Caite Dolan-Leach’s Dead Letters

A cat-and-mouse suspense novel following a young woman as she sifts through the chaos left by her twin sister – whose death is cloaked in mystery.

Nearly two years ago, Ava Antipova left her family’s failing vineyard in the Finger Lakes to learn about literature in Paris, but she was really just running away – from an absentee father who left when she was young, from a critical mother who was losing her mind to dementia, from her twin, Zelda, and the man who broke her heart.  After receiving an email from her mother about Zelda’s untimely death – she was burned alive in their barn – Ava leaves her life in Paris behind, returning to her family home to once again clean up Zelda’s mess.  Soon after she’s back, Ava starts receiving messages from Zelda, clues as to what really happened.  Convinced that her sister is still alive, Ava races against time to put all of the pieces together and in the process, rediscovers part of herself she thought had been lost forever.

When I first started reading Dead Letters, I had trouble getting into it and almost immediately put it down, but I’d been surprised by books recently, so I decided to give it a few more pages, and I’m so glad that I did.  Dead Letters isn’t just another suspense novel, and it isn’t at all paranormal either (I dislike anything paranormal).  The story isn’t about the ending, whether Zelda is in fact alive or dead, rather, it’s about the journey.  Ava was always running away from her problems, whether physically or mentally through alcohol – and what Zelda has done really forces Ava to reevaluate her life and discover her identity.  Despite the fact that she hadn’t spoken to Zelda in the two years she’d been living in Paris, Ava could never really see herself as anything other than one half of a whole.  Ava was the smart one, the reserved one, the one who cared too much about what others thought.  Whereas Zelda was the rebel, she was the drama queen, she never censored herself or her needs.

Dead Letters makes you think about yourself – the labels that you have kept, and the ones you have thrown away.  When we’re younger, we’re so much less afraid and more willing to take risks and try new things.  But, as we age, we pair down our personalities and interests, and focus on specializing a few traits rather than a ton.  Here, Dolan-Leach unlocks the door to our childhood so that we can, once again, rediscover our true selves.

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach. Random House. Paperback Edition Feb. 2018.

Amy Hatvany’s Somewhere Out There

There are two types of people in the world: the ones that allow themselves to be defined by past experiences, and those who use their hardships as a way to strengthen themselves and rise above. In Amy Hatvany’s latest novel, Somewhere Out There, we see both types, as two sisters who were torn apart when they were young are reunited as adults.

When Jennifer got pregnant as a teenager, against her mother’s wishes, she decided to move in with her boyfriend and keep the baby. Little did she know that he would kick her out. That she would become homeless. That she would have a second child. And that she would end up in prison. For shoplifting food at a grocery store. For her children.

Natalie Clark never knew her birth mother. She was too young to remember her. She didn’t even know that she was adopted until she had to do a family tree project for school. Now that her own daughter has to do the same, Natalie musters the strength to ask her parents the questions she was always too afraid of, finding out that she has a sister that she never knew existed. Natalie feels betrayed by her parents’ actions and immediately goes about trying to find her long lost sister.

The last time Brooke Walker saw her mother or little sister, she was four years old. She moved from one foster home to the next, eventually growing up in a state facility, while her baby sister was adopted. Brooke lives in a small studio and works as a waitress. She doesn’t have any friends, and seems to only date emotionally unavailable men. Brooke never lets anyone get close to her. She keeps herself at a distance from everyone that she comes in contact with, preferring to feel nothing than to get hurt. She blames her mother abandoning her and her sister for never trying to find her.

When Brooke and Natalie finally reunite, Brooke is cautious and keeps her distance. Even when she starts to let her guard down, she isn’t able to completely open up and trust her sister. Natalie wants answers to why their mother abandoned them, but Brooke is hesitant. After digging, Natalie finds out more than she could have imagined, leaving herself heartbroken for both the little girl that she had been and for the pain that her mother – Jennifer – had gone through.

Natalie and Brooke eventually meet Jennifer, but are their relationships ones that can be repaired? There were many moments in the novel that I found myself in tears…mostly for the chapters with Jennifer. Yes, her children went through a lot, having lost their mother and each other, but what Jennifer had to deal with was truly heartbreaking. How do you come back from a loss like that? Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes, even if you want to, even if it is presented to you, it’s not enough. Natalie was able to use her losses as strength, something that Brooke has a hard time doing. But what about Jennifer? Will she be able to find a way to let her daughters back into her life, or will it break her?

Amy Hatvany
Somewhere Out There.  Amy Hatvany.  WSP 2016

Emily Liebert’s You Knew Me When

Once you’ve left, can you ever, really go home again? Emily Liebert attempts to answer these questions and others in her debut novel, You Knew Me When, a story about best friends, loves, and what happens when life gets in the way.

Katherine left home 12 years ago to pursue a career in the beauty industry. It had been a tough decision for her, leaving her best friend Laney and her boyfriend Grant behind, but it had been a once in a lifetime opportunity that she couldn’t pass up. All these years later, she is a top executive for one of the biggest cosmetic companies in the world, but she never heard from Laney or Grant again. Now, at the passing of an old friend and mother figure, Katherine is forced to go back to the ones she left behind and confront the issues of years past. Will their old bond be able to break through the wall that was built up between them, or is it simply just too late?

Are there some relationships that are strong enough to get passed years of hurt and regret? Can the bond of former best friends be tied back together once it’s been cut? They are questions that we’ve all wondered about at one point or another in our lives and ones that come up again and again in You Knew Me When. Our former best friends, people that we were once inseparable from, people that we now look back on with a mix of fondness and longing. Kind of like the one who got away but sans the romantic entanglement. What if you took a leap in a direction that your best friend couldn’t understand and ended up losing them in the process? Would you bury the longing in your heart and continue moving forward, or would you try everything in your power to get that friendship back?


Mary Alice Monroe’s The Summer Girls

No matter where you go in the world, you cannot run away from the people that are close to your heart and the secrets that they keep for you.  In Mary Alice Monroe’s The Summer Girls, we are shown just that with the reunion of three half-sisters Dora, Carson and Harper, at the request of their grandmother, Mamaw, for her eightieth birthday.  All three girls travel to Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina, to their beloved Sea Breeze, in search of a glimpse into the carefree summers of their youth, and rediscover the bonds they once shared with each other.

Dora is a stay-at-home mom, caring for her autistic son, Nate, and facing the start of a divorce from her husband, who claims that she didn’t pay enough attention to him, which was true.  She is obsessed with caring for Nate, who is a smart child, but at the same time isn’t comfortable in group settings and, heartbreaking to Dora, can’t stand to be touched.  Dora lives in South Carolina, under an hour away from Mamaw, and therefore is the only one of the granddaughters that still visits every summer.  She brings Nate to Sullivan’s Island even though the invitation specified that it was a girls’ only weekend, because he husband refused to spend any time with him.  Dora is depressed over the way that her life has turned out and becomes jealous when she sees her son bonding with Carson.

Carson is a photographer living in California who recently lost her job due to the cancelation of the show that she was working on, and is in need of a change of scenery.  Unlike her sisters, Carson grew up a bit differently.  Her mother died in a fire when she was little, which led to her spending a few years with Mamaw at Sea Breeze (the name for Mamaw’s house on Sullivan’s Island) before her father (their father) Parker, came back to claim her and they moved to California.  Carson loves the ocean, and takes out her surfboard whenever she has a chance, until a close encounter with a shark frightens her and she retreats to the bay.  There is a good thing that comes out of the shark though; Carson makes a new friend, a dolphin, whom she names Delphine – which is how she and Nate start to connect a little: the dolphin fascinated him.  Carson starts dating Blake, a marine biologist who works with dolphins, and struggles with the possibility that, like her father, she too may have an addiction to alcohol.

Harper lives in New York with her mother, working at a major trade publisher as her mother’s assistant, describing their work relationship as Andy Sachs and Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada.  Harper’s mother was displeased that she had decided to go to Sullivan’s Island, making it clear that she was only to be gone for one weekend.  After a phone call between the two, Harper decides to quit her job – further angering her mother – and stay for the duration of the summer.

From the beginning, Mamaw seems like she is hiding something, that this visit with her granddaughters is more than what it seems.  She unearths family secrets – mainly of Parker – that had long been buried, which threaten to pull them even further apart than they already had become…but will they be able to resurrect their strong bonds in order to move forward together?

The Summer Girls is a great novel for the end of the summer season, because throughout it, you get a sense that something is fleeting, life as each of these characters knows it is fleeting, and I feel like that sense that something is fleeting is felt around this time of the year.  The carefree days of summer are fading and the winter is on the horizon, moving towards us faster than we would like.  Monroe brings us back to the beginning of the summer season, where the hopes and anticipation still exist, and, as this is the first book in a trilogy that is set to revolve around these characters, it is only the beginning.