An engrossing, if subdued, psychological tale.

THE GARDEN HOUSE

In this novel, a woman’s search for meaning takes on new urgency when a stranger takes up residence in her garden house.

Miranda is a recent empty nester who isn’t quite sure where to devote her time and energy now that her children are out in the world. She decides to fix up the garden house on her property to use as an art studio—she used to paint before giving it up to be a wife and mother—but when she mentions her idea to her husband, Ben, she learns the building is soon to be inhabited. Unbeknown to Miranda, Ben has rented out the garden house to William Priestly, a somewhat mysterious friend of a friend. “A teacher or journalist or something,” says Ben. “From out East. New York, I think.” At first, Miranda is just happy that the garden house is in use—but then her sleep begins to be disturbed by unpleasant dreams. Ben thinks Miranda’s nightmares—which frequently involve children and shadowy predators—are inspired by her trips dropping some things off at the local teen shelter. As Miranda begins to notice William’s strange behavior—his odd hours, his comings and goings—she can’t help but wonder if he has something to do with her visions. After all, what do they really know about this stranger? Mahkovec’s prose is sharp and fluid, building tension in small domestic scenes: Miranda “heard a car door slam and went to look out the bedroom window. William had parked in the rear of the garden house. When he opened the back door, golden lamp light poured outside, and then disappeared when he shut the door.” The premise is a fun one, and Miranda is a finely drawn character, believable even as she treads frequently into the realm of clichés. The author does not take as many risks with the plot as readers would like, but neither does she deliver the sort of traditional thriller that the audience expects. She delves thoughtfully into empty nest syndrome and midlife evaluations, but the novel never really gets as dark as it seems like it wants to be. The result, while not disappointing, is not completely satisfying either.

An engrossing, if subdued, psychological tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-946229-12-0

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Bublish, Inc.

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A weird, wild ride.

THE HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE

Celebrity scandal and a haunted lake drive the narrative in this bestselling author’s latest serving of subtly ironic suspense.

Sager’s debut, Final Girls (2017), was fun and beautifully crafted. His most recent novels—Home Before Dark (2020) and Survive the Night (2021) —have been fun and a bit rickety. His new novel fits that mold. Narrator Casey Fletcher grew up watching her mother dazzle audiences, and then she became an actor herself. While she never achieves the “America’s sweetheart” status her mother enjoyed, Casey makes a career out of bit parts in movies and on TV and meatier parts onstage. Then the death of her husband sends her into an alcoholic spiral that ends with her getting fired from a Broadway play. When paparazzi document her substance abuse, her mother exiles her to the family retreat in Vermont. Casey has a dry, droll perspective that persists until circumstances overwhelm her, and if you’re getting a Carrie Fisher vibe from Casey Fletcher, that is almost certainly not an accident. Once in Vermont, she passes the time drinking bourbon and watching the former supermodel and the tech mogul who live across the lake through a pair of binoculars. Casey befriends Katherine Royce after rescuing her when she almost drowns and soon concludes that all is not well in Katherine and Tom’s marriage. Then Katherine disappears….It would be unfair to say too much about what happens next, but creepy coincidences start piling up, and eventually, Casey has to face the possibility that maybe some of the eerie legends about Lake Greene might have some truth to them. Sager certainly delivers a lot of twists, and he ventures into what is, for him, new territory. Are there some things that don’t quite add up at the end? Maybe, but asking that question does nothing but spoil a highly entertaining read.

A weird, wild ride.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-18319-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A unique story of transcendent love.

LAYLA

An aimless young musician meets the girl of his dreams only to have his newfound happiness threatened by several inexplicable—and possibly supernatural—events.

The story opens as Leeds Gabriel meets with a detective while his girlfriend, Layla, is restrained in a room one flight above them. Through the interview, readers learn that Leeds was wasting both his time and his musical talent playing backup for a small-town wedding troupe called Garrett’s Band when he spied Layla dancing her heart out to their mediocre music at a wedding. When Leeds approaches Layla, their connection is both instant and intense. A blissful courtship follows, but then Leeds makes the mistake of posting a picture of himself with Layla on social media. A former girlfriend–turned-stalker wastes no time in finding and attacking Layla. Layla spends months recovering in a hospital, and it seems the girl Leeds fell for might be forever changed. Gone is her special spark, her quirkiness, and the connection that had entranced Leeds months before. In a last-ditch effort to save their relationship, he brings Layla back to the bed-and-breakfast where they first met. When they get there, though, Leeds meets Willow, another guest, and finds himself drawn to her in spite of himself. As events unfold, it becomes clear that Willow will either be the key to saving Leeds’ relationship with Layla or the catalyst that finally extinguishes the last shreds of their epic romance. Told entirely from Leeds’ point of view, the author’s first foray into paranormal romance does not disappoint. Peppered with elements of mystery, psychological thriller, and contemporary romance, the novel explores questions about how quickly true love can develop, as well as the conflicts that can imperil even the strongest connections. Despite a limited cast of characters and very few setting changes, the narrative manages to remain both fast-paced and engaging. The conclusion leaves a few too many loose ends, but the chemistry between the characters and unexpected twists throughout make for a satisfying read.

A unique story of transcendent love.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0017-8

Page Count: 301

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

more