Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: Heartbroken

Summary: A shattering new thriller about three women, strangers, on a heart-wrenching collision course none of them could have seen coming.

Long after anyone expected Kate to do anything with her life, she did. Using the journals left behind by her aunt and grandmother, she wrote a novel based on a very real generation-old love story that ended in tragedy. On the other side of town, Emily is about to set fire to her life. She’s in a dead-end job and is involved with the wrong man; she can feel herself being drawn into darkness, with horrific consequences. With nowhere to go, she finds herself on the run.  Without knowing each other, and with lives that couldn't be more different, Kate and Emily head to the same point on the map: Heart Island, an idyllic place in the middle of a lake in the Adirondacks, owned for generations by Birdie Burke's family. The harsh and unyielding Birdie is at one with this island, which has a terrifying history all its own. She, too, has consequences to face.

Heartbroken is a tense, mesmerizing novel about the limits of dysfunctional families, of an island haunted by dark memories and restless ghosts, and of the all-too-real demons we must battle.  

Wonderfully suspenseful, exquisitely crafted, and written with raw, emotional power, this is Lisa Unger at her very best. -- Crown

When I learned that Lisa Unger had a new novel coming out called HEARTBROKEN, I was extremely excited. I am a big fan of her work and have thoroughly enjoyed her last few books. And then, I saw that HEARTBROKEN was receiving some wonderful praise including 4 out of 4 stars from USA Today, 3.5 out of 4 stars from People Magazine, and starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist, I just knew I had to read it!

HEARTBROKEN tells the story of three very different women whose lives are drastically changed one summer when their fates collide on Heart Island, an island escape in the middle of a lake in the Adirondacks. Kate is a mother of two who has recently written a novel based on her grandmother's journals about a love affair that ended in a tragedy. Birdie is Kate's distant (and difficult) mother whose family has owned Heart Island for generations. And Emily is the young woman whose live has turned upside-down -- she can't keep a job and her boyfriend is trouble with a capital "T."

Birdie is afraid that she might be seeing "ghosts;" and she's trying to come to terms with some painful memories from her past.  Meanwhile Kate, the dutiful daughter, has taken her teenage daughter and a friend to Heart Island for their annual visit with Birdie; however, Emily is coming to the island for entirely different reasons. When all three women eventually meet under some pretty terrifying circumstances, there is a great deal of suspense and action; and each women realizes that they have to face some very serious consequences to their past actions.

All I can say is "Wow!" HEARTBROKEN was a definite page-turner, and not exactly what I was expecting -- but I mean that in the very best possible way! This might come out wrong, but I was surprised by just how suspenseful this novel was given that almost all of the major characters were women. It was full of tension and action which were both wonderful; however, it also delved into some serious topics including mother/daughter relationships and dysfunctional families. HEARTBROKEN was the best of both worlds -- a great literary and psychological thriller!

I enjoyed HEARTBROKEN for a number of reasons, but first and foremost were the three female leads -- Kate, Emily, and Birdie. All of these women were extremely complex and troubled, and Ms. Unger did an excellent job making them interesting and also very real. I found that there were times that I got frustrated with each one of them (namely Birdie because she was so nasty and Emily because she was so darn dumb about her boyfriend); however, I appreciated how they reflected so much of what is true about women. These characters faced situations that every woman can relate to and they were forced to cope with them -- even when these events were very difficult to accept.

Furthermore, I adored how these female characters embodied so much of what makes a woman a mother. Each woman was in a very different role as far as parenting goes, but one thing they all had in common was the basic instinct to protect their children. No matter how complicated their relationships with each other were, all three women were willing to make huge sacrifices for their children.

Another wonderful thing about HEARTBROKEN was how on-the-mark it was concerning family relationships. There was certainly lots of family drama and many painful secrets, and these characters reflected how difficult it can be to deal with family issues. I was impressed by Ms. Unger's portrayal of dysfunctional families and I think many readers will be able to relate, at least in part, to havoc that family members can place on us and our relationships with others.

And finally, I loved how addictive HEARTBROKEN was -- I couldn't put it down! Ms. Unger is an excellent storyteller and suspense/thriller writer, and it was very apparent in this novel. The way she built suspense was masterful and had me on-the-edge of my seat. I also appreciated how well she revealed the many layers of secrecy in the story -- sometimes going back many generations; and how well she eventually wrapped up the characters' stories.

I was a little surprised that I wasn't able to find a readers guide for HEARTBROKEN because I think it would make a great discussion book... especially for women. Not that you really need some formal questions to have a worthy discussion. Some of the themes you might want to explore include mother/daughter relationships, family dynamics, love, expectations, legacies, threats, motherly instinct, forgiveness, self acceptance, courage, consequences, and secrets.

HEARTBROKEN just might be my favorite Lisa Unger novel... ever! It was an excellent example of how well written a thriller can be, and I highly recommend it to fans of literary suspense!

Thanks to Erin Faye for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I like Unger a lot. No matter what her topic, it is always tense and visceral. I'll make sure I snap this one up if it walks by! (haha - that happens you know)

bermudaonion said...

I've thoroughly enjoyed Unger's work in the past and if this is her best yet, I need to check it out!

Serena said...

I have not read this author, but this one sounds like a good one to start with

Beth Hoffman said...

Terrific review, Julie. This one is going on my list. Happy Monday!

Laura Fabiani said...

I love thrillers with real and strong female characters. Your gushing review has me all curious about this one now.

Beth F said...

You know, I'm not sure I've read Unger. I'm going to have to look through my records. I'll have to add this one to my list.