It’s the last few days before Clare’s wedding, and her misgivings about the whole thing have reached a crisis point. As she struggles through a panic attack, she’s comforted by an elderly stranger named Edith. Edith gives Clare the courage to call the whole thing off before making this mistake. Clare goes home feeling like a monster, no longer sure what to do with her life. Then Edith dies and for unknown reasons leaves Clare a house, a sanctuary where she can find herself in peace. Only Clare is not just finding herself – she’s discovering Edith and the mysteries of a long life of service and dangerous secrets.
So you know how I’ve been saying I needed to read something to break through the monotony of mixed-review books? Well, people, this is it! Marisa de los Santos always delivers, but even more, this is a book made up of old friends: Clare, Dev, Cornelia, Teo, the whole big sprawling family and almost-family of Love Walked In and Belong To Me. Though I hadn’t read either of those two books in nearly a decade, I remembered every single face and voice, and it was lovely to revisit them all as they’ve grown up and older.
Marisa de los Santos is a master writer. She weaves Edith’s story into Clare’s both in the present and in chapters told from Edith’s younger days. This isn’t the sort of mystery where you discover a culprit or event, but instead, you unravel the life of a stranger and the reasons two lives intersected. In the meantime, Clare deals with fallout from her broken engagement and rediscovers the true meaning of home and family. It’s this last one that gets to me personally – I think one of the reasons I love de los Santos so much is that she just gets family in the way that I’ve always related to it. Big, sprawling, messy, tangled, not-always-blood family. That network of support that should always be there even though it’s not for everyone, and the beauty that exists when you’ve had that cradle of love, even when it’s broken and messy and difficult. It’s perfect – not idealistic, but real and present in all the good and bad ways.
The characters, too, are real and messy and not always good. I love watching several of the characters struggle with demons that are trying to lead them into anger, violence, and menace, and how they are trying so hard to channel that anger into good. It doesn’t always work, and it’s not always enough – that’s real. Heartbreaking, but real.
This is just what I needed right now. I have a feeling I’ll be going back to read through those older books again soon.
Notes: First, you don’t need to read the older books to follow this one. It’s completely standalone. Second, a trigger warning: This book heavily discusses physical and verbal spousal abuse.