What Fran’s Reading: A time-traveling thriller and legendary love story

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by Diane ChamberlainThe last house on the street(St. Martin’s Press, 352 pp., $27.99) travels back in time between 1965 and 2010 to illuminate a connection between two women of different generations who live in the same neighborhood.

In 1965, Ellie Hockley is a college student nearly engaged to a bank manager when she reads about student activists from northern states who travel to North Carolina for the summer to help register black voters. Ellie’s family and boyfriend object to her joining their ranks, so she continues without their blessing.

A black minister tries to dissuade her, explaining that as a local resident she is certain to encounter more opposition than the northern volunteers will encounter. But she is determined to lend her efforts to a cause she believes in.

Indeed, the opposition to his work with SCOPE (Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education) is even fiercer than the warnings. But it’s further complicated by his friendship and eventual romantic feelings for a black volunteer at a time when interracial relationships were decidedly taboo.

Flash forward to 2010. Kayla Carter, an architect who, with her architect husband Jackson, designed a new home in Round Hill, an attractive community where the couple planned to raise their 3-year-old daughter in their dream home . Now she is set to move in on her own, having lost Jackson to a fatal fall that occurred while the house was under construction.

Still grieving and dreading moving into the house where her husband died, she is further frightened by a visit from an unknown woman who warns her against moving into the house.

When Kayla comes across a letter her father had written to Jackson saying they should build somewhere else, she confronts him. He tells her that the woods and the lake behind the house have long been known to be haunted.

It is on Kayla’s moving day that she meets Ellie. Kayla is happy to make her first friend in the neighborhood. But when she learns who Kayla’s father is, Ellie’s warmth immediately cools, leaving Kayla puzzled and disappointed.

The sense of impending danger in both timelines keeps the plots moving and the reader glued to the stories, as the women’s lives become increasingly enmeshed in the secrets and tragedies of the past. “The Last House on the Street” is Chamberlain at its best. Book clubs take note.

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Going from suspense to romance is the “The Liz Taylor Ring(Graydon House, 384 pages, $16.99 paperback), a love story encompassing romantic love, filial love and, for Ritchie Schneider, an irresistible love of gambling.

It was the game that had caused Lizzie and Ritchie to break up, when he had to tell her that he had lost their house on a night of bad cards. She was then raising two small children and had no money or family support (they had told her not to marry Ritchie, hadn’t they?). So Lizzie kicked him out. And it would have been if the two hadn’t been so powerfully attracted to each other.

Ritchie, determined to win Lizzie back, avoided acting long enough to convince her he had given it up. What turned things around was the Liz Taylor ring he gave her to celebrate the end of their nine-month separation. Not the actual ring Richard Burton gave Liz Taylor, of course, but a dead look-alike – an 11-carat Asscher-cut, Flawless D-color diamond.

In fact, Ritchie never completely quit acting, but he kept it under control. And when he didn’t, he pawned the diamond and had it replaced with a cubic zirconia that would fool anyone but a jeweler. Eventually, he saved enough to redeem the real diamond, but then suffered another bad loss and had to pawn the stone. But the family, none the wiser, was never aware of the exchange of stones.

At one point, the ring disappeared completely and after Ritchie and Lizzie died, their children never saw it again. Addie was convinced it had been stolen. Nathan, the most romantic of the children, believed that their mother, who was then suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, had placed him in Ritchie’s coffin. And Courtney, the youngest child and practically estranged from her siblings, had no doubt that she had been played. (The most likely explanation, and Courtney has a gambling problem herself.)

Now, several years after the death of their parents, the trio are summoned to a bank on a Caribbean island to claim the contents of a safe in their father’s name. You can guess what’s inside, and it triggers a series of emotions, resentments, and ultimately respective searches to find out who they are and what, if anything, they mean to each other. for the others.

It’s an entertaining read to say the least, an epic love story full of humor, suspense, anger and tenderness, made all the more enjoyable by Janowitz’s excellent storytelling and pacing.

Fran Wood, retired Star-Ledger columnist and former newspaper editor, blogs at jerseysbest.com.

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