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Before Familiar Woods

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  531 ratings  ·  79 reviews
For fans of David Joy and Christopher J. Yates, comes Ian Pisarcik's haunting debut novel exploring the fraught nature of families and the inescapable secrets that are out to cripple them.

On the outskirts of a town too tired for its own happenings, the boys were found dead inside a tent.

Three years later, their fathers have disappeared, too.

Ruth Fenn's son was the boy the
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 10th 2020 by Crooked Lane Books
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Average rating 3.83  · 
Rating details
 ·  531 ratings  ·  79 reviews

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Chelsea Humphrey
"She wondered where the boy's mother was-whether she was fighting for him or even looking for him. And then she thought of Elam and of Mathew, and how a person could be lost and still not missing, or else missing and not lost-and how she wasn't sure which of those was worse."

Fellow readers, this debut is really something special. I know that the slow burning mystery isn't everyone's cup of tea, but if you enjoy character driven mysteries that are deliciously atmospheric and filled to the brim wi
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dark, mystery
Fantastic Storytelling!

Two boys go camping in the woods and are never seen alive again. Three years later their fathers disappear. How are the these events connected and what has happened to trigger both of these mysteries? Along comes a young Iraq war veteran who arrives home to find his eight year son has been abandoned by his mother and left in the care of his unstable grandmother. How will this man's story man's story intertwine with the missing men?
Hopefully you read this novel find out al
Mar 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley-arcs
For a debut novel this is a well crafted piece of fiction.

Ruth Fenn's son Matthew and his best friend are found murdered in their tent and no one was ever accused of the crime. In fact, the media and the small town of North Falls, VT blamed Ruth's son, Matthew, for the crime and the family becomes the town pariah.

Three year later and Ruth's husband has gone missing but he wasn't alone. He was with Horace who just happened to be the father of the other boy murdered in that tent. Where have they
I caution any reader considering this book on what to expect. The less you follow the plot summary the better. If you are a mystery or thriller lover and you go into reading this expecting that genre, you will be disappointed. If you're looking for a dark, atmospheric story set in small town Vermont that is character driven, then you have the right book for you!

Let's talk about the writing. I cannot believe that this is a debut! Mr. Pisarcik is very, very talented. We are just coming out of col
Oct 10, 2019 rated it liked it
I wish to thank NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books for this ARC in return for an honest review. This gritty story is set in a small town in decline, located in Vermont and surrounded by forests. It is winter time, and the author does a wonderful job with elegant descriptions of the forests and the hard, cold winter weather. I am not anti-smoking, but I found the constant references to people smoking, the odor of cigarette smoke and piles of cigarette butts to be repetitive and added little to the ...more
Well Read Beard
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-books
This one hell of a debut novel. Ian can write one damn good yarn. Ruth Fenn is a character I am going to remember for a long time. I have never been to Vermont, but this book felt of home. The forests felt much bigger, deeper and more virgin than what I am used to but other than that this book could have taken place out my back door.

I found myself really sinking deep into the scenes with dialog. I came to appreciate the dialog in this book, especially the scenes with Ruth and Della as well as wi
Kim Richardson
Dec 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Poignant and searingly authentic. Pisarcik's debut, BEFORE FAMILIAR WOODS is a haunting testament to survival of family and community in a poor and desperate landscape. I can't wait for you to meet Mathhew, Milk and Ruth... just a few of Pisarcik's unforgettable characters! ...more
Linda Strong
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it

Two mothers bury their sons at the same time. The young teenagers were found dead inside a tent among the woods.. most likely from a drug overdose.

Ruth's son was the boy they blamed for the drugs. For 3 years she has accepted this as the truth... but is it the truth?

Three years later the mothers' husbands have disappeared at the same time. Is this a copy of what happened to the teenagers?

Milk Raymond is a war vet that came home to find his wife gone ..and his son living with his wife's mother. U
Ian Pisarcik
Oct 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
The best novel ever written? Maybe!

In all seriousness, I tried to write the book I wanted to read. I'm proud of the book and I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

⤏ 2.75 ✰STARS✰


This cover portrays exactly how I felt while listening to this...upside-down and lost in the woods...

I thought this was going to be something like The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel, which is a favorite of mine in the grit-lit category. Sadly, it really felt like the story was incomplete to me. I can't even really say
Tracy Robinson
Jan 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I finished BEFORE FAMILIAR WOODS yesterday and I think a lot of you are going to dig it.

Set in Vermont, I was immediately snared by the authors descriptive ability AND his MC Ruth Fenn. She is a strong woman that takes no shit and loves fiercely. Part mystery, part thriller, I thought the book moved well and I enjoyed the reader discovery. There are a couple of story lines at play here and by the time they smash violently together at the end, there was no way I could put this down until I finis
Addie BookCrazyBlogger
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc-s
Before Familiar Woods is the stunning and extraordinary debut that needs to be on your list as a must read. The novel is broken into two perspectives: Ruth Fenn, a middle aged woman trying to seek connection and redemption after her 15 year old son Matthew died of a heroin overdose, allegedly overdosing the town’s golden boy, William along with him and Milk Raymond, a solider who has just mustered out of his 3rd tour of duty in Iraq only to return home to his rural Vermont town to find that his ...more
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: net-galley
A top thriller that has you turning left and right. The characters don't quite reveal themselves, they keep dark secrets that slowly reveal themselves in this fast paced thriller that is hard to put down. ...more
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5*s It is very unfair of me to hold every author in this genre up to a David Joy and Brian Panowich standard. I'm working on it. ...more
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a bit different from most I read. It’s not a thriller but definitely will keep you on edge at times. It’s a mystery for sure as you will want to know what happened. You’ll want to know where the two husbands who are not really friends are. They were together and you’ll want to know why. It’s somewhat of a sad story in many ways. It’s about what drugs will do to a person. Things they never imagined they would ever do. I felt bad for some of the characters in this story but hated some ...more
Wayward Readers (Tarrah Marie)
This is a first time read from author Ian Pisarcik and has been a remarkable experience. The narrative has that Americana feel of impoverished and forgotten small town USA. Pisarcik’s depiction of the town, the setting, and the overall gravelly, raw nature of the characters - it’s an entire entity in itself. The characterization of the cast is unique in that the reader is (what I think is purposefully) held at arms length, adding a whole other edge of suspense to the storyline. This may not play ...more
When it is snowy and cold outside (and my car is buried under 2ft of ❄️ ), superspeed readers like me can read 250+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. LOL

I requested and received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley, the publisher and the author in exchange for an honest review.

From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸.

On the outskirts of a town
Lesley Moseley
May 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This will go on my 6 stars shelf. The most 'cinematic' book I have read for years. Not a word, sentence, or chapter, out of place. I'm known to bleat on about good editing. Not this time. I will definitely re-read this sensitive, heart-searing, and conversely, heartwarming novel. ...more
Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

A small rural community believes Ruth Fenn’s son is a monster. That when he and his friend are found dead in the woods, Mathew Fenn is the reason for their demise. After three years of suffering the ache of loss and a town’s judgement, Ruth’s husband goes missing, too.

Another story, which eventually intersects with Ruth’s, unfolds as Milk, a war vet, is thrust into the role of a single parent to his nine year old son.

The main characters have some fierce demons to battle.

There is some
Miss R
Dec 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Thanks to NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Gritty, real and oppressive in its darkness. "Before Familiar Woods" is a tour de force of a novel.

There is something of John Steinbeck in Ian Pisarcik's vivid depiction of poverty in rural America, that is without parallel in contemporary novels. So, is you want a cosy read that provides a cathartic escape from everyday life, then this is not the novel for you. If you want an intriguing, thoughtful mystery an
Wee Lassie
Jun 29, 2020 rated it liked it
An excellent and well written book that I just could finish, because it's just too sad. ...more
Mar 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A multilayered plot. I was pulled in from the first page. This was a gritty tale centered in Vermont but to me it reads like southern grit. I love gritty stories like this. This was emotional and heartbreaking. A haunting story you won't soon forget. I highly recommend this for book clubs it's a perfect discussion book. Lyrical and engaging. I couldn't put it down until I knew the end. This blew me away. I'll be talking about it all year.

Novels N Latte
Hudson Valley NY
Rachel Dawn Drenning
Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC of this book.
It's hard to believe this was the author's first novel. This book is a new favorite. Such a heart-breaking, noir tale full of emotion. You feel so much of what the characters are going through. I hope to read more by this wonderful new author. Reminds me a lot of David Joy, Ron Rash, William Gay.
Dec 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Ruth and Della were best friends for over 15 years. Three summers ago, each had a 15 year old son. The boys took a tent out one night and didn't return. Heroin needles and beer cans were found inside the tent with their abused bodies. Ruth's son was rumored to be a predator so she has been shunned by the town. Now, both of their husbands are missing.

This book was good but very sad. I was struck by the poverty and hardship but also the perseverance. Most people in the town were barely making ends
Feb 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before Familiar Woods by Ian Pisarcik is a somewhat bleak yet compelling mystery.

Three years ago, Ruth Fenn’s son Mathew and his best friend William Downing died under somewhat murky circumstances.  Unfortunately, State Trooper Leo Stonebridge shared his opinion of what happened to the media and the blame fell squarely on Mathew’s shoulders. William’s mother, Della, publicly agreed which destroyed her longstanding friendship with Ruth. With Ruth and her husband Elam shunned by their small town,
Oct 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc, netgalley
Grim. Gritty. Dark. These are the first words that spring to mind after reading Ian Pisarcik's debut, Before Familiar Woods. Absent is the glitz and glamour of New York-set novels (or even novels portraying the struggling millennial, desperate to make ends meet while toiling as the executive assistant or the barista). This is poverty in small town America, the forgotten sector, set amidst the backdrop of drug addiction and exploitation.

I wanted to retreat immediately into a fluffy rom-com after
Mar 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written noir with a strong narrative voice. Pisarcik's characters, in particular, Ruth, are so well written I could have spent all day in her head, plot be darned. However Pisarcik doesn't rest on the strength of his character development. There's a chilling pair of mysteries, one from several years before, and a present day one, that links two broken families. I loved the way he crafted this forgotten little town and the people that live there, and there are some quotes in here that ...more
Jun 24, 2020 rated it liked it
In the end, I ended up enjoying this book. However, it took me well over half way through before I began to enjoy it. I almost stopped reading it several times I felt that some of the characters were well thought out, and others, not so much. The writing is very descriptive, which I enjoyed. Not bad for a debut novel, and I am looking forward to reading his next book.
Kay Parker
Feb 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Rating: 3.5 🔪

Author: Ian Pisarcik

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Release Date: 10th March 2020

(Thank you Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for a free early copy of this book to review)


For fans of David Joy and Christopher J. Yates, comes Ian Pisarcik's haunting debut novel exploring the fraught nature of families and the inescapable secrets that are out to cripple them.

On the outskirts of a town too tired for its own happenings, the boys were found dead inside a tent.

Three years later,
May 23, 2020 rated it liked it
I enjoyed Ruth's POV and I thought there wasn't really a need for Milk's POV especially when Milk (view spoiler) I felt the story could have used some polishing. Some parts of the book didn't really need to be there. If everything focused on Ruth I think I would have liked it more. ...more
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Ian Pisarcik was born and raised in rural New England. His stories and poems have appeared in the Roanoke Review, Lullwater Review, Maine Review, and the Flyway Journal of Writing and Environment. He currently lives in Washington State with his wife and Labrador retriever.

Praise for Before Familiar Woods:
“Before Familiar Woods, a novel dripping with heart and grit and tears, is an electrifying de

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Every new year ushers in a brand-new class of debut authors to discover. And the beginning of 2020 has plenty of fresh new voices to add to...
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“The town of North Falls consisted of twenty-eight square miles positioned on a high plateau in the southern region of the Green Mountain range. It had the highest altitude of any village in the state, which meant the snow came early and it came often. It also meant that the first thing anybody noticed about the town was the church steeple. The rotting whitewashed wood and the slatted oval window and the copper spire all connected to the simple wood framing. It was the highest point in the state, and people liked to say that it was closer to God than anywhere else in Vermont. Not that it did the town much good.” 1 likes
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