Hello Stranger

By Katherine Center

So funny. So witty. So romantic. So enjoyable. I had read two Katherine Center books before this one, and enjoyed them but with reservations. The stories and concepts were good, but I found the heroes boring and almost nondescript although they were both lovely. The heroines were, in one case, flat-out annoying and in another just meh. In both cases, their situations seemed intriguing and the stories full of possibilities but they ended up seeming a bit contrived to me. They were both immensely popular highly rated books, so it was a personal problem, apparently.

But this one! Yes, the heroine was flawed and frustrating at times and had some major issues to conquer and grow past. At first, I found her a little off-putting and I had a hard time getting a handle on her. But I liked her. She really spoke to me. Literally. Sadie tells her story in the first person and she establishes a close relationship with the reader. It is as easy and natural as if she is talking to her best friend (you). I was drawn in immediately. You listen to her telling you her side of the story, but you can also see her flaws and things she may be wrong about. Early in the book, I thought we might be dealing with an unreliable narrator situation. As it turned out, she wasn’t really, but confirmation bias is a theme.

“Anyhoo.” (and I quote.) As a result of minor brain surgery, Sadie develops face blindness. When she looks at a human face the features do not come together as such. It is as if they are “puzzle pieces spread out on a table.” Difficult and disconcerting for anyone, but alas she is a struggling portrait painter who has secured a place in a prestigious contest and is on a deadline to complete a traditional portrait. Even being asked to compete is an honor. Doing well will finally give her choice of profession much-needed validation. Sadie had a very painful childhood thanks to the death of her beloved mother, who was also a painter, and her subsequent relationship with her father, stepmother, and stepsister. She was victimized. It has caused her to always put on a brave face, never admitting vulnerability or need for others’ help. As Sadie works to deal with her new disability and complete the portrait to enter the contest, she learns and grows. Unfortunately, The North American Portrait Society folks cater to the Norman Rockwell set rather than the Pablo Picasso crowd. Her condition forces her to treat other people differently and accept help. The self-protective layers start to peel off. Meanwhile, we meet some interesting characters, both good and bad. Her long-term friends and landlords, the Kims, their daughter Sue, her wise doctor, her beloved old dog, Peanut, and his veterinarian, who she decides will be her future husband. Her troublesome family arrives on the scene and we learn that some step-sisters really are evil. And we meet Joe, who turns out to be the, at first, unlikely love interest. He is quirky, funny, and adorable.

Near the conclusion, there is a surprise appearance and an interesting twist I did not see coming but probably should have. But no, I take that back. It was so well disguised that when I started to suspect what was going on, I went back to review some parts to see if it could be true. Yes, the clues were all there, but I still didn’t see how it could be. To Katherine Center’s credit, the exposition of all of the reasons I (wrongly) didn’t believe it made sense. I bought it. Or chose to buy it. It made the ending even more satisfactory and joyful. No, her life and family relationships weren’t all perky sparkles, but as I’ve said before in a previous review, Katherine Center really knows how to end a book. My ratings of both of her books I read previously were bolstered by her climaxes and wind-ups. This one didn’t need bolstering.

There are two Author’s Notes at the end. One is about acquired prosopagnosia. The other is a defense and appreciation of The Romance Novel as a genre. Any reader who has ever felt belittled or apologetic about their tastes in reading such novels needs to read this. Anyone who has thought less of someone’s tastes in reading “Chick-Lit” or romance needs to read this as well. Though they probably wouldn’t. Brava Katherine Center.

Thank-You to Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with an uncorrected digital galley of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

5 thoughts on “Hello Stranger

      • Gee thanks. 🙂 Now I have to figure out how to work Brad Pitt into a conversation. I know, how about using JA? Emma, you say??? Did you know that Mr. Knightly was once married to…….who was also married to…..who incidentally is…etc etc 😉 I am loving so much the letters because I can see so many of the places that are mentioned online. I need that. I read in a letter a while back that after a ball they left about 2:00 and walked home arriving around 5:00. When I go back in time, after spending the summer and fall of 1940 in London I’m going to trail along behind that group hanging on every word. I’d like to go walk that route right now.


      • I don’t think this is what I was thinking about because the distance is only a mile and a half or so and I was thinking when I measured before it was 6 miles. This’ll do though because it’s wonderful:

        Rowling Manor is where her brother Edward, the horndog who bred his poor wife to death, was living when they first got married. Cue segue 😉 In that PBS documentary on Ruth Stone that you are going to enjoy because family is important to you, there’s this wonderful line: “My father put me in my mother…..” How’s that. In a million years I’d never thought of it just like that.


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