Spotlight Review: JOHANNA PORTER IS NOT SORRY by Sara Read

From the publisher:

The headlines dubbed it the art heist of the decade…

Twenty years ago, Johanna Porter was a rising star in the art world. Now she’s an unknown soccer mom. When an invitation arrives for an elite gallery opening for her former lover, the great Nestor Pinedo, Johanna wants to throw it in the trash where it belongs. But with some styling help from her daughter, she makes an appearance and comes face-to-face with the woman she was before the powerful and jealous Nestor ruined her.

La Rosa Blanca is a portrait of Johanna herself, young and fierce and fearless—a masterwork with a price tag to match. When she cuts it out of its frame, rolls it up and walks out, Johanna is only taking back what was stolen from her.

Hiding out with La Rosa Blanca in a shack on the Chesapeake Bay, Johanna digs into the raw work of reviving her own skills while battling novice-thief paranoia, impostor syndrome and mom guilt. But Johanna doesn’t just want the painting—she wants to paint again. To harness her powerful talent, she must defy everyone’s expectations—most of all her own—for what a woman like her should be.

“Debut novelist Read has created a thoroughly sympathetic character in this witty, quick, and emotionally turbulent tale that will have readers cheering for Johanna well after the last page.”

I am almost hesitant to call this a debut as I’ve been burned on this before, but that’s what the publicist said so I’m going with it. I do not want to find out that this is just a pseudonym for someone who writes in other genres or used to write young adult and has pivoted to adult fare or whatever crazy reason the publisher decided to make this a debut. If you call it a debut, it better be their very first book of any kind (short stories don’t count.)

So this was a hard book to quantify. It starts off with Johanna complaining about how she used to be an artist twenty years earlier, and now she has been invited to some fancy, snooty art show featuring her mentor/lover, Nestor Pinedo, of the past. Since his daughter, Pilar, invited her, she decides to go as she has some kind of score to settle with the two of them – and she does.

One of Pinedo’s most famous paintings is of Johanna when she was just 23 years old, and it’s called La Rosa Blanca. At that party, Johanna manages to steal the painting. She just doesn’t want him to have it anymore. This is kind of a problem since the painting is valued at several million dollars. She starts panicking almost as soon as she does it, and she decides to go on the lam, of sorts; she and her ex share custody of their 16-year-old daughter so she can’t really disappear. But she can drive out to her dad’s old house on the lake. He moved to Florida and she has been taking care of the house for many years, but it’s not in great shape.

Johanna is very frustrated with her life. She’s teaching art at her daughter’s high school instead of making art. She’s been divorced for a few years with no great men in sight. Until she moves into that old house and meets the doctor next store, so to speak.

Mitchell had a bad fall and suffered severe nerve damage to his hand, rendering him unable to operate anymore. He has separated from his wife, and is living in their large, lavish vacation home. He asks Johanna if she would go out sailing with him; he’s afraid the useless hand will make him a useless sailor, and off they go, a new relationship in the making.

Meanwhile, Johanna can’t decide what to do with the stolen painting. Cops and private detectives are sniffing around, and Pilar is absolutely sure she stole it – but has no proof. The good doctor has some issues that weren’t readily apparent, and that relationship goes sideways for a while. Johanna gets back to her art, and while everything still seems all topsy-turvy, things finally start going right for her.

Part mystery, part romance, this is a complex story that probably could have used a bit more filling out, but it is a tight, fast-moving story with intriguing characters that would really work well for a book discussion group. It was a one day read for me, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next for Sara Read.

3/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

JOHANNA PORTER IS NOT SORRY by Sara Read. Graydon House; Original edition (March 7, 2023). ISBN:‎   978-1525899980. 320p.





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