“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,

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“The End of Her” by Shari Lapena

Genre: Domestic Mystery & ThrillerThe End of Us.
Publisher:  Random House UK
Pub. Date: July 23, 2020

While on vacation, looking for beach reads I downloaded two novels by Shari Lapena. “Someone We Know,” and its sequel “The End of Her.” The author returns to the suburban town of Aylesford, nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley.  I read “Someone” first and then “End of Her,” both were terrible. In this one, there is a young couple with colicky newborn twins. Again, the father is accused of murder. Once more, there is a woman who is trying to or already sleeping with  the men in town. The characters were two-dimensional with no depth. The twist is laughable. Even the beautiful island beaches where I read these books could not help me enjoy either novel. I have enjoyed other beach/mystery reads by the author, but after these two, I doubt I will be reading her again. Maybe, because I read the novels in a row, influenced me on how much I disliked this one.

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“Deep Water” by Patricia Highsmith

Genre:  Psychological ThrillerDeep Water
Publisher: Harper
Pub. Date: May 28, 2012

A marital thriller where all the fears and darkness are based mostly inside a couple’s home. They have that in-your-face warfare that can happen between a husband and wife. Think of the film, “War of the Roses.” I’ve been searching for an intelligent psychological thriller similar to “The Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith. Had trouble finding one.  I thought, “Why not try another Highsmith novel.” “Deep Waters” did not disappoint.  If you haven’t read the “Ripley” books or seen the movie, Tom Ripley is an anti-hero, career criminal, a con artist, and serial killer. Vic Van Allen, this book’s anti-hero, shares quite a few of Tom’s characteristics. Vic appears to be more of a tragic figure than Tom. Vic is written as a quiet, seemingly complacent husband with the rather odd hobby of snail breeding.  It’s not that the snail breeding feels creepy, it’s his strange obsessesive love of the creatures that gave me the willies. I wonder if the author was giving us an early clue on the man’s sanity.

Set in a sleepy, affluent suburb, “Waters” unfolds with a drumbeat of quiet dread. The premise is that Vic and Melinda Van Allen are in a loveless marriage held together by a precarious arrangement to avoid divorce. He doesn’t want to been seen as a failure “It isn’t appropriate for a man to divorce his wife” he says. And, she likes the money that comes with their union.  They agree that Melinda is allowed to take any number of lovers as long as she does not desert her husband and their daughter—A recipe for murder.

Once again, the author writes in detail of subtle, “Vic didn’t dance, but not for the reasons that most men who don’t dance give to themselves. He didn’t dance simply because his wife liked to dance.”  Then not-so-subtle dialogue. Later on in the tale, Vic says, “I do not waste my time punching people in the nose. If I really don’t like somebody, I kill him.” When Vic’s patience evaporates, bad things start happening to Melinda’s lovers.Through the author’s gifts, it is not the murderer or the murder that the reader is afraid of finding. Rather it is the apprehension of murder that permeates every page and keeps you anxiously turning them.

 Recently, I have read so many suspense thrillers that begin with something like, “To everyone around them, the husband and wife appear to be a perfect wealthy and attractive couple.  Then a murder happens to show them not to be such a perfect couple.” “Deep Water” is the only one of them that didn’t turn corny and stayed believable, not to mention, a damn good case study of a psychotic mind. Think of the real-life, likable Ted Bundy when thinking of Highsmith’s sociopathic characters. The deliciously twisted mind games that take place between Vic and Melinda are reason enough to read this thriller. Much better than most novels that end with a not-so-surprising big twist.

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“Dark Roads” by Chevy Stephens

Dark Roads

Genre: Mystery & Thriller
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date: August 3, 2021

The only part of this novel that I truly enjoyed was the prologue and the epilogue since they are similar to a book I did enjoy, “These Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold. In both books a teenage girl who, after being raped and murdered, watches from heaven as her family and friends struggle to move on with their lives while she comes to terms with her death.  In this crime thriller, teenage girls and young women who may have hitchhiked on a deserted country road, which is frequently used by truck drivers, go missing. Stephens does a good job of scaring us with the highway description as well as the whole setting in this logging-town. I felt empathy for the girl who lost her father whom she was extremely close to since her mother had passed. Now a 17-year-old orphan, she goes to live with her aunt and uncle where life there is intolerable for her. She runs away and becomes another missing female. Other main characters are the sister of the girl who was murdered and found on the dreaded highway from hell. She comes to town searching for answers. There is also a young man in the storyline who seems to be thrown into the tale so there is a love interest. As an older woman, I am guessing his character is there for young female readers.

Then the story morphs into a violent, kidnapping tale with characters that appear to be Wonder Woman-like. I say this because in between the horrendous torture that the two women experience they still manage to have cheeky comeback dialogue.  This didn’t feel believable considering all the mental and physical anguish they went through.  I get what the author was aiming for—empowered females. But the writing comes off as if the message is ‘serial killers should never mess with kickass young women’. This is the real reason for my not being keen on the full novel. Still, I did appreciate the book’s message that needs to be told, and that the novel is based on a true story. Stephens even gives the reader phone numbers and websites with information on women who have gone missing and never found. Still, this novel simply wasn’t for me.  However, it may be for you.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review

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