The Key to My Heart
by Lia Louis
Release Date: December 6, 2022
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Number of Pages: 350
Source: ARC from NetGalley
Ages 14 and up
CW: grief, death of spouse, cheating
Sparkly and charming Natalie Fincher has it all—a handsome new husband, a fixer-upper cottage of her dreams, and the opportunity to tour with the musical she’s spent years writing. But when her husband suddenly dies, all her hopes and dreams instantly disappear.
Two and a half years later, Natalie is still lost. She works, sleeps (well, as much as the sexually frustrated village foxes will allow), and sees friends just often enough to allay their worries, but her life is empty. And she can only bring herself to play music at a London train station’s public piano where she can be anonymous. She’s lost motivation, faith in love, in happiness…in everything.
But when someone begins to mysteriously leave the sheet music for her husband’s favorite songs at the station’s piano, Natalie begins to feel a sense of hope and excitement for the first time. As she investigates just who could be doing this, Natalie finds herself on an unexpected journey toward newfound love for herself, for life, and maybe, for a special someone.
This is my second book by this author, and the second time I wonder about classification. On NetGalley, this is labeled as Romance. And while there are plenty of romantic elements to this story, it’s not (in my opinion) the book’s central theme. To me, this is a story about love, loss, hope, despair, and a woman going through all of these emotions and trying to find her way out the other side. So yes, there is romance, past and present. There is even a HEA. I just don’t find that to be the overall theme of this story.
I found Natalie’s journey to be quite touching and even confusing. Not as in I was confused by the writing or the story, but I could feel Natalie’s confusion and frustration. Two steps forward and one step back in processing the death of her husband and how things played out in the days after his death. She lost some friends, pushed some friends away, and eventually made new friends in unlikely places. Most notably the coffee shop she started to frequent a few months after becoming a widow. Little by little, she got to know the workers and the other regulars and they became her “after” people. They hadn’t known her husband or her with her husband so they came into any relationship with her with a clean slate, and no preconceived ideas. She always felt as though she was on display or had to act a certain way with her other close friends, like they were expecting her to break down and wanted her to move on when she wasn’t ready. Her new friends were a place she could be; be herself, be sad, be angry.
While relationships were all over the place with Natalie’s friends, I loved the support she received from her sister and her sister’s family. They were so amazing with her and gave her space to grieve and multiple shoulders to cry on. Having sisters myself, I loved seeing the connections she had with hers.
As for the mysterious music Natalie started receiving, I found myself fully invested in figuring out who was leaving things for her. In my mind, everyone was a suspect. While I found this story to be a bit of a slow starter, I also was all in quite early on so it didn’t matter how slow it was moving, I kept turning the pages.
There isn’t a lot I can say about the (new) romance element in Natalie’s life without including spoilers, so I’m not going to get into that part of the story. Just know that the reawakening of Natalie’s heart to finding love again is a multi-step process and it takes some stumbling around for her to find her path. I appreciate the author giving great care to this part of the story and not negating the deep love Natalie had with her husband.
This story is quite beautiful, but it had some annoying timeline inconsistencies for me. As usual, this sort of thing may be something others won’t even notice. I’m a stickler for continuity and there was more than one issue so that took some of my enjoyment away. But overall, I enjoyed the book and will surely be recommending it to others.
**I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and given freely**