last chance matinee book coverReviewed by Kelly Ferjutz

‘Blended’ families – you know, the ‘hers’, ‘his’, and ‘ours’ type of familial organization is a fairly recent invention in this country. Especially during the last 50 years or so. But in this story you get a different kind of ‘blended’ family – three daughters of one man, with two different women, and no divorce in the middle. The three daughters meet for the first time as 30-somethings after both Moms and the Dad are all deceased. Talk about a surprise!

Allie and Des are full sisters, Cara is the singleton in the batch. Allie and Cara both had unhappy marriages; Des is still single. They meet in the attorney’s office to go over the terms of the will. All three women did know the attorney as Uncle Pete, however. It seems that Dad (Fritz Hudson) came from a wealthy family in the small town of Hidden Falls, Pennsylvania. He was a gifted actor, but chose to put his love, Nora, in the star’s circle as he became her manager. They were the parents of Allie and Des. As Nora became ever more difficult, Fritz took up with Susa in New Jersey, her direct opposite. She may or may not have known about his wife and family on the west coast, but if so, she never told him. Or Cara! She was content just being Mom, and knowing that Fritz dearly loved them both, even though sans marriage license.

The will is very specific: the three women must return to Hidden Falls for at least one year, to live there in the family mansion while restoring the real love of his life – the Sugarhouse – an Art Deco 1200-seat theater that presented live theater and movies in the 30s-50s. When it was sold to an incompetent restorer, Fritz bought it back, but then did nothing with it. Now his girls must bring it back to its former glory, getting to know each other and themselves in the process, or else! The ‘or else’ in this case is – ALL of his money goes to a charity, and none of them will get a penny! They will have the bonus of no serious living expenses during the year, as they reside with Fritz’s sister Bonnie, or Barney as she prefers to be known.

Allie’s 13-going-on-30 daughter Nikki, suddenly ends up with them for a week, when her Dad (still in California, but has to go to London right now!) calmly ships her off to the Poconos. Each of the three daughters has a particular skill, well-suited to this project: Cara will be the main go-to person for everything, sort of the general contractor; Des will supervise the bank account (beginning balance: One Million Smackers!) and pay the bills; while fashionista Allie will supervise the appearance aspects: drapes, seats, carpeting, chandeliers, paint for the walls, etc.

Poor Cara didn’t know that New Jersey is one of the two states in the U.S. that does not allow self-service gas stations, which is how she meets Joe Domanski, a local general contractor who owes Barney for his financial start. Barney had loaned him money from her own account, not that of the bank, for which she served as President. But only after her father died, of course. Until then, women didn’t do such things! Never mind how well they could do it, they weren’t allowed. Period.

Allie, on the other hand, on her first night in town, became acquainted with the professional side of Chief-of-Police Ben Haldeman, and the sparks they produce could set the little town on fire. Allie is absolutely not a ‘small-town girl’ and resents having to spend the next year there away from her daughter and all the glitz and glitter with which she is most familiar.

Des is known in her home state of Montana as the ‘dog whisperer’ for her uncanny way of calming frightened animals so they can be rescued. She trusts animals way more than humans, and why not?

Just when things get to really rolling along, we run smack into a brick wall – otherwise known as the end of this book. The Last Chance Matinee is the first book in a series, but there is no information available at this point regarding the future installments. I am so bummed! (They are in process, just no dates announced.)

The writing is flawless and refreshingly free of most profanity(!), the characters fully-fleshed out, the setting marvelous and the plot/story (based loosely on a real incident from the author’s family) is terrifically engaging. I warn you, once you start on this book, you won’t want to put it down until you get to the end of it. And then, you get to wait for the rest of the series. Can’t come soon enough for me!

First and foremost, Kelly is a reader, then a writer and editor. She adores Regency-set novels, and cozy mysteries. Every now and then, however, she finds something else to enjoy if it has a great premise with characters who belong in there, and fabulous writing! She writes under her own name, as well as her pen-name, Hetty St. James.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Gallery Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.