In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In a Dark, Dark Wood is a large house with glass walls, host to a “hen party” weekend that ends with Leonora Shaw in a hospital room. Narrated from her hospital room, Nora tries to piece together her memories and heal from the injuries of the last violent night in the isolated cabin. Nora hadn’t spoken to her former best friend Clare in ten years, since she had escaped her college town and the boy with whom she shared a dreadful secret. Not realizing it was this man, James, to whom Clare was engaged, Nora decided to attend the party weekend with her friend Nina as backup in case things became awkward around people she didn’t know for a whole weekend. However, Clare’s slightly unbalanced maid of honor, Flo, is obsessed with the bride and a favor done for her a long time ago. Flo is determined that this be a perfect, fun weekend for Clare, at any cost.

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Similar Book Recommendations:

River Road and The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman are both stories of unsolved murders and pasts involving tragedies that the main character is compelled into.

The Lake House by Kate Morton is also a novel about a mystery that the narrator is seeking to solve, a cold case about a boy who disappeared from a wealthy home decades ago, and also her own personal past filled with regrets, from which she is trying to run.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon is slightly more fantasy, or at least entwined with more dark magic than In a Dark, Dark Wood, but still has the same frightening elements of a two young girls trapped in an isolated farm in the woods. They are trying to uncover why their mother suddenly disappeared, at the prompting of a woman with a rifle, who believes their mother was involved in the disappearance of her husband.

Looking for Alaska by John Green is also about the before and after of friendships that sometimes end in tragedy, told by a college boy who meets a girl unlike any other, and involves him in all sorts of trouble.

The book also recommends or mentions the following books: Slaughterhouse Five, poems by Wilfred Owens, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.

A Themed Recipe:

White chocolate was chosen because of all of the snow surrounding the glass house, and because Clare’s hair was white, and this story is as much about her as it is about Leonora.

Raspberry jam was also something Leonora liked to put on her toast in the morning with her cup of coffee while in bed, writing. She requested it at the cabin, but Flo hadn’t thought to grab any food (or coffee) staples that the guests other than Clare might enjoy.

White Chocolate Raspberry Jam Cupcakes with Raspberry Jam Frosting

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1 cup (2 sticks) butter softened

8 oz white chocolate chips

1/4 cup butter

3 cups self-rising flour

2 cup sugar

1 cup milk

3 egg whites

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

½ tsp raspberry jam per cupcake

8 oz raspberry jam

4 cups powdered sugar

1 tbsp milk

 

Preheat oven to 350° F. In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt together the white chocolate and ¼ cup of butter for 30 secs, then stir. Microwave another 30 secs, and stir. If both are completely melted together, then set aside. If not, add another 10 secs, at a time, stirring after each. Mine took a total of 50 seconds, but times may vary according to different microwaves. It’s always better to work in smaller time increments than to risk the chocolate seizing up and having to start over.

In a medium bowl, use a wire whisk to combine the self-rising flour, sugar, milk, and eggs. Then gently fold in the white chocolate/butter mixture with a rubber spatula. Fill a muffin tin with paper liners, and fill those with batter ⅔ full. If you wish to put raspberry jam in the middle of the cupcakes, then only put in about 2 tsp of batter, then a half tsp of jam, then another tsp of batter, but still making sure that the cupcake liners are not filled more than ⅔ full. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until batter comes out clean from an inserted toothpick. Crumbs are fine, but raw batter means they need to bake longer.

For the frosting, whip the softened one cup of butter in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for about a minute or two, until it is light and fluffy. Then add the 8 oz of raspberry jam (you don’t have to use seedless, but it will be difficult to use a small tip to pipe if you don’t. Alternatively, you can use a bigger tip if there are seeds). Bring the mixer speed to low and add one cup at a time of the powdered sugar, waiting until one is fully incorporated before adding the next. After adding the second cup of powdered sugar, add the tbsp of milk.

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Discussion Questions:

  1. Why would Nora prefer a life of solitude, of control, with a constant routine, and no pet or boyfriend to keep her company?
  2. Nora admitted that Clare knew her very well and saw right “through the thin adult veneer to the scrawny, frightened child beneath.” Why did Nora still feel like a small frightened child, even though she had such an independent life, which should have inspired her with confidence and pride?
  3. What are you first impressions of Flo, and what do you think drove her to behave the way she did, towards Clare, and all the others?
  4. When she was a child, Nora said there were “plenty of days I came home crying because of something Clare had said, or something Clare had done. But she was funny, and generous, and her friendship was a lifeline I couldn’t do without, and somehow I always ended up forgiving her.” Why did Nora always forgive her, if Clare did such horrible things, and why did she feel that she couldn’t live without Clare’s friendship?
  5. Why would Flo have a quiz about who knew the most facts about James, especially if she knew a little of Nora’s history with him? Was her purpose that Clare have an entertaining time at all costs, or was it possible that the game wasn’t even her idea?
  6. Why would it take two hours for any couple to pick a coffee maker for their wedding? Was it possible the argument was about more than that? And what do you think of their solution, what is your preferred method of making coffee, if you make it yourself? And is it better to grind the beans yourself, or just have a pod machine?
  7. Surely Clare knew her friends that were being invited to the hen party, especially Nora, and she would have known that Nora preferred coffee just as much as James did (and Nina too). So why only have tea available? Does this say something about Clare’s character?
  8. Clare had been the one who outed Nina, and Nora compared her to “a child who sees a teeming anthill and simply can’t not poke it.” Is this an accurate description of her, or was there possibly more malicious intent, or is she just an impulsive person who doesn’t consider others feelings as anything more than her entertainment?
  9. Nora was uncomfortable discussing how she had met and known James with Tom, even though Tom considered it casual conversation. Why is it that “you don’t bring it up much as an adult: how you got your heart broken for the first time,” but at a hen party or certain other social situations, it’s completely normal to either bring up or be asked about that very thing?
  10. How is it possible that the James who Nora knew, who “shout[ed] Wilfred Owen poems to the night sky” atop the school war memorial or “wrote Pink floyd lyrics on the head teacher’s car in lipstick” could change so drastically into someone whom he had once despised? Was it all owing to Clare, or had Nora changed him as well? What other circumstances lead to us becoming such completely other people as adults than who were idealized or desired to become at 16?
  11. In a moment of despair, Nora admitted that “The James Cooper I thought I knew never existed. He was a figment of my imagination. A false memory, implanted by my own hopes.” Was she right? What were Nora’s hopes about James, and which were correct? Is this a pivotal revelation for anyone who needs to get over an ex, or just in certain circumstances? If so, which ones?
  12. Clare compares James to Angel in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, who “confesses to adultery, but then can’t bear it when Tess says she had Alex’s [another man’s] baby.” James had called him a hypocrite. Was James like this character in any ways or Nora, or was it only Clare who was hypocritical in your opinion?
  13. According to Nora’s working out of the motive and final events, the séance wasn’t specifically necessary or an obvious part of the plan. So was it the collective unconscious of the group spelling out “murderer,” or was it a specific person-if so, who?
  14. Did Nora delete Matt Ridout’s email and invitation for coffee, or did she click reply? Why? What would you have done and why?
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