unkept book coverReviewed by Lauren Cannavino

All towns have secrets and in the small town of Burling Gates, the secrets of the past always remain near the top of the present, ready to boil over. For Vienna Oaks, working in the family business, at their funeral home, these secrets will never be buried like the dead. Vienna carries them all with her in an anxiety ridden, quietly chaotic life. For Vienna’s former rival, Heather Hammel, the secrets of her past will soon bleed into her present and the two women learn that they are more connected than they ever could have imagined. Unkept is broken into alternating viewpoints from Vienna and Heather and the distinction provides the reader with a continuous flow of the story and the progression of the characters. Author Ericka Clay explains the relationship between the two women through flashbacks that feed into the current plot nicely and both Vienna and Heather act as main characters and narrators. The different viewpoints of the action fill in gaps, show all sides of the story and also add more dimension to fringe characters. No details are left out of Vienna or Heather’s lives.

Life for Vienna has not been easy and her life is rife with family issues that include alcoholism, a deceased mother and an incarcerated grandfather. Vienna seems to waft through her life, quiet and beautiful, yet surrounded by so much emotional/personal noise. Her estranged grandmother and her reserved father, who has a difficult time with emotions, add to her family troubles. It often seems that her father’s bold girlfriend, Loretta who is a crazy cat lady, seems to be the most stable. Vienna holds onto the past to the point of a virtual obsession and turns the events over and over in her head. Not even her level headed friend Rosa, or an affair with the love of her life Wyland can pull her from her darkness. Wyland also happens to be the husband of Heather, who is very pregnant with their first child. For Heather, her darkness includes an absent father, a hoarder mother and a lifetime of being mean and heartless, particularly to Vienna in order to escape her home life and her own self confidence issues. Freshly moved back to Burling Gates, the paths of the two women eventually cross again, various truths emerge and an unlikely bond quietly, although not easily begins to emerge. As both Vienna and Heather confront their demons, current and in the past, the two begin to rise and come into their own power.

Unkept is dark, twisting and completely possible. The relationships, the secrets and all of the characters make the reader realize that so much transpires in life below the surface. Ericka Clay pushes these issues to the surface, uncomfortably at times, and makes it clear that everything often comes full circle in life. Her writing is rich, vivid and dramatic. Her characters are well-developed, reachable and the reader will be completely engrossed in the story.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.wordpress.com.

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