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Aurora Goldberg Stein is lost in grief. Her beloved husband, Jake Stein, has just died in a tragic car accident and her sorrow is overwhelming. But is this really the end? Perhaps, perhaps not. She hears his voice. She sees his ghostly presence. She travels back in time to another life with Jake. What is going on? What is the message?

Jake Stein, a dashing Texan, sweeps Aurora off her feet and changes her life. A Brooklyn born actress, she moved to NYC and does temporary work to pay her bills. On this particular assignment, she accidentally meets Jake Stein, who is her dance with destiny. Leaving everything she knows, she marries him and moves to Austin, Texas. No longer struggling to make ends meet, Aurora wiles away her time bored and lonely, and trying to recapture the excitement she once had with this man. And then suddenly, it's all over, her life, her future is gone. Vanished are all her hopes and dreams.

But destiny comes in many forms, and when Aurora moves to a new house, she discovers that the previous owner has never left. The ghostly presence of Viola Parker looms large and becomes Aurora's guide through time revealing to her the mistakes she's made with Jake Stein through the centuries. This time, maybe this time, Aurora can get it right.
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I took a bath. I needed to cleanse myself psychically as well as physically. As I washed, I thought about what Owen said concerning Viola Parker. Thinking of Owen nauseated me and made me feel quite guilty so I switched my concentration to Viola Parker…my ethereal intruder. Funny he should say what he did—like he knew her or of her. I couldn’t figure the connection because she was quite old and, as far as I could discern then, not related in anyway to Jake’s family. Her name had never come up in any conversations, or her existence. So I wondered why Owen thought it odd that I bought her house after she died. But I was sure, Viola Parker herself would reveal her past to me because…she never really left here, never gave up claim to this place.

Shockingly, startlingly, Viola just started showing up, rocking away in that old chair and grinning at me like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. She rocked and rocked in that damned chair or Chair of the Damned, as I like to call it. And I was not happy about it. My aversion to Viola’s corporal presence and ethereal spirit might seem odd given my desire to make contact with Jake but I knew nothing about her. She could have been a crazy person in life and be a slasher-type in death like Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy. So, naturally, I was cautious. At first, I thought I was hallucinating. I had placed the chair in the living room right near the fireplace. It looked smart there. It was not a fancy rocker, just plain wood with a worn seat cushion but it had character like an antique. Could have been from JC Penny for all I knew about antiques but it had the look. I never sat in it because that worn seat suggested its heavy use by a now dead Viola Parker and that was creepy. I decided I would sit in the chair when I got a new cushion, but I was too busy studying and being a mentally disturbed hermit to refurbish anything.

The encounters began one night after dark (naturally), exactly one week after my mother left. The chair started rocking by itself. I was walking in the hallway and threw a glance into the living room. The chair had rocked. There was movement. I stopped to catch another look. The chair was still. I looked away and then sensed a one-two rock. I was intrigued and freaked out so I went over to the now stationary chair and felt around for a shot of air or any other logical disturbance. I manually rocked the chair but there was no explanation. I decided that sleep deprivation had distorted my accurate assessment of rocking versus not rocking so I went to bed to get some much-needed rest.

The next night the same thing—edge of vision rocking—straight on looking no rocking. This went on for five nights and I decided to throw out the chair. I took it out to the street for pick up and watched the truck drive away with the chair in its bowels. But my intuition or premonition did not give me a peaceful feeling as I watched the truck drive out of sight. With dread, I walked back into my house and sure enough, there was the chair.

Karen S. Bell has created a story that is both intriguing and disturbing with Sunspots. I usually read through books quickly, but I found myself savoring this unusual and well-written story. Initially, I was caught up in the magical romance between Aurora and Jake. Aurora is Brooklyn born and Jewish, the daughter of sixties hippies. Jake is also Jewish, son of a wealthy family in Austin, Texas.

Beginning with the tragic aftermath of Jake’s accidental death and Aurora’s devastation at the loss of her husband, Bell sets the stage for a love story touched by the paranormal. She introduces the reader to Aurora’s parents, her unusual childhood, and her adult aspiration to be an actress. By artfully engaging the reader with Jake’s pursuit of Aurora, their eventual relationship and marriage, and his subsequent death, Bell sets the stage for the shocking revelations that follow.

Told in the first person from Aurora’s point of view, we follow along with her as she makes discoveries about her husband’s life. Occasionally there are glimmers of something hidden beneath the surface but until the full story is revealed, the truth is elusive. Tying the skeins of the relationships together is done neatly, using both the living and a ghostly presence.

Early in the story, Jake’s personality is developed so thoroughly it is easy to see why Aurora is drawn to him. However, it also raises questions about his sense of responsibility and maturity. He’s a daredevil, always ready to try something new and risky entertainment. Even though he knows Aurora is reticent and sometimes fearful to experience some things, he presses her to try. While she may not enjoy the activities he does, she relents, despite her discomfort. Jake’s behavior raises questions about his feelings for Aurora. Meanwhile, she is overwhelmed by the wealth and stature in the affluent Austin society, a position she is not comfortable with. Jake’s mother and sisters are nouveau riche and are completely absorbed by wealth and their place in the community.

Their wedding is a huge event attended primarily by friends and associates of Jake’s family. Most of Aurora’s friends from New York are financially unable to travel to Texas, so her guest list is limited to her parents and a family friend, Marina. Marina plays a vital role in the story and her relationship to Aurora and her family is unique, to say the least.

After the extravagant wedding, an exciting honeymoon, and setting up their new and expensive home, Aurora is left to her own devices as Jake returns to work. With too much time on her hands, no friends, and an uncertainty about her suitability to the life she is now living as Jake’s wife, she becomes jealous and possessive. This causes an uneasy strain on their marriage. As Jake devotes more time to his business, Aurora becomes clingier. His accidental death throws Aurora over the edge and she experiences what seems to be a breakdown.

It’s at this point, after Jake’s funeral, that the story takes on new dimensions. Layer by layer, secrets are exposed. Aurora struggles to cope with the loss of Jake assisted by her mother, Marina, and Marina’s friend Paul. The mysteries begin to be unraveled and piece by piece Aurora regains her identity.

The landscape is rich with descriptions of Austin, Texas. The atmosphere is so vibrant the reader can easily visualize the settings. Austin provides an exciting location for this well-written story that blends romance, suspense, and the paranormal into a compelling tale. There are enough twists and turns to keep any reader turning pages to solve the mysteries hinted at throughout.

I highly recommend this book to any reader who enjoys a complex tale. It contains all the elements of a story that holds the interest and leaves the reader thinking after the satisfying conclusion.Kudos to Ms. Bell on the best book I’ve read this year, Sunspots.

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