When I was first pitched this book, one thing stood out that made me not pass on it—-Guatemala. My husband is Guatemalan and there really aren’t books out there that feature his culture. Trust me I am always on the look out too! So when I saw that this book would have a Central American theme in it, I was totally on board to not only feature it but also review it!
I have been really loving thrillers and mysteries lately, and I have a special place in my heart for psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators. I featured this one back in early January and couldn’t wait to start reading it. In fact I rearranged some of my review calendar for this book so that should tell you how excited I was for this one. I wasn’t sure how much the Guatemalan angle would play in the story but just seeing it in the summary was enough to make me jump for this one!
This book was also selected as Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club pick for January so clearly it must be worth reading! Reese’s Book Club usually has some great reads. I know I have found quite a few thrillers thanks to her book club that I wouldn’t normally pick up to read. Since this book made her book club, a lot of readers have been hailing it as the thriller to set the tone for the new year. Obviously a lot of hype around this book though for me it was less about the hype and more about what the book promised to deliver—-and did it?
Armed with only hazy memories, a woman who long ago witnessed her friend’s sudden, mysterious death, and has since spent her life trying to forget, sets out to track down answers. What she uncovers, deep in the woods, is hardly to be believed….
Maya was a high school senior when her best friend, Aubrey, mysteriously dropped dead in front of the enigmatic man named Frank whom they’d been spending time with all summer.
Seven years later, Maya lives in Boston with a loving boyfriend and is kicking the secret addiction that has allowed her to cope with what happened years ago, the gaps in her memories, and the lost time that she can’t account for. But her past comes rushing back when she comes across a recent YouTube video in which a young woman suddenly keels over and dies in a diner while sitting across from none other than Frank. Plunged into the trauma that has defined her life, Maya heads to her Berkshires hometown to relive that fateful summer–the influence Frank once had on her and the obsessive jealousy that nearly destroyed her friendship with Aubrey.
At her mother’s house, she excavates fragments of her past and notices hidden messages in her deceased Guatemalan father’s book that didn’t stand out to her earlier. To save herself, she must understand a story written before she was born, but time keeps running out, and soon, all roads are leading back to Frank’s cabin….
Utterly unique and captivating, The House in the Pines keeps you guessing about whether we can ever fully confront the past and return home. (summary from Goodreads)
I don’t know that this book fully delivered for me. It was a great debut, but there were things that didn’t work for me. Did it deliver in the tension and unpredictability of an unreliable narrator? Yes it absolutely did. So if you love unreliable narrators this book hits that target no problem. Though I have to admit I did NOT like Maya. I have a hard time sympathizing with addicts, it’s just a personal trigger for me and I almost always struggle with characters who have substance abuse issues. Am I sympathetic to the reasons behind substance abuse? Yes of course—-I am not heartless. I just have a hard time relating to them as I do not struggle with those things and I have people in my life who have and overall it’s just a trigger for me and I often struggle relating to characters who have those addictions.
In this book though, I think having Maya struggle with the trauma of her past and having it reappear again in adulthood at a vulnerable time for her, really worked. Even if I didn’t love her character, I could appreciate how the trauma of her past impacted her life and shaped her struggles as an adult. In this case, I loved that the book had a past and present timeline. It really brought the story together. And I found that Guatemala really didn’t play a big part in the novel like I had thought—which ultimately was fine but I did have hope that more of the culture would be present in the book but in the end it wasn’t a huge deal and I felt like the book stood alone just fine as a psychological thriller without my hope of additional culture etc.
So what did I think of this one? I liked it and thought it was a good debut. It held my interest and I thought it had a solid premise and a modern thriller feel to it. But I did hope for a stronger ending and maybe a few more twists. It was a fast read so I think fans of the thriller genre who are accustom to quick reads will like that about this one but for me, I was hoping for more of a connection to the characters and a stronger ending, but overall it wasn’t bad and certainly worth a read. It was a solid debut and a good unreliable narrator, but I think as the author, Ana Reyes, writes more, I think she will produce stronger thrillers. In the end I went with a 3 star review—solid good read.
Book Info and Rating
336 pages, HardcoverPublished
January 3, 2023 by Dutton
ISBN 9780593186718 (ISBN10: 0593186710)
Free review copy provided by publisher, Dutton, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: thriller, mystery, psychological thriller