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Arrowood by Laura McHugh -- Didn't Live Up To My Expectations
What really happened to the Arrowood twins?
Is it a book's fault when it doesn't live up to your expectations? Not sure. But with all the critical praise from fellow top-selling authors on the dustcover, I was expecting more than I got. One of the problems is years ago I read what I feel is the best gothic novel I've ever read called, Obsidian by Dianne Day and nothing has ever really touched that novel it was that good. It's what attracted me to reading this book and I didn't really feel it lived up to the promise of being a gothic novel. I didn't really feel it was very suspenseful or atmospheric as described on the dust cover.
It also seemed to be trying to dip its toes into the supernatural waters and I thought it kind of failed on that level, too. Again, years ago I read what I feel is one of the best supernatural murder mysteries called Hidden Lake by Trish Janeshultz and Arrowood didn't live up to that, either.
That's what I mean about not living up to my expectations since two previous books I'd read had set the bar pretty high. I'm not saying it's a bad book. I just kind of found it average and not living up to all the high praise it got.
The story centers around Arden Arrowood returning to the stately mansion she grew up in and where she'd witnessed her two younger twin sisters vanish never to be found again. Her life basically sucks and she thinks coming back will make everything all right. She's even hoping to reconnect with her first love who she left behind and didn't stay in contact with.
I think this is the first book I really didn't like any of the characters much. The Arden character just seems pretty ineffectual and not very bright. For instance, there's this guy, Josh Kyle, who wants to write a book on the twins disappearance and that's kind of someone you'd avoid, but she starts palling around with him and he does most of the investigating work, while she doesn't do much. She just doesn't seem very proactive. She stumbles on a few things, but actually actively trying to solve the mystery she doesn't seem to do much of. She's so ineffectual she can't answer a ringing phone or deal with her mail.
None of the characters seem that well-drawn or fleshed-out very well. Ben wanted to be an artist but for some reason he became a dentist like his mother wanted. He was even with a girl that his sister believed his mother hand-picked for him. So basically he's kind of a spineless wimp who does everything his mother wants him to with no explanation for why he changed from someone that sounded like as a teen he had some spirit. It would have been nice if it could have been tied to the central mystery.
To me, the Josh Kyle character came off as kind of creepy and could have been a sinister figure in the novel. When his brother disappeared he was suspected of having killed him. We never learn what really happened to him. It would have been nice if he'd been somehow sinisterly linked to the main mystery and had nefarious reasons for wanting to convince Arden she hadn't seen what she thought she had that day. At the very least, it would have made the character more likable if he'd been determined to clear the guy who was suspected in the twins' disappearance because he knew what it was like to be falsely accused, even if the guy he was trying to clear seemed to be a potential child molester, not to mention dog napper.
The book just seemed filled with a lot of missed opportunities. There was a lot of stuff thrown out there and none of it was ever really explored with any depth. A lot of it didn't really seem to work. Like the suggestion that all the leaking water problems was caused by the supernatural in an attempt to get Arden to remember what really happened when the pipes were just old.
Over all, it was kind of like watching an episode of Pretty Little Liars and that's not a compliment. The show is infamous for throwing out all these red herring that go nowhere and that's kind of what this book did, as well. In a few scenes Ben's mother seemed somewhat sinister but it turned out to be nothing. And that's kind of the story of all the plot twists.
Even when we''re told what really happened, we're told that may not be what really happened, just like when we're told who A is and then told that isn't who A is. And Arden doesn't seem to ever really remember what really happened since she's been confusing fact with fiction most of her life, is she possibly doing it again in the end to a more palatable reality? Has she made up a new fiction in her mind because she can't face what really happened?
As I said, it's not that bad of a book, but it's not that good of a book, either. It's also a very slow-paced book. You're almost a third through the book before the first clue about what really happened to the twins surfaces. I guess in the end the fact is the book doesn't really live up to its promise. With a little more depth to the writing it could have been a great book. Maybe it would have been better if the author hadn't tried to put everything including the kitchen sink into this book. As a result, a lot of the stuff I just didn't find very believable or buy it.
In real life mysteries are never clear and that's why we like reading mysteries. Because in books we get the answers. But in this book we don't really get a clear answer. Everything ends up being very nebulous.
Would I recommend reading this book? I really don't know. Would I want to read it again as I have Obsidian and Hidden Lake? No. Once was more than enough.