A Review of This Dread Road, by Olivia Folmar Ard
This Dread Road is the third and final installment in Olivia Folmar Ard’s Bennett Series. Each book takes place on the fictional campus of Howard Knox College and University in Bennett, South Carolina. The books are related in that there are characters overlapping between each one, but each book can be read independently and still enjoyed. However, I recommend reading all three to get the full-effect of that enjoyment. I do not think you will come away disappointed!
I have read books one and two, A Partition of Africa and The Marshall Plan (in addition to Olivia Folmar Ard’s other two books, ‘Tis the Season and Pretty Lies & Other Stories). That being said, I believe I am qualified to give an honest review of the author’s work. I am very familiar with Ms. Ard’s writing, having personally been given advance copies of her works for reading and reviewing. It has been my pleasure because I believe that Ms. Ard has talent in buckets.
Her writing draws the reader in from the first page. Her dialogue brings her characters to life. Do you ever pick up a book and start reading it, only to wonder, “Why am I bothering with this? I don’t care about the characters!” To me, if I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about the book!
In This Dread Road, the reader meets Claire James again, who was the roommate of main character Hattie in book one. At first glance, Claire strikes us as an entitled, spoiled young lady who is just throwing her life away. Her parents are rich beyond measure and can buy her anything she wants…except true happiness. We already know from book one of the series that there’s more to Claire than meets the eye, as both Hattie and the reader find out. Claire is deeply unhappy, unfulfilled, and downright depressed. In book three, she is found working at a hotel (owned by her father) because she wants experience and to prove to both herself and others that she can be responsible. She has just graduated from Howard Knox and is trying to figure out her future. While working in the hotel, she strikes up a conversation with the manager, Hank. Hank is an older fellow who is strict but fair, and while talking with Claire, he reminisces about a lost love in his life.
We turn the page and are taken back to 1968 and into the life of Annemarie Vanderhorst. Annemarie has just arrived at Howard Knox and is eager to begin her own life, make her own choices without her parents’ interference, and experience college life. She meets a slightly older, handsome man in her philosophy class and finds out he works as the janitor at the school. His name is Henry Eden, and he comes from a very different background than Annemarie. Henry lives on a farm with his brothers and their families, but he’s going to college to get a degree in business. As the weeks progress, Annemarie and Henry grow closer and fall in love. They are falling fast, though. Annemarie brings Henry home to meet her family at Thanksgiving, and disaster ensues. Her parents don’t approve of her boyfriend. Her mother has other ideas for the type of man Annemarie ought to marry, and she is really only entertaining Annemarie’s desire to go to college. When things don’t go well, Henry decides that Annemarie’s parents can’t tell them they can’t be together if they’re married. They go to the courthouse right before Christmas and marry. This only fuels Annemarie’s family’s dislike of Henry, and the consequences are harsher than poor Annemarie ever imagined when she’s cut off from the family and their money.
In the months that follow, Henry and Annemarie’s relationship suffers. I felt for both Annemarie and Henry during this time and kept hoping they would figure out a way to make things work. Because love is supposed to conquer all, right? We see a darker side of Henry: his drinking, his anger, his violent streaks. We feel heartbreak for him as well. We see Annemarie breaking and confinding elsewhere when her husband is changing, trying to understand what happened to the man she loves. Love is supposed to win, right? Right?
Fast forward to 2017, and we find Claire James and her fiance breaking it off over…crabcakes? It’s obvious this is just the proverbial last straw, the final thing in a long line of mistakes, bad judgment, and brokenness over many years. Claire is heartbroken that things just aren’t going to work out with her fiance. Maybe sometimes love isn’t enough. Poor Claire has turned to all the wrong places over the years to try to find happiness — drugs, sex, drinking. She’s suffered in even worse ways than we can imagine, mirroring Annemarie’s suffering almost fifty years prior. It’s like Claire doesn’t believe she’s meant for happiness. She doesn’t want her dad’s help or money. She doesn’t want her mom to buy her any more stuff or take her on any more fancy vacations. She wants to stand on her own two feet, so she takes the hotel job.
By the end of the story, I was wondering where this was all going, how the lives of these two ladies were connected, and hoping for a happy ending. This is a romance, after all, and Ms. Ard has never failed before in regards to delivering a happy ending. I will say that my heart melted, that tears of joy prickled in my eyes, and the warmth of a smile cascaded over my lips. I am also a writer and an author, so I understand what it means to create believable characters that your readers will fall in love with, as much as some characters fall in love with others within the context of the story. Henry, especially, reminds me of one of my own characters, so he was dear to heart. For all his flaws and faults, he was and is beautiful. The same goes for Annemarie and Claire. After all, we are all flawed people. As I put it in my most recent story about two imperfect people finding love:
“We were, neither one of us, one persona or the other, but rather some beautiful, messy, complicated version splattered on a canvas, but a masterpiece painting nonetheless.”
Thank you, Olivia Folmar Ard, for another masterpiece to add to my gallery of books.
Release Date: February 14, 2017
Published by: Three Amigas Press
Genre: Historical Romance, Women’s Fiction
– Summary –
It’s September 1968, and Howard Knox freshman Annemarie Vanderhorst is happy to be free of her controlling mother’s societal expectations. She vows to spend her time at college wisely in pursuit of her own dreams. But before she can figure out what she wants from life, Henry Eden, the dark and handsome stranger in her philosophy class, takes over every waking thought.
Nearly half a century later, Claire James returns to Bennett after leaving her fiancé, determined to be independent for once in her life. After convincing her father to let her work for the family business, she soon realizes being a responsible adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Loathed by her coworkers, neglected by her best friend, and held captive by a terrifying secret, she doesn’t know how much more she can take.
The lives of these two women, decades apart but uncannily similar, finally intersect one fateful night. With broken hearts and hope for the future, will they find the answers they’re looking for?
– About the Author –
Olivia started writing creatively at eight years old. During middle and high school, she attended several writing conferences. Her short story “By Its Cover” placed first in its division in the 2008 District III Alabama Penman Creative Writing Contest. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Montevallo in 2012, married in 2013, and published her first novel in 2014. She received a Readers Favorite five-star review for her holiday novella, ‘Tis the Season, in 2016.
Olivia lives in central Alabama with her husband JD and their cats, Buddy and Lafayette. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching quality television, teaching herself how to cook, and playing Pokémon GO.
– Connect with the Author –
– Praise for ‘Tis the Season –
“Although it is a quick read, ‘Tis the Season is not light in subject . . . it goes deeper than you ever thought it would. Olivia Folmar Ard manages to create such a beautiful story that is cheery and heartbreaking all at the same time. The way she captures the characters’ raw, genuine emotions is stunning. Instead of ‘Tis The Season turning out to be another simple novel, it manages to make you feel like you are involved in a real-life situation. The overall pacing of the novella is just right, and the writing is top notch. If you are looking for a way to really get into the holiday season, this is the book for you. It will make you feel so many things, but above all, it will remind you to be thankful for all that you have. Be warned – you’ll need lots of tissues!” -Katherine Williams, ReadersFavorite.com
“A sweet novella for any time of the year, but especially in light of the Christmas season. If you love stories with heart, have ever struggled with dissatisfaction, or love the holidays, then you’ll love ‘Tis the Season.” -Angel Leya, Author of Skye’s Lure
“Just the right size for a holiday break. Do yourself a favor and settle in with ‘Tis the Season and a warm mug of your favorite drink . . . preferably in front of a roaring fire.” -Traci, Goodreads
“Olivia Folmar Ard is building a reputation for relevant, contemporary women’s fiction with a soul.” -Carolyn Astfalk, Author of Ornamental Graces and Stay With Me
– Advance Praise for This Dread Road –
Claire’s bedroom looked so strange emptied of all her possessions, like a body whose soul had already departed, leaving it one last paltry breath. The closet, once overflowing with haute couture, now held only a few ragged Oxford shirts, two pairs of acid wash jeans, a Howard Knox hoodie, and an ill—fitting secondhand blazer with a hole in the right armpit. Her side table was empty, everything swept hastily into a plastic bag and then shoved into one of the suitcases now piled high in the living room. Every piece that had given the room the right dash of sophistication—the artwork, the Oriental rug, the chenille damask bedspread, the Egyptian cotton sateen sheets, the wingtip chair in the corner—had all been packed into a moving truck and were on their way to a self—storage unit.
A flimsy floor lamp in the corner illuminated everything left behind. The bed. A few trash bags lined up like prisoners against the walls, stuffed with the cast—offs of two lives breaking apart. The alarm clock on the other side table ticked out a steady rhythm.
Claire forced herself to sit on the bed with her feet tucked beneath her. Keeping them near the floor was too much of a temptation. As much as she wanted to bolt now, while she still felt brave enough, she felt obligated to wait until Trevor arrived home from work. After all the times before this, the times she’d only pretended to leave so she could get what she wanted, she needed him to understand that this time, there was no need for him to chase her.
A shiver ran through her, probably the ghost she was convinced lived in the corner of their—no, his—bedroom, the place where light never seemed to reach the wall. Sliding her arms out of her sleeves, Claire hugged herself and grimaced when her hands brushed against her prominent ribs. They didn’t show through her clothing, thanks to her careful layers, but her bones could not lie to each other. She felt herself buckle and recede like a washboard and swallowed back her rising disgust.
This was why she needed to get away. If she stayed here, in this sad, drafty apartment, this disintegration would continue until she completely vanished. Trevor could blame it on the antidepressants she popped like chewing gum these days, or the fact that she’d been subsisting on espresso and tequila in the four months they’d lived in Baltimore, but she knew the real culprit was her fiancé himself. It wasn’t his fault, but it kind of was.
If Hattie could see her now, she would be appalled by how much Claire had let herself go. Claire could imagine her best friend now, delivering a stern lecture while forcing her to eat various tasty manifestations of carbohydrates and fat. She smiled. As much as she’d always resisted Hattie’s attempts to fatten her up, she had to admit she would welcome a change in diet. Her mouth watered at the thought of Hattie’s divine eight hundred calorie mac and cheese.
Her stomach rumbled, the muscles contorting in an odd dance beneath her arms. Claire glanced at the clock again. Trevor wouldn’t leave the school for at least two hours more, and the walk home took fifteen minutes in the best of circumstances. She might as well get something to eat while she waited.
She didn’t bother checking the pantry. All that was there was an expired jar of peanut butter and a mostly empty box of breakfast cereal. She’d been putting off grocery shopping for the last two weeks, preferring to order in on the days Trevor was working. She picked up the phone and dialed the Chinese place around the block. The person who answered recognized her number and asked if she wanted her regular—General Tso’s chicken, brown rice, and egg drop soup, just the broth. She said yes, hung up, and sank onto the couch.
Assuming lotus pose¾the only thing she remembered from the yoga class the Howard Knox registrar’s office had forced her to take ¾Claire tried to clear her mind of everything and simply exist for a minute, even a few seconds. Instead, her thoughts raced even faster, flitting from one happy memory of Trevor to the next. It didn’t seem to matter that they were all out of context, that in reality each moment of bliss she had experienced with him was framed with weeks, if not months, of sadness. Her mind only wanted to focus on their shared joy.
But maybe this was a good thing, speeding through all the false contentment like this. Perhaps it would work all the sympathy out of her system. Perhaps if she played along, she would actually leave this time; she would find the strength to tell him she didn’t love him anymore, and mean it.
“Everyone, please take your seats.” The professor glanced at his watch and frowned before letting his arm fall back down to his side. “Class should have begun three and half minutes ago. Apparently, punctuality is no longer a priority at this school.”
As he spoke, Annemarie darted through the door, red—faced and panting. “So sorry,” she mumbled to the professor, who either didn’t hear her apology or refused to accept it.
The weight of fifty—six pairs of eyes bore down on her shoulders as she stared up the stacked rows, hoping to find an unclaimed desk. In her desperation, she started up the nearest set of stairs. There had to be an empty seat near the back, right? Stomach clenched, she grasped the handrail and continued her ascent. What would she do if she couldn’t find one?
Susan. None of this would have happened if it weren’t for Susan.
Annemarie had been happy to grab lunch at the cafeteria after she and Susan left their biology class, but she’d let her roommate talk her into making a quick trip into town instead. She’d sworn up and down they would make it back in time for their one o’clock classes.
“My dad and I ate at this great little deli downtown last summer when he brought me for a visit. It’s just a few streets over.”
But the deli was busier on the first day of class than it had been over the summer. They stood in line for almost half an hour and didn’t receive their food for another fifteen minutes after that. Annemarie didn’t even know what her sandwich had tasted like, she’d had to eat it so quickly. She’d spent the next ten minutes running full tilt back to campus, hoping their professors would be forgiving.
So much for that.
Down below, the professor cleared his throat. Annemarie’s face turned an even brighter shade of red. Maybe her mother was right. Did she really need to take this class? Hurtling down the stairs and running out of the lecture hall seemed more appealing by the second.
But just as she decided to succumb to the temptation, she found what she was searching for: an empty seat. It was farther up than she would have liked, the very last desk in the very top row, but it was available.
With a sigh of relief Annemarie hopped up the last few steps and scooted behind those already seated, ignoring their grumbling about inconsiderate people. When she reached the end of the row, she tapped the shoulder of the boy—no, man—sitting next to the empty desk.
“Excuse me, is this seat taken?”
He looked from her to the seat and back. “Don’t think so.”
She slid behind the desk and tucked herself against the wall, willing herself to be invisible.
The professor heaved an exaggerated sigh and said, “Now that everyone is finally ready, let’s begin. I’m Dr. Liam Craig. Welcome to Introduction to Philosophy. In this course, you will learn to …”
Annemarie leaned over and whispered, “Sorry about that. I’m usually on time, or even early.”
Keeping his eyes on Dr. Craig, the man beside her nodded but said nothing.
“My name’s Annemarie,” she said. “What’s yours?”
He met her eyes with a heavy—lidded stare before returning his attention to the front of the classroom, again saying nothing. His jaw stiffened, and was it her imagination, or was his hand twitching?
When it became obvious this was the only answer she could expect from him, Annemarie leaned back in her chair and tried not to let it bother her. Class had already started, after all—she was the one being rude. Besides, what did it matter? She was there to learn about philosophy, not moon over some guy.
But as Dr. Craig droned on about fallacious reasoning, the nature of reality, and the existence of God, Annemarie couldn’t keep her mind from wandering back to her handsome seatmate.
With ten minutes left, Dr. Craig said, “I think I’ve covered everything necessary for our first full class meeting, so I’ll give you an early dismissal today. Don’t get used to it, though. Take a copy of the syllabus on your way out, and please prepare to discuss chapters one and two of your textbook for Wednesday. And be on time,” he added, glaring up at Annemarie.
Without a word, the man next to her stood, stepped behind her, and slowly made his way down the steps. He took intermittent pauses to allow others to pass him, but he spoke to no one. People parted around him and rejoined on the other side. The guys seemed to size themselves up against him, while the girls ducked their heads and gave him a shy smile, but he didn’t seem to notice any of them. When he reached the bottom of the stairs and released his grip on the railing, he limped across the narrow stretch of floor between the lectern and the first row of seats. She couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to his leg.
Before she knew it had happened, she was the last person in the classroom other than Dr. Craig. She blushed and gathered her books, chiding herself for her distraction. Why should she care about this person she’d only just met? He didn’t care about her—he’d made that abundantly clear. She should just put him out of her mind and focus on school.
Even so, for the rest of the day, she couldn’t shake the memory of his eyes—shielded, mistrustful, and darker than a thundercloud.
Dreamcast Interview: Who the Author Envisions Playing Various Roles if Her Book Were Made into a Movie
Of all the young, blonde actresses Hollywood has to offer—and there are several—Saoirse Ronan is the only one I can picture playing Annemarie. I’ve only seen her act as a child and young teen, but she is incredibly talented and I can only imagine her skills have grown as she’s aged. She’s a little older than Annemarie is in the beginning, but I believe she could still pass for 18.
Despite being too short and several years too old, Milo Ventimiglia seems to me the perfect pick for Henry. His acting is amazing, and he has the same rugged good looks I pictured Henry possessed. The fact that he has a baby face would help with the age difference, and movie magic could surely take care of the height issue. I just know he and Saoirse would do a lovely job together.
Evan Rachel Held has a mixture of classic beauty and strength that makes her a perfect pick for Susan, Annemarie’s roommate.
Brittany Snow did a great job pulling off the fifties look in Hairspray! and I enjoy her acting, so in my opinion she’d do a great job as Perky Paula.
I loved Sam Jaeger’s performance as Joel Graham in Parenthood, and he has the look and temperament to play the older and gentler of Henry’s brothers.
Armie Hammer’s acting is fantastic, and he would definitely be able to pull off Henry’s hot-tempered brother.
Ginnifer Goodwin’s compelling portrayal of sweet, sensitive Mary Margaret/Snow White on ABC’s Once Upon a Time makes me think she’s perfect for compassionate, maternal Cora.
Domhnall Gleeson looks very similar to the picture of Merle I’ve been carrying around in my head. As a plus, I loved his portrayal of Levin in Anna Karenina.
Emma Stone’s facial features aren’t exactly how I pictured Claire’s, but her coloring is perfect and her acting style is perfect. She would make my favorite redhead heiress come to life.
Trevor’s always been a bit elusive to me; I’ve never been able to pin down exactly what he looks like. But When I saw Alden Ehrenreich, I knew he was the right person. He’d do a great job.
Aja Naomi King’s performance in How to Get Away from Murder is gathering lots of attention, and besides that, she looks exactly how I pictured Zoe, Claire’s roommate.
Have you read This Dread Road? Do you agree or disagree with the author’s casting choices? Let us know down below.