Welcome to Reverie, a small town in South Carolina with only a few hundred residents, one salon, one auto shop, and one new arrival.
Lucinda Hamilton is fleeing from a terrible past. During the day she does her best to get away from her memories but at night she can barely sleep because of the nightmares that haunt her. Soon after her arrival she manages to get a job cutting hair at the local salon and one of her first clients is Ardie, the local lesbian and auto shop owner.
Ardie persuades Lucinda to let her help with some repairs to the rental where Lucinda is staying and they strike up a friendship. Ardie likes Lucinda and hopes that it will bloom into more, especially when she hears about Lucinda’s past love Dionne and realises that they both nurse deep wounds.
Someone has moved in next door to Lucinda and when Lucinda leaves a bowl of cookies for the stranger she unknowingly starts a passionate romance. When she finally meets the young nurse she feels an immediate and undeniable attraction, but the mysterious girl won’t tell Lucinda her name, making it a guessing game.
In the mean time, Ardie is struggling with her PTSD from her time in the military, a matter which only gets worse as the largest storm in the past 20 years threatens to sweep right through Reverie.
The storm, though, is the least of their problems when Lucinda’s abusive ex-husband gets out of prison.
In a story as complex and beautiful as the town in which it is set you will get to know a handful of women who will linger with you long after you put the book down.
Note from Sheena, I am pleased to let you know that Jeannie Levig, author, was such a fan of this book that she agreed to to a joint review with me.
Sheena: The cast is relatively small and the writing style is intensely focused on one point of view at a time. This gives us an intimate look at the characters and it works amazingly well for this particular story, amplifying the tension.
Jeannie: The main characters, Ardie and Lucinda, both suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Ardie from three tours as a marine in Iraq and Afghanistan and Lucinda from years in an abusive marriage and the tragic event that ended it. They’ve both returned to the tiny southern town of Reverie, South Carolina for refuge and healing. Their relationship is sweet and tender, and they offer one another a place of acceptance, where it’s okay to be vulnerable. Both leads as well as their relationship are written with a deft understanding of how important it is for readers to be able to connect with the protagonists and what’s going on with them regardless of anything else in the book.
The secondary characters are developed with equal skill and precision. The thing that struck me the most about all of the characters’ development is that there isn’t a single superfluous fact shared about any of them. A writer always knows far more about her characters than what is needed in the story, and sometimes it’s difficult to keep extraneous information out of the book. Andrews doesn’t have this problem. Every single thing the reader learns about each and every character is absolutely pertinent to the story and its unfolding. This adds to the tightness and tension the author manages to maintain throughout.
My favorite character in Reverie is Ardie. One of the reasons I love her is that physically she doesn’t present as the type of heroin often found in romance novels. She’s described as having “one of those big frames that’s usually more common in men than women,” and “…thick in all the places a person can be thick at…a squat neck that looks like it would fit in on the Reverie High School football team.” Her hair is “that thick, black kind, notorious for cowlicks and refusing to be tamed.” She’s a mechanic and helps run her father’s auto shop and grease under her fingernails is referenced a couple of times. I loved the external picture of Ardie that Andrews paints and the way Lucinda responds to it, then learning how soft and gentle Ardie is on the inside. Her depth, insights, kindness and generosity touched me and made me fall in love with her.
The Writing Style
Sheena: This book is so beautifully written. The word that comes to mind is lush. The writing is full and expressive, it’s emotive and so well put together that it made me feel amazed at times. Witness exhibit A – “It’s as if Ardie had been sitting in a darkened room, straining to read with no light to aid her, and then someone had walked in and thrown back the curtain.”
The book is also filled with truths that hit me right in the chest. Witness exhibit B – “Good men always think they can protect women from bad men; the truth is, women have always known that they have to learn to protect themselves.”
Jeannie: In discussing the writing style, the words artistry and brilliance come to mind. The writing is crisp, clean, and tight. What I mentioned about the development of the characters applies overall as well. There isn’t a single detail presented that isn’t relevant in the development of character or plot, which is imperative in a book like this one. This story has so many twists and turns and an exquisitely executed surprise ending, it could only be accomplished by a highly skilled writer. As soon as I reached the end of the book, I reread it and caught all of the perfectly worded and precisely placed descriptions and dialogue, the nuances, and the subtleties that had to be so carefully inserted in order to manage the required pacing and flow for such a story. The writing style and what it enabled Andrews to accomplish makes me off her the highest compliment I can give her as another writer—I wish I’d written this book.
Jeannie: The audiobook of Reverie is narrated by Elizabeth Saydah, and what an amazing pairing she and Andrews make on this production. In the writing itself, Andrews manages in words and structure to create a slow and relaxed, while at the same time richly expectant, feel to the story. This is lushly enhanced by Saydah’s flowing alto tone, slow southern drawl, and ability to convey whatever emotion underlies a scene. Even if you’ve read the book in print, I highly recommend the audio version just to be able to experience the quality and, of course, appreciate the story again.
Sheena: Everything. Every single thing. I even love the cover. Oh, and to make it even more awesome, there is a personal essay at the end which is an absolute must-read too.
Jeannie: Reverie is a perfect example of the kind of book I love to read. The pros for me are its depth of character development to the degree I feel like these people could show up at my front door, a plot that held me tightly in its grip until the very end, an impressive writing style, and something that truly surprised me. And I loved the very, very end. It’s a different kind of a happy ending, but it’s a happy ending nonetheless. So…basically, the whole book is one huge pro.
Sheena: No cons for me. But if you want a happy ending, are looking for a romance, don’t like reading about PTSD, or mention of abuse then this is not for you. If you want a book that has the same moody feeling as the film, The Gift, then this is definitely for you.
Jeannie: There’s nothing about this book that’s a con for me. It might be unfortunate that it’s marketed as a romance, given that romance as a genre has specific guidelines, which creates an expectation of that formula for many readers. There is nothing formulaic about this book, which for me is a pro. I enjoy romance, certainly, but I would classify Reverie as a love story—an unconventional one, at that—rather than an actual romance. Whatever category it falls into, it’s a phenomenal read.
Sheena: If you are like me and love to find the unusual reads, the books that deserve epic awards because they are gorgeous, books that hang heavy with the feeling as if it’s just about to rain, books that are written with the mastery of words that you can only dream of then this is your read.
Jeannie: This book is different in that way that makes it stand out, that makes you think and consider ideas and possibilities you might not have thought of before, or revisit ideas for maybe a deeper understanding. It’s a book that will stay with you for a long time, and it’s one I will reread many, many times, even though I already know its secrets. I’ll reread it again and again for its beauty and artistry.
Excerpt from Reverie by Eliza Andrews
Ardie Brown stands, hitches up faded blue jeans, walks over to Lucinda’s chair with workboot-heavy steps. Lucinda thinks she must be in her forties somewhere; she’s no spring chicken, but her dark hair doesn’t have enough grey in it to make her any older than about forty-five or forty-six. And Ardie’s thick in all the places a person can be thick at — wide hips, broad shoulders, a squat neck that looks like it would fit in on the Reverie High School football team, topped off by a strong, jutting jaw. But Lucinda wouldn’t describe Ardie Brown as “fat,” per se; she just has one of those big frames that’s usually more common in men than in women. Ardie Brown is what Lucinda’s father would’ve called “a sturdy woman.”
Strong and sturdy. It’s something Lucinda can respect.
Ardie’s black eyes meet Lucinda’s hazel ones in the mirror once she sits down. “What happened to Kathy?” she asks. “I thought she wasn’t due for another couple months.”
“Apparently the doctor put her on bed rest,” Lucinda says, and she notices that Kylah and Rhonda, who’ve been chatty all morning, have gone oddly quiet.
“Oh. Well, I hope everything’s okay with the baby,” Ardie says.
To Lucinda’s left, Rhonda gets to talking with her client again, going back to the topic of her son and high school football and the prayers they do with him for an injury-free season. Kylah picks up a conversation about afternoon soap operas with her client, leaving Lucinda to talk with Ardie on her own.
“What are we doing with your hair today?” Lucinda asks.
Ardie laughs. “Whatever you can do with it.”
Lucinda smiles, because Ardie’s hair is that thick, black kind, notorious for cowlicks and refusing to be tamed. “You want the same style, or something new?”
“Just the same is fine. A trim so I don’t scare children in dark alleys, I think.”
“Then let’s get you a shampoo first,” Lucinda says, rotating Ardie’s chair towards the wash station in the back. “Your hair will be easier to work with if it’s damp.”
Ardie laughs again. “You sure ’bout that? Kathy once threatened me with sheep shears.”
Lucinda laughs with her. “I can see why.”
Ardie’s quieter than Lucinda’s other customers so far. She doesn’t talk at all during the wash, holds her paperback in her lap and patiently follows directions when Lucinda begins to work on her hair.
Lucinda doesn’t mind the quiet. Hair salons are chatty places, and she’s gotten used to it over the years, but she’s naturally reserved herself, and never forces a conversation with a client who’s not particularly garrulous.
After a few minutes of comfortable silence, though, Ardie’s the one who starts talking.
“Do you know Kathy well?” she asks.
“I don’t know Kathy at all,” Lucinda says. “I just moved to Reverie. My cousin, Dan Anderson, told me that Georgie might need another stylist soon on account of Kathy’s pregnancy. But when I came in yesterday to see about it, I sure didn’t expect to be cutting hair today.”
“I know Dan. He’s been a customer at my Daddy’s auto shop for years. Like most of the folks in this town.” Ardie smiles at her in the mirror, a mischievous twinkle in her dark eyes. It gives her an almost schoolboy charm. “But you moved to Reverie? Now why on Earth would you want to do that?”
Lucinda dodges the question artfully. “What’s so bad about Reverie? You live here, don’t you?”
“I do, but I don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. I was born here. ‘Born ’n bred,’ as they say.”
“If you don’t like it, you could’ve moved away,” Lucinda counters.
“I did. For a while. Joined the Marines not long outta high school, wanted to ‘see the world’ and what-not. Lived in Tucson for a couple years after I got out.” Ardie sighs. “But you know how it goes. Aging parents. Dad got sick, then fell and broke a hip. Came back home to help out.”
“Mm-hmm,” Lucinda says, nodding in agreement. “My mom passed a couple years ago. Alzheimer’s. It was a lot to keep up with, those last few years of her life. We kept her at home for as long as we could, but eventually had to put her in a place. Got too hard to take care of her.”
“We?” Ardie asks. “Who’s ‘we’?”
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