After the untimely deaths of her aunt and mother, young Riley Mays moved from Chicago to her cousin’s Wisconsin farm. Here she found solace in caring for her extraordinary adoptive brother, exploring the surrounding wild nature, and gazing at the mystical moon—a private refuge in which she hides from her most painful memories. But ten years later, now twenty-one, Riley feels too confined by the protective walls she’s erected around herself. When a stranger enters her family’s remote world, Riley senses something he’s hiding, a desire to escape that she understands well.
Suffering from writer’s block, bestselling novelist Vaughn Orr has taken to the country roads when he happens upon the accommodating, if somewhat unusual, Mays family. He’s soon captivated by their eccentricities—and especially by Riley and her quiet tenacity. In her, he recognizes a shared need to keep heartbreaking secrets buried. As the worst moments of their lives threaten to surface, Riley and Vaughn must find the courage to confront them if they’re to have any hope of a happy future. With the help of Riley’s supportive family, a dash of everyday magic, and the healing power of nature, can the pair let go of the troubled pasts they’ve clung to so tightly for so long?
This is a book about people who have tragic secrets and a real need to process their experiences and heal. Both farm dwelling Riley and writer Vaughan have a similar need to disappear and escape from their physical four walls and the boundaries of their minds. Both are affected by trauma and really need to face it rather than avoid it, if they want to recover. Perhaps these two people with secrets in their past could attempt a slow recovery together. As is the norm for this writer, healing comes from nature, nurture, friendship, family and understanding.
The book is so beautifully written it’s easy to become mesmerised by the language and it’s this that first pulled me into the novel. I love atmosphere and description so this lyrical start was perfect for me. The story is definitely a slow burn, but the sense of place and emotion is hypnotic. The author plays with ideas of darkness within people and how we see ourselves – do we ever see ourselves as we truly are? People who’ve experienced trauma might find it hard to be their authentic selves, because how they feel can be dark, sad and fearful. Riley and Vaughan seemed to have embraced that darkness as part of their identity, when actually there’s so much about them that is lightness and joy. Sometimes, it’s easier to say you love the darkness than it is to do all the work it takes to cast it off. The novel is mainly that personal journey, moving towards the light with the help of family, nature and a little touch of spirituality too.
The moon imagery is interesting, because there is something magical about it: it’s pull on the earth, the seemingly magical way it controls tides and perhaps even moods. There is an otherworldly feel to the author’s imagery that takes us to an earth that is ours, but with some interesting quirks and a touch of surrealism. Here the love of the family is connected firmly to nature, space, and the galaxy. I didn’t need to believe this, I just went with it and enjoyed the journey. I was also touched by a couple of minor characters, Sachi and Kiran. Sachi has such a passion for Indian food and surrealist art and I love people who are passionate and excited about things. She is open hearted and happy to take in anyone, which she does with Riley and Vaughan. There’s an earth mother element to her nature which I loved. Kiran is only eight years old, but is an outstanding little fellow with so much character packed into his meagre years. He feels more comfortable dressed in girl’s clothing, collects fossils and takes apart clocks in order to make magic!
Around her own love of nature and spirituality, Vanderah weaves the story of two strangers who somehow understand each other deeply. The author takes the reader on a lyrical journey from the very depths of their tragic childhoods towards a place of healing; a healing that comes from the consolation of nature, the love of family, the nurturing of self-worth and the understanding that they deserve full and happy lives. I love description, atmosphere and characters who are unique and full of depth, so this story of emotions, regrets, and haunting memories, not to mention the glimpse of hope, was bound to capture my heart.
Published 22nd March 2022 from Lake Union Publishing.
Glendy Vanderah worked as an endangered bird specialist in Illinois before she became a writer. Originally from Chicago, she now lives in rural Florida with as many birds, butterflies, and wildflowers as she can lure to her land. Where the Forest Meets the Stars is her debut novel. Visit Glendy online at http://glendyvanderah.com/