The Stone Forest
Jenna Kirk followed her older sister Mandi out into the night to get a glimpse of Mandi’s boyfriend, Mace MacCaman, who is also the love of Jenna’s life. Instead she walks into a kidnapping: both Jenna and Mandi disappear. A few days later, Jenna is dumped at home, drugged and alone, with few memories of her captivity. Mandi is never found.
Fifteen years have passed since that fateful night and Jenna has finally returned to her hometown of Ridgeview, Indiana to live in her childhood home and start her own business building designer tree houses. She’s not the only one coming home.
Mace and his sister Cassie have also returned to take over the family stonecutting business, and to be near their father, who’s dying of cancer. Cassie, a journalist, is Jenna’s best friend. She is determined to write the biography of Jenna’s mother, Cynthia, a politician on the verge of getting the Republican nomination for Vice President. Both Cassie and Jenna are surprised by Cynthia’s initial reluctance to be involved in the book. But even more important to Jenna is the return of Mace. After the kidnapping he was a prime suspect, and as soon as he was cleared fled town for college. He is now a geologist who has explored caves all over the world. Now he’s back – will he and Jenna explore those feelings they’ve been fighting for fifteen years?
Things should be looking up for Jenna, except that shortly after she moves home she starts receiving gifts and calls that could only come from Mandi. But Mandi has been presumed dead for over a decade. The kidnapper was never caught – could he or she be targeting Jenna again? Jenna is forced to remember what happened that fateful night, before someone decides to silence her for good.
I must comment on how much I loved Jenna and Mace’s unique career paths. As someone who grew up in a place with few trees, the thought of a designer tree house just sounds cool. And when was the last time you read a book about a hero whose passion is spelunking?
Not only were their jobs interesting, but Jenna and Mace were likable people. Jenna has no TSTL moments. When it’s obvious she’s being manipulated, she knows when to play along and when to stand her ground. She never gives away too much information to the villains. Mace is supportive of Jenna and only in one scene, which seemed out of character with how he’s presented in the rest of the book, does he jump to a conclusion about her based on something Mandi did. These two have common interests and their career choices compliment each other. It is quite believable that they’d fall in love.
The mystery was also believable. The villains’ motives made sense, which made them that much more evil. There were a few red herrings, but Harper never belittles the reader’s intelligence by dragging them out for very long. Even though I was surprised to learn who did it, the clues are there all along and many people will figure out who’s guilty long before the end of the book.
The Stone Forest makes for an enjoyable read. Many romantic suspense novels short-change either the romance or the suspense. Harper doesn’t fall into that trap; this book is both suspenseful, with a pervading sense of dread that built with each clue revealed, and romantic, with likable characters who were fully fleshed. Particularly notable were Cassie, who never backed down no matter what happened to her, and Gil, Mace’s best friend and fellow spelunker, who was a strong secondary character rather than one who simply occupied space. If you’re looking for a good romantic suspense novel with characters who don’t act like ninnies, look no further.