Review of Hello Stranger by Katherine Center @katherinecenter @StMartinsPress

If you’re of a certain age, it’s likely that the words, “Hello Stranger” will bring a melody to your brain by either Barbara Lewis or Yvonne Elliman. (The latter is the first person I heard sing this song, introducing me to a world in which “remakes” existed; but hey, I was a kid who thought every song I heard was a new song.) Both have beautiful voices, bringing something soulful, longing, and swoony to this song. (Yvonne Elliman’s version and Barbara Lewis’ version.) So, why am I talking about a song when there’s a Katherine Center novel to review? Because the melody kept playing for me as I read this equally swoony novel and if you’ve never heard the song, I wanted to share it as it’s a song one really shouldn’t miss–which makes it have a lot in common with this book.

And, yes, if you look at the publication date for Hello Stranger, you will note that it’s eight months from now. Yes, I am jumping the gun. Yes, it’s more than half a year away. Yes, I will remind you closer to the publication date so that you can get this lovely story into your hot little hands. I have to confess that when I get a Katherine Center novel in my hands, it’s like a present that I just have to open. This one was just in time for Christmas. Lucky me. Seriously.

Now, on to the review.

Blurb: Sadie Montgomery has had good breaks and bad breaks in her life, but as a struggling artist, all she needs is one lucky break. Things seem to be going her way when she lands one of the coveted finalist spots in a portrait competition. It happens to coincide with a surgery she needs to have. Minor, they say. Less than a week in the hospital they say. Nothing about you will change, they say. Upon recovery, it begins to dawn on Sadie that she can see everything around her, but she can no longer see faces.

Temporary, they say. Lots of people deal with this, they say. As she struggles to cope―and hang onto her artistic dreams―she finds solace in her fourteen-year-old dog, Peanut. Thankfully, she can still see animal faces. When Peanut gets sick, she rushes him to the emergency vet nearby. That’s when she meets veterinarian Dr. Addison. And she’s pleasantly surprised when he asks her on a date. But she doesn’t want anyone to know about her face blindness. Least of all Joe, her obnoxious neighbor who always wears a bowling jacket and seems to know everyone in the building. He’s always there at the most embarrassing but convenient times, and soon, they develop a sort of friendship. But could it be something more?

As Sadie tries to save her career, confront her haunting past, and handle falling in love with two different guys she realizes that happiness can be found in the places―and people― you least expect.

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Just when things seem to finally be going Sadie Montgomery’s way, she discovers that she needs surgery, which she would like to put off because she needs every single day for the next few weeks to get her portrait ready for the contest that she has reached the final round in. But her estranged father returns early from his conference and arranges her surgery, telling her that it can’t wait. If her father, whom she hasn’t talked to in ages, declares the surgery is imperative, she must believe him. Although the surgery is a success, Sadie can no longer see faces. They look like pieces of a puzzle to her. How can she possibly paint a portrait if she can’t see faces? And, then Sadie also has two men in her life. One a veterinarian she decides she’s going to marry and the other a misogynist womanizing weasel named Joe who may not really be a womanizing weasel after all in Katherine Center’s Hello Stranger.

In her author’s note at the end of Hello Stranger, Katherine Center writes: “I hope this story made you laugh. And swoon. I hope it kept you up way too late reading and gave you that blissed-out oxytocin-laden tipsy feeling that all the best love stories create.” I laughed because I stayed up into the wee hours of this morning reading, deciding that when I couldn’t keep my eyes open that I was permitted to get some sleep. I rarely do that anymore but I just couldn’t put this book down. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I had to get there, be there, be part of it.

There is something joyous about Hello Stranger. It’s like getting a big warm hug, a hot drink, and spending time with someone who believes in the kindness of the human race. You don’t want it to end, know it must, while hoping that another novel is springing to life in Center’s Texas home.

Sadie Montgomery is a wonderful character. She is quirky and determined. Self-aware and resilient and giving. She would say she’s a pessimist but I don’t see it. She changes throughout the novel, opening herself to the world and living her life, realizing that this was the way her mother was: open to everything that life has to offer. She finds joy in simple things like dresses that her mother wore and roller skating to 70s disco music.

Despite first impressions, Joe is the type of swoony nice guy that seems too good to be real (yeah, I know he’s fiction) but he does have a failing–if being too helpful can be considered a failing. He’s perceptive (mostly) and kind-hearted, romantic and solid. And swoony, which I know I said already but it bears repeating.

Sadie has an evil step-sister and step-mother, although we discover that maybe the step-mother isn’t really evil but just manipulated by the controlling step-sister. And, maybe there is just a touch of Cinderella in Sadie’s story.

While I didn’t notice as I was reading, some questions arose later about certain circumstances that occurred. But. But. I was too immersed in the story to care about those questions as I was reading. And, frankly, I am willing to shrug away those questions now because that feeling of being so immersed in a wonderful story is far better than nitpicking. I think that says a lot.

Hello Stranger is one of those novels where I felt myself smiling at intervals because it made me happy and definitely made me laugh. This is the book we all need when we want joy and a warm hug–in novel form. A literally literary feel good story.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

As I mentioned, this book is on sale in July of 2023 but you can pre-order now. It’s definitely worth the anticipation!



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