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Book review: 'The Perfect Stranger' by Wendy Corsi Staub (w/ event details)

Wendy Corsi Staub's 'The Perfect Stranger' will be available from Harper tomorrow, July 29th.

Wendy Corsi Staub's 'The Perfect Stranger'


Hartford Books Examiner will be moderating authors Wendy Corsi Staub and Elizabeth Little (Dear Daughter) in conversation at R.J. Julia Booksellers on Wednesday, August 6th, at 7 PM. This event is free and open to the public. Reservations can be made online or by calling the store at 203-245-3959. R.J. Julia is located at 768 Boston Post Road in Madison, CT.


Today, Hartford Books Examiner reviews The Perfect Stranger (Harper, $7.99) by Wendy Corsi Staub.

Out tomorrow, The Perfect Stranger is the second book in the author’s current trilogy, following The Good Sister (September 2013); the concluding chapter, The Black Widow, will be published in early 2015. While Staub’s past series books have featured recurring characters, this new project diverges from that trend but shares a common theme: social networking. Staub is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of nearly eighty novels under her own name and others.

As the story opens, readers are introduced to five female bloggers who have bonded through a shared commonality: breast cancer. Though they are of varying age and life experience—and though they have yet to meet in-person—Landry (Southern Belle of a certain age, married with children), Elena (a young school teacher, single), Meredith (married with children, struggling financially), Kay (former prison guard who suffers from anxiety, single) and Jaycee (a sophisticated, if enigmatic, New Yorker) have formed an intimate online friendship that has roots in their own struggles for survival. When one of them is killed in what appears to be a random act of violence, the remaining members of the group decide to journey to her funeral to pay their respects—and to come face-to-face with one another at long last.

But the anonymity of the Internet, which once helped to foster this long-distance kinship, now leaves Landry and company a bit leery, given the suspicious nature of the crime and the knowledge that who we present ourselves to be is not always who we truly are. Though these women have shared deep personal confidences that remain unknown to their immediate family and friends, it has always been through the barrier of a computer screen. Now that they have eschewed this filter, their vulnerabilities are exposed—and they may just find that a malevolent presence lurks behind a familiar name.

As always, Staub delivers first-rate characterizations, establishing unique and immediately identifiable personalities for each of the bloggers and their supporting cast, as well as the customary red herrings. The suspense builds to a fever-pitched crescendo in a final act that plays out against a suitably isolated setting and has chilling, poignant ramifications. But it’s the blog posts that punctuate the story that add real emotional depth, revealing critical backstory while also allowing Staub to celebrate the dignity and strength of all those who have courageously fought breast cancer, either privately or publicly.

The Perfect Stranger is yet another creative gamble for the author, who has been mixing things up quite a bit in recent years to keep longtime readers on the alert—and it largely pays off. While The Good Sister was a more straightforward genre offering, this one pulls at the heartstrings as much as it teases the mind. And while that may not appeal to those seeking escapism, there’s something to be said for a book that balances thrills with thought-provocation so effortlessly ...

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