This Might Hurt

         

          While her sister Nat is successfully climbing the corporate ladder in Boston, Kit has embraced life on a remote Maine island where she enjoys the structure imposed by the leaders of Wisewood. For most, Wisewood is a temporary respite from the world—a place for self-improvement and a total immersion into life totally off the grid as they work at maximizing themselves. One of the requirements for anyone staying  there is having no contact with friends and family for the length of their stay and not using their computers and cell phones. Not that they easily could. As Nat quickly discovers, cell service on the island is practically non-existent.

           None of this daunts Kit who is fully committed to Wisewood. Still reeling from the death of her mother, she’s excited when she is asked to join the staff even though it means undergoing a ritualistic—and painful—hazing. And she’s less than happy when Nat shows up to check on her.

           For her part, Natalie senses the hostility of the staff from the beginning when she shows up to take the boat to the island. It only gets worse when she arrives. The rooms have no curtains and she constantly feels as though she’s being watched, her cell phone disappears, and she sees her sister seemingly controlled by Wisewood’s leader, a woman known as the Teacher.

          In her first novel, the USA Today bestseller Darling Rose Gold author Stephanie Wrobel explored the relationship between a mother and the daughter that she had systematically made ill for the attention and praise it got her.

          “For this book I wanted to take a deeper look at cults and what makes them so appealing,” says Wrobel about her second novel, the aptly named This Might Hurt. “If you dive deep enough, you find the shades, it’s not all black and white. I think the major commonality when it comes to cults is that people are searching.”

          Told from three different points of view—Kit, Nat, and an unidentified woman who was psychologically and physically abused by a demanding sadistic father—Wrobel, who is from Chicago but is now living in England, shows us how each character developed and what led them to the island. And, what, ultimately happens to all three when the time comes to make choices.

Where They Wait: A Scott Carson Supernatural Thriller

          What could be easier than for an out-of-work journalist than an offer of a high paying gig writing a puff piece for an old friend? Well, if you’re the main character in a Scott Carson novel then take it from someone like me who has read every book Michael Koryta has written including those under the Carson pseudonym, things will get much worse before—and if—they get better.

          In time for a stupendously creepy Halloween scare we meet Nick Bishop in Where They Wait (Atria/Bestler, $27) as he arrives in Maine. His assignment is to write about Bryce Lermond for the Hammel College alumni magazine. $5000 is a whole lot of money for a profile of a successful college alum but Bishop, who has reported from Afghanistan, almost turns the job down. He’s proud of his reporter credentials and this job is beneath him. Unfortunately, he’s also broke and besides, a paid trip to Maine gives him a chance to see his mother, a once noted scientist, who now suffers from dementia.

          Oh, if only it were that easy. First entering Lermond’s headquarters, Bishop notes there’s something off kilter about the whole set-up. But he agrees to try Clarity, the app Lermond’s developed that promises to soothe and relax. And indeed, when Bishop first listens to the hauntingly beautiful song, he does fall into a sound sleep. But it’s a rest followed by horrific and seemingly real nightmares. Lermond’s top assistant—and Bishop’s childhood friend—warns him not to listen to Clarity but the melody and the voice of the woman singing is addictive. No, make that irresistible despite she committed suicide and yet shows up frequently and all too real in Bishop’s Clarity-induced dreams.

          Koryta, who grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, says that he was struck during the pandemic lockdown at how many relaxation apps were coming to market.

          “I thought this is good but then wondered what if it isn’t good for you,” says Koryta in a call from his home in Maine. “And writing the book during the backdrop of the constant question of how communication is being used to either save democracy or destroy it as well as the power and responsibility of communication soaked into my work. The power of song is really striking to me. Song has a staying power that most things do not, we remember songs and what they say.”

          As the song and the nightmares begin to overtake him, Bishop tries to delete Clarity but it reappears. He also begins to discover secrets about how his mother, who now only seems able to talk in riddles, worked at rewiring his memories. What he remembers about his past never happened.

          “You can peel a lot of things away from a person but as long as they have their own sense of the truth, they’re going to find their way but if you tell them what they know is a lie it changes all that,” says Koryta. “That’s part of the emotional experience I want to impart.”

          Typically, any of Koryta’s books can be read at distinct levels. If you want a great read that moves fast, he delivers. But you can go down to deeper levels, such as his intense research into memory when writing Where They Wait and into how the actions of the characters’ ancestors impact the choices they make now.

          Koryta says the fun part of writing is in the journey of discovering how it will end.

           “When I’m start a book, I don’t know where it’s going,” he says. “You have to personally embrace the unease. I can scare myself when writing and I perversely enjoy that.”

The Other Mrs.

         After staying up late reading The Other Mrs. by Chicago author Mary Kubica, I have a word of advice for women out there. If you’re husband’s sister commits suicide and her home on a remote island off the coast of Maine is yours if you agree to live there and take care of her defiant teen-aged daughter, just say no.

An isolated island, a frayed marriage and a spooky house where the last owner died in the attic--so what could possible go wrong? Everything in this new suspense-thriller from Mary Kubica.

         But unfortunately, Sadie, a Chicago physician didn’t do that. Instead, after a brief lapse in consciousness where she walked out of an operating room and was later found on the edge of a roof, she and her husband Will—a charming and handsome man with an eye for ladies—take the offer. Sadie was about to lose her job and her license and besides, she’s just found out that Will was having an affair. So the couple pack up their children and move into Alice’s home. It’s the kind of place where doors squeak at night, the wind howls outside and the frayed rope Alice used to hang herself still swings from the rafter in the attic. Then, things take even more sinister of a turn when Morgan, a nearby neighbor is found murdered in her home.

         Obviously, the move was a bad choice and to make it worse, Sadie, working as a doctor in a clinic, still finds herself losing track of time and what she is doing. Add to that, she also worries about Will, a stay-at-home dad for their two sons, and his friendships with pretty mothers whose children play with theirs. If he cheated once, will he do so again, she wonders. Even worse, though Sadie never met Morgan, an elderly couple claim they saw her tear out a chunk of her hair during a fight in the days before her murder.

         This is Kubica’s sixth novel and her last five have made the New York Times and USA Today best seller list.

         “I love to work under the surface with people—there really is so much we don’t know about people,” says Kubica, a former high school history teacher who starts with a premise for her plots and then let’s her writing—and her characters—take her along for a ride so to speak. “My characters really drive what I write. I can start off in one direction and then the book can go a different way.”

         Kubica seems to live a normal life. That is until after her teenaged children go to school, then spends her days in this dark, psychologically twisted world of sublevels and secrets. Two of her favorite authors are Megan Abbott and Paula Hawkins who also write about women in peril who are often unreliable narrators—causing readers to wonder if they can believe their stories. It all adds to the suspense. But readers should understand, Kubica is often just as surprised as they are.

         “I have no idea what to expect,” she says. “But it’s fun.”

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