Plot Summary: Single mom Libby Keating and her twin sister Tori are co-inheritors of Great Aunt Stella’s will, and are to split the money on one condition: they (along with Libby’s young teenage daughter Chloe) must share Great Aunt Stella’s Philadelphia home for six months. Problems soon arise. Not only are the twins extreme opposites who don’t get along, Tori seems bent on stealing Libby’s daughter affection. Add to that a dead body on the front doorstep, and creepy crossword puzzles with death threatening messages. And a handsome next-door neighbor…
My Review: This book was a surprise read for me. It usually isn’t my type—nothing about the character seemed like anything I’d resonate with, and I’m not a murder mystery fan. But the crossword puzzle clues woven into the plot seemed unique and had me intrigued, so I decided to give it a try. And I’m glad I did!
The first thing that had me hooked was the realistic narrative and dialogue. The descriptions, the fully developed characters, the humorous viewpoints on life that the main character (Libby) has. Then, I was sucked into a mystery. But more than that, I found myself caring about the characters. I would shut the book, drift off to sleep and wonder what would happen next. I looked forward all day to when I would be able to sit down again and spend time with them. I think I even dreamed about them!
It was the mystery and the crossword puzzles that attracted me at the beginning, but to tell the truth, the story really wasn’t so much of that. I would say it was primarily a romance, but it was about two complete characters, who had both been through a lot in their separate ways, and trying to live out their Christian faith in the real world and in the lives of the people around them. They find each other when they most need someone to lean on, and give each other support when they need a friend. At first glance, I didn’t identify with Libby’s or Drew’s circumstances, but the situations they were up against and how they handled them gave me strength for the things I’m dealing with in my life. I love how the author was able to weave so many issues together in one story and how it “worked”: gambling; teen pregnancy; sibling rivalry; bipolar disorder; divorce; emotional and verbal abuse; rejection; abortion.
I appreciated Libby so much because of her courage in the face of difficult challenges and especially rejection from almost everyone around her. She journeys from being a struggling doormat, to a heroine with a backbone. I admired her determination to keep healthy boundaries and to teach her daughter, Chloe, the importance of them as well. The same for the character of Drew Canfield. While not perfect, he was someone you could rely on when things got tough. Chloe recognizes this, when she compares her own father with her friend Jenna’s.
The story is told from the point of view of several different key characters. I enjoyed these flips of point of view, though having Libby’s POV narrated in the first person as opposed to the others in third person seemed a little off-balance.
Other than that, I felt the pace was kept pretty well, and at no point did I get bored and wish that the author would “speed things up.” I also felt the ending was realistic, and left me satisfied. I appreciated that Roper didn’t resolve every problem or conflict with a neat little bow at the end. Not everything is in life. I did feel like bopping Tori on the head, though. (SPOILER: She’s obviously tied to a controlling boyfriend, and she thinks she’s learned in the end he really does love her. Maybe, kind of, sort of… She’s satisfied with that vagueness… despite his explosive anger and continual demands upon her. END OF SPOILER.)
Please don’t get the impression this was a solemn, dark book. Not in the least! That’s what made the humorous narrative so refreshing. Maybe that’s what connected me to the characters, even if I didn’t necessarily identify with their situations. Some may find parts a bit too unbelievable (SPOILER: three elderly people chase the bad guys in a limousine and the elderly lady has a knife, a gun, a stun gun, and pepper spray conveniently hidden in her purse? END OF SPOILER), yet I didn’t feel it ruined it, and it added humor. And since I felt the mystery was only a secondary plot to the story, it didn’t bother me that the reason behind the crime seemed a little far-fetched.
The mystery was not one of those “Oh yeah, I had it all figured out from the first chapter” deals (although I thought I did!). It really did have me guessing the whole way through the book. There are surprises throughout until the very last chapter.
Die-hard mystery fans will probably find the mystery a bit weak (SPOILER: I’m still not sure what the crossword puzzles had to do with anything. END OF SPOILER). But I really did enjoy this book. A lighter read that doesn’t skirt the reality of life, I imagine this book would be good for any who enjoy a good Christian contemporary read!
You can visit author Gayle Roper’s blog here.