Saturday, July 6, 2013

Book Review: The Book of Secrets

The Book of SecretsAuthor: Elizabeth Joy Arnold
Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Publisher: Bantam Books

National bestselling author Elizabeth Joy Arnold brings us a compelling new novel full of suspense, wonder, and surprise, a combination of Diane Setterfield, Eleanor Brown and Gillian Flynn. At once a captivating mystery, a love letter to classic literature, and a sharp-eyed examination of marriage, "The Book of Secrets "is a gripping novel of family, friendship, and the undeniable pull of the past.

After more than twenty years of marriage, Chloe Sinclair comes home one night to find that her husband, Nate, is gone. All he has left behind is a cryptic note explaining that he's returned to their childhood town, a place Chloe never wants to see again.

While trying to reach Nate, Chloe stumbles upon a notebook tucked inside his antique copy of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Written in code, the pages contain long-buried secrets from their past, and clues to why he went home after all these years. As Chloe struggles to decipher the notebook's hidden messages, she revisits the seminal moments of their youth: the day she met the enigmatic Sinclair children and the increasingly dangerous games they played to escape their troubled childhoods; the first time Nate kissed her, camped out on the beach like Robinson Crusoe; and the elaborate plan she and Nate devised, inspired by "Romeo and Juliet, " to break away from his oppressive father. As the reason for Nate's absence comes to light, the truth will forever shatter everything Chloe knows--about her husband, his family, and herself.

Sitting in our bookstore at night, I can hear the stories. Or not hear them so much as feel them: the neat, round softness of Austen with its improbable, inevitable love affairs; the sprawl of Dickens with its meandering threads tying into coincidental knots. All the books have colors and shapes not just from the stories written but from the stories of the authors who’ve done the writing; from Steinbeck’s realism to Murakami’s cubism, a regular art museum of voices.

So. Once upon a time there was a girl named Chloe who lived virtually alone, in a cottage by the woods.

We think we know our friends, our lovers, but really all we know is pieces of them. Fragments we learn by watching, sharing time and place, listening to their stories; over the years there are more and more of these fragments and we can draw lines between them, fill them with what we imagine is true. But of course we only know what they show us; lines we think jig here may actually curl somewhere else altogether. The lines we draw aren’t always real, and often have more to with our own selves.

I ran my fingers over the text then held the book up to my face, closed my eyes and inhaled the sweet-sour scent of old paper and binding glue. Did everyone who loved books do this when they encountered a new one? I loved the physicality of books just as much as the stories inside, the feel of pages between my fingers, the intricacies of classic fonts winding along the neatly lined rows of words.

To open the page of this book is to not be able to put it down. Seriously. Elizabeth Arnold, whose books I had never read before, takes readers on a trip through a world filled with books, allusions to stories we all know and love, and characters who are just as obsessed with these books as we are. Chloe Sinclair, our leading lady and the one who takes us on an adventure, has just found out that her husband, Nate, has taken off without even an explanation as to why or when he will return. So confused and frazzled by it all, she takes a trip down to their corner bookstore where she finds what looks to be journal entries written in code that are folded up in Nate’s copy of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Chloe, who is obsessed with books and everything about them, is about to take a little adventure and learn quite a few secrets about her and her husband’s childhood, much like the secrets in the books she holds so dear.

To put this book down would have killed me, so I just read it all the way through. Chloe was the perfect character to lead me through this book because she had a subtle way of giving away just enough of a secret to keep me hanging on, and she left enough of a cliff hanger to make me feel like I had to keep going. Chloe and Nate’s relationship seemed odd to me at first, but that is why this book is so great. The deeper I got into the story the more I understood Nate’s life and background. It was all very chilling and mysterious. Not to mention, as I stated before, that there are several allusions and references to many well-known pieces of literature woven in throughout the tale.

There are parts of this book that are eerie and shocking. Learning about Nate’s childhood and the things that he and his sisters, Grace and Cecilia, endured was not the easiest thing to read for me, but I am a complete baby when it comes to the horrifying stuff. There are clues that lead you right up to the raw facts about things that have occurred throughout their lives, and it was all worth the wait!

***A copy of this book was generously provided to me by the publishers at Bantam books in exchange for my honest review***

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