Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
Maggie Holt doesn’t want to go home again. In fact, she desperately wants to avoid revisiting the rambling house that she and her parents fled years ago. But, at the reading of her dad’s will, Maggie learns that not only did Ewan never sell that mansion, but now it’s hers.
A house-flipping designer by trade, Maggie is determined to get in and out of the house as quickly as possible with as much profit as she can. You see, the house is a Hell House, full of mystery and vengeful spirits, if you believe the book that Ewan wrote shortly after the family escaped a near death experience. Maggie doesn’t believe her father’s stories and resents him for profiting off of the their family’s pain, so she’s more concerned about the memories being in the house will bring rather than the spirits that may still be present.
I really enjoyed this book, my first from author Riley Sager. I can’t share too much without spoiling the plot, but I can tell you that reading this book at night definitely left me feeling spooked. I rarely read horror or scary books, so this was way outside my comfort zone. I’m glad I was pleasantly surprised and have since purchased two more Sager books for my to-be-read shelves.
What I liked About Home Before Dark
- The writing: Sager can tell a story! This is a very atmospheric novel, and I could feel the setting around me. The pace was fast but not too fast, and the story kept me turning pages.
- The format: Home Before Dark is a book-within-a-book. Maggie is the protagonist and present-day narrator, but we get Ewan’s point of view with alternating chapters taken from his novel about the Holt family’s experience. This format was a great narrative device to move the story forward.
- The characters: I love an unreliable narrator, and Home Before Dark gave me two! Maggie is resentful and her blocked memories made me question her truth. Separately, we learn early on that Ewan Holt made millions off his book about the house, and that poses an ethical question of what the real story is. I didn’t know who was telling the truth, and that kept me engaged.
In short, Home Before Dark was a great read. It’s spooky and fast-paced, and I look forward to reading my next Sager book.
The Family Game by Catherine Steadman
A Five-Star Book Review
This was my first Catherine Steadman book, but it won’t be my last. I loved The Family Game for many reasons, but most of all, it is a fast-paced thriller that kept me questioning and guessing, which makes for an excellent read.
Synopsis of The Family Game
Harriet (Harry) Reed is a British author who has found success in her own right. Then she met Edward Holbeck, the first son of the Holbeck empire, and the charming man sweeps her off her feet, leading to her move to New York City as she struggles to finish her next novel. When Edward proposes, Harry eagerly accepts. The only trepidation that she, and Edward, feel is Harry’s impending introduction to the rest of the Holbeck family.
Edward has distanced himself from the family conglomerate of communications, logistics, and massive power. He is careful to warn Harry that his parents, Robert and Eleanor, and siblings: Matilda, Stuart, and Oliver, can be overwhelming and often cross boundaries. But the newly engaged couple has much to celebrate, and Harry would be lying if she wasn’t intrigued by the family’s wealth and prominence.
As Harry tries to adjust to the thought of joining the Holbeck family, she is drawn toward patriarch Robert and quickly learns that this family plays many games, some friendly and some not.
What I Loved about The Family Game
- The plot: I generally lean toward character-driven storylines, and The Family Game is full of well-developed characters. However, the plot is what shined for me. This is a good plot. With twists and turns and questionable actions, Steadman’s story is a wild journey, and I can’t give away too much without spoiling the book, but I’ll give a few examples here:
- Immense wealth passed down from a 19th century patriarch’s monopoly during the Industrial Revolution.
- A castle razed from its original land in Hungary and rebuilt by hand in the countryside of New York State.
- Krampusnacht. That is all.
- The characters: Not only is the narrator, Harry, a complex protagonist, but the entire Holbeck family is nuanced and unreliable. Everyone has more motivations lingering underneath the surface.
- The writing: Steadman is my kind of writer. Her prose isn’t sparse, but it is directly and elegant. She writes sentences that you know are foreshadowing for the rest of the story, but you don’t know why. She moves the story and characters along quickly, and she doesn’t bury a reader in unnecessary details.
The Family Game is a twisted thriller full of family drama, hidden truths, and complex histories. It’s a great read, and I highly recommend you pick it up if you’re looking for an exciting ride.