A return to form for this popular author.

HOME BEFORE DARK

Spectral danger and human evil stalk Sager’s latest stalwart heroine.

When Maggie Holt’s father, Ewan, dies, she’s shocked to discover that she has inherited Baneberry Hall. Ewan made his name as a writer—and ruined her life—by writing a supposedly nonfiction account of the terrors their family endured while living in this grand Victorian mansion with a dark history. Determined to find out the truth behind her father’s sensational bestseller, Maggie returns to Baneberry Hall. Horror aficionados will feel quite cozy as they settle into this narrative, and Sager’s fans will recognize a familiar formula. As he has in his previous three novels, the author makes contemporary fiction out of time-honored tropes. Final Girls (2017) remains his most fresh and inventive novel, but his latest is significantly more satisfying than the two novels that followed. Interspersing Maggie’s story with chapters from her father’s book, Sager delivers something like a cross between The Haunting of Hill House and The Amityville Horror with a tough female protagonist. Ewan and Maggie both behave with the dogged idiocy common among people who buy haunted houses, but doubt about the veracity of Ewan’s book and Maggie’s desperate need to understand her own past make them both compelling characters. The ghosts and poltergeist activity Sager conjures are truly chilling, and he does a masterful job of keeping readers guessing until the very end. As was the case with past novels, though—especially The Last Time I Lied (2018)—Sager sets his story in the present while he seems to be writing about the past. For example, when the Holt family moved into Baneberry Hall in 1995 or thereabouts, Ewan—a professional journalist—worked on a typewriter. When Maggie wants to learn more about the history of Baneberry Hall, she drives to the town library instead of going online. Sager is already asking readers to suspend disbelief, and he makes that more difficult because it’s such a jolt when a character pulls out an iPhone or mentions eBay. This is, however, a minor complaint about what is a generally entertaining work of psychological suspense.

A return to form for this popular author.

Pub Date: June 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4517-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A smart summer escape.

PORTRAIT OF AN UNKNOWN WOMAN

Silva’s latest Gabriel Allon novel is a bit of a throwback—in the best possible way.

One-time assassin and legendary spymaster Gabriel Allon has finally retired. After saying farewell to his friends and colleagues in Israel, he moves with his wife, Chiara, and their two young children to a piano nobile overlooking Venice’s Grand Canal. His plan is to return to the workshop where he learned to restore paintings as an employee—but only after he spends several weeks recovering from the bullet wound that left him dead for several minutes in The Cellist (2021). Of course, no one expects Gabriel to entirely withdraw from the field, and, sure enough, a call from his friend and occasional asset Julian Isherwood sends him racing around the globe on the trail of art forgers who are willing to kill to protect their extremely lucrative enterprise. Silva provides plenty of thrills and, as usual, offers a glimpse into the lifestyles of the outrageously wealthy. In the early books in this series, it was Gabriel’s work as an art restorer that set him apart from other action heroes, and his return to that world is the most rewarding part of this installment. It is true that, at this point in his storied career, Gabriel has become a nearly mythic figure. And Silva is counting on a lot of love—and willing suspension of disbelief—when Gabriel whips up four old master canvases that fool the world’s leading art experts as a lure for the syndicate selling fake paintings. That said, as Silva explains in an author’s note, the art market is rife with secrecy, subterfuge, and wishful thinking, in no small part because it is almost entirely unregulated. And, if anyone can crank out a Titian, a Tintoretto, a Gentileschi, and a Veronese in a matter of days, it’s Gabriel Allon. The author’s longtime fans may breathe a sigh of relief that this entry is relatively free of politics and the pandemic is nowhere in sight.

A smart summer escape.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-283485-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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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

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