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The Book of Secrets: A Novel

The Book of Secrets: A Novel

4.4 11
by Elizabeth Arnold

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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


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 of Redbridge, California—a place Chloe never wants to see again.
Tending to their small bookstore 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 a code that Nate and his sisters created as kids, the pages contain long-buried secrets from her and Nate’s past, and clues to why he went back to Redbridge 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, their increasingly dangerous games a magical escape from their troubled childhoods; the first time Nate kissed her, camped out on the beach like Robinson Crusoe; the elaborate plan she and Nate devised, inspired by Romeo and Juliet, to break away from from his oppressive father, and how the thwarted attempt upended their lives forever. As the reason for Nate’s absence comes to light, the truth will shatter everything Chloe knows—about her husband, his family, and herself.

Praise for The Book of Secrets
“An exquisite novel . . . The Book of Secrets is one of those reasons some of us live to read.”The Star-Ledger
“Tender and transcendent, The Book of Secrets is about the truths we hide, the consequences we face, and the particular comfort we can only find in a good book. Elizabeth Joy Arnold has written a beautiful and haunting ode to the power of words, and how they shape our lives.”—Sarah Addison Allen, New York Times bestselling author of The Peach Keeper
The Book of Secrets plunges the reader into the strange and intense world of the Sinclairs, a family bound and pulled apart by the forces of imagination and religious belief. Through the eyes of Chloe Tyler, trapped in this world since childhood, Arnold paints a fascinating picture of obsession and loss. The Book of Secrets offers a complex meditation on the elusive nature of truth and on the power of secrets.”—Henriette Lazaridis Power, author of The Clover House
“This is the beautiful and heart-wrenching story about the secrets that can both hold a marriage together, and drive two people apart. Reading The Book of Secrets is like walking through a dark labyrinth: just when all hope is lost, you step out into sunshine.”—Carla Buckley, author of Invisible

This eBook edition includes two complete classic works of literature that are referenced in The Book of Secrets: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe!
Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Advance praise for The Book of Secrets
“Transcendent . . . a beautiful and haunting ode to the power of words and how they shape our lives.”—New York Times bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen
“A beautiful and heart-wrenching story.”—Carla Buckley, author of Invisible
“Fascinating . . . a complex meditation on the elusive nature of truth and the power of secrets.”—Henriette Lazaridis Power, author of The Clover House

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Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt


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 hidden behind it all? Is our story. Our once upon a time.

So. Once upon a time there was a girl named Chloe who lived virtually alone, in a cottage by the woods. Until her eighth birthday when she woke to find her mother already gone to work, without a good morning, a kiss, a birthday wish. Chloe had been forgotten. So, being a headstrong girl, she gave herself her own birthday present, skipped school for the first time of many, ate Lucky Charms (minus the marshmallows), and then biked out into the neighborhood to explore.

And there at the end of Bayard Lane, playing in the yard of the biggest house in the state, perhaps even the world, were two girls in pastel dresses and a boy in a pressed white shirt. They were the perfect family, too beautiful to be real, and of course the truth was that what Chloe had seen wasn’t actually real at all. But by the time she figured this out she’d already been in love with them for years and it hardly mattered. Because it was here with these magical children in this world so different from her own that Chloe’s real life began. On her eighth birthday, she was born.

Every day she came to play with her new friends as the weeks passed, and then the years. In time she’d marry the boy, give birth to and lose a son, open a store, and begin building an empire. Until the empire began to crumble and the boy grew haunted and disappeared. No fairy tale, no happily ever after; Chloe was alone again.

And in the new silence, the echo of untold stories was deafening.

Secrets. It was one of the ways we were a good match, because Nate loved secrets and I loved his surprises. We both believed one needed to be shocked out of one’s expectations in order to fully feel life.

The bookstore was both a surprise and a shock. He’d bought the house over twenty years before with the money his mother had left him and his advance for the book he’d just published. But I’d had no idea he was even thinking of moving from our apartment until the day he walked me blindfolded to the front door and pulled away the scarf. “Welcome to your new life!” he said.

And there we were in front of a Victorian mansion, all crumbling scalloped shingles and tall windows, two of which were boarded with plywood. It was an aged beauty queen, now with no hair, bunions, and missing teeth, and at first I had no idea what he was implying by bringing me there. We’d talked about opening a store, but only in vague “someday” terms, and one does not surprise one’s wife with houses in the way one might surprise her with roses. Unless one is Nate.

He opened the door and led me through what felt like a thousand walk-in closets, with scarred wooden floors and faded, peeling wallpaper, and an overpowering smell of stale black tea. “We’ll set up the store downstairs,” he said, voice rushed like a kid trying to explain the wonders of a video game or Harry Potter movie to someone he knows is much too old for it. “We’ll line the walls with wooden shelves floor to ceiling, attach sliding wooden ladders. And I realize right now these little nooks look like toilet stalls, but we’ll shelve them too, so finding the books there feels like a discovery, ancient treasures.”

He led me down the front hallway to show where we’d put the cash register, and a “reading room” for customers to page through the rarer books, searching for signs of foxing or bookworm holes. He’d already imagined it in minute detail: the cushy chairs with tufted ottomans, round end tables with green glass lamps, paintings of authors most wouldn’t recognize but that would give the most bookish patrons some self-satisfaction. “Look at that fireplace!” he said. “I think there’s marble under there if we just strip off that paint. We can light fires in the winter and set greenery here in the summer, put velvet armchairs here and here so people feel like they’re actually sitting in someone’s old library.” And then he led me upstairs to show me how we’d build a separate entrance in back, break down walls to turn a bathroom and two of the spare bedrooms into an open kitchen and living area. He made me see it all.

But Nate was a gifted storyteller. “Leave out the parts that people skip,” that’s a quote from Elmore Leonard when asked how he made his novels engaging. And Nate skillfully left out the debt that would take us years to tunnel up from, the months of hand-chapping, back-straining labor, the stink of the chemicals used to strip the floor and walls. The tedium of sanding fifty yards of dentil molding, bleaching out a century’s worth of grout stains and spackling a century’s worth of plaster cracks; Nate didn’t mention any of this, just made me see the magic of his story. And yes the magic was there, under it all. He didn’t lie, just left out some unromantic narrative detail. And in time our house, our bookshop, they did become our fairy tale. His story came mostly true, until the ending.

The note was on the kitchen table. I’d returned after a round of errands and the gym to find the shop unexpectedly closed; it was just six, and on weekdays we stayed open till eight. But I was only vaguely worried. It had been a hard year for both of us, and Nate had been fragile over the past few months, perpetually seeming on the verge of . . . I don’t know what. Breaking down, I guess, although those words sound way too simplistic and cliché. What do you call being perpetually on a knife’s edge? Feeling like your body has crystallized, so that something as innocuous as a “Do I know you from somewhere?” from a stranger who’s seen your story on the news can shatter you into sharp, serrated splinters? I’m a woman who loves words, but there are times there are no words.

Maybe Nate had just needed to get away, lie down and immerse himself in a book or the National Geographic channel, someone else’s world. And seeing the store closed, I thought I might have just the remedy.

We’d gotten a FedEx that morning, the first American edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: octavo, red cloth and gilt edges, original dark green endpapers, meant for a Mr. Ernie Howell, who’d requested it for his ten-year-old granddaughter. Its pages were yellowed and stained, its spine sunned and frayed. And his granddaughter would probably think it was gross, thanking him politely before stowing the book in a back corner, having no concept of its true value. Ninety-five hundred dollars plus tax, to be exact. The cost of history, but to me putting a price on history felt crass.

We’d read the story together as children: me, Grace, Cecilia, and Nate on the Sinclairs’ brocade sofa, hanging off Mrs. Sinclair’s shoulders so we could see sketches of the hookah-smoking caterpillar and Cheshire cat teeth. And now for the few days the book was ours, Nate and I would sit together, turning pages and remembering.

On my walk home I’d been listening to my iPod, the Beatles, and thinking of how we’d spend the night, I was tempted to dance to the music. I would’ve danced if there’d been nobody around to see, but instead I just walked to the rhythm, adding extra steps where warranted, tiny hops on my toes. Almost happy. Tonight we’d congratulate each other over wine for our find, and maybe then we’d make love; it had been a long time. A very, very, very long time.

But Nate was gone. And in his place, seventy-four words.

Someone, I don’t remember who, said that life is like a beautiful melody with messed up lyrics. I never really understood that until just now. Something’s happened very suddenly, something truly “messed up,” and I need to go back to Redbridge tonight. I tried to call your cell but it must’ve been off. I’m not sure when I’ll be back. It may be awhile, but I’ll call as soon as I know more.


And that was it. At the time, I didn’t even wonder about how strangely it was written, the clipped sentences, the quote he’d chosen to explain his leaving or the vagueness of the word “awhile.” The only thing that had scared me was his return to Redbridge.

It was the town where I’d spent the first twenty years of my life, and so you’d think I should have twenty years’ worth of memories, as many good as bad. But instead all I could see was the nightmare of those last few weeks, a movie on an infinite loop perpetually goring and twisting. I tried not to let myself drift back further to life with Gabriel, the memories like slashes: watching him learn to walk by staggering between library shelves; at the park throwing a ball two-handed that inevitably ended up behind him, wearing a look of bewilderment followed by self-congratulatory applause. Even the places Gabriel had never been part of, like the front steps of the grammar school, or twisting trails through the Redwoods, were places I’d imagined taking him someday. And I couldn’t stomach the thought of seeing them again, knowing I never would.

We hadn’t been back since my mother’s funeral, and even then we hadn’t gone to the Sinclairs’ home, where his sister Cecilia, and now Nate’s father, lived. We talked to Cecilia every month or so, got updates on the meandering threads of her gratingly uneventful life. But Nate hadn’t seen his father for almost twenty-five years. Was one of them sick? Well that must be it, what else could it be? But then why hadn’t Nate just written that in his note?

It wasn’t till after I’d taken a shower that I thought to check my messages to see if he’d given more details and listen to the tone of his voice, make sure he sounded like he’d be okay. But although he’d said my phone had been off, I found it was actually still on, no messages. And when I checked missed calls to get a sense of when he’d left, it turned out there hadn’t been any. He hadn’t tried to call me.

And why not? Despite everything, we were still each other’s stabilizing force. Something happened to set one of us off balance, and we needed the other to get back on steady ground. Had things between us really changed so much?

No, he must’ve dialed a wrong number without realizing, left a message on someone else’s phone. And as soon as the thought solidified in my brain I grabbed onto it, became sure that it was true.

Because I was still living inside the fairy-tale shell he’d constructed to safeguard his secrets. Yes, Nate was a gifted storyteller.

Once upon a time there was a young man who’d loved a girl so deeply, so truly, that he left his family to be with her. Defying the wrath of his father and the imprudence of commitment at such a young age, they held hands and made a vow of forever. And they lived happily, or at least as happily as possible considering the circumstances. Until, they did not.

It started last Christmas. We had a number of odd traditions, me and Nate, the way I’m sure most couples do after years together. The bizarre Buddha bobble-head doll a customer had left in the shop, which we periodically, randomly, hid in places we knew the other would find him. The way, when eating potato chips, Nate would silently hand me each folded chip he found like it contained a secret love note. And then there was our Christmas Eve marshmallow fight. It had started fifteen years ago when I teased him about the string of toasted marshmallow hanging from his chin, the way he couldn’t eat anything gooey, pizza cheese or caramel sauce, without leaving a strand of it dangling from his face like a strange, lone whisker. He responded by pelting a marshmallow at me, so of course I’d pelted one back, and soon the living room was littered with them. Since then, every Christmas we bought marshmallows to roast in our fireplace and to throw, laughing like adolescents, often ending the night by making love amidst the sticky ruins.

But last year Nate had been preoccupied, in one of the moods that hit him sometimes where he seemed scraped raw, everything on the surface. Usually these moods only last a day or two, but this time he’d been edgy for almost two weeks. So to lighten the mood, after studying the burn marks on the marshmallow at the end of my tongs, I’d held it up for him to see. “It’s Jesus’s face!” I said.

He’d forced a smile, then squashed the marshmallow between his thumb and forefinger and studied it. “Now it’s a sheep.”

“We could’ve made a fortune off that, you jerk, eBayed it or kept it in a bell jar and charged admission.”

To which he’d responded, “Joel’s getting out of jail this week.”

I’d stared at him silently, a fist knuckling against my ribs.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know how to tell you. I mean I realize this wasn’t the right way, but I thought you should know.”

“How?” My voice was pitched too high. “I don’t get it. How could they let him out?”

“He had twenty-five years to life, Chloe, and it’s been twenty-five years. He’s going back home.”

“But . . . Cecilia’s in your home. You mean he’s staying with Cecilia?”

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Joy Arnold is the author of The Book of Secrets, When We Were Friends, Pieces of My Sister’s Life, and Promise the Moon. She was raised in New York, and has degrees from Vassar College and Princeton University. She lives with her husband and daughter in Pennington, New Jersey, where she is at work on her next novel.

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The Book of Secrets: A Novel 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Allthegoodnamesaretaken More than 1 year ago
There are certain books that grab you from the first chapter, envelop you in story and don't let you go until the end. The Book of Secrets is one of those books, probably one of the best I've read in years. The story of the beautiful but strange Sinclair children, and of Chloe, the lonely girl who is swept into their seemingly fairytale world, is the initial thread that pulls you, and there is so much more than that. Secret upon secret is slowly revealed through a notebook written in code, using the books that defined Chloe and the Sinclairs' childhoods. (I found myself working to decode the passages once I understood which books they were coming from, but I'm nerdy like that, haha.) The darkness behind the Sinclairs' polished exterior, the extent of which Chloe only finds out in adulthood, is fascinating. And yet the story's "villain" is also amazingly human and sympathetic. The beautiful writing was another layer, I found myself reading certain passages multiple times to absorb the language. And one of the most enjoyable parts of this story for me was the children's love of books, the way they smell, feel, even the look of letters on the page. As a book lover myself, I loved the descriptions of how it feels to be pulled into these other worlds. Okay, enough gushing. If I have one small criticism, it was that I didn't understand why Nate wouldn't have done more to find Grace after she left for the convent, seeing how close the children always were growing up. But with that said, although it bothered me while reading, to some extent I do understand this choice, so I forgive the author for it. ;) Again, truly an entrancing read. I highly recommend this book!
Gina04 More than 1 year ago
 As the title stats this is a book about a notebook of secrets, Chloe husband up and leaves giving very little detail as to why. She finds the notebook some some stuff she couldnt read because it was written in code. The was a really great book and was hard to put down. The author refers to some of the classics and their story lines through out her book. This is one book that I wanted to crawl into and be apart of it.
Bitten-By-Love-Reviews More than 1 year ago
When I got to the end of the book I was in shock. I could not believe what and how this hole secret came to be revealed. Plus the way author uses classic childhood books to not only describe moments in the characters lives but also used to help decipher the code that was being used. We all have secrets some good, some bad but they all help shape us from how we live our lives to the people we come. I feel there is nothing wrong with going back to the past to figure out and learn how the present took shape. Extremely well written and an incredible must read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
read it w/out putting it down, i would of.. The end is awesome and and u won't waste your money if u purchase!!
lsmeadows More than 1 year ago
Reading Elizabeth Joy Arnold's new novel, The Book of Secrets, remineded me a lot of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.  This story has the same aura of mystery, the same twisted family dynamics, and the same ability to suck the reader into the story being told.  At least it was that way for me.  It was a solid story from start to finish that intrigued me the whole way through.  The story is told from the point of view of Choe Sinclar, who returns home one day to find that her husband, Nate, is gone.  He has returned to the town where they grew up, a place that holds bad memories for both of them, and where she never thought he would want to go again.  Ms. Arnold continues the story, alternating her chapters between the present and the past.  Through this device we are treated to the mystery of why Nate would return home, as well as the tumultuous history of Chloe, Nate, and the rest of the Sinclair family.  Alternating chapters in this way is a device that really works for this story.  I flew through each chapter in anticipation of what came next for both stories.   And speaking of devices, the way that the author integrated books into the story was one of my favorite things.   Most of the books were old favorites of mine, and as each one debuted in the story, it brought back wonderful memories of my first encounter with them.   Another hit for me, was the cast of characters in the book.  Through them I was able to experience  the emotional impact of the story being told.  I felt the joy and wonder of love, the anger of deciet and betrayal, the pain of loss, and the fear of the unknown.  They were wonderfully imperfect  and real.  In the end, I felt like I really knew and understood each of them.   Although the end of this book was by no means the best ending that I have ever read, I did feel that it was appropriate to the story.  I am one of those readers for whom the end of a book can really "seal the deal".  In the case of The Book of Secrets, the ending deftly answered all of the questions that I had been pondering throughout the story, many of which I had already surmised.   I guess that would be the only negative for me.  As satisfying and appropriate as the ending was, I had figured out where the story was leading long before the author revealed the last peice of the mystery.  What speaks well to the story, though, was that knowing the big twist did not in any way lessen my enjoyment of the book overall.   Elizabeth Joy Arnold is yet another new author for me, as most of the authors that I read these days seem to be.  If this book is any indication, I think that she has a bright future as an author.  I would certainly read another book by her, and intend to recommend this one to my friends.   A big thanks to Bantam Books and Netgalley for making this book available for me to read in exchange for a review. 
The_Book_Wheel_Blog More than 1 year ago
The Book of Secrets has all of the elements of a good story and it did not disappoint. This may be because the book brought me back to my childhood at my Gramma’s house. A good portion of the book takes place in a white house with a sprawling lawn that ends with a creek and some woods. My Gramma had this exact same setup (albeit smaller than the one in the book), and I remember playing hide-and-seek in the woods and crossing the creek on stones that my cousins and I dropped in the water. Of course, going down to the creek as an adultI was surprised to learn that it was not a huge, rushing river. But even now, I wonder whether the old shopping cart that was overturned in it for as long as I can remember is still there. Next time I visit, I’ll have to sneak down there and find out – I’m sure the new homeowners won’t min (so long as I do it in daylight). And thanks to the internet, I can show you what I envisioned. But – back to the book. The story starts out with Chloe, who is in her early 50′s, coming home to find that her husband has disappeared. As she searches for clues as to his whereabouts, she comes across some cryptic messages written in the code she and Nate used as children. From here, she embarks on a mission to find out where her husband has gone and, most importantly, why. Let me give a little history here: At the age of 8, a little girl named Chloe stumbled upon the Sinclair children playing in their yard. Home schooled and very well off, the Sinclair children were completely different from Chloe’s classmates and they immediately welcomed them into their playgroup. The catch, however, was that their father, a local pastor, was not to know about their friendship, and so they played in secret (with the help of Mrs. Sinclair) for years to come. As they grew older, Chloe began a relationship with the lone Sinclair son, Nate. It was around this time that Chloe began to understand that there was a dark side to the Sinclair family, but because sneaking and hiding was a decade-old habit, she overlooked any strangeness. And so now we are back to the present day storyline. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t go into detail about why the family hid Chloe from their father or why her missing husband wasn’t so odd. I also won’t go into what it was that was encrypted in the messages or why it was there in the first place. But, I will tell you that this book has all of the elements of a great book, including: A missing child A villainous man A very sick woman A young mother A nun A good bit of religion (more undercurrent than active storyline) Chronicles of Narnia and other rare first edition books Like I said, this book was fantastic. I flew through it in a weekend and it’s close to 500 pages, which takes a little bit of time. The writing flows in a way so that you do NOT want to put the book down. I wouldn’t quite call it lyrical, but it does have a calm and deliberate flow that works exceptionally well. But don’t listen to me – go buy one for yourself!
CMKmom More than 1 year ago
This is a tale of children who form a tight bond - ending up in tragedy for all. Two girls and one boy from a family who were very sheltered and "protected" from outside influences by their father who was a "man of the cloth". The other person, a girl, comes upon these children playing and they immediately form a bond out of loneliness and common love of reading. Therefore, when the girl comes on the scene the father demands she go away and not return. Of course, she does return. Over the years, the girl and boy become a couple, and the inevitable child comes - and then disappears. Therein lies the real secret. I won't go into how this ends - you can read it yourself without my spoiling it for you. The story ends and leaves one with sadness about these lives ruined by this controlling person. Because the story is very much about reading and performing stories from their favorite books, two books are included at the end of the Book of Secrets. First is Romeo and Juliet and then Robinson Caruso. I love the idea of this! I haven't read Romeo and Juliet since college - and didn't enjoy it then either! However, Robinson Caruso was a book I loved as a child, and enjoyed reading it again. This book isn't for everyone - there are lots of book references, and not everyone will understand the reference. I enjoyed it very much. Not your everyday book. Worth reading in my opinion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book! It is a must read!
bongie More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down, was enthralled with every word and became entangled with all the characters and their personalities. I can't wait to read her other books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This has the bones of a good story, but the plots were too convoluted and contrived, and the author simply failed to pull all of the threads together. I'm not sure if this was an editing issue, perhaps character and plot development were sacrificed to make the book shorter, or if the editorial process just failed altogether, there are too many issues with the story for it to even make sense. Even worse, in the end, it was actually pretty predictable, considering the very painful and circuitous route that the author takes in creating the "mystery". I read to the end to see if it was every pulled together, but, really, this book was just poorly written.