“The House in the Orchard” by Elizabeth Brooks

Genre: Gothic/Family DynamicsThe House on Orchard
Publisher: Tin House
Pub. Date: Sept. 27, 2022

Mini-Review

This dual narrated novel takes place within two centuries and both are filled with family tension. The story revolves around one girl and one woman who discover the mysteries of an English country house. Thirteen-year-old Maude Gower, an orphan, writes in her diary about losing her parents and having to move in with Miss Kitty Greenaway in 1876. She knows that the family hates this woman but she doesn’t know why. She is heartbroken that she cannot stay with her college-aged older brother Frank. Peggy, Frank’s widowed daughter-in-law, inherits Maude’s home in 1945 and considers relocating there. Frank warns Peggy that the house is haunted and he tries to persuade her to sell it. Most of the story is about Peggy reading Maude’s diary and trying to piece together family secrets. The theme in the novel explores the concept of can we ever truly know what is the truth? There seem to be different truths for our four prognostics regarding the same family history. Is Miss Kitty an evil or misunderstood person? Was someone murdered or not.  I enjoyed the gothic elements in the tale such as why is the cellar locked up. Or when Peggy believes that there is a ghost in the house, both very creepy. However, the tale couldn’t win me over. It kept my interest in the beginning but then it began to read melodramatic. I began to not care what was happening, which is never a good thing while reading any book. However,

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“Her Perfect Life” by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Genre” Mystery & ThrillersHer Perfect Life
Publishers: Forge Books
Pub. Date: September 14, 2021

Mini-Review

Lily Atwood has a successful career as a TV reporter.  She is a loving single parent to an adorable little daughter. She has a fan base that has dubbed her #PerfectLily. The author makes sure the reader understands the pressure Lily endures by her fame of being “perfect.” However, Lily has a secret besides who is the father of her child.  She was 7 years old when her older sister, Cassie, disappeared as a college freshman. Even as a journalist, with sources, Lily hasn’t been able to find her. The chapters alternate between Cassie, Lily, and Greer who is Lily’s producer/assistant. The novel has potential but didn’t pull it off. The story was simply too far fetched. There are many twists and I did not believe one of them. Maybe for you but, not my idea of a good thriller.

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“Little Secrets” by Jennifer Hillier

Genre:  Mystery & ThrillerLittle Secrets
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:  April 21, 2020

Mini-Review

The story is a decent read regarding a young child’s abduction. It could have been a very good read. It is written as a mystery. This makes sense because when the child is kidnapped and there is no ransom note what else can it be other than a mystery? But, the story is written basically as a thriller with all sorts of twists. (I guess I should have looked at the cover). This is where the author lost me. Other ARC reviewers seem to love this book. I guess I should have paid more attention to the genre. I thought I was reading a family tragedy story, not a twisty tale. Still, the author did a good job regarding the heartbroken parents, especially the mother’s overwhelming pain and guilt. The missing-child support group scenes are very well written. You can feel just how brutal it must be to not know if your child is dead or alive.  It is these scenes that I found fascinating, not the mixing of genres. But if you want a Jillian Flynn read then this is the book for you.

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“The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt” by Andrea Bobotis

Genre:           Southern Literary Fiction/Mysterythe last list
Publisher:    Sourcebooks Landmark
Pub.  Date:   July 9, 2019

This novel has such a crisp Southern voice that the reader will be surprised that the book is a debut novel.   The author, Andrea Bobotis, is no stranger to good writing.   She holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Virginia.  Her fiction has received awards from the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and the James Jones First Novel Fellowship.  The novel is based in a fictional town in South Carolina (Bobotis is a native of South Carolina) and splits its time between1989 and 1929.  The author interweaves the moving timelines throughout the novel without missing a heartbeat.   Miss Judith Kratt is a white woman now aged into her late seventies.  She is the eldest daughter in the family.  The Kratts were once the most powerful family in a cotton town that they owned.   Now their once-stately home, as well as the town, is falling apart.  She lives in her family home with her black companion, Olva.   Judith views her relationship with Olva as part family member, part friend, and part housemaid.   Judith is writing her last list, which is made up of family heirlooms.  The writing can move at a slow, Southern pace, but is never boring.  In the present, through Judith’s memories, we learn of her family’s dark secrets.  Some you will be able to guess.  Others you will not.

There are similarities in “The Last List” to the novel, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café.”  Both books are narrated by the protagonist through the time period changes.  They both explore the themes of the segregated south, family, aging, male brutality towards females, and the dehumanizing effects of racism.  Still, both tales give the reader demonstrations of female strength while also managing to squeeze in some humor.    Judith is a quirky one.   It is fun to read how Olva, who is one year older than Judith, deals with her companion’s eccentric ways.  “The Last List” is obviously racially charged.   It is sad to realize that these same racial tensions are still around in the year 2019.  It can make one feel weary. Still, the author does a good job of capturing the aspects of what can be called the genteel South and its sweet southern style.  But make no mistake, the book is truly about the ugly truth hidden behind those grand Southern mansions.  After most chapters, the inventory grows.  Each listed item is cleverly written to connect to the story-line.  Bobotis does an excellent job in these thought-provoking connections.  Possibly, the author created the list to challenge the reader to examine the imprints of their own memories.   And to acknowledge the unfair power that comes from the objects (or once people) that we own, begging the question:  Will we ever truly live in a world of equality?   The story may read slowly, but it is a page-turner.

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