Thank you Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, for sending Sleeping In Eden. This is a smart and touching page burner!
The book starts with a kick. I don’t know many readers who will be able to put the book down after reading the first chapter. The story begins with a man who is found hanging by a noose in his own barn. This discovery would be troublesome enough, but authorities then discover the skeletal remains of a girl under the barn floor. Cue Dr. Lucas Hudson to the scene as acting coroner, and let the ride begin. What first appears to be an open-and-shut suicide case becomes a twisting trail that leads the good doctor on a personal and very clever chase. Nothing is quite as it seems.
Page burners may come and go, but the challenge is to get the reader attached to the novel’s characters. This is expertly crafted in Sleeping In Eden. You’ll like Lucas. You’ll like the troubled young woman from his past.
You’ll also like Meg.
Thanks to beautifully penned flashbacks, you will get to know a young girl named Meg Painter, and the two beaus who pined for her affection: Dylan and Jess. Sounds like a typical teen love triangle, but it’s too smartly written for that label. I thought Meg was a brave and honest character, and I adored her spirit. I also loved the complexity of Dylan, and the consistency of Jess. But what in the world do these flashbacks have to do with the modern day quest to determine the identity of the girl under the barn floorboards? How is she connected to the suicide? How will the past and the present come careening together?
The quest of Lucas has many layers. Evidence he stole from the scene. A deeply troubled marriage. A link to a young woman from the past who is now key for the mystery at hand. A desperate need to fix things that are broken. These culminate into a protagonist who is meticulously drawn. His layers and the mystery are intertwined, and all of this is written without unnecessary drama. It’s effective, and real.
Meg’s girl-next-door is lovely, and the flashbacks are seamless. They paint a picture of a teen who comes from a loving family (what a nice change from so many of today’s novels), who is on a somewhat clumsy path of self discovery. Her emotions are raw, and her personality is simultaneously magnetic and sweet. She’s athletic, adventurous and intelligent, and it’s no surprise that there are two young men fighting for her attention. How she feels about Dylan and Jess is complex. For Meg, there are no easy answers, but she might just find herself stronger as she determines the best route for her heart.
The two story lines of Sleeping In Eden could easily stand alone, which is interesting since one is a mystery and one is a coming-of-age journey. As the two stories develop, you’ll start to feel uneasy about how they could possibly be related. That nagging discomfort you’ll feel will be the understanding that these lives are indeed linked, which means that there are bitter outcomes ahead. Exactly how they’re linked, and whose hearts will break will have to be revealed to you when you read it. You’ll find no spoilers here. I will say, however, that after reflecting on the story afterward, I was thankful that it was not without hope. The book’s close will leave you smiling, despite what inevitably transpires.
Sleeping In Eden is well worth your read. If you like a gripping story with excellent characters and an undercurrent of inspiration, then this novel is for you. 4 stars for Sleeping In Eden, and the knowledge that I will read more of Nicole Baart’s work.