hospital are shocking and thrilling, but for me, I felt the plot was weak and predictable.  Suspenseful? I'm not sure if that word works for this book.  It was more just a sad and twisted tale of women who have never grown up and resolved their issues from the past.  Stories like this always contain one super psycho mega bitch and this book does not disappoint in that regard.

Thrillers are never my go to genre of choice, but I am always hopeful that one will live up to the hype  and rave reviews of devoted fans.

This one just didn't do it for me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"Esperanza Rising:" Hope in Dire Situations

My almost 11 year old daughter, Raina, devours books.

Every night, my husband and I have to get a little bit mean about her turning her light out to go to bed.  Many times she doesn't even hear our requests because she is engrossed in her books.  She usually replies with, "I just want to finish this chapter." And then when she gets to the end of that one, she just wants to finish the next chapter. Some nights she turns out her light and once we close our door, she turns it right back on so she can read some more.

We get angry, but we also totally understand because that's the way we are when it comes to books.

When Raina tells me a book is good and that I have to read it, I listen because she knows books.  She read Pam Munoz Ryan's "Esperanza Rising" at the beginning of the school year and after she finished it she said, "I really think you would love this one, Mommy.  It's really inspiring and beautiful."

I finally put it on the top of my "To Be Read" stack of books and tore through it in a day.  Raina was right; "Esperanza Rising" is a beautiful and inspiring book.

Written 15 years ago, "Esperanza Rising" won numerous accolades and awards after its publication including the Pura Belpre Award and Publisher's Weekly Best Book of the Year.  It tells the story of Esperanza, a wealthy 12 year old girl who lives with her beautiful mother and kind father in Aguascalientes, Mexico during the 1930s.  They are landowners with numerous servants and ranch hands at their service.  Esperanza's perfect world of dolls, roses and parties disappears when her father vanishes and is found murdered.  After Esperanza's evil uncles try to claim all that was her father's (even her mother), they escape with a few of their servants and immigrate to a farm in California where they are hopeful that life will be better.

But the harsh realities of life for Mexican immigrants greets them.  They share a small shack with their former servants, they are pushed to work all day long for meager wages, and they are stricken with illness and more hardships than they ever imagined.  From dust storms to union strikes, Esperanza grows up quickly in her new reality and needs to learn how to not only survive but how to provide for her ailing mother and save for her grandmother to be able to leave Mexico and join them.

Written in lush details that pay homage to the land and it's abundance and fury, "Esperanza Rising" was both educational and magical.  I never doubted Esperanza's strength and fortitude in the face of struggle.  She learned and adapted quickly.  It isn't just Esperanza's story that was engrossing.  The supporting characters are equally believable and strong.  Miguel's undying hope for a new beginning even against all odds, and angry Marta who fights for what is right even to her own detriment show the struggles that immigrants faced during the Great Depression and the racism that faced them then. Sadly, many of the same obstacles remain today.

I loved this book, and I know that many other children and adults will love it as well.  Although it was written for a young audience, adults (like me) can truly appreciate the symbolism, the artistry and the story of hope.

While I was reading "Esperanza Rising" Raina asked me a few times what I thought.  I told her, "It's beautiful and inspiring just like you said it would be."