“When the Stars Go Dark” by Paula McLain

When the stars go dark

Genre: Drama/Mystery
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: April 13, 2021

I have read three of the author’s previous novels. Two are historical novels that were both excellent. “The Paris Wife,” which is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to Hadley Richardson who was the first of his four wives, and “Circling the Sun,” which is about the real-life record-setting aviator, Beryl Markham.  “A Ticket to Ride” is coming of age story and that takes place in the 70s. These three novels convinced me that McLain is a great storyteller.  So, even though I am not a fan of detective novels, which is her latest novel’s genre, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with this author.  To my surprise, even though the writing is stellar, I had to push myself to finish this one.

A female detective coping with the childhood trauma of growing up in foster homes loses her child in an accident, which cripples her with guilt and ruins her marriage. While helping a childhood friend, who is now a sheriff, she gets involved with a case on a missing teenage girl. This case morphs into three missing girls cases. This is probably one too many even for those whose favorite genre is detective mysteries. The problem with “When the Stars Go Dark” is that it reads more like detailed case studies on child abusers, parental abandonment, sexual abuse survivors, kidnappers, foster homes, and foster parents. In a way, this is partially a memoir. The author has a nonfiction book, “Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses” where she writes about her own experiences of growing up in foster homes and her childhood sexual abuse. The author does such a good job in educating her readers on the psychological issues that come from childhood trauma but seems to forget that she is writing a mystery. Still, I cannot help but applaud her when I read in her author’s note, “It began to feel imperative that I tell their (victims/survivors) stories as bluntly and factually as possible, as a way to honor their lives.”  Who could argue against such honesty?

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“Don’t Look for Me” by Wendy Walker

Genre: General FictionDon't Look for me
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date: September 15, 2020

First off, this is not general fiction as marketed.  This novel is a mystery and thriller and a below-average one at that. I can see by my fellow reviewers that I am an outlier here.  After a family tragedy, a mother disappears and is believed to be an adult runaway; turns out to be a much creepier explanation.  I can see how this could have been a good thriller if the characters were not so unrealistic especially, the mom during her ordeal. Actually, I found all the characters to be one-dimensional. This one simply just wasn’t for me.  If you are currently reading, “Don’t Look for Me,” I hope you enjoy it more than I did.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Arrowood” by Laura McHugh

Publisher:  Random House

Publication Date:  August 9, 2016

I am always a sucker for an old-fashioned Gothic tale, which is how I would describe this novel.  The story takes place in present times.   Toddler twin sisters disappear and are believed to have been kidnapped.  Their older sister, who is now a young woman, has never stopped looking for them since the bodies of the twins were never found.

Arrowood is the name of their home, really a mansion, which has been in the family for centuries.  Her parents moved out a year after the disappearance for the memories there were too hard to bear.  Two decades go by and our protagonist, the elder sister, inherits her childhood home that may or may not be haunted (think Wuthering Heights.)

Once she returns to Arrowood, as expected there are many twists including a love affair.   After all, what would Jane Eyre be without Mr. Rochester?  The author never reaches the Bronte sisters heart stomping Gothic yarns, but all in all this is a good summer read.