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CC Carlson is a young lawyer on her first job with a prestigious mega-law firm. She’s determined to impress her boss with her first major assignment; however, things do not go as planned, and CC faces a detour that could be life altering, if only she is up for the challenge.
As her assignment unfolds, CC meets Vivian Battle, the owner of a piece of property with a large farmhouse and several small cottages on the land. Vivian lives in the farmhouse, and one of the inhabitants of the cottages is a woman named Penn who turns out to be Vivian’s attorney. When Penn hears that someone is trying to take Vivian’s home and land away from her, she tries to enlist CC’s help to save the day. CC wrestles with conflict of interest concerns, but is intrigued with Vivian’s story enough to put off doing her own job in an attempt to help Vivian. At first, it’s difficult to tell whether Penn is a devil or an angel on CC’s shoulder. It really depends on your perspective.
The story is told contrapuntally, swinging back and forth between Vivian’s childhood in the 1950s and the present-day. As the pendulum swings from present to past, morsels of truth are revealed that are key to the story without giving away the end before its time.
In the midst of the revelations from the past, we learn that CC’s life in the present has been filled with doing the “right thing.” As she tries to deal with a failed relationship, some bizarre e-mail responses to a personals ad, and a life full of “shoulds” that no longer hold their appeal, CC finds herself torn between duty and a freedom she begins to recognize in Vivian and the people who surround her. When CC discovers that Vivian is the famous author of children’s books she has loved, admired, and longed to emulate from childhood, she is pulled along on a soul-searching journey, almost against her will, that makes her realize that operating from “shoulds” is no way to live.
This tale is very much a point and counterpoint one filled with struggles on the part of many of the characters. In addition to CC’s battle to find her true self, she also grapples with an old lover who seems to only have lust, adventure, and, quite possibly, CC’s job in her sights. Penn is shy, tentative in her attraction to CC as she contends with commitment issues as a result past trauma. Vivian, too, is reluctant to reveal the secrets of her life growing up as she denies the threat of her current reality.
As the story unfolds, we learn there is more than one mystery to be unraveled, and everything is not what it seems. Whether or not Vivian keeps her property and her adopted family intact hinges on whether or not CC can unravel the biggest mystery of all: why Chet Battle signed away the property rights to Jacob Rubenstein in the 1950s, and why Jacob never claimed them.
At first blush, this story begins as an almost light-hearted romantic tale with a mysterious twist. However, as it develops, it proves to be a serious study of the culture of the 1950s, addressing topics like prejudice, the superiority of white males, the place of women in the time, and coming of age within a society that would never understand people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, or sexual orientations. The combination of the present day plot and the look into the past make for an intricately woven story, giving the reader pause. This is a story that lingers, even after the last page is turned.
Previous works by Ann Roberts were enjoyable reads, but in Hidden Hearts, the author has kicked up her storytelling a few notches by infusing the characters and the plot with complexity not seen in previous works. Hidden Hearts is an easily readable tale with enchanting, multifaceted characters and surprises to be exposed right up until the very end of the story. This one is Roberts’ best writing to date.
By Ann Roberts
Paperback, 9781594932878, 238pp.