REVIEW: THE BEAUTY OF THE END, BY DEBBIE HOWELLS

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As Noah Calaway tries to sort out his life in the Devon cottage left to him by his Aunt Delilah, his memories carry him back in time, to days long ago when he fell in love with a goddess.

That is how he saw April Moon, whom he met in school in Musgrove.

Nowadays, though, he is trying to write, having given up his law practice, but still takes on occasional cases. So when a call from an old friend, Will Farrington, brings disturbing news, some of those old memories intrude into his current reality, and he is catapulted back in time.

Will’s phone call informed him that April had taken an overdose, but before that happened, her stepfather, Norton, had been murdered. And the police think she did it.

Naturally, Noah’s protective urges come into play and he heads off to Tonbridge, to the hospital where she is in a coma.

The Beauty of the End reeled me in from the first pages, as it swept back and forth in time, from the 1990s, when Noah first met Will, and also when he first became enthralled by the beautiful April, to the present. Could anything be more alluring than this redheaded girl who captivated his heart and kept him spellbound through most of his life? There had even been a time when they were living together, planning to marry. But something happened to change the trajectory of their lives together. Were the secrets and the hidden darkness holding April as captive as she held Noah? Could something devastating from her past have inserted itself into their lives and derailed their futures?

The story unfolds from Noah’s first person perspective, but as other characters told their stories, a fuller picture began to emerge. One of the voices belonged to a fifteen year old girl named Ella, whose connection to the other characters we would eventually realize.

Had Noah been unable to see beyond the beauty of April’s looks and the self she chose to show him? Did she keep her hidden thoughts and secrets from him to protect him, or to protect his illusion of her? Why did Will set out to destroy both April and Noah? What were his fatal secrets and flaws?

Solving the mystery of what happened to April in the present, as well as the past, would keep me guessing until the very end. Until finally, we see the choices she had to make, and why she made them. A complex story that I could not put down, although the complexity sometimes led to confusion and a feeling of not being able to sort the facts from the manipulations. Therefore, 4 stars.

REVIEW: THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR, BY BARBARA CLAYPOLE WHITE

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Hannah Linden and Will Shepard are two damaged souls, brought together by circumstances and bound by the legacies of their broken lives.

Will, a best-selling author, has left Manhattan to go to North Carolina to deal with his aging father Jacob, who is being evicted from his assisted living home, while Hannah, a holistic veterinarian, is coping with her suicidal son Galen.

Will is also carrying the burden of a deep dark secret, the loss of his five-year-old son Freddie.

Hannah rents a cottage to Will and his father, on the recommendation of Hannah’s friend Poppy, who was an art teacher at the facility where Jacob lived, so the connections begin to form between them.

The In-Between Hour is a character-driven story of people dealing with their tragedies and their losses. Set in rural North Carolina, I could smell the scents of the wooded area and see the beautiful colors of the “gloaming,” described in this passage:

“As they crossed the gravel, a thrush–nature’s flautist–announced the gloaming. Another thirty minutes and darkness would fall, but right now the house and the cottage were suspended between day and night, caught in that moment when nothing was defined and everything seemed possible.”

The author’s characters were flawed human beings learning to deal with the effects of the past, with the tragedy of mental illness in their loved ones, and with terrible losses. At the same time, they are struggling to find ways to connect with others, even when their first instincts are to pull away and isolate themselves. A story I recommend for those who enjoy books about relationships, family dynamics, and dealing with loss. 4.5 stars.