Cat Baxendale is an excellent planner. And she definitely has a plan when she and her husband, Paul, sister, Ginny and brother-in-law, Tristan embark on a hike in the Swiss Alps in this suspenseful thriller. The book opens after something bad, when two of the four stumble to the police building in the local village. “Side by side they sit, waiting. They are in this together.”
The story jumps back two days earlier when the group arrives from London. Here, the author sets up the dynamics between the four. Cat and Ginny, though sisters, are hardly alike. Cat, the responsible, hard worker, has built a successful event-planning business. Ginny, the vapid social media influencer, is most concerned about her looks and her foodie posts. More importantly, they recently argued about money at Ginny’s thirtieth birthday bash. In addition, both marriages are on the rocks. The author teases the reader with vague details about infidelities, inquiries and job changes. Paul seems beaten down and submissive while Tristan acts the typical glad-hander.
What is Cat’s plan and who is she in kahoots with? What will happen when they get up on the mountain and must depend on each other, without their phones, by the way? Because nothing ever goes completely as planned. Difficult trails with hair-raising ascents, detours, bad gear, not enough water and food: just the right setting for a thriller.
I tend to fall into the traps of thrillers, latching on to one reliable character, believing suppositions about others. That is the fun of reading books like this. They are great diversions and readers expect the typical tropes. I love when conflicts erupt between characters. I like riding through all the twists and turns and enjoy the sudden reveals that keep the plot going.
The story jumps back and forth between the hike and the visit to the police, including observations from an unnamed creepy follower. Readers will need to read to the last page to figure it all out. I enjoyed this book. Though definitely not great literature, it was a nice escape. That is what thrillers are. They allow you to gasp, “I’m so glad that’s not me up on that mountain!”
I recommend The Hike to readers looking for a quick read, who don’t mind unlikable characters, because there are a lot of them in this one.
Weldome to a new feature on Book Club Mom: Short Reviews of Recommended Reads. I hope you’ll take a look!
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave: Hannah Michaels doesn’t know what to think when she reads a hasty note from her new husband, Owen. “Protect her” is all it says, referring, she thinks to his sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. When Owen doesn’t return home from his chief coding job at a California software startup, and when police arrest the CEO for embezzlement and fraud, Hannah suspects that Owen is on the run. But why is Bailey in danger? With limited information, Hannah must decide whether to hide or seek out a hunch she has. Soon they’re in Austin, chasing down memories that lead to Owen’s secret and dangerous past. Here, Hannah faces a difficult and irrevocable choice, but she’ll do anything to protect Owen’s daughter. A fast, light and easy read about families and secrets, good for the beach or a plane ride.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline: I liked this book that parallels the story of a young girl sent west on an orphan train from New York City in 1929 and a present-day Native American teenage girl who has struggled in the modern foster care system. I think Kline does an excellent job showing us how Niamh Power and these destitute orphaned children, both numb and frightened, must have felt as they traveled and met up with their matches, which were often far from perfect. In present day, Molly Ayer is a rebellious, Goth girl whose father has died and whose mother is addicted to drugs. Molly meets ninety-one year-old Niamh, now named Vivian, when she is assigned to a community service punishment for stealing a book. The two form a friendship as Molly helps Vivian sort through her attic and together they relive Vivian’s story.
The Giver by Lois Lowry: The Giver is a terrific thought-provoking middle school read, great for adults too. It is the story of a controlled society in which there are no choices or conflict. When Jonas turns twelve, he must train with The Giver and prepare to receive all the memories of love, happiness, war and pain. During his training, Jonas learns the hard truth about his community and its rules and knows he must act decisively to bring about change. The best part about this book is that every word counts. Lois Lowry is great at describing her characters and their community. She includes meaningful foreshadowing that leads the reader through a gradual understanding of what might initially seem like an acceptable way to live. She accomplishes this by revealing just enough details and we realize the facts just as Jonas does. The Giver ends just as you want to learn more. And thankfully, there is more to the story in Messenger, Gathering Blue and Son.
Wow, I picked this book up on a whim. I liked the cover and was in the mood for a suspenseful read. Let me tell you, I was immediately pulled into this story about Wylie Lark, a true crime writer who rents an old farmhouse in Iowa to complete her book. The first twist is that the house is the site of a violent crime, in 2000, and the subject of her book. When a fierce winter storm rolls in, Wylie goes out to the barn to load up on firewood and discovers a half-frozen child in the snow. With no one else around, Wylie wonders how the child got there. Once back inside, she hopes to learn more.
The book alternates between three storylines. Wylie in the present day during the storm, the farming family in 2000, the murders and the investigation, and a mysterious account of a woman and girl held prisoner in the basement of a house.
Wylie knows that the power will go out, but that’s the least of her troubles. I don’t even want to hint at what happens that night, because the surprises and the suspense are what kept me intrigued throughout the book.
Back in 2000, readers learn about the crime, the victims, and the investigation. The crime shocks the small town and friends and neighbors immediately cast suspicion on several people. I guessed who might have been responsible, but I was wrong, and when I adjusted my guess, I was still wrong!
In addition, we get to know the mother and girl who are kept locked in the basement and wonder how they are connected to the story. The only hope is that they find a way to escape.
Gudenkauf does a great job with the suspense and plot, which leads to a wild showdown between good and evil. The best part of the book was how well she ties the three plots together and while there’s the required suspension of disbelief, by that point I was so invested in the story I could not wait to find out what happened.
I’m not a fan of grisly thrillers and suspense and this has a little bit of that, but that’s required to some extent to make the characters’ motives believable.
I’d just read another thriller which didn’t have nearly as much suspense, so this one was a terrific escape. I recommend The Overnight Guest to readers who like thrillers and interesting conflicts and are okay with some violence.
I’m kicking off the new year with a new feature: Short Reviews of Recommended Reads. Take a look!
A Girl Named Truth by Alethea Kehas – I learned a lot about my blogging friend Alethea in this engrossing and beautifully written memoir about her unconventional upbringing, and more importantly, her struggle to know how truth (her namesake) fits into the narrative of her life. From her early days of rustic camping in Oregon, to life on the run with her mother and older sister in various Hare Krishna compounds, to a new chapters in New Hampshire, Alethea adapts, yet yearns to understand where she fits in. Particularly troubling is her father’s distance, a man who had once searched for his daughters, but gave up. For Alethea, truth and understanding come full circle as she enters marriage and motherhood. There’s lots more in this book. Stay tuned for a special author interview in February!
Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben – Nap Dumas is a rogue detective in North Jersey, haunted by the deaths fifteen years earlier of his twin brother, Leo, his brother’s girlfriend, Diana Styles, and the disappearance of Nap’s girlfriend, Maura, When Maura’s fingerprints turn up on a car, Nap becomes obsessed with discovering what really happened during the fall of their senior year in high school. In question are his brother’s Conspiracy Club and the government’s Nike missile base in their town during the 1970s. Now it seems that someone is killing off the other Conspiracy Club members. Captain Augie Styles still mourns the death of his only child and feels particularly vulnerable with these new developments. I’m always drawn to books set in New Jersey and knew nothing about the Nike missile bases planted in the area, so learning about that was interesting to me. Overall, however, a typical fast troubled-detective story.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Lineby Deepa Anappara – Jai is a nine-year-old boy living with his family in the crowded slums of a large Indian city. When one of his classmates disappears, Jai and his friends form a detective club to solve the mystery, only to discover a series of terrible crimes. This mystery portrays a vivid and sobering look at the desperate lives of many poor people living in metropolitan India. Despite their impoverishment, Jai and his family cling to their beliefs and traditions. The author also shows the conflicts between Hindus and their Muslim neighbors, who are quickly blamed for the crimes. A multitude of terms and references make this a bit of a slow read, but very moving and informative.
Hi Everyone! I’m going to have a lot of time to read during the next five days so I loaded up my Kindle with potential books. It’s such a fun feeling to know I can pick any one of these, depending on my mood! I even threw a spooky read – I hope I can handle it 👻
I haven’t been on the blog much this month because my off-blog schedule has been crazy! Things will settle down next week and I look forward to getting back into my routine and visiting all of you!
I always enjoy new fiction, but I also love when I discover an excellent older book. I’m not talking about classics, but more recent books I missed when they were first published. The Cutting Season was published in 2012 and although it’s a suspenseful murder mystery, I’d also describe it as literature with well-developed characters and themes.
Set in 2009 Louisiana on Belle Vie, a former sugar cane plantation turned tourist attraction and wedding venue, Locke tells the story of four generations connected to Belle Vie and ties together two murders, over a hundred years apart. Caren Gray, the main character, grew up on the plantation, owned by the Clancy family and where, her mother, Helen was the cook. Their family traces back to Caren’s great-great-great-grandfather, Jason, a slave worker who mysteriously disappeared in 1872. Now Caren manages Belle Vie, including a staff of re-enactors who play the roles of slaves. The grounds are limited to the land adjacent to the cane fields. Groveland Farms leases the fields and, instead of employing locals, hires immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America.
Although Belle Vie is not far from New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Caren leads an isolated life on the property where she’s raising her nine-year-old daughter, Morgan Ellis. Caren returned to Belle Vie in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina and a crumbling relationship with Morgan’s father, Eric. The couple had met during law school, but Caren was unable to finish.
The story opens when a Belle Vie maintenance worker discovers the body of Inés Avalo, a Groveland employee. Her body was found along the inside of the fence that divides Belle Vie and the leased land. Detectives immediately suspect one of the re-enactors, Donovan Isaacs, who has mysteriously disappeared.
Also at play is the Clancy family: Leland and his sons Raymond and Bobby, who fell into ownership when a Clancy ancestor acquired the plantation after the Civil War. When Leland ran Belle Vie, during which time Caren and Leland’s sons grew up, he made sure to do his part to correct the injustices against blacks. Bobby, for unknown reasons, is out of the picture and Raymond now runs Belle Vie. He’s counting on his father’s legacy to help his political aspirations.
Caren feels a complex connection to Belle Vie, as do all the people who work there. Some have family ties to the place, but the young players, including Donovan, are still learning Belle Vie’s history. She’s also uneasy around Raymond, who still reminds her of his position of authority. Bobby had always been her favorite and Caren wonders about Raymond when Bobby returns to warn her about his money-grubbing brother.
Not just a suspenseful mystery, this is a story about how an ugly period of American history fits into a modern setting and how its characters deal with their own history and its connection to slavery. Should places like Belle Vie continue to exist to educate new generations, or are they just glossy versions of a shameful period?
This Young Adult thriller is just as good or better than many of the adult thrillers I’ve recently read! Five Total Strangers is about Mira Hayes, a high school art student traveling home for Christmas from San Diego to Pittsburgh. When a snowstorm strands her in Newark, she accepts a ride from Harper Chung, her seatmate on the flight. Harper, a college student at Pomona, has rented an SUV and offered rides to three others: Brecken, an intense pre-med student from UC Berkeley, Josh, a tall blond with sleepy eyes and a knee brace and Kayla, a willowy girl who sleeps a lot. At first, Mira thinks the others all know each other, but she soon discovers that they are all strangers, with an emphasis on strange.
But Mira doesn’t care as long as she gets home for Christmas. It’s just Mira and her mom this year and it’s also the anniversary of her aunt’s death, her mother’s twin. Plus she’s just discovered that her mom and stepfather have split. After a year of helping her mom through a devastating loss, Mira has become her mother’s emotional caretaker and getting home is a must.
Treacherous driving conditions become the first layer of suspense. Then, one by one, the strangers’ belongings, important ones, go missing. Someone is lying and Mira doesn’t know whom to trust. Things get weirder when they stop along the way and outsiders become involved. As tension builds, Mira asks herself, “What if one of us isn’t in this car to get home at all? What if one of us got in this car for all the wrong reasons?”
I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop with the plot development! I thought this was an excellent story and that the characters were realistic teens and early twenty-somethings. Like Mira, readers won’t be sure who’s trustworthy and who’s evil because they all have secrets (even Mira, who hasn’t told them she’s only in high school). Harper keeps looking at her phone in horror. Brecken smiles like a wolf. Josh doesn’t want help or attention and Kayla, when she’s awake acts strangely. Readers want Mira to get home safely, but they also want to know what’s up with these people.
Although the subplot of Mira wanting to get home to her mom is more young-adult oriented, the suspense is on par with adult thrillers. This is a fast, satisfying read and I recommend it to all readers who like thrillers.
Books: Hollystone Mysteries—To Charm a Killer, To Sleep with Stones, To Render a Raven, To Kill a King, and Lure River Romances—Lure: Jesse & Hawk
Bio: W. L. Hawkin writes mysterious romantic adventures from her home on Vancouver Island, Canada. Wendy graduated from Trent University with a BA in Indigenous Studies, then went on to study English literature at SFU in British Columbia, and teach high school. She found her voice publishing poetry and Native Rights articles in Canadian news magazines and is now an Indie author/publisher at Blue Haven Press.
What got you started as a writer? I started writing poetry as a teenager to make sense of my world: “It’s a maze. It’s a haze. It’s a crazy place.” But when I saw Romancing the Stone in the 1980s, I wanted to be a romance novelist. Shortly after that, I wrote the first draft of what has become my latest romantic suspense release (Lure: Jesse & Hawk).
What is your writing routine? I write when the muse is with me and then for as long as my body holds out—some days six hours if I’m on, and other days not at all.
What routes did you take to get your books published? When I first wrote To Charm a Killer, I sent it to a few agents and publishers. I had some interest, but no one wanted to commit to a first-time author who wrote blended genres. It’s hard to sell. So, I took a chance and published it myself. By that time, I’d finished my fourth book in the Hollystone Mysteries, I’d learned the ropes.
What things do you do to promote your books? I created a solid website and keep it updated. I enter contests and do readings/sales in my local community. Last year, I started working with a publicist who booked me on all kinds of media (TV, radio, podcasts, magazines) so I became comfortable talking about myself and my work (again, not easy for an introvert). I’m now able to approach people like you, Barb, and ask.
What is your favorite genre to read and why? Mystery/suspense is my favourite, no matter what century it’s set, and that’s what I write as well. Sometimes I venture into fantasy and action/adventure. I’m a regular reviewer with the Ottawa Review of Books so receive excellent ARCs from Canadian publishers.
Do you prefer to write dialogue or description? I don’t have a preference and you need to balance both in a scene to make it dynamic.
Have any of your characters ever surprised you? Did this change the plot of your book? Absolutely, and often. Once I connect with my characters, I meditate to get into an almost trance-like space where I can see and hear what’s happening. I’ve had reviewers say my writer is “cinematic” and I think that’s why. In To Sleep with Stones, one of the characters died in a very dramatic scene and I had no idea that was going to happen. I wrote that sequence in tears, and I think that raw emotion comes through to the reader.
What is the most difficult thing you have accomplished in your life? I quit high school in grade ten. In my mid-thirties, I was compelled to finish. One of the courses was Native Ancestry 11, and I had such an epiphany with that content, I wanted to go on and take university courses in Indigenous Studies. Coincidentally, I wrote the first draft of Lure: Jesse & Hawk, my latest release during that time. My ex-husband didn’t support me, so I left my marriage and completed my B.A. as a single mother going part-time to university courses for years. That was a challenging time, but also a healing time for me.
What three events or people have most influenced how you live your life? One: reading The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell in 1990 blew open my world and taught me to follow my “bliss.” Two: leaving my marriage and taking my young daughter taught me many things about living in this world. Three: graduating from university and getting my first paying gig as a teacher gave me financial independence and a sense of moral/ethical living in a community.
What would you tell your younger self? Borrowing from my mentor, Joseph Campbell, I’d say follow your passion, your bliss, and doors will open for you. Bundle up your problems and leave them outside, then walk through that door carrying a sense of curiosity, wonder, and hope.
Have you ever met up with a bear on a hike? If so, what did you do? If not, are you looking up what to do right now? I sure have! I live in the Pacific Northwest on bear territory so regularly see them. Remember that you’re a guest on their land, back up slowly, and give them the right of way. Hawk meets up with a bear in Lure, and unfortunately, he’s unable to back up and walk away, but that’s another story.
You’re locked in your local library for the night with no dinner. Thank goodness you have water, but you only have enough change to buy one item from the vending machine. Choices are limited to: Fudge Pop Tarts, Snickers or Doritos. Which would you choose and why? Doritos by default, despite the crumbs. I can’t eat gluten or cow dairy so until they start making junk food gluten free, and chocolate out of water buffalo milk and/or pure cocoa butter, I’ll stick to my corn chips.
What’s the largest number of people you’ve had in your kitchen at one time? In my whole lifetime? Probably a dozen at my parent’s wedding anniversary.
I’ve been trying to decide what kind of rating to give this atmospheric thriller about Abigail Baskin, a young woman on her honeymoon. Abigail’s marriage to Bruce Lamb isn’t off to a great start. Weeks earlier at her bachelorette weekend, she slept with a stranger. She’s filled with guilt, but the fling has convinced her she wants to spend the rest of her life with Bruce.
Bruce has made all the arrangements for the honeymoon and they arrive on Heart Pond Island, an isolated luxurious retreat off the coast of Maine. It looks beautiful, but something strange is going on. It’s nearly empty, except for the overly attentive waitstaff and only one other newlywed couple. What’s even weirder is that the rest of the guests are men, and Bruce seems to know them all.
To Abigail’s horror, one of them is the stranger from her bachelorette weekend.
I liked the setting and the story’s premise and that made me want to know how it all worked out. I could picture the island and its rocky coast. Swanson also does a good job describing Abigail’s character. She has an interesting background. For years, her parents ran a theater where they produced plays and musicals and Abigail grew up in this theatrical atmosphere. She’s also smart and wants to be a novelist. When she moves to New York for a publishing job, she meets Bruce, a wildly successful businessman. What he does is vague, but that’s what kept me reading. I also liked that Swanson included literary, movie and musical references. The title is a line from the song by The Police, “Every Breath You Take,” a creepy suggestion that Bruce may be a little too controlling.
So all good buildup with a lot of strange conversations and uncomfortable setups on the island. Of course, a logical person would question the arrangements, never to be in the position that Abigail finds herself in. But characters who make bad decisions and go along with what we all know is trouble are what you want in a thriller.
Despite not really liking any of the characters and, I’m sorry to say that includes the heroine, I wanted her to escape danger. The problem was, just as things were getting interesting, the plot made an outlandish turn. Completely unbelievable! Swanson uses all the thriller/horror tropes as Abigail tries to escape danger and that includes gory and misogynist violence in the story’s final scenes.
Swanson wins in a way because I didn’t want to put the book down, but honestly, I was shaking my head through the last fifty pages. So I’m giving it 3 stars because I liked most of it, but was disappointed with the finish.
Some bloggers liked the book and others felt the way I did. You can check out their reviews here:
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