Category Archives: Putnam

Frightful Friday: Conversion by Katherine Howe

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured title is Conversion by Katerine Howe:

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (July 1, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780399167775
  • Source: Library copy

The seniors at St. Joan’s Academy, a private school in Danvers, Massachusetts, are wrapped up in the stress of their final year of school prior to graduation. The students are expected to take this pressure all in stride. Then one day the school’s most popular girl, Clara Rutherford, breaks out into uncontrollable ticks in the middle of class. Soon, other girls begin exhibiting strange symptoms, including hair loss, seizures, and violent coughing fits. With reason, students, their parents, and faculty are all on edge. What is causing these unusual, abrupt symptoms? Could it be something in the environment at the school poisoning them? Or perhaps, is it somehow tied to the town’s dark history?

Colleen Rowley is one of the students immersed in this chaos. The stress of graduation has overcome her as well. Working on an extra credit assignment on The Crucible, she uncovers what many others have not: Danvers is not the original name of this small Massachusetts town. Originally known as Salem Village, Danvers has a history of unexplained epidemics involving young women. Is it possible this modern epidemic is somehow related to that of the past?

Using parallel narratives, Howe gets inside the minds of two young girls, separated by three centuries of history. Ann Putnam was a young woman fully involved in the Salem witch trials. It was she who accused her neighbors of witchcraft. Today, Colleen Rowley holds powerful information about the town’s past and how it could be related to what is transpiring now.

With a substitute teacher serving as her mentor, Colleen’s research into The Crucible and the dark history of Danvers provides valuable evidence about the power of those in charge:

There are parts of the story that are overlooked . Maybe because they don’t fit with what the people in charge have to say…look beyond the dominate narrative…you can rewrite the narrative if you ask the right questions.

This knowledge forces Colleen to take a different approach to uncovering what is happening to her classmates. As she continues her research, the truth about the past becomes more apparent, simultaneous with revelations as to what is happening in her town today.

Howe forces readers to examine the power of manipulation, how the actions or word of one individual can shape the actions of an entire town. Conversion touches on the pressures society forces upon young girls, both today and centuries in past.  We demand that they not only get good grades and move on to prestigious colleges, but to maintain an appearance of control in the midst of one of the most challenging phases in their lives.  The pressure to be perfect is tremendous and therefore it shouldn’t be out of the realm of belief for consequences and side effects of this stress to be manifested physically.

Conversion has been compared to Megan Abbott’s The Fever. I admit, their similarities put me off at first. I Having read Abbott’s book first, I didn’t think I could continue reading this one.  How is it possible for two books, published just weeks apart, have such a similar storyline?  Simple! Both books are loosely based on true events. In 2012, eighteen girls in Le Roy, NY began exhibiting strange symptoms, including verbal and physical tics.  Ultimately, their symptoms were diagnosed as conversion syndrome, a disorder in which emotional stress is so strong that it begins to manifest into physical symptoms. Both Megan Abbott and Katherine Howe are from New York, so it is guaranteed that both women read about this unusual case. I don’t know about you, but if I was a writer an read about this case, I’d want to write about it two.

All this said, while Abbott and Howe both loosely base their novels on one actual event, there are enough differences to set them apart as unique novels. Each deserve their own attention and praise for they are truly outstanding and unique novels.

Going in, I didn’t realize Conversion was a young adult novel.  Both teens and adults are certain to enjoy this novel, each taking away something wholly different. For teens, it is the acknowledgement that we know they are under a tremendous amount of stress, and the importance of verbalizing their difficulties before they take a physical toll. For adults, it serves as a reminder that we are often responsible for exacerbating an already stressful time in our teens lives, often forgetting our own experiences in lieu of pushing our children to achieve perfection.

Bottom line, Conversion is a novel that I wholly enjoyed. I couldn’t put it down. I don’t know if it was due to the setting, or the fact that my own teen son is starting high school this year. Whatever the reason, I highly, highly recommend this novel.

Have you read both Conversion and The Fever? What did you think?

Review: The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (May 27, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0399162178
  • Source: Publisher

Vivian Schuyler is a young, vivacious and determined young woman living in 1960s Manhattan. She’s gone against what is expected of her as a budding socialite and has not only graduated from college but has obtained a job at Metropolitan magazine as a fact-checker.  Her life takes on a completely different spin when she receives a strange package from overseas: a trunk belonging to an aunt she never knew, a woman completely wiped from Vivian’s family history.  She becomes obsessed with learning more about her aunt, Violet Schuyler Grant. She is able to obtain a small amount of information from her family: Violet disappeared decades ago, reportedly after killing her husband.

Fifty years ago, Violet wed Dr. Walter Grant when she was young, not because she was in love with him but because he could help her in her position as a physicist in pre-war Germany.  Her role in medicine is completely unheard of, never before has a woman held such a role.  Her marriage to Walter is a farce…unfortunately it takes Violet some time to discover this. While she thinks the marriage is one of benefit to her, in fact it is Walter whose career is saved by this union.  He’s a womanizer, never hiding his conquests from the young Violet.  It isn’t until Violet meets Lionel Richardson, a captain in the British Army, that she is able to see her husband for who he really is…and take action toward finding a better life for herself.

Alternating between Vivian and Violet’s point of view, it’s not hard to see a parallel path followed by these two young women, far ahead of society as related to the roles of women. Both had the self-assured attitude and strong conviction that allowed them to pave the path of so many other women who would follow.  It was as if Vivian were meant to discover this trunk, for it gives her the power and potential for a story that will propel her career.

Williams has once again successfully crafted a story that transports readers back to another time, another place, another way of living. I was immediately captivated by both women, I mean how could you not be? They exhibited a high level of confidence that initially may seem off-putting but ultimately seen as a unique and redeeming quality.

You can’t have a Beatriz Williams novel without a steamy romance!  What I like about the romance in her novels is that they are classic love stories.  Love that transcends time and overcomes all obstacles. Readers of this blog know that I’m not a fan of romance novels, but it is impossible to resist something so genuine as the love stories and struggles as designed by Beatriz Williams.

As with her past books, The Secret Life of Violet Grant is destined to become one of the popular books of summer. It has a beauty and intensity that will captivate you from the beginning, and a intense storyline that will sustain you through the entire novel. Highly, highly recommended.


*Note: there are some graphic and violent scenes of a sexual nature.

Review: A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (May 30, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 039916216X
  • Source: Publisher

It’s Memorial Day weekend in 1938. Following family tradition, Lily Dane has left her life in New York and returned with her family to the oceanfront community of Seaview, Rhode Island. Her plans for a peaceful, relaxing summer are changed when the Greenwalds return to Seaview. A painful past full of heartbreaking events comes rushing back to Lily.

Nick and Budgie Greenwald once played a big role in Lily’s life. Budgie was Lily’s best friend; they grew up together sharing many fond memories of Seaview. Nick was once Lily’s fiance, their relationship destroyed seven years ago. Nick and Budgie have recently married, an event that raised quite a few eyebrows and stirred up the gossip in Seaview.

Budgie has returned to Seaview in the hopes of reconstructing her family’s old house…and her relationship with Lily as well. Always one to be the center of the social scene, Budgie takes it upon herself to try to set Lily up with Yankees pitcher Graham Pendleton, a “friend” of hers from their college days. Despite this, Lily’s love for Nick cannot be diminished and despite Budgie’s attempts to push her on Graham, Lily can’t stop thinking about Nick. The two are forced to revisit the events that pushed them apart, facing the emotional devastation that ended their relationship. Both are bound by intense emotional obligations, yet when the true circumstances are revealed, both see one another in a completely new light. A a horrific hurricane looms, Lily and Nick must face and overcome their own emotional storms, changing their lives forever.

The setting of this novel plays quite the integral role in this story. A calm, serene beach in the path of a looming hurricane. It’s not hard to draw the connection between what is happening in the setting to that of Nick and Lily’s relationship. This setting is also what will draw readers to embrace this novel. Who can resist a warm beach in the summer, warm sand under your toes?

While I’m typically turned off by love stories in general, the feeling I had after reading Williams’ previous title, Overseas, allowed me to take a chance and dive into this novel.  As I suspected, I was quickly wrapped up, nearly obsessed, with Nick and Lily’s love. Perhaps because it is a love that is true and classic, one that has succeeded in standing the test of time. Using chapters with alternating time periods, Williams so eloquently builds up each of the characters, detailing their transformation and emotional evolution over the past several years.

The characters are extremely rich in this novel. Williams is quite successful at balancing Budgie’s outrageous and obnoxious behavior with the serenity, calm and innocence found in Lily.  How the two could have been friends for so long is beyond me! And the love triangle/square!? Wowser. It was quite intense, I found myself furiously turning the pages to find out what was going to happen.  And the passion? Well, you’ll see for yourself.

My only complaint would be the ending.  I’m ecstatic about what transpired but thought it was an easy means to get to the desired ending. That said, the rich beauty and beautiful writing throughout the novel, the truly dynamic and captivating storyline, really won me over in the end.  If you are looking for a beautiful, rich novel to take you away this summer, this is the title for you. Highly, highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: Helsinki Blood by James Thompson

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured title is Helsinki Blood by James Thompson:

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (March 21, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 039915888X
  • Source: Publisher

In the fourth book in the Inspector Kari Vaara series, readers are greeted with a version of Kari that is darker and colder than any of the previous novels. Recovering from several shootings including one that destroyed his knee and jaw, leaving him in a tremendous amount of pain, Kari is still devoid of emotion after brain tumor surgery months earlier. Even tranquilizers and constant drinking only dull the horrific pain.  Kari’s wife Kate has abandoned him, taking their infant daughter Anu with her. Kari is barely functional, yet when he is approached by Estonian woman, begging for help, he can’t turn her down.  Her daughter, diagnosed with Down syndrome, has gone missing. The police are short-handed and could care less about the case. Kari sees it as an opportunity to help the victims who he failed to help during his black ops work. And, selfishly, he hopes that saving this young innocent girl will prove to his wife that he isn’t a monster.

Kari calls in his old crew, Sweetness and Milo, and they immediately begin an investigation into the girl’s abduction. Soon they find themselves delving into the world of elicit prostitution, discovering that those responsible for the young girl’s abduction are tied to the Russian mob. Kari’s past comes rushing back at him when this case becomes more of a vendetta than he could have imagined. Most paramount to him now, of course, is his family’s safety.  The trio of to put an end to the past that haunts them using the sort of vigilante justice Kari and his crew are known for.

I’ve been a fan of this series from the beginning (see my reviews of Snow Angels, Lucifer’s Tears, Helsinki White) and it has been quite an interesting journey watching Kari’s character devolve into a cold, uncaring and incredibly flawed character. Yet, despite all this, one can’t help but feel sympathy for long-time fans can remember the warm, caring individual he once was. It isn’t until this novel that readers see the icy exterior begin to chip away, the individual we learned to respect and value, shining through. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a dark side of Kari that pervades.  His family, his loved ones, have been threatened and despite the semblance of menacing monster,  no one messes with those who are close to him without suffering the devastating consequences.

The majority of this novel is quite dark which seems to be a trademark of Thompson’s writing, the cold Finnish climate seeping into the souls of Kari and his crew. Admittedly, I did have a hard time reading a great deal of this novel, purely due to the level of violence. I’m not one to shy away from that sort of thing, either, yet for some reason it seemed overly pervasive in this novel. That said, my faith in Thompson’s writing prevailed and ultimately I was rewarded with a promise of hope and recovery in Kari’s character. While I wouldn’t say this is my favorite novel of the series, I am hopeful that Thompson has plans to return Kari’s character to what he was before.

Despite my issues with this novel, I do recommend it, along with the other books in the series. My strong feelings/response to this novel simply indicate how skilled Thompson is at involving his readers in his writing, eliciting a strong response in me that not many writers can.  Recommended.


Review: Suspect by Robert Crais

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (January 22, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 039916148
  • Source: Publisher

Eight months ago, LAPD police officer Scott James lost his partner, Stephanie, in a brutal nighttime assault. Nearly killed himself, Scott is still recovering from the bullet wounds that ravaged his body. Barely able to return for duty, Scott joins the K-9 unit. It is there he meets Maggie, a German Shepherd deemed unfit for service after surviving an attack in which her handler was killed, shot at while she attempted to do what she’d been trained: to stay by her handler at all costs. Despite what others thought, Scott saw in Maggie a determination that paralleled his own.  The two made an interesting duo, both recovering from traumatic injuries and attacks that stole their partners from them.

Scott is determined to get his life and career back up to par, Maggie alongside him. Together, they battled through the PTSD they each suffered. The bond between them quickly forms and, despite being shunned by those around them, Scott & Maggie work to find the identity of the individuals responsible for Stephanie’s murder.

If you told me that I would be not only reading but also hailing the praises of a book involving a pet at any time I’d call you crazy. Typically, I make it a policy to avoid stories of pets, especially dogs, knowing that many of these stories end in devastation. Yet when I learned of the subject matter of Suspect and reading early reviews by bloggers whose opinions I trust, I knew I had to take the leap and read this book. Needless to say, I’m glad I did!  Suspect is a novel that goes so beyond anything that Crais has ever written.  Sixteen years ago, Crais lost his beloved Akita, Yoshi. The connection he felt with Yoshi is what inspired Crais to write about Maggie and her connection with her own human “alpha.”

The way Crais portrays Maggie is what makes this novel so unique. Several chapters are told from Maggie’s point of view. Yes, that’s right, from the point of view of a dog. That said, Crais executes it so expertly that it doesn’t appear comical in any way, instead he creates a truly unique and caring character that still holds the characteristics of a dog.

Critics have stated that fans of Crais’ previous work, namely his renowned Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novels, will be disappointed in this stand-alone novel. I can’t disagree more. If anything, it allows Crais’ followers, both long-time and new, to get a unique glimpse of the softer side of Robert Crais. If anything, this may be one of my favorite Crais’ novels because he did dare to step outside the safe comfort zone of his other novels.

Readers new to Crais’ work who aren’t prepared to dive into a series yet want to test the waters should definitely give Suspect a try. I guarantee you won’t regret it. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Black Fridays by Michael Sears

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (September 18, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0399158669
  • Source: Publisher

Jason Stafford has just been released from federal prison after serving a two-year sentence for financial fraud. Admittedly, he was a greedy man, trying to provide a life for his wife that was beyond their means. He never stole from individuals, only cheating the system to make it look like his trading efforts were more substantial than they actually were.

His first task is to attempt to rebuild his life. His five-year-old autistic son, referred to as “the Kid” has been living with his alcoholic ex-wife all this time, locked up in a bedroom because she doesn’t know how else to deal with him. It isn’t long before Jason receives a call from the head of an investment firm, asking for Jason’s help. The firm is under investigation by the SEC and Jason has the knowledge they need to uncover any hidden scandals. Of course, what Jason uncovers is much larger than he could have ever imagined, involving a multimillion dollar scam, murder, and much more. Now the FBI is involved, pressing Jason to give him the information he’s uncovered. This information is the only leverage he has, yet when own life, and the safety of “the Kid” are at risk, he must sacrifice it all in the hopes of protecting their future.

Black Fridays is an incredibly multifaceted thriller, dealing with not only a huge financial scandal but also an incredibly rich father and son bond. Though separated from his son for two years, Jason takes the time and effort to learn about “the Kid’s” autism, working with doctors and specialists to give him the best life he can. In the short time he spends with his son a remarkable change in “the Kid’s” condition is noticed. His love for his son is truly apparent, providing a nice balance between his “good” and “bad” sides. Additionally, while Jason is an incredibly flawed character, admittedly with his own monumental faults, all of this makes him a much more reliable and sympathetic character.

At times, the amount of financial lingo did get a bit overwhelming but Sears was able to balance it out with a truly remarkable and intense storyline with these richly developed characters. The word is readers will be granted access to future novels with Jason and “the Kid,” something this reader looks forward to!  If you are looking for a thriller with rich, sympathetic characters and a strong, intense storyline, Black Fridays is the book for you. Highly recommended.

Review: City of Women by David R. Gillham

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (August 7, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 039915776X
  • Source: Publisher

Set in 1943 Berlin, the midst of World War II, the majority of the men have been sent to the battlefront. Berlin has essentially become a city of women: wives, mothers, sisters of German soldiers living off of rations and meager wages to get by. Sigrid Schröder is one of these women, her husband Kasper shipped off to Russia to fight in the war. Singrid holds down a job, reluctantly putting up with her meddling mother-in-law. Despite the tough economic times and food shortages, Singrid continues to seek solace and an escape from the crumbling, war-torn world around her.

It is at the theater that she meets Egor and the two embark upon a sensual love affair. Infidelity was never something Sigrid ever thought she was capable of committing, but in a war savaged by war, frequented by air raids, her body was one thing of which she had control.  Her affair is just the cusp of the risks Sigrid takes on, for after she befriends Ericha, the young nanny for other tenant in her building, she soon finds herself immersed in the practice of protecting Jews and other individuals from detection by the Gestapo. Sigrid, a woman once so set on creating the perfect home for her perfect German husband now forced to risk her life to protect dozens of individuals, families who are strangers to her. The risk is high, Sigrid has to watch every step she takes, every person she confides in. For all it takes is a accusation of crimes against Hitler for her to be carted away to an internment camp.

One might wonder why Sigrid would risk all this, her life, her future with her husband. Admittedly, her marriage was never a happy one. She conceded to living with her mother-in-law after she miscarried their first and only child. She goes to work daily at the patent office, a thankless job overseen by a brutal, uncaring woman. The steps she takes to ensure the freedom of these individuals may seem small, but to Sigrid they are huge. In a world she has little control over, in a life she’s forced to live in, this is her way of having an impact on the fate of these poor individuals.

What was truly remarkable about this novel was the level of sensuality amidst a cold, dark & brutal Berlin. The feelings she has for Egor are genuine, the two of them relying on their sessions of lovemaking to get them through the tragedies of war. Their love is a forbidden one, and not simply because Sigrid is married. Sigrid feels dead inside, her happiness crushed by the war surrounding her. This affair bakes her feel alive again, makes her feel as though she is needed, wanted.

Another paramount theme within this novel is the idea of trust. Sigrid had to be incredibly discriminating when it came to who she could rely upon, who she could talk to, who she could confide in. Several times throughout the novel her decisions were tested and she learned, unfortunately, what it meant to be betrayed by those for which she had great respect.

I was truly amazed at how well the author captured the life and beliefs a young female. Obviously not a woman himself, he so eloquently captured her essence, her feelings and emotions. While reading the novel, I frankly forgot it was written by a man, a true testament to his skill of writing.

City of Women is a brilliant, completely unique perspective on World War II and the individuals (while fictional) who survived it. That said, I wouldn’t refer to this as a war story but instead a personal story of love, perseverance and hope. Not a small book at 400 pages, I found myself unable to put it down, staying up until literally the early hours of the morning to finish it. Highly, highly recommended.


Review: Overseas by Beatriz Williams

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (May 10, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0399157646
  • Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

Kate Wilson is a twenty-something Wall Street analyst, trying to make a name for herself. At an important client meeting, she’s banished to her cubicle, expected to sit around should the rest of her team find a need for her.  It is while she’s sulking at her desk that she runs into Manhattan’s most eligible bachelor, the handsome British billionaire Julian Laurence.  Never been one to attract the attention of the opposite sex and without a serious love interest since college, Kate is shocked at how interested Julian is in her.

The two embark upon a whirlwind romance. Julian doesn’t attempt to disguise his feelings for Kate, but he’s definitely holding something back. Eventually all is revealed: Kate & Julian’s love affair actually started almost a century ago in World War I France when a mysterious women saves the life of Captain Julian Laurence Ashford. For some reason, their love has truly triumphed through time,  Kate arriving on the Western Front just in time to save WWI Julian Laurence from death.  Can Kate accept all of this unbelievable news and truly succumb to the love of her life? Or is all of this too much for her?

Overseas  is the perfect summer weekend read! Put a hold on your life, cancel all your appointments for once you start this one you won’t be able to stop.  Not a typical fan of romance myself, I couldn’t help but find myself swept away in this escapist read!  When this book was compared to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, I couldn’t resist!

Given the fact that this is a novel involving time traveling, the reader must of course suspend belief while reading this novel. There isn’t a great deal about Julian & Kate’s journey through time that can be believed and accepted.  Williams didn’t intend for readers to examine the probability or possibility of time travel, but instead lose themselves in the love story between Kate and Julian, a love story that stands the test of time.

Overseas is a book that truly took me away to another place and time, a novel that I’ve found myself recommending to anyone who will listen. Kate and Julian have a classic love that you don’t see a lot anymore in fiction, a romance so deep time and distance can’t stop it. This is saying a lot coming from a reader who typically doesn’t enjoy romance, but I found myself wanting to know more about Kate and Julian, about their life together. I’m hoping Williams intends on writing more about this couple, for now I want more! Highly, Highly recommended.


Review: Red, White, and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth

  • Reading level: Ages 18 and up
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (April 26, 2012)
  • Source: Publisher

In the third Nathanial Cade, President’s Vampire book (after The President’s Vampire and Blood Oath), the country is in the midst of a Presidential race. A political operative and campaign volunteer are found slaughtered, in a compromising position. At the crime scene, written in blood, is a message: “It’s Good to be Back!” This message is from a centuries old creature, only known as the Boogeyman. The only creature Cade as been unable to stop.

A bit of history on Cade for those unfamiliar with the series: since the days of President Lincoln, Nathanial Cade has been sworn by a blood oath to protect the sitting President and anyone acting on his behalf.  He is the creature the American public no nothing about, fighting a supernatural battle kept hidden from the country. He resides in a lair built under the White House, using the infamous hidden passages beneath the nation’s Capitol during the daylight hours.

The Boogeyman is essentially the being that serial killers worship as their god. Several killers that have been captured reference him specifically as the inspiration of their actions. The killings they perform invite the Boogeyman into our world, his actions spinning dozens of urban legends.

The murders continue, all involving individuals caught in a sexual act. Cade and his human sidekick, Zach, must find a way to stop the Boogeyman before he reaches his next intended victim, the President himself, all the while trying to keep the press from connecting the murders. Using human bodies as hosts, he is unstoppable. In his presence, cars malfunction, doors unlock. He is unstoppable.

Preventing them from succeeding is a former member of a covert group with a mission to bring down the U.S. government using supernatural means, the Shadow Company. They are set on doing what they can to allow the Boogeyman to follow through on his mission to kill the President, the first step in bringing the country to its knees.

As with the previous books in the series, Red, White, and Blood is rich with memorable one-liners. Farnsworth succeeds at painting a completely plausible, albeit supernatural, scenario. Unlike the others, this novel has a bit more political side to it, the Presidential campaign playing a key role in the storyline. Other reviews indicate that this takes away from the main storyline but in my opinion it doesn’t detract, but instead adds to the story, allowing Farnsworth to adequately pace the action and intensity throughout the novel.

While this is the third novel in a series, Farnsworth excels at providing just enough back story to bring a reader up to speed. That said, I do recommend starting from the beginning if you can, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.  Red, White, and Blood is an exhilarating and intense novel, the ending is completely stunning and had me begging for more. A long-time fan of Cade (he truly makes vampires sexy), I highly recommend this novel.

Review: The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (April 12, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0399157581
  • Source: Publisher

Nell Slattery is only one of two survivors of a horrible plane crash. When she awakens in the hospital she is confused, devoid of all her memories. With the help of her family, some members with their own agenda, Nell pieces through her memories with the aid of music and photographs given to her by members of her family. Trusting the information and assistance given to her by her sister and business partner, Rory; her mother; her best friend Samantha; and her husband Peter.

Against the advice of her family, she agrees to work on a story about her recovery with a local reporter. He, shockingly, is the only individual honest enough to give Nell an accurate look at her life before the accident. Eventually, bits and pieces of her memories start to reappear and Nell is shocked to learn they don’t mesh with what her family has shared with her. As she begins to form sense of self-identity, the new individual she becomes is quite different than her previous self. Before the crash, her life seemed to be devoid of fun, excitement…color! Additionally, her family,  albeit under the guise that it is in her best interest, also try to meld the “new” Nell to be different that the individual she was before. They withhold information from her, information that will have a resounding impact on the relationships they have with her.

A key theme discussed in The Song Remains the Same is change. As Nell regains her memory, she learns of quite a deal of turmoil in her life growing up, specifically surrounding her father. An artist like she was, they had a bond like none other. He would frequently disappear from her life for months on end, yet when he would return she would welcome him with open arms, as if nothing had changed. It was if her own identity was created and influenced by his existence.

“How long had I let him define me? Even when, as an adult, I pretended he hadn’t…Forever. It seems that I had let him define me for just about forever. Whichever version of myself I was embodying at whichever moment, really, weren’t they all in reaction to him?”

Then, when he didn’t return, her life was shattered, upended. Now, decades later, Nell is forced to go through a similar experience in regaining her memory. As she heals, she’s extremely upset to learn that her father, her beacon in life, didn’t make an attempt to come out of hiding to see her after the accident:

I had fallen from the sky and my dad hadn’t come to try to heal me.  Hadn’t abandoned his selfish need for solitude to wander out into the bright lights of the world and rescue his little girl.

It is only when Nell realizes that she, herself, must be the one responsible for her recovery that she truly begins to heal:

“I’m done with people telling me their stories. Turns out, everyone has their own perspective of your life, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the right one.”

Ultimately, using her own advice “scars give you character”, Nell is able to define herself, without the advice, input, and suggestions of those around her.

One of my favorite things about The Song Remains the Same was how music became a key part of Nell’s recovery. It was music, songs on a playlist her sister Rory created for her, that really aided Nell in regaining her memory. The title/heading of each chapter is the name of a song Nell loved growing up. I couldn’t help but find myself humming each song as I turned the pages. Who can’t relate to a song bringing back memories, fond or not, when they listen to a song from their youth or childhood? Who doesn’t still have a collection of mix tapes they created in their teens? How can you not leap back in time the minute you hear those songs play?

Scotch creates a truly sympathetic character in Nell. You can’t help but want to aid in her in healing, to cry in devastation when she recalls a painful memory.  Nell’s character also adds a bit of humor and sarcasm to a story that could be dark and depressing. Without her wit, I think this book would have a completely different feel to it.

Another thing I truly appreciated about this book was that it went against all formulas for books of a similar nature. Nell doesn’t wake up to a flawless life, doesn’t gain immediate happiness. Instead, the process she goes through as she recovers is genuine, believable, and an extremely rewarding to experience as a reader.

Bottom line: The Song Remains the Same is an incredibly thought-provoking, funny, emotional read. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll scream, but at the end you’ll be rewarded with a completely satisfied feeling, a warmth that creeps into you soul. Highly recommended.