Read with sharon - February 2022
The last house on the street - diane chamberlain
Growing up in the well-to-do town of Round Hill, North Carolina, Ellie Hockley was raised to be a certain type of proper Southern lady. Enrolled in college and all but engaged to a bank manager, Ellie isn’t as committed to her expected future as her family believes. She’s chosen to spend her summer break as a volunteer helping to register black voters. But as Ellie follows her ideals fighting for the civil rights of the marginalized, her scandalized parents scorn her efforts, and her neighbors reveal their prejudices. And when she loses her heart to a fellow volunteer, Ellie discovers the frightening true nature of the people living in Round Hill.
Architect Kayla Carter and her husband designed a beautiful house for themselves in Round Hill’s new development, Shadow Ridge Estates. It was supposed to be a home where they could raise their three-year-old daughter and grow old together. Instead, it’s the place where Kayla’s husband died in an accident—a fact known to a mysterious woman who warns Kayla against moving in. The woods and lake behind the property are reputed to be haunted, and the new home has been targeted by vandals leaving threatening notes. And Kayla’s neighbor Ellie Hockley is harboring long buried secrets about the dark history of the land where her house was built.
Two women. Two stories. Both on a collision course with the truth–no matter what that truth may bring to light–in Diane Chamberlain’s riveting, powerful novel about the search for justice.
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Diane Chamberlain does it again with a compelling story in The Last House on the Street. Honestly, I had no idea what this book was about when I started it. But, if Chamberlain writes it, then I read it!
As in many of her other books, this one too takes place in North Carolina. It also features dual timelines from 1965 and 2010 from two women, who remarkably meet up in the later timeline. I love when authors do this!
In 1965, we learn about the SCOPE project, Summer Community Organizing and Political Education, which focused on voter-registration and community organization in anticipation of imminent passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Ellie, our narrator for this time-period is adamant about leaving college to work for SCOPE although her parents are furious with worry and outrage that she’d do this. She is trying to create a better world like her aunt had instilled in her to do.
Because Ellie is from Southern North Carolina, she is targeted by many as a traitor for working with the black community and giving them the tools to organize and vote. She stands her ground for as long as possible until tragedy strikes, and she is sent home. I liked her storyline over the current day timeline. I learned so much about the time-period and how awful racism and bigotry was in the south. Honestly, the imagery jumped off the page.
Kayla’s story, in 2010, took a while for me to warm up to. Once Kayla meets Ellie and they work together, I began to like Kayla much more. I guess I couldn’t understand why she’d want to move into a house where her husband just died. But then again, to each their own.
Chamberlain took on race with sensitivity and edification. She breathed life into the characters, whether they were good or evil. This book had a great ending that made sense to all involved. Love learning something new through fiction!
I have been in a bit of a reading slump. I was lucky to receive Diane Chamberlain’s newest book as an Advance Readers Copy. I knew right away that this could be the book to pull me out of my slump.
The book starts out with a bang. Not literally, but it was a meeting with two women that left me with an eerie feeling. Right away I was hopeful that this was a good sign of things to come, to pique my interest.
There are 2 timelines: 1965 featuring Ellie who is bound and determined to get involved in the Civil Rights movement by helping African Americans register to vote. And, 2010, featuring Kayla who is an architect about to move into a new home which seems to be causing an issue for an unknown lady with bright red hair.
Crossovers between the 2 timelines start happening early. Name dropping and locations. But, of course, it takes time to discover the whole connection. The 2010 storyline foreshadows troubling or dark issues from the past.
I found the historical parts of the story very interesting and informative. I was a young teen when the Civil Rights Movement was established. I remember the marches and demonstrations and riots. The 1960s were a very turbulent time. But my memories of this time are nothing compared to reading the story of Ellie and Win.
Ellie and Win’s relationship is fictional but I’m sure situations like theirs played out in the south. It was very realistically portrayed. An emotional tale.
The characters are so well developed. The story is intense. The author uses a real Civil Rights group from the 1960s as the organization central to the characters. Also, some actual names and news stories from the decade are woven into the story. The Klu Klux Klan plays a major part.
Some progress had been made in the rights of African Americans but the last 2 or 3 years have shown us that there is still a long way to go. The journey is not an easy one.
The last part of the book is very intense and at times uncomfortable to read. But my discomfort is incidental when it comes to the horror of the events that happened in the 1960s.
There were a couple of twists revealed at the end. One I had figured out but the other was a surprise.
And, the conclusion was good. It showed hope and resilience. The past would not be forgotten but there was the element of closure for the characters. The book was well written and the subject was well researched.
Book Club Questions
THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY
Marie has a complex, nearly lifelong relationship with Queen Eleanor. When she meets the queen for the first time as a child, what are her impressions?
Describe Carney’s family and role as a husband and a father. How do his personal and professional lives bleed into each other?
THE STORY PLOT
- What are the major turning points in this story?
- How was the pacing/structure (does it keep you engaged and are the stakes constantly escalating)
- Consider how Marie’s attitude toward work shapes life at the abbey, and what kind of change it allows for the community. How does it compare with modern views of work?
- Did it work for you?
- What do you think is the author’s message to readers of Matrix? What did you take away from the book?
SYMBOLISM AND FORESHADOWING
- Let’s talk about symbolism. What symbolism was used in the book?
- Matrix takes place in a twelfth-century abbey and explores the life of a powerful and singular figure, Marie of France, set against a rapidly changing world order. What themes in the book resonated with you as you think about the modern-day challenges we face as a society?
- Use one adjective to describe the writing itself.
- What would you change if you could rewrite Matrix?
- What did you love most about the book?