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A woman finds new strength after heartbreak in this third installment of Gardner’s (Lily by Any Other Name, 2017, etc.) Friendship & Secrets series.

Lia Townsend and her husband, Jake, have a plan for their lives. They married with no fuss or ceremony, deciding they would choose rings and pick a honeymoon spot in five years’ time. But on their fifth anniversary—which happens to also be Lia’s 35th birthday—Jake drops a bombshell: His bags are packed, and he’s leaving her. The author moves beyond this familiar setup to delve into various facets of her protagonist’s life. For example, Lia resents that she can’t turn to her mother, Regina Lark, a flaky artist who has always been more interested in her haphazard career than in raising her daughter. Lia also misses her rapport with Jake’s sister, Charlotte, and wonders how she’ll interact with her former in-laws going forward. She also reassesses her job as a middle school teacher, devoting herself to her students while also dreaming of a different career path. Several enigmatic men enter her life, as well, offering her new ways to love another person without losing her sense of self. Most interestingly, Lia’s breakup alters her connection with her best friend, Maren Hollister, in unforeseen ways. The novel has some clichéd elements, as when Jake muses, “she was gorgeous. Drop dead. The fact that she didn’t know it made me want her more,” and when the married couple’s shared house literally burns down. Still, Gardner creates a rich portrait of an emotionally mute woman who rediscovers her inner voice. Some bland snippets, told from other characters’ perspectives, diffuse a good deal of the story’s tension. However, they also serve to highlight the clarity of Lia’s first-person narration, which carries the story forward with charm and acuity. Indeed, there’s something subtly radical in the author’s layered portrayal of the fullness of women’s lives and the complexity of their relationships.

A breezy but multilevel read that uses romance tropes as a springboard to explore various types of emotional ties.

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-9977676-7-4
Page count: 292pp
Publisher: Velvet Morning Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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