* CONTAINS SPOILERS
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (2015)
At a hen’s weekend in the middle of nowhere, Nora is reunited with her best friend from high school, Clare. Nora hasn’t seen Clare in ten years and can’t understand why she was invited to the party. Clare tells Nora she wants to put the past behind them, but Nora is still haunted by what happened. Also, she can’t shake the feeling that something about this party isn’t right.
In A Dark, Dark Wood immediately caught my attention with the puzzling mystery of why was Nora invited to the party and all the possible directions the story could go in.
Although the book showed promised, a few chapters in I could see through the rest of the plot. On top of that, I wasn’t a fan of Nora. If after ten years you can’t get over a boy from high school and it’s the reason why you’ve never had a serious relationship as an adult, I think you are way overdue for therapy.
In A Dark, Dark Wood was given a lot of hype at BEA and was one of the galleys everyone was scrambling to get their hands on. Unfortunately, the marketing plan was better than the story.
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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013)
In nineteenth century Iceland, Agnes has been sentenced to death for the murder of her former master and lover. While she waits for execution, she stays with a farmer and his family much to their indignation. In addition, Agnes has selected a young priest, Tóti, to provide her with spiritual counselling and he struggles to penetrate her mysterious personality. Piece by painful piece, the truth of what really happened to Agnes is revealed, but it may be too late to save her.
What I loved the most about Burial Rites was the depiction of life in rural and coastal Iceland, the beauty and harshness of the land and changing seasons, the day-to-day activities of the men and women, the cramped living spaces where the walls were made of dirt and moss. It really captured my imagination.
Although I enjoyed the story, there was something about Agnes that I disliked. Even though I felt sorry for her rough childhood and her treatment as a prisoner, I found her to be arrogant and a bad decision-maker.
Burial Rites was a well-written book and the history behind the story is fascinating. I understand all of the book’s praise, but my feelings about Agnes dampened my enthusiasm.
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The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (2008)
The Cellist of Sarajevo portrays the siege on the city at the start of the Bosnian war in the early 1990s. The story follows several men who are trying to survive day-to-day, one young woman who is actively fighting in the war and a cellist who for 22 days straight goes out in street and plays Adagio in G Minor in honour of victims of a bombing.
Although it filled me with dread and sorrow, I think Steven Galloway crafted an excellent story about the nightmare of this war and how the struggle of the people became not only about finding the basic necessities of life, but also the mental torture of making morally ambiguous decisions.
The cellist has a very minor and mysterious role in the story. Since he was the true life inspiration behind the story, I think it would have been interesting if more was included about him, but this is a minor grievance.
The Cellist of Sarajevo is an emotionally stirring story about defenseless civilians caught in the crossfire of the siege. Their stories are numbing and reveal how war can damage the psyche, changing the person you are and how you relate to other people. Possibly forever.