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.

99 Days (Kate Cotugno, 2015)

99-days

Guys, I read a book!  I feel like this is newsworthy since it’s been forever….

Why did you choose this book?

This was one of the first ARCs (Advance Reader’s Copies) I picked up in my last job.  It’s a little sad that I’m just now getting around to reading it.

What’s it about?

Molly made a mistake during her junior year – sleeping with her boyfriend’s brother.  She kept the secret for a year, until her mom’s next novel was published, revealing all of the gritty details to everyone in town.  After a year away at boarding school, Molly just has to survive the summer back home.  It’s only 99 days.

Categories

Teen, fiction

Review

This book helped to pull me out of a reading slump (hence why I haven’t blogged since June).  I read it over the course of two evenings, and found it pretty enjoyable.  The book is structured with each chapter as one of the 99 days, some with less than a page of text and others of “normal” chapter length.  I made the mistake of reading some Goodreads reviews halfway through, which I think unfairly colored my perception of the remainder of the book.  Molly definitely made some mistakes and was kind of whiny, but I found the book to be fine for some fun light reading.  Patrick, however, escaped too unscathed.

Refresher (here there be spoilers)

No really, this is a book summary/plot synopsis

Ok, I warned you…

In essence, Molly gets a job at a hotel and befriends her ex-boyfriend’s (Patrick) new girlfriend, Tess.  Patrick’s brother Gabe has been falling for Molly for most of their lives (he’s also the one she slept with), and he starts dating her again.  Molly is constantly bullied by Patrick’s twin, Julia, who becomes much nicer after Molly discovers she’s a lesbian.  However, Patrick can’t resist Molly’s charms (he’s kind of a jerk) and starts fooling around with her whenever he can.  He sneaks into her house to have sex for the first time, but upon realizing that Molly went all the way with Gabe, becomes irate with her and spills the truth about what they’ve been doing together all summer.  Just as everything is coming together for Molly, it all falls apart again, except this time not even Gabe is her ally.  Luckily, by this point the 99 days are over and Molly is off to college to bond with her new roommate Roisin, who has also had a summer filled with boyfriend drama.  Talk about a roller coaster ride of a novel – I think Molly had the ambiguous ending she deserved, but I think Patrick needed to be impacted by more of the fallout.

Hot Attraction (Lisa Childs, 2016)

hot attraction

Why did you choose this book?

I’m trying to read through a variety of Harlequins to get a sense of the differences between imprints.  So far I’ve tried Special Edition, Presents, and Blaze.  I didn’t review the Special Edition but suffice it to say it was a little too bland and cheesy for me.  My favorite so far is Presents.

What’s it about?

Reporter Avery Kincaid is looking for a story while spending some time in her hometown.  Elite Hotshot firefighter Dawson Hess is putting out forest fires, saving lives, and trying to keep to himself.  After he rescues Avery’s nephews from a fire, he’s on her radar and she won’t let him get away without giving her a scoop!

Categories

Harlequin Blaze, romance

Other recommended reads?

Besides the other entries in this series?  I would try authors known for their steamy romance like Maya Banks or Lora Leigh.

Review

My favorite is still Presents, of the Harlequins I’ve tried so far.  This one was mostly romance and not much plot, which I guess is why you read a Blaze in the first place.  My major issue is that the plot revolves around an arsonist (who tries to kill Avery multiple times), yet no one investigates to determine the arsonist’s identity.  He or she is still unknown at the end of the book.  Unless they unveil the arsonist in another volume of the Hotshot Heroes series, I feel that’s a very unsatisfying conclusion.  I also thought it was unrealistic for Dawson to remain on that Hotshot team after his past is revealed.

Up next?

We have two choices:

Dead Presidents by Brady Carlson

Devoured by Sophie Egan

 

Passenger (Alexandra Bracken, 2016)

passenger.jpg

Why did you choose this book?

Partially for the premise, but primarily for the cover.  So stunning!

What’s it about?

Teenage Etta steps onto the stage at the Met for her first solo violin performance with a full orchestra.  As she begins to play, she is interrupted by overwhelming feedback only she can hear.  Another musician grabs her and pushes her through a portal, where she awakens in a ship’s cabin with a frantic battle and roaring cannon fire overhead.  To give you the basic premise, the head of the travelers is a ruthless grandfather-type-figure who is holding Etta’s mother hostage and will harm her unless Etta returns in a week with an astrolabe that can be used to further his power.

Bracken has a fascinating premise in these books.  Essentially, there were four families of “travelers” who could use passages throughout the world to travel through both time and space.  These four families have now been consolidated into one under the power of “Grandfather.”  The passages are an intriguing idea.  The passage in the Met of 2015 leads to 1776 Nassau.  Passages only connect two times and places, however, so to get to, say, mid-1500s Damascus, travelers would have to take multiple specific passages.  It’s mind-boggling, especially because travelers have to keep track of their movements to avoid crossing paths with themselves.

Categories

Fantasy, teen, time travel

Other recommended reads?

Although it doesn’t have daemons, the portals in this book reminded me of those in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series.

Review

I started to lose interest toward the end, but it’s a smart and engaging fantasy.  I appreciated the fact that there were no magical powers and the passages were the only fantastical element.  It was also an intelligent read for teenagers and didn’t over-simplify, though I certainly wish that the characters had spent more time getting immersed in many of the eras to which they traveled.  The second book is due out next year and is entitled Wayfarer.

Up next?

Hot Attraction by Lisa Childs

Funny Girl (Nick Hornby, 2015)

funny girl

Why did you choose this book?

A short, sweet answer: July Fiction Book Discussion Pick!

What’s it about?

Barbara from Blackpool is determined to become the next Lucille Ball.  She turns down the title of Miss Blackpool and heads to London, where a chance encounter with an agent and a lucky break at casting lead to a sitcom that makes her a national idol.

Categories

Fiction, beach read, British humor

Other recommended reads?

Other Hornby books.  He’s written several and has a very unique writing style, of which I just can’t get enough!

Review

I liked this much more than I expected to.  The book isn’t completely about the female protagonist, but also her male co-star, her shy and sweet producer, and the pair of writers struggling in marriages of different sorts.  I liked all of the supporting characters (except maybe Bill – he was quite gruff), and I’m sure that I failed to understand some of the distinctly British humor, but it was an enjoyable, quick read that I devoured over Independence Day weekend (I’m a bit behind on posting, I know).  I’m now inspired to try some of Hornby’s other books.  I also really liked the format.  It was separated into chapters by the series of the TV show, and after the show ended, it skipped several decades and provided a fitting and satisfying epilogue.

Up next?

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction (Neil Gaiman, 2016)

cheap seats

Why did you choose this book?

I’ve been meaning to read Gaiman for quite some time now, and my favorite yearly reading challenge asked for a collection of essays.  This seemed as good an option as any, though I did fail to realize it was over 500 pages long until after picking it up from the library.

What’s it about?

It is, most simply, a collection of written speeches and essays by a well-known author.  Most have to do with art, comics, literature, film, and other authors.

Categories

Nonfiction, essays

Other recommended reads?

Probably authorial memoirs.  The one jumping to mind is In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri and Ann Goldstein, though I can’t say why exactly.

Review

My interest in these pieces waned and waxed in accordance with the topic of each section.  I certainly learned a few new things, and if I wasn’t interested in the topic, it was nice that the pieces were fairly short and diverse.  There was one anecdote that cracked me up completely.  Gaiman recounts his experience at the Oscars, when he was in line behind a woman in a beautiful watercolor dress (Rachel McAdams).  Someone stepped on her dress.  She stopped for a photo, and he used the time to inspect her dress for footprints.  Much to his surprise, a photo of her graced the cover of The Guardian, with him front and center, staring at her dress in rapt concentration.

Up next?

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby