Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book Review: The Book of Secrets by Elizabeth Joy Arnold

From the back of the book: 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 ane 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.

It’s different from the stores that sell new books, I think, with their splashes and shouts for attention. Because here when I sit at night in the worn armchair by the fireplace, I can also hear the stories of people who’ve held these books. Some of the first editions must have been read by generations; I imagine women in their petticoats and men in breeches looking for escape from sadness or dreariness. The books have seen plagues and wars--back when wars were still romantic--have been read by candlelight and oil-lamp light; it’s all written there in smudges and stains if you just know how to look." 

And so begins The Book of Secrets. The first page drew me in, and it felt like it wrapped me in a warm blanket and welcomed me home. It's no secret--I love to read. And a book that tells a story while referencing some of the other greatest stories all throughout? Sold.

A few chapters in, Chloe began to dodgedly reference something terrible that happened to their son when he was around two. She didn't quite come out and say it, but she danced around the idea that he had died in a tragic and exceptionally awful way. She began to mention that she never wanted to return to her hometown again. She began to throw down hints that her father-in-law may be involved. But Chloe didn't really give the reader any concrete details--it just hung there in the air, looming, and I got the distinct impression that it would be looming for most of the novel. At that point, I had to shelve the book for a that I'm a mom, I've noticed that there are some storylines that I just can't handle, and books about the death of kids my own childrens' ages are typically one of them. I just wasn't sure that it was a book that I could handle reading, or would even want to read. 

But ultimately, The Book of Secrets is a book for people who love books, and so it kept drawing me back in. I'm glad that it did. It had a little mystery, a little love, a little tragedy, and a lot of  love for some of the greatest books. Reading The Book of Secrets made me remember how *I* felt when reading a lot of the books mentioned, which definitely made me sympathize with and understand Chloe as a narrator more than I might have otherwise. I was pretty certain that I had the big twist figured out early on in the book, and I did....but it didn't matter. I loved reading about Chloe, and even more I loved reading about the books that Chloe read at different points in her life--I now have a list of books that I need to read myself based on Chloe's recommendation!

Overall? I really, really liked this one. Check out the excerpt at Random House's website, and if you like what you read there, definitely move this one to the very top of your "to read" list! 

Disclosure Statement: I received a copy of this book to read and review from Net Galley. I did not receive any other compensation from this post, and I'm sure you all know by now that I couldn't lie about a book even if I wanted to :)

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