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Good Reads for Spring

March 31, 2017

Spring is upon us, and with this new season comes some great new reads. Here’s just a couple of my recent favorites.

“The Last Chance Matinee (Hudson Sisters #1)” by Mariah Stewart (Gallery Books)

Three sisters are brought together by a shocking family secret and their father’s last wish.

Hollywood agent Fritz Hudson was leading a double life, with one marriage producing Allie and Des and the other producing Cara. Until they are called in to hear their father’s last will and testament, Allie and Des know nothing about Cara, and vice versa.

The will includes a generous inheritance for the three women, but there’s a catch - they must go to their father’s hometown of Hidden Falls, Pennsylvania, and restore the old theater where Fritz fell in love with the stage and with Allie and Des’ mother, Nora. If any one of the women walks away from the project, none of them receive a penny.

As the three sisters become acquainted with Hidden Falls, they come to discover a side of their father they never knew.

“The Last Chance Matinee” is a heartwarming read, full of surprising secrets, humor and lessons about what it means to be a family. Allie, Des and Cara have little in common except DNA, so the task of restoring the theater isn’t going to be an easy one. Allie, in particular, is a California girl who can’t stand Hidden Falls and is chomping at the bit to get the theater fixed up and go home to her daughter Nikki. Des is a single gal who’s been living in Montana and is passionate about rescuing abused and neglected dogs. Cara is a down-to-earth divorcee who runs a yoga studio in New Jersey.

Throughout the course of the book, the three of them start to warm up to each other, with the help of their aunt Bonnie (or “Barney,” as she likes to be called). And when sweet, bubbly Nikki comes for a visit, the walls between the sisters really start to crumble.

This book has a little bit of everything you’d expect from women’s fiction, and then some. There’s a heavy dose of romance (might I add, clean romance, which is so refreshing!), true-to-life humor, shades of mystery, and a lot of real talk between the sisters about relationships, life priorities and more.

I love stories about small towns, and in that regard, “The Last Chance Matinee” did not disappoint. There’s the one tavern in town, the town council meetings held in the back of the police station, the chit-chat at the gas station, the not-so-discreet gawking when an out-of-towner shows up, and so much more. The way Stewart portrays small-town life is charming, and never derogatory (unless Allie has something to say about it!).

Hopefully I haven’t given too much away, but I don’t think I have. I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment of “The Hudson Sisters” trilogy, and can’t wait to read the next one!

“The Barrowfields” by Phillip Lewis (Hogarth Press)

“And it came to me again how little time we all had, and how much time I’d let pass since I’d seen her. I thought of our respective times on this earth and how she and I were tied together by so many things, and that she should’ve been there with me. That something inside me was torn apart, and that this act of tearing was my continued separation from her.”

Growing up in a spooky mansion in a small Appalachian town, Henry Aster is no stranger to loss. His deeply troubled father, who spends much of his time drinking and writing a book no one thinks he’ll finish, is sent over the edge when tragedy strikes the family. And just like that, he’s gone.

Henry fades away from his mother and sister when he leaves for college. There, he falls in love with a girl who’s determined to find her biological father. And as he stands beside her through the struggles she faces, he has a revelation about his own family that lures him back home.

First off, I cannot believe this is a debut novel. The writing, the storyline, the characters ... everything about “The Barrowfields” feels authentic and exquisite and familiar. It is written in such a natural style. As Henry becomes a man and reflects on his father’s abandonment, he has these little flashbacks of the days and months before his father left.

It hit me so hard when I realized the irony of his relationship with his girlfriend, Story. She longs to know who her real father is. Meanwhile, Henry’s loss of his father shapes the decisions he makes. Rather than looking out for his mom and sister after his dad leaves, he abandons them, too. And as I read, I kept waiting for him to make the connection.

These are characters that I couldn’t help but care about, and the desolate, backwoods setting really settled into my bones, much the same way it does for Henry. He loathes the place where he grew up, yet he can’t stay away.

“The Barrowfields” is a heartbreaker of a book, a story of the tenuous threads that hold a family together and how they can be threatened by grief, depression and abandonment. It’s a tale of broken promises and redemption, shot through with unexpected moments of levity. It’s a must-read that has all the makings of an enduring classic.

Megan McNeill is a staff writer for the Daily Gate City. When she’s not cranking out stories for the paper or burying her head in a book, she’s updating her book blog and hanging out with her husband. Drop her a note at mcneill@dailygate.com.