Annie is in trouble, as all heroines of this author are in the beginning of their stories. Annie arrives on a tiny island off the Atlantic coast in the middle of winter. At 33, she’s sick, broke, alone, and lost career-wise. Her most prized possessions are a bunch of puppets in two red suitcases and her late mother’s cottage at the edge of the island.
When Annie was 15, she spent a memorable summer on this island, in love with the boy Theo, who proved to be a crazed monster. Now she meets him again, a grown man and oddly attractive to her. Is Theo still a monster she remembers? Or was she confused about him all these years ago.
Nothing is as it seems in Annie’s island life. Theo plays a brooding, wounded hero. Is he? He hides behind a mask of a jaded, sarcastic man, always ready with disparaging words or a sneer, but is that his true face? Should she trust her instincts and try to break his camouflage or should she run away from him?
She has other problems too. On the island that should be somnolent, a place that hasn’t seen a serious crime in years, someone shoots at her, her dilapidated cottage is broken into, and a mute four-year-old girl befriends one of her puppets. The other islanders appear to be nice but are they? Do they hide behind their own masks, with their own hidden agendas? It takes Annie a while to figure everyone out, as she is the only character who doesn’t hide who she is.
The plot is swift, with many unexpected twists and turns, as the author throws every assumption to the winds. The main characters are well defined and likable, although it takes the reader as long as it takes Annie to see the real Theo behind his controversial exterior and warm up to him.
Annie is, without a doubt, the star of the book, the glue that holds all the unconnected little subplots together. Charming, resourceful, and compassionate, she is on a journey of self-discovery and aware of it. Her life hasn’t dealt her any easy cards, but she manages to make everyone around her feel better… and sometimes even be better. She isn’t stupid and she sees life without pink glasses but she tends to believe the best of people, give everyone the benefit of the doubt. And sometimes, her believes come true.
The author’s humor also shines through Annie. Her dialogs are sharp and precise, and her contemplations of life are priceless. The writing is so good that I wanted to immerse myself in Ms. Phillips's words and never come out again, to read a lesser writer.
Here is what Annie thinks about men and women, about her and Theo:
Certain women were drawn to volatile men, sometimes out of neuroses, sometimes—if the woman was a romantic—out of the naïve fantasy that her particular brand of femininity was powerful enough to tame one of these rogue males. In novels, the fantasy was irresistible. In real life, it was total bull.
Did I forget to mention that Theo is a horror writer? He is. In the novel, he is working on his new book, and he kills off one of his characters. There is inherent danger in that, as any writer might testify.
He always got testy when his writing wasn’t going well, and it definitely wasn’t going well now. He’d killed off Diggity Swift a week ago and been blocked ever since.
He didn’t understand it. He’d never had a problem killing off a character, but now he couldn’t seem to garner any interest in Quentin Pierce and his band of miscreants. Today, he’d actually been happy to get a call from Booker Rose about his hemorrhoids, and how whacked was that.
Did I forget to mention that Theo is a licensed EMT, the only certified medical person on the island? He is. He gets calls about injuries, and hemorrhoids too.
An excellent book, probably my favorite of this wonderful writer. Recommended to any reader of romance or women’s fiction.