Her Last Holiday by C. L. Taylor (2021) Review

How far would you go to find someone you love?

Why I picked up the book:

A few years ago, Jenna went on a retreat that ended in tragedy:

  • She has gone missing.
  • Two people died.
  • Tom, the guru, was charged and convicted for his negligence.

When Tom’s sentence has been served, he starts planning his next retreat. Fran, Jenna’s sister, is convinced there’s more to Jenna’s disappearance than just negligence, and she’s determined to find out the truth. So, she does what any average person would do and books herself onto his next retreat, of course! 

Is it prudent to be around someone who might be behind her sister’s fate? What if someone wants secrets to remain hidden? Fran’s love for her sister and search for the truth are more significant than her regard for her safety.

The book through my criteria lens:

Her Last Holiday starts on the date of Tom’s release from jail. C.L. Taylor tells this story from three points of view: Fran’s, in the present, as she tries to figure out what happened to her sister three years ago. Jenna’s, in the past, as she takes us through her retreat experience until the accident and her disappearance. Lastly, we learn about the behind-the-scenes from both the present and the calamitous last retreat through the POV of Tom’s wife, Kate.

I absolutely loved this book; it was enthralling, engaging, fast-paced, and original. I partake of Taylor’s take on some (emphasis on some) self-help gurus. Beyond that, I loved how she presented and developed all the characters. All the voices were clearly their own, and Taylor brought us on the journey of each woman’s feelings and motivation.

I loved the ambiance of Her Last Holiday and how Taylor executed her plot. It was a consistently good book – and I know that because I wish it hadn’t finished!

I do have to say that even though Taylor played fair in this book, I feel that she threaded a very thin line with one of the twists. There were bread crumbs, and she didn’t create the twist out of thin air, but I felt that the reader wouldn’t have quite reached that conclusion by themselves. This choice wasn’t enough to take away from my thorough enjoyment, though.

My personal feelings:

Her Last Holiday cautions us about wellness gurus and exposes some of the truths that happen when clients aren’t looking. As I mentioned before, I feel that some “gurus” use proper psychological techniques to exploit vulnerable people. Unfortunately, we can’t always tell which ones are reputable; it takes a big scandal to expose them. In this book, Taylor did a great job revealing the behind-the-scenes on how a greedy, narcissistic, magnetic sociopath can manipulate people with no regard for the adverse effects in their lives. Tom and Kate were great examples of that. I have read some reviews saying that Her Last Holiday is over-the-top and unrealistic. I can’t entirely agree with that because I feel its overall message is authentic. I never lost sight of the fact that this is a work of fiction and meant to entertain. I was both very entertained, and I finished the book with some reflections.

I love when you read a book and understand the character’s actions, even if you disagree with them. I’m an empathic reader who immerses herself in the character’s world and reads the book through their experiences. So, when I read a book in which characters congruently make choices within their nature, I feel like I received a gift. Thank you, Cally; your present brought me a lot of joy.

Minor Spoilers
Each of the main women had likable and unlikeable personality traits, which I felt contributed to their multidimensionality. My heart broke for Fran, someone who, even though she was ostracized and emotionally abused by her mom, still found love for her sister, the golden girl. She seemed to blame the right person and understood that her mother’s toxicity also affected Jenna.

Jenna is also a terrific character with a great arc. Through her flashbacks, we are privy to her journey from a broken self-saboteur to someone who is starting to believe in herself and believe that she is worthy of good things.

Kate, oh Kate… Let’s just say she is a deliciously unlikeable mess, and I spent most of the book trying to figure her out. Taylor built the conflict between her and Tom well, and as a reader, I kept flip-flopping whose side I took.

I enjoyed having some attendees present in both the retreat that ended in tragedy and the one Fran is attending. I felt they served as a compass for where the truth lies and brought their complexities to the plot.

I loved Her Last Holiday so much, even though I first read it as an ARC, that I bought a signed first edition UK copy and other books by the author (including The Island, my first ARC rejection).

C. L. Taylor also introduced me to Goldsboro Books, an excellent British bookstore specializing in Signed, First Edition Hardback Books… Oh, boy! Let’s just say that I’m glad she did, but my pocket isn’t that happy! Luckily, Taylor is adorable and relatable on social media and has a fantastic website, through which you can sign up for her free book club (and get an e-copy of the short story The Lodger as a token of appreciation).

I am reading more books from this author! I found her style was a perfect fit for me!

Enjoyability     10

Characters       10

Ambience       10

Fairness          8

Plot                  10

Execution        9

My total rating: 4.75

Disclaimer: I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to Avon Books UK, C.L. Taylor and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of Her Last Holiday.

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