Spoiler, spoiler, spoiler!

by Barb, on a beautiful, warm Maine day

Spoiler alert! I’ve never done this before, but today I am hijacking the blog for a discussion of the end of my latest Maine Clambake Mystery, Shucked Apart.

If you haven’t read Shucked Apart, and think that you might, do not read further.

If you haven’t read Shucked Apart, and are sure you never will, you can read further, but I don’t know why you would.

Okay, now that’s out of the way and it’s just us chickens….

At the end of Shucked Apart, as those who have read this far know, the Maine Clambake protagonist, Julia Snowden, breaks up with her boyfriend Chris Durand. Chris was introduced in the first book in the series, Clammed Up, and their relationship is in place by the third book, Musseled Out. In some of the books and novellas their domestic life has been pretty settled and happy. In others it’s been quite unsettled, often due to secrets spilling out from Chris’s past.

I love hearing from readers and I’m very grateful to those who leave reviews on sites like Goodreads and Amazon. Other books in the series have many more reviews than Shucked Apart does, but none that are so passionate as for this book.

What’s been fascinating to me is that readers have divided neatly into pro-and anti-break up camps. Sentiment has basically run 50-50 from the very first emails and reviews to the present.

A Sampling of Comments from the Pro-Chris, Anti-Break-up Group

“A really great story but sad ending.  I know Julia and Chris have had their problems in the past.  Hope this is just a hiccup in their relationship, and the next book will have a truly happy ending.”

“I really LOVE Chris and Julia. I am really hoping there is more to come and that Chris and Julia will get back together!!!”

“… the ending made me very sad-I kept hoping for a happier ending for Julia and Chris.” 

“Loved Shucked Apart just like I have loved all of the Clambake books.  But I didn’t like the ending.  Please get them back together in the next book!”

“This is one of my favorite series. Thanks for writing it and hope you will do more in the series. I broke my heart to see Julia leave Chris.”

“How much of a bribe will you accept to bring them back together?”

“And that they broke up? I don’t know why you wrote it like this, but you ruined the series for me and I imagine many other people. For the first time in many years, I’m not looking forward to the next book.”

“…the ending of this book left such a bad taste in my mouth and during a hard year of a pandemic, I don’t need that. Sorry Barbara, I have spent my last dollar on your books.”

“I liked the book until the end; that I didn’t like at all. It’s going to be very hard for me to read the next book and if the situation doesn’t resolve itself, I may be done with this series.”

A Sampling of Comments from the Anti-Chris, Pro-Break-up Group

“The conflict with Chris throughout and especially at the end was believable (if somewhat sad).  I like that Julia was so clear-eyed about her need for honesty and trustworthiness.”  

“What a great book! So many emotions. I love Chris but Julia deserves so much more!”

“Julia is so vulnerable despite her accomplishments I never thought she’d make that decision – and then it makes sense.”

“To be honest, I thought the sleuth should have left her boyfriend the last book I read. She should find a super cop boyfriend who can’t find an apple in a bunch of oranges like most of the other cozy protagonists.”

“I am not at all a fan of Chris – have never liked him from the beginning – so was actually cheering on the last page….”

“Julia makes an important life-changing decision that shows her strength and independence. She finally chooses to stand up for herself and understands the importance of meeting her own needs. The ending was quite a shocker – but not a surprise, it makes perfect sense.”

“And I was thrilled that she finally broke it off with Chris. I just hope his fans don’t cause the author to have Julia take him back.”

“I think Flynn is in.”

“There was a surprise towards the end, but I’m not going to give any spoilers away. Let’s just say that I hope things go the way I’m suspecting they’ll go within the next few books!”

What Does the Author Think?

This letter from a fan expresses my feelings almost exactly.

“I was surprised but not really shocked at the Julia-Chris break up. I almost feel sorry for him, because he can’t help being the way he is, but Julia deserves to be with someone she can trust. See how I almost think of them as real people. You’ve done such an amazing job with character development that I’m totally invested in what happens in their lives.”

I, too, feel badly for Chris. And worse I feel guilty–because I made him that way. At least with your human kids you can blame their genes and the larger environment, but with Chris it is all my fault.

What Is Going to Happen?

I’ll never tell. Well, that’s a lie. I will eventually tell. In the meantime, everyone is going to have to wait. I’ll only say that Busman’s Harbor is a small town, so Julia hasn’t seen the last of Chris.

Readers: If you’ve made it this far, it’s because you’re invested. If you’ve been burning to discuss the ending of Shucked Apart, here’s your chance.

52 Thoughts

  1. This is EXACTLY why my book reviews tend to be just one sentence about how long the book takes to read and for whom it is suitable. If potential readers don’t have enough of a clue from the title, cover, and book description, I am NOT going to risk a spoiler by saying anything else.

    1. In the reviews, most people have been good about spoilers, either marking them as such or hinting around. I have complained to Goodreads a few times about spoilers (though not for this book). They’re not great about taking them down.

  2. How interesting that readers are evenly split, Barb – thanks for sharing those comments. I respect you – and Julia – for doing it your way.

  3. I was ecstatic about Julia and Chris! Julia deserves a man with an interesting profession that compliments her. Thank you for kicking Chris to the curb!

  4. It’s a tribute to your writing prowess, Barb, that so many readers are vested in the Julia-Chris relationship. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series to see what — or who — you come up with next!

  5. It’s a tribute to your writing prowess, Barb, that so many readers are vested in the Julia-Chris relationship. Congratulations on another great addition to the Maine Clambake series.

  6. Shucked Apart is on my Kindle TBR, but I read the blog anyway. Can’t say I’m surprised, but I hope they find a way to work it out. Now I’m looking forward to the book even more for the backstory to the break-up! Can’t wait to see where you take these two in the future.

  7. It’s so interesting to me (even though I know this) that the thing that will get readers riled is “the relationship.” I had a similar review for BROKEN TRUST. The reader’s big complain was, well, I can’t get too detailed without spoilers, but let’s just say it wasn’t the crime. LOL

    1. Never ceases to amaze me that people reading crime fiction don’t care about the crime. If “the relationship” is what matters, romance seems to be the better reading choice.

      1. I don’t think caring about the relationship means the readers don’t care about the crime.It’s not either/or. Barbara’s point is good, in all long-running series whether police procedural or cozy (even TV shows like NCIS) people care about the characters and want them to be happy.

    2. I agree that it’s so interesting people get so invested in the relationship, though it does make sense. Series books are about readers forming relationships with the people and the town and truly caring about them. I do get comments on the mysteries sometimes. Usually either, I guessed it right away or I was surprised at the very end–about the same book!

  8. I haven’t read it yet, but I cannot resist a spoiler! You write so well, I’m sure you’ll explain Julia’s decision perfectly. Chris did seem secretive and a little aloof…maybe he’ll get some therapy and move past it??

  9. Chris’s secrets and the things that keep coming forward from his past are a little overwhelming. I do think Julia and Chris belong together but until Chris gets tested to see whether he carries that gene, they can’t risk passing that along to their future kids. I know it’s a sucky situation to be in, and if I were Julia I don’t know what I’d do. Chris needs to grow up if he wants Julia back, but I do think they belong together.

  10. I’ve always thought (and told you many times) that Julia was in love with the idea of Chris stemming from her teenage crush instead of the man himself. I had a similar problem when I created an unintentional love triangle in the Sarah Winston series. It’s a good problem to have, but I’m shocked people wouldn’t read more of your books!

  11. I’m eagerly waiting to see what Barbara has in to store for both Julia and Chris.

  12. I agree with many above, it is a tribute to you as a writer that people are so invested. The ending made me sad, actually the whole book made me sad, I really felt so bad about the victim, I really liked her, and I think these circumstances led Julia to really reexamine her own life. That being said it is the author’s book, she knows the characters and what is right for them. I think this has been written so that either eventual outcome can be supported, that is the most important thing to be. My only problem is a long running series where a main character does something totally out of character.

  13. I have mixed feelings about the breakup. On the one hand I was a bit surprised given how much they had already come through. BUT, then I thought about how much of their issues were caused by Chris not being open with his past. His secrets only came out when pressed. I think Julia had just had enough of the unknown with him. The trust was just not there anymore. I do wonder what will happen with their shared investment in the winter restaurant at Gus’s. Will it continue with or without Julia and how much friction will there be to work through given that Busman’s Harbor is a small town? Like some other comments I’ve seen in the post, I also thought of Flynn. He may come across as a by the book tough guy but I think he and Julia have developed a good relationship that could be explored further. Yes, the characters have become fairly real to many of us, but as with real life – things happen. I’m sure that Barbara will find a way to keep us interested and chomping at the bit to see what happens next!

  14. It’s always sad to see a relationship fail but it’s much better then having it be stagnant. They either need to grow together or go their separate ways. I feel a couple in their age range would look to move ahead with their lives and not be content living together over a diner. They’re not in their early 20’s anymore. Julia should hold out for what she needs and deserves. If Chris steps up, than fine. If not, it’s time to move on.

  15. I have to admit, I didn’t like the way Chris kept Juliet from his friends. That’s not how a good boyfriend acts. I thought it was a huge red flag. I think she should date Flynn.

  16. I am all for love and commitment (married 52 1/2 years). We are all broken, we all make mistakes. This series made me (and our book club) fall in love with Chris and Julia, and we all root for a happy ending. This series is not a real story, and we expect a happy ending as well as all loose ends of the mystery to be tied up. You do such an outstanding job with the latter…won’t you give us a fictional happy ending/continuing? If we want to read history or non-fiction, the book world is full to the brim…I came to Busman’s Harbor to find murder, mystery, coziness and plots that get resolved…and also a happy ending. I do not usually post controversial replies so I am not looking to upset anyone at all…I’m a nice guy, and I love everybody, so I love Julia and Chris together. Thanks for your amazing writing dear Barbara…no matter what you decide to do…I’m buying and reading everything you write.

  17. Such an interesting conversation! My reaction was surprise/not surprise, and I did feel sad for the characters because break-ups are hard, even when they’re the right thing to do. Their final meeting on the Dark Lady was very tender and well-done. I am eager to see what you do with them next!

  18. I totally understand why readers are invested in the characters of crime novels. The crimes can be incredibly well thought-out, but if the main/recurring characters aren’t strong, I get frustrated and lose interest in a series. I love this series because the characters are so real.

    I was surprised at the ending but excited about it because it showed true character development. I can’t wait to see what happens next for Julia, and have hopes for Flynn! Liked Chris well enough but agree that they were not well matched as people.

  19. I know you will do what is right for Julia and the series. Some authors worry about “jumping the shark” by having their character get serious about a soulmate while others seem to not want their main character to settle down too soon. I understand both leanings, but do enjoy it when the character has a meaningful relationship and maybe even gets serious and takes on a partner in life and in solving mysteries. It will be fun to see what you decide to do. Happy writing!

  20. I’ve never been fond of Chris in the stories so I was happy that they broke up.

  21. I’m firmly in the 50/50 camp. I usually start rooting for the first love interest we meet to work out, but I’ve been in the Julia/Chris camp all along. However, I completely understand where Julia was coming from at the end of the book. I actually respect her for that decision. Of course, I’m hoping that they will work it out and get back together, but I think if they don’t, I’ll be okay, too. This is a rarity for me.

    My biggest complaint was that I read this decidedly unromantic scene on Valentine’s Day. 🙂

    People get just as invested in relationships on TV shows. One reason fans hated the final season of Castle was because of what they did to Castle and Beckett. Of course, there is also the fact that what they did made no freaking sense. There were so many plot holes it wasn’t even funny.

    1. I love series–books and TV–and get very invested in the relationships, and not just the romantic ones. Sorry about the whole Valentine’s Day thing.

  22. Barbara, I enjoy reading your books. Your characters are believable and down to earth. It’s true, if you are “into” a series, you form a relationship with the characters. I think it is time for Julia to move on. She is no longer young enough to wait for Chris to change into someone she can trust completely. He’s old enough that that is not going to happen. She is mature enough to look for someone she can trust completely and who will trust and be considerate of her. She deserves it.
    I think she should move on even though her breakup was sad.

  23. Barbara, I enjoy your books. Your characters are very well developed and seem like down to earth people that I would enjoy being friends with. I think when you get “into” a series you care about the characters like friends. I think it is time for Julia to move on even though her breakup made her sad. She is old enough not to wait around hoping for Chris to change. She is mature enough to run a successful business and to look for someone she can trust and rely on to have a relationship with. Personally, I hope she isn’t satisfied with just casual sex but over time comes to love and trust someone enough to want to marry

  24. I like Chris but he needs to step up, or Julia needs to move on. I’m interested either way. Stay safe and well.

  25. The Maine Clambake Mysteries is one of my all-time favorites. I love everything: the setting, the characters, the mysteries. Julia’s romance with Chris is my only quibble. I’ve never liked him for her. Julia can do so much better. She deserves someone who will treat her right. (I agree with the above votes for Flynn.)

    Having said that, I think you should stay the course and stick with your plan regardless of what us readers say. Years ago an author killed off the main love interest in her urban fantasy series. (I’m being vague to avoid spoilers.) She told us at a signing that she had planned to resurrect him two or three books later, but the backlash and hate mail were so intense that she brought him back in the next book. When I read that book, I had thought it was a bit messy and rushed and now I know it was because it wasn’t the original plan. I often wonder how amazing that storyline would have been if she’d stuck with her gut and did it her way. Anyway, that’s my long way of saying I’m looking forward to reading your vision of Julia’s life. 🙂

  26. I love this series and your writing in general. I’m glad they broke up. Chris wasn’t exactly moving forward with anything and Julia is so vibrant and active. Time for her to move on and stop dragging him along. I hope the mansion and apartments are finished in the next book. I’m anxious for a return to Julia’s family and new found friends (Ming) playing more of a role in the story- as well as her spinster neighbors. These people are like my friends- I’m so sad when the book ends. More please.

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