Welcome back, dearest friends! If you’re just here for the book review, skip the next couple paragraphs. The rest of you, please please share your most similar personal anecdote with me, because what follows is what my summer usual ends up looking like (sigh).
As those of you who follow me on Instagram likely saw on my story, I was reading a book today while trying to tan. Yes, I am still with my cherished (not) PNW, stuck-indoors-from-the-rain, not tan skin. And all my friends are here from vacation looking like a smore. So I’ve been reading outside while it’s sunny for a little bit here and there and doing mostly okay. Ive been working on it for a bit now so I pulled on some lacy shorts, went outside, stuck my legs in the most direct sunshine I could find and read my crazy awesome book.
Well, would you guess what? I didn’t get my tan. Oh no, I got something much, much better – I got a sunburn. And guess how pretty it was… I’ll save you the guessing – it was absolutely gorgeously, beautifully lacy. Yep, I have now got white lacy shorts going down to about mid thigh on my otherwise lobster colored legs.
While I was getting these beautiful reverse tan shorts, however, I was reading something that I simply can’t wait to share with you guys! This novel was gifted to me by the author, Eliza Maxwell. I won’t lie to you – I reached out for this novel first, but the response I got from her was so genuine. Not only did she send me the finished novel (signed and with a handwritten note), I also messaged her back a forth a few times, and this was the first time that I had ever met an author with such a kind hearted, sweet soul. So its no wonder that her book had the same effect on me.
Here is the synopsis from Goodreads for The Widow’s Watcher:
Living in the shadow of a decades-old crime that stole his children from him, reclusive Lars Jorgensen is an unlikely savior. But when a stranger walks onto the ice of a frozen Minnesota lake, her intentions are brutally clear, and the old man isn’t about to let her follow through.
Jenna Shaw didn’t ask for Lars’s help, nor does she want it. After he pulls her from the brink, however, Jenna finds her desire to give up challenged by their unlikely friendship. In Jenna, Lars recognizes his last chance for redemption. And in her quest to solve the mysteries of Lars’s past and bring him closure, Jenna may find the way out of her own darkness.
But the truth that waits threatens to shatter it all. When secrets are surrendered and lies are laid bare, Jenna and Lars may find that accepting the past isn’t their greatest challenge. Can they afford the heartbreaking price of forgiveness?
“No matter how many years go by, the past never really lets you go.”
She ran her hands up and down her arms, as if to ward off a chill. “It’s sewn in, like patches on one of my old granny’s quilts…”
This book broke my heart into pieces, but at first I wasn’t expecting it to. I fell in love from the first page, when the eldest daughter of Jenna (Jenna is the protagonist) tries to convince her mom that its cliche to start a novel with the main character driving. Jenna continues driving and tells her she’s not in a novel. Come on – wouldn’t you already be in love? And the last page of the first chapter shatters all your illusions and all the dreams you have for Jenna, her daughter, and her family. I had to put the book down because I was NOT expecting such a gut wrenching twist. (And yes, I really, really want to tell you what it is, but I won’t because I would not have wanted to know about it going in to the read).
“When the judge said, ‘For better or worse,’ I agreed quick enough.” Lars pinned her with his piercing gaze. “Nobody tell you how bad the worse can get.”
As Jenna continues to struggle with an overwhelming grief, she finds herself in Minnesota, in the middle of the winter. Let it be said, that I was reading this in the direct sunlight, while rays burned a lacy pattern into my legs in the shape of my shorts – and I still shivered while reading! If that doesn’t convince you of Maxwell’s wizardry with words, I don’t know what will.
Jenna saw the resemblance now. It was in the eyes, in the set of the shoulders, and in the complete disregard for the wishes of the people around them.
And as Jenna and Lars grew on each other, and realized that each had an invisible burden they carried, I cried. I cried multiple times. I cried when Jenna saw the northern lights. I cried during Jenna’s lone trip out on the boat to the middle of the lake. I don’t remember the last book I cried during, but it’d been a minute. This read was so emotional, so raw, though, that I couldn’t help it. (And I wish I could be more specific but I don’t want to spoil the book for those that haven’t read it – if you’ve read it you know exactly what happens during each scene).
Is there anything so empty as something that’s once been full?
I also liked that Eliza didn’t shy away from mental illness – she addresses its ups and its downs. While I haven’t had such personal experience with someone who was suicidal, or with someone that was bipolar, manic depressive or had SAD, I felt that The Widow’s Watcher did a good job of explaining it from both the side of the individual with the mental illness, as well as from the side of those living with them.
Of course, there were also secrets. So many secrets, so many plot twists. Each character hid a secret greater than the next, and even the ones you least suspected had a burden that weighed them down. It wasn’t a thriller, but it held me in suspense and the slow burn was almost better than the fast-paced twists and turns of some other books I have read.
I’ll agree that perhaps this wasn’t the best choice for a summer read, but I think that this book would have been even more emotionally wrecking if I read it during the winter. And Maxwell’s writing is superb – I fell headlong into it despite the heat around me. Give it a shot, and tell me how you feel about it. Does it make you cry to? Does it make you hold your family a little closer? Or perhaps, like Jenna you need that human connection. Reach out to me. I’ll always be here to listen. And in the meanwhile, I am going to go tell my family just how much I love them – you never know what life holds.