Grade : C

from The New York Times in October 2022:

Colleen Hoover has sold more books this year than Dr. Seuss. She’s sold more books than James Patterson and John Grisham — combined.

To say she’s currently the best-selling novelist in the United States, to even compare her to other successful authors who have landed several books on the best seller lists, fails to capture the size and loyalty of her audience.

She holds six of the top 10 spots on The New York Times’s paperback fiction best-seller list, a stunning number of simultaneous best sellers from a single author. She has sold 8.6 million print books this year alone — more copies than the Bible, according to NPD BookScan.

We at AAR have never reviewed Colleen Hoover. So, when Verity was a Steal and Deal a few weeks ago, I snapped it up.

The book begins with an act of violence. Our narrator (she is one of two--the other, the eponymous Verity), Lowen Ashleigh tells us in the book's very first line: "I hear the crack of his skull before the spattering of blood reaches me." I gasped, for the first and last time. Lowen, on her way to a meeting with her publisher, has just watched a man step into the street--he was, of course, on his phone--and get smashed to bits by a truck.

This, for Lowen, is a bummer.

Not because she cares especially about the stranger's death but because the white shirt she donned for her meeting is now a red and white shirt and that, she thinks, will not impress the editor she is on her way to meet. Lowen, a self-described introvert, is about to be evicted from her apartment. She's broke, unemployed, and down to the last pennies of her last advance from her last poorly selling book. This meeting, whose terms are a mystery to her (her agent and ex-boyfriend set it up), is crucial to her financial survival.

Fortunately, a man, tall and kind, takes her to a nearby coffee shop where she strips off her shirt--as he watches--and, once she's cleaned herself up, gives her his own. His name, he tells her, is Jeremy and he and Lowen have a moment. But he has a wedding ring on his left hand and Lowen, worried about being late for her meeting, watches him walk away.

She, however, runs into him almost immediately in the publisher's lobby. Not Shockingly, Jeremy is also at this meeting.

Jeremy is married to wildly successful Verity Crawford, an author of riveting and unsettling murder mysteries. Verity has been in an car accident and, though her condition isn't explained, the publisher explains that they'd like to hire Lowen to write the last three books in Verity's best-selling series The Novel Virtues. Despite being about to be evicted, Lowen says she can't--the publicity piece of it just won't suit. But, after dismissing everyone else from the room, Jeremy talks her into it with a promise of anonymity and a boatload of money. Plus, he's offering housing which means that not only will Lowen have a place to live until her first check comes in, she'll be able to spend time immersed in sex fantasies about Jeremy Verity's life.

Thus, in just about the time it would take you to read a synopsis of Rebecca, the second Mrs. De Winter Lowen arrives at the Crawfords' rural mansion in Vermont where she's to spend a few days going through Verity's files and getting a sense of her work. (Lowen has never read her, something she rectifies by listening to an audiobook of the first book on the drive which takes six hours. Lowen finishes the book--I guess Verity writes very short books--and deems it really good.) At the house, she finds Jeremy and his five year old son (Jeremy's twin daughters both died last year), Crew, the Crawford's five year old son, and Verity. The latter is, Jeremey tells Lowen as he takes her to meet his wife who is lying, empty eyed in bed, essentially brain dead. Jeffrey and two nurses take care of her and, thinks Lowen, "It's all so depressing. This house, the tragedies in this family's past, the struggles in their present." 

But this book is a thriller not a cautionary tale about the dangers of not wearing seatbelts. Thus, after meeting Verity, Jeremy takes Lowen to Verity's gorgeous office where, once left on her own, Lowen discovers A MANUSCRIPT. This book, entitled So Be It, isn't part of Verity's series. Nope. It's an autobiography and once Lowen starts reading it, she is hooked.

Verity, you see, is EVIL. On the first page of her account of her life with Jeremy--that is the sole focus of So Be It--she tells the reader that her words will not just be distasteful, they will become part of the reader's gut and they will be hurt because of them. This, of course, does not deter Lowen who, over the next two weeks--she ends up staying longer than she'd planned because of reasons--reads Verity's words obsessively.

I couldn't tell you why either Lowen or Verity have had success with their books. The chapters in Lowen's voice are prosaic, rife with mundane details, and reflect a woman whose curiosity is anxious and credulous. Those in Verity's are full of lurid sex scenes that read as if they were written by a 20 year old man with a perpetual hard on and a wish to become the next winner of the Bad Sex in Fiction award. Neither story is tethered to reality. Every main character in the book is both awful and forgettable, even the five year old. And while Hoover does a fine job relentlessly pushing her story into ever more unbelievable twists, I found Verity predictable. Though the book is just 333 pages, it seemed longer, tugged down by its stock prose. It's not a total waste of time--it is suspenseful in parts and there is a ghoulish pleasure to be found in reading just how spectacularly horrendous Verity's behavior is.

What, though, you ask about the much praised ending which a Washington Post reviewer called the most chilling twist I’ve ever read in a novel. (Despite that, the reviewer didn't like the book.) Well, I guess if you're wowed by an utterly batshit conclusion that, if you think about it for longer than it takes Lowen to ogle shirtless Jeremy, makes no sense, you'll like this book more than did I.


Reviewed by Dabney Grinnan
Grade : C

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : January 27, 2023

Publication Date: 12/2018

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Dabney Grinnan

Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day. Publisher at AAR.
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