The Trembling Hills (Phyllis Whitney, 1956)

trembling hills

Why did you choose this book?

My mother introduced me to Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, and Mary Stewart.  I’ve always enjoyed reading their books and I decided now was the time to read through them before they go out of print (and out of library collections) forever.

What’s it about?

It’s 1906.  Sara Jerome’s mother is the housekeeper for the Temple family, and Sara is desperately infatuated with Ritchie Temple.  He goes to San Francisco to make his way as an architect, and is staying in the home of the beautiful Judith Renwick.  When Ritchie’s parents die, he offers Sara’s mother a position in California, but she is hesitant to take it until Sara finally convinces her.  Will Sara find love and a new life in SF?

Categories

Romantic suspense, Gothic romance

Review

This was Whitney’s third attempt at romantic suspense.  It wasn’t that suspenseful, as I was never really fearing for Sara’s life.  I also thought much of the mystery and intrigue came in too late in the story (last chapter), and too much of the resolution was contrived.  A gentle romance with historical fiction undertones more than Gothic/romantic suspense.  Some dialogue and descriptions may be offensive to modern readers (especially those relating to Chinese servant Ah Foong).

Refresher (here there be spoilers)

No really, this is a book summary/plot synopsis

Ok, I warned you…

Sara and her mother Mary assume their roles in the Renwick household.  Judith and Ritchie have become engaged, and Ritchie is working in the insurance business with Judith’s brother Nick.  Sara begins work as a secretary in their office and befriends the youngest Renwick, plain and precocious Allison.  Judith and Ritchie have their ups and downs, and Ritchie occasionally toys with Sara’s affections, even kissing her and showing up in her room uninvited.

Sara does some investigating, determined to see if her family came from old money, in order to impress Ritchie.  She discovers that her father was Leland Bishop, nephew of the queen of old money SF, Miss Hester Varady.

The earthquake and fire occur, pushing the Renwick entourage out of their soon-to-be-destroyed home, and they take refuge in the Varady mansion.  Also in the home is Geneva Varady, Nick’s betrothed and a shy, quiet soul.

Sara realizes she loves Nick and he loves her, but he won’t marry her because he can’t betray Geneva.

Sara’s mother hates being back in the house she fled after Leland’s death, and there’s something spooky about an upstairs room.

Other stuff happens.

In the end, Hester tells everyone the truth.  Her sister Elizabeth and her husband Martin died in a shipwreck, leaving Leland behind.  She took him in and raised him.  He married a barmaid named Callie, who had a streak of insanity.  She was Geneva’s mother.  Hester forced a divorce and sent Geneva to be raised by nuns until she could later claim her.  Leland married Mary, Sara’s mom, and Sara was born.  They all lived in the Varady mansion.  One day Callie showed up and pushed Leland over the banister in a fit of rage, killing him.  Sara witnessed this but had repressed it.  Hester locked Callie in the upstairs bedroom, Ah Foong gave her a kitten, and Hester has always been haunted by the cat.  Callie eventually died.  Mary and Sara fled to Chicago to make a new life for themselves in the wake of Callie’s death (though Mary didn’t know of Callie).

Sara was disinherited by Hester, but became a successful dressmaker with Mary’s help.

When Geneva learned about her mother’s insanity and about Sara’s love for Nick, she ran to the ruined Renwick place.  A wall collapsed, killing her, and leaving Nick and Sara free to marry.

Ritchie and Judith reconciled and got married, and he finally buckled down and became an architect.

The End.

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The Lying Game (Ruth Ware, 2017)

lyinggamecover

Why did you choose this book?

This is the third book I’ve read by Ware.  I really enjoy her ability to develop suspense, and this novel in particular reminded me of some of the 1960s romantic suspense novels I’ve really enjoyed (think Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney), minus the romance.

What’s it about?

Isa Wilde and her friends Fatima, Kate, and Thea, were notorious at their boarding school for their tight-knit friendship and a game they played that involved lying to everyone around them.  They spent every weekend with Kate’s father, Ambrose (the art teacher), at the nearby old mill that served as his home.  Until, that is, they were expelled and he vanished.  Seventeen years later, Isa receives a text from Kate, reading “I need you.”  She goes, and her life will never be the same.

Categories

Psychological suspense

Review

I found this novel to be the best from Ware so far.  In a Dark, Dark Wood felt a little sporadically paced with some plot holes.  The Woman in Cabin 10 felt implausible.  This one sucked me right in.  At times, I thought I knew where it was heading and had to take a break from the growing dread I felt.  I was wrong each time, but the book certainly had pull on my emotions.  I’d recommend this, despite my frustration with the protagonist, both for her constant lying and her callous treatment of her romantic partner.

Refresher (here there be spoilers)

No really, this is a book summary/plot synopsis

Ok, I warned you…

Part I: what you know before the last 50 pages.

The four girls were at school together and were expelled after the school received nude drawings of them done by Ambrose.  Fatima was sent to Pakistan to join her parents, Thea was taken to yet another boarding school (she had a history of expulsions), Kate stayed at the mill, and Isa returned home to her father and terminally ill mother.  The night before their expulsion, the girls discovered that Ambrose had committed suicide, leaving behind a note.  They drug his body out on the beach and buried it, because Kate was too young to live independently and would have been sent to foster care.  She claimed he had disappeared, but didn’t go to the police until she reached the age of majority, months later.  Her troubled step-brother, Luc, was sent back to his opiate-addicted mother in France, since he was also too young to live on his own.  The girls haven’t been reunited in 17 years, but when a body is discovered on the beach, Kate texts them and they all return.

Part II: what really happened.

Luc and Kate were sleeping together.  Ambrose was vehemently opposed to this and was planning to send Luc away to boarding school to stop it.  Luc was distraught, and after his traumatic childhood, believed that people would always betray him.  He laced Ambrose’s wine with heroin, causing Ambrose to overdose orally.  When Ambrose figured out what had happened (he was a former addict and knew the symptoms), he penned a suicide note in order to protect both children.

After all of this comes out, Luc and Kate have an argument.  Luc, not realizing the others are in the Mill, knocks over a paraffin lamp and the Mill goes up in flames.  Luc heroically rescues Isa’s infant daughter, but is himself consumed by the inferno, along with Kate, who had run back in to rescue him. The remaining three girls create a story to protect the posthumous reputations of Luc, Kate, and Ambrose, and finally quit lying to everyone around them.

Isa and her boyfriend Owen ostensibly make up, but she realizes she doesn’t really love him, although she’ll stay with him for the sake of their daughter, Freya.

As with some of Ware’s other works, I didn’t find the protagonist particularly likable, and I became frustrated with her relationship choices.  If she would have confided in Owen, even a portion of the story, I would have been much less frustrated with her.  Regardless, this was a compelling read.