REVIEW: WOMAN NO. 17, BY EDAN LEPUCKI

High in the Hollywood Hills, writer Lady Daniels has decided to take a break from her husband. Left alone with her children, she’s going to need a hand taking care of her young son if she’s ever going to finish her memoir. In response to a Craigslist ad, S arrives, a magnetic young artist who will live in the secluded guest house out back, care for Lady’s toddler, Devin, and keep a watchful eye on her older, teenage son, Seth. S performs her day job beautifully, quickly drawing the entire family into her orbit, and becoming a confidante for Lady.
 
But in the heat of the summer, S’s connection to Lady’s older son takes a disturbing, and possibly destructive, turn. And as Lady and S move closer to one another, the glossy veneer of Lady’s privileged life begins to crack, threatening to expose old secrets that she has been keeping from her family. Meanwhile, S is protecting secrets of her own, about her real motivation for taking the job. S and Lady are both playing a careful game, and every move they make endangers the things they hold most dear.
MY THOUGHTS:
From the very first page of Woman No. 17, I was captivated by each narrative voice: first, we meet “Lady” Daniels, mother, writer, and “separated” wife of Karl, trying to work out her inner angst.

Then we have “S” Fowler, young artist/nanny who has moved into the guesthouse after Lady hires her. There is definitely something off about S and her mysterious artistic project. Meanwhile, she cares for toddler Devin, and seemingly does a good job.

Seth, the mute eldest son, a college student, seems to be playing some mind games, both with his mother and with S.

Seth communicates with both his mother and S via Twitter, and sometimes he plays out vengeful games with this method. His tweets do offer a peek into his perspective.

Themes of motherhood, friendship, and art fill the pages with interesting scenes, dialogue, and other characters, like Marco, Seth’s father, who left when he was a baby and with whom Lady has recently reconnected; and Kit Daniels, photographer, who imagines herself to be the “last word” in all things artistic. I could not stand her.

I loved the LA setting, with its youth-dominated culture, fascination with fantasy vs. reality, and the endless freeway systems.

My feelings for Lady and S were mixed, and by the time we finally realize what each is trying to communicate with one another and with others, the story had reached a crescendo pitch. Secrets come crashing down around us, and we are left in the rubble…watching each of them try to move on. A brilliantly written 5 star read.

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REVIEW: THE MOTHERS, BY BRIT BENNETT

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In the opening pages of The Mothers, we are introduced to the hovering presence of the older women in the church, called “the mothers,” members of what is designated the Upper Room. The women oversee the parishioners…and they gossip. Sometimes they get things wrong, but they never stop.

Set in Oceanside, CA, in a black community, the church is definitely at the center of the action, but for Nadia Turner, a seventeen-year-old girl headed for bigger things, already accepted into her college in Michigan, there are moments of rebellion. And love. With the pastor’s son, Luke Sheppard, whose mother already gives Nadia the stank-eye. But she also doesn’t say much, as poor Nadia’s mother committed suicide six months before…and her father is someone who does good deeds for the church.

Then something happens that will sever the bond between Nadia and Luke, and shortly thereafter, she meets and connects with another motherless girl, Aubrey Evans, who lives with her sister Mo and her gay partner Kasey. Aubrey could be portrayed as the exact opposite of Nadia, on the surface, since Mrs. Sheppard has taken her under her wing. And makes her approval clear.

We follow each of the characters for a few years, as Nadia goes off to college, then law school, with only the occasional visits home. In one such visit, she and Luke connect again, and share some secrets from that time in their past.

What will happen to the two of them? Will Luke’s new path in life challenge what they once had, and what they might find again? Could Aubrey become the one who severs the bond forever?

What great characters! I loved seeing where they went and what they did. The multiple narrators took us back and forth in time, showing us events that we could not have imagined. When someone overheard the pastor arguing with Nadia’s father, that secret would become fodder for the mothers, the overseers, those who would forever keep track of the secrets, and what would become of the young women in their “charge.” In the end, I loved this passage, in the voice of those mothers, sharing thoughts about Nadia and her one last return home:

“We see the span of her life unspooling in colorful threads and we chase it, wrapping it around our hands as more tumbles out. She’s her mother’s age now. Double her age. Our age. You’re our mother. We’re climbing inside of you.”

Beautifully written, the author has become another favorite. Five stars.

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