Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Tropes: romantic thriller; small town romance; insta-attraction; divorced FMC and MMC; over 40 MMC
This review will begin in a strange way. Kristen Ashley gifted me a beautiful gift box complete with a paperback copy of The Girl in the Woods. I adore my therapist, and she and I share a love for KA, so I gave her the paperback. She read the book before me and shared some initial insights. For one, The Girl in the Woods hosts the POV of the MMC, something that is different for KA. It isn’t as though we never receive the story through the POV of her male characters, but it’s fairly rare. However, TGITW is predominately (Cin’s POV shows up in the last chapter) from the perspective of Rus (Zachariah Lazarus). For my therapist, it made the storytelling strange. However, I loved KA’s insistence on presenting this story through the scope of Rus’s voice. That’s intentional in that it infuses a feminist perspective through a male’s voice. It gifts readers with a man who is intentional in his acceptance and admiration for women in power. To a certain degree, the typical roles of a KA story have been flipped. To be fair, Rus is still decidedly masculine and virile, just as her other MMCs have been. However, Cin takes up the alpha space of the story. She’s intelligent, emotionally insightful, and she knows herself. She’s a great mother and a better boss. She acknowledges her agency and can go toe to toe with any man in the story. And they know it. Because she knows herself, she challenges Rus to be a better version of himself. For example, she points to the error in his thinking about his past marriage. She connects him to a new version, one grounded in a better truth. Even though this book comes through the POV of Rus, it is distinctly pro-woman and very much Kristen Ashley. The Girl in the Woods illustrates KA’s capacity for telling compelling stories that diverge from her usual.
What captured me beyond the pro-woman perspective, though, is the thriller storyline. KA’s stories are hefty; they are a complete meal with an appetizer, main course, and decadent dessert. It’s usual for her stories to hit 400 to 500 pages. This one, for example, is 432 pages of pure engaging entertainment. I couldn’t put it down, and it was mostly due to the way that KA paced her thriller. There are early revelations of the culprits of crime, but the big fish of her story is a late-in-the-story reveal that turns your head. I wouldn’t say it was ultra-surprising, but it was a bit of a shock. For me, The Girl in the Woods was pure titillation.
Lastly, I also loved the friendships developed over the course of the book. Since this is the second book in KA’s Misted Pines series, everyone from book 1, The Girl in the Mist, is present, and KA treats us to their future selves. The bromance between Rus, Sheriff Moran, and Cade Bohannan feels as essential as Cin’s relationship with her daughter. These characters add depth to Rus’s story and showcase his growing need for a place in Misted Pines.
I hope we return to Kristen Ashley’s fictionally messed up small town in the future. I absolutely need stories for several of the characters from The Girl in the Woods (I see you Jase, Jesse, Moran, Kleo…), but I will always trust KA’s muse to lead us to the right stories. Much like the whispering ghost of the epic movie, Field of Dreams, “if [she] builds it [I] will come.”
In love and romance,