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Reviewed by Fiona Ingram for Readers' Favorite
It All Comes Back to You by Beth Duke is a deceptively simple story about Ronni Johnson, a licensed practical nurse and aspiring writer, who meets Violet, a glamorous and vivacious elderly resident at Fairfield Springs, an Assisted Living residence. Violet, who captivates audiences just by entering a room, certainly does not need any assistance, unlike some of the other members of the facility who require Ronni’s time and attention. Ronni considers herself plain, unloved, and unlovable, and she has weight issues. None of which disturbs Halle Berry, her cat, whose affections are alternately torn between the tasty treats Ronni feeds her and Ronni herself. When Violet dies in unusual circumstances, her will is the most surprising thing of all. Violet had encouraged Ronni to persevere with her writing and put her money where her mouth is (was) – literally. Ronni is to write Violet’s biography, has a year to do it, and if she completes the task gets a handsome bequest on top of the sum she received right away. If the book is not completed, she loses the big payout. From the 1940s to the 2000s, Violet has led an apparently glittering, wealthy existence. But Ronni must dig deeper to uncover the secrets, lies, heartbreak, deceptions, relationships, and drama that constitute Violet’s unconventional life. Ronni must also juggle her own emotional issues, make decisions about what to include in her writing, and decide if she’ll jump into a new relationship with a gorgeous man who, for some unknown reason, persists in finding her attractive and wants to date her.
This is, as I said, a deceptively simple story that unfolds at a slow southern pace and charms as it goes along. Author Beth Duke knows people, personalities, social issues, and true-life dramas. She must because she has included layer upon layer of ‘life’ as many people live it. Life stripped bare of glamour and glitz on the surface, honed down to the very bones of existence in all its grittiness. Marital abuse, pregnancy out of wedlock, abandonment of children, drugs and alcohol issues, foster homes, long-held destructive secrets, relationships and affairs - this is what people do behind closed doors and what they hide from the outside world. But make no mistake, this is not a book that shoves this in the reader’s face. All these elements slowly surface and are the result of the characters’ decisions and foolishness. And somehow the threads and the characters’ relationships all come together in a believable and poignant way.
I laughed a lot, I also cried in places, I felt an affinity for the characters – and there are many – and their sorrows. I loved Violet and how she took the lemons life had given her and made a lot of lemonade for others who had nothing. I loved Ronni and her wonderful, dry, self-deprecating humor. This warm, funny book will surprise you a lot. It did me because I was expecting a simple, charming story about a nurse who has to write a book about her benefactor’s life. Yes, it’s about that, but so much more. Please don’t miss out on this wonderful story. I was sad when it ended.