REVIEW: THE HOUSE GUEST, BY MARK EDWARDS

 

When British twenty-somethings Ruth and Adam are offered the chance to spend the summer housesitting in New York, they can’t say no. Young, in love and on the cusp of professional success, they feel as if luck is finally on their side.

So the moment that Eden turns up on the doorstep, drenched from a summer storm, it seems only right to share a bit of that good fortune. Beautiful and charismatic, Eden claims to be a friend of the homeowners, who told her she could stay whenever she was in New York.

They know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers—let alone invite her.

As suspicions creep in that Eden may not be who she claims to be, they begin to wonder if they’ve made a terrible mistake…

As I was drawn into the story of The House Guest, I was leery of almost every character that appeared. Especially Eden. Who could possibly trust anything she said or did?

But as the story leads us along, and as we meet other characters, all of whom seem suspicious and/or nefarious, I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

What would happen to Ruth when she mysteriously disappeared? Who was behind it, and would Adam figure it out, with the help of a mysterious stranger who seemed to be stalking him?

What did the homeowners, Mona and Jack, have to do with what was happening? Was Eden an old friend, or were they, too, involved in the cult-like events that surrounded them all?

I liked trailing along after the characters and the story, trying to decide who was evil and who was good. In the end, we are quickly swept away to a beautiful beach setting…and we think it is all over. But is it? 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE FAMILY, BY LOUISE JENSEN

 

Laura is devastated when her husband dies, leaving her and their almost grown-up daughter, Tilly, alone. When the insurance company refuses to pay out, Laura is in danger of losing the house and has no choice but to seek help from elsewhere.

Oak Leaf Farm, a community that lives just outside of town, seems to be everything that Laura and Tilly need, so when this self-made family offer Laura the lifeline she’s been looking for she gratefully accepts.

But all is not right on the farm and when both Laura and Tilly are drawn to the community’s handsome and charismatic leader, mother and daughter find themselves on opposite sides of the battle lines…

 

When a ready-made family and community are offered to Laura and Tilly, red flags appeared, reminding me that such an apparent solution could be anything but the answer they need.

Each of the community members offer apparent friendship and help, but it didn’t take long to realize that the fear Laura is beginning to feel is probably warranted.

The Family offered up many plausible twists and turns, so that by the end, I knew that there were so many evil possibilities that I couldn’t stop reading. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: PROMISE NOT TO TELL, BY JAYNE ANN KRENTZ

 

A painter of fiery, nightmarish visions throws herself into the sea—but she’ll leave some of her secrets behind…
 
Seattle gallery owner Virginia Troy has spent years battling the demons that stem from her childhood time in a cult and the night a fire burned through the compound, killing her mother. And now one of her artists has taken her own life, but not before sending Virginia a last picture: a painting that makes Virginia doubt everything about the so-called suicide—and her own past.
 
Like Virginia, private investigator Cabot Sutter was one of the children in the cult who survived that fire…and only he can help her now. As they struggle to unravel the clues in the painting, it becomes clear that someone thinks Virginia knows more than she does and that she must be stopped.

Thrown into an inferno of desire and deception, Virginia and Cabot draw ever closer to the mystery of their shared memories—and the shocking fate of the one man who still wields the power to destroy everything they hold dear.

My Thoughts: Two children who had escaped a burning barn fire in Quinton Zane’s cult 22 years ago are reunited in the early part of Promise Not to Tell. Cabot Sutter was one of the children, and Virginia Troy was another.

Before Hannah Brewster’s death, she had been sending paintings to Virginia, who owned an art gallery. Something in Hannah’s latest painting, of which Virginia has a photo, stirs up some questions.

Anson Salinas heads up a team of investigators, and because he raised three of the children saved from that fire, including Cabot, he has a vested interest in learning more secrets.

Set near Seattle and on one of the San Juan Islands, the story captured my interest from the beginning. There was a great mix of mysteries from the past and current attractions that kept me turning the pages.

What do Cabot and Virginia learn after another fire reveals some previously unknown connections? Why do some of the people in a high tech company show signs of nefarious intent?

I loved the mix of mystery and the hint of future normalcy, which included glimpses of other connections, like Virginia’s grandmother Octavia.

The hint that Quinton Zane might still be alive hovers over the story, and near the end, there is a suggestion of more drama and mystery ahead. A captivating 5 star read for me.

***

REVIEW: THE MARRIAGE PACT, BY MICHELLE RICHMOND

Newlyweds Alice and Jake are a picture-perfect couple. Alice, once a singer in a well-known rock band, is now a successful lawyer. Jake is a partner in an up-and-coming psychology practice. Their life together holds endless possibilities. After receiving an enticing wedding gift from one of Alice’s prominent clients, they decide to join an exclusive and mysterious group known only as The Pact.

The goal of The Pact seems simple: to keep marriages happy and intact. And most of its rules make sense. Always answer the phone when your spouse calls. Exchange thoughtful gifts monthly. Plan a trip together once per quarter. . . .

Never mention The Pact to anyone.

Alice and Jake are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, the sense of community, their widening social circle of like-minded couples.

And then one of them breaks the rules.

The young lovers are about to discover that for adherents to The Pact, membership, like marriage, is for life. And The Pact will go to any lengths to enforce that rule.

My Thoughts: First of all, I couldn’t imagine why Jake and Alice would sign up for something so secretive and mysterious. Wouldn’t they have wondered about the “consequences” mentioned in the contracts? Wouldn’t the control the organization seemed to exert bother them?

I wanted them to somehow get out of the weird group before anything bad happened, but hovering overhead were the implicit threats, the idea of The Pact’s all-encompassing influence, and concerns about people who had mysteriously disappeared.

Jake was the first-person narrator, so it was probably natural for me to connect to his side of things, and even though he loved Alice, I could see how he worried about why she seemed more into the group than he was. Since she was a lawyer, I couldn’t quite imagine her willingness to be “all in.” But then I recalled the mention of her dysfunctional family, and it made more sense.

What is behind the mysterious meetings that JoAnne, an old college friend, arranges with Jake? Is she seriously in trouble, or is she part of some covert operation?

The whole idea that the group somehow monitored their every move made me feel creepy and also fascinated. I couldn’t stop reading. As the dangers in The Marriage Pact  escalated, I was hanging onto every word, hoping for a positive resolution. 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE GIRLS, BY EMMA CLINE

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Evie Boyd is a middle-aged woman, living alone in her friend Dan’s house in LA, ruminating about the past. Her life up until now has been ordinary, but somewhat disappointing. So when she is visited by intruders in the middle of the night, and is reminded of how unsafe life can be—before she realizes that the intruders are Dan’s teenage son and girlfriend—she is once again back in the unsafe world she once inhabited. Even though she was merely on the fringes of that world. And feeling unsafe is better than feeling nothing at all.

But as her mind takes her back to the summer of 1969, we soon learn how the life she lives now was informed by her choices back then. How her fascination with a free-living group in the Bay Area, living on what they called the ranch, had captivated her. How she was mostly drawn in by one of the girls, a young woman of nineteen named Suzanne. What had drawn her to Suzanne back then, and why is her mind still working out the details of that time, even now, all these years later? Was it an infatuation? Did Suzanne and the other girls fill an empty space inside, the part that emphasized the blankness of her life? Would she have done what those girls finally did, or did she have a moral compass after all?

The Girls is a reminder of another story from that same year. The true story of Charles Manson and his followers, and while they are not mentioned in this novel, those who have lived and learned from the horrors will certainly see some similarities.

Was Evie simply a product of the times? Did her middle class life seem so empty that she was drawn into the colorful world of the family at the ranch? Was her attraction to Suzanne more about the appeal of the other girl’s dismissal of ordinary values? Or did Suzanne’s occasional dismissal of Evie herself only enhance the appeal?

I felt sorry for Evie, who had avoided the fate of the others because of a chance maneuver on Suzanne’s part, and who seemed to always be wishing she could have been more involved. Her flat life in the present made me feel sad, since she could have been grateful for what she somehow managed to escape. A story that kept me reading, even though the ending seemed inevitable. 4.5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publishers via NetGalley.

REVIEW: ICE COLD (RIZZOLI & ISLES), BY TESS GERRITSEN

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In the opening pages of Ice Cold, we catch a glimpse of a group of people living on a compound in Plain of Angels, Idaho, called The Gathering. Their leader, Jeremiah Goode, is fixated on a beautiful young woman named Katie.

What happens next will remain a mystery to the reader until the very end.

Sixteen years later, Dr. Maura Isles is headed to a medical conference in Wyoming, and when she arrives, she meets up with an old friend in attendance, also a doctor. Meanwhile, she has left behind a relationship in Boston that is not working; she is grateful to have a breather.

What will happen to Maura, her friend Doug Comley, and two other associates of his in the upcoming days? How will a ski trip turn into a life and death situation? Why does everyone back in Boston believe that Maura is dead? How will Jane Rizzoli convince the authorities to keep searching? And what will Jane, and then Maura, uncover about the mysterious happenings at Kingdom Come?

I was on the edge of my seat as the suspense built rapidly, and at every turn, a new threat would present itself. I rooted for Maura, and even as danger mounted, the author offered a glimpse of Jane and her husband, Gabriel, an FBI agent, working to follow the clues and discover what had happened to her. There were several realistic characters who played a part in what unfolded in this story, including a young teenager who helped Maura, and a ferocious social worker who turned out to have a surprising history. This was my first read from the series, but I’ll be back for more. 4.5 stars.