Book Review: LITTLE NIGHT by Luanne Rice

Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Released: June 5, 2012
Source: Review copy from NetGalley

Clare Burke’s life took a devastating turn when she tried to protect her sister, Anne, from an abusive and controlling husband and ended up serving prison time for assault. The verdict largely hinged on Anne’s defense of her spouse – all lies – and the sisters have been estranged ever since. Nearly twenty years later, Clare is living a quiet life in Manhattan as an urban birder and nature blogger, when her niece, Grit, turns up on her doorstep.

The two long for a relationship with each other, but they’ll have to dig deep into their family’s difficult past in order to build one. Together they face the wounds inflicted by Anne and find in their new connection a place of healing. When Clare begins to suspect her sister might be in New York, she and her niece hold out hope for a long-awaited reunion with her.


I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I was glued to the pages, eagerly anticipating what would happen next. On the other hand, I wanted to reach inside this book and shake all of the characters! Grrr. What a frustrating group of people.

Anne, once a vibrant and strong woman, marries an abusive, controlling man and quickly becomes a shell of her former self. Even though her husband Frederick has cut her off from her family, her sister Clare cannot stay away. Clare comes for a visit which enrages Frederick, and he attacks Anne, in front of their two small children, no less. Trying to protect Anne, Clare attacks Frederick, but unfortunately does not kill him. Anne lies for her husband, and Clare goes to prison for two years for assault. Meanwhile, Frederick moves his family to his home in Denmark, and Clare has no contact with them until 18 years later when Anne’s daughter Grit shows up unexpectedly at her door.

This book was about Clare and Grit’s new bond, and also about forgiving Anne or at least understanding her behavior. The first part worked very well for me. Grit (short for Margarita) was my favorite character. She was brave and smart, and it’s hard to believe how level-headed she was considering her childhood with a psychotic monster of a father. Grit and Clare found in each other what had been missing in their lives for nearly two decades.

I liked Clare, but I think her character could have been more developed. Her two-year prison term supposedly had a detrimental effect on her life even years later, but I never felt it. She’s also had an on again, off again relationship with a man named Paul since they were teenagers, and, again, being in prison ruined that too, even though Paul supported her 100%. That didn’t make sense to me. They still loved each other, so what’s the problem?

The other part of the book – empathizing with Anne – was where I had great difficulty. I didn’t like her. Did she even have a heart? We know Frederick didn’t. Maybe the problem was that Frederick was simply too evil. He had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and Anne had the opportunity to escape him early on. Why would she choose an abuser over her sister, over her children’s welfare, over herself? We never learn why she fell under his spell so easily in the first place.

This was a sad and depressing story, and it certainly stirred up a lot of emotion in me, unfortunately it was mostly anger. I’m glad I read the book, even though I had trouble with a lot of the story. I do like it when books make me emotional, even if that emotion is negative. This is the first book by Luanne Rice I’ve read, so I don’t know if this is her typical style or not. She has a short story called “Paul and Clare” which is about how they met, and I’d actually like to read it, so I guess all is not lost. ;)

Rating: 3 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.