Jesse Jameson Williams’ daughter and his lawyer inform Morgan, imprisoned for a crime her boyfriend committed, that his will states that she must restore the banner by Anna Dale, who won the right to create it for the Edenton post office in a nationwide art contest. To cut her prison time, she must learn the restoration process and complete the project within a limited time for his namesake gallery to open and his daughter to keep her family home. Morgan is stymied by the challenge, the time limit, the working relations with his daughter and colleagues, and the oddities she discovers in the mural itself. Told through alternating chapters, from Morgan’s in the present and Anna’s in the 1940s, pieces slowly come together to explain the oddities and the reason Morgan was chosen by the artist. Chamberlain’s ability to evoke emotion abounds in this heart-rending novel of artistic creativity, secrets held close, and the prejudices that run rampant in small towns. Her work continues to impress as she branches out again into historical ficiton set in her adopted state of NC. I received a digital copy of this wonderful story by one of my favorite authors from the publisher St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley.
Brooke Trapnell, the runaway bride in Save the Date, continues her story, having moved back to little town, Georgia, with her son, Henry. The resident wealthy socialite philanthropist of nearby Sea Island, Josephine Bettendorf Warrick, contacts Brooke to represent her against the state of Georgia, who wants her land for a state park. The secrets of nonagenarian Josephine slowly seep out as she lays out her plans to atone for her sins and defend her estate by passing it on to descendants of her long ago best friends. Brooke discovers a related family secret she would have never thought to guess.
Andrews’ description of friendships in the 50s deep South feels less like crossing a color line and more like pushing into an invisible, flexible barrier that they can’t quite break through. The re-emergence of The High Tide Club through the descendants of the original members is meant to be poignant, yet it’s hard to imagine the remaining original member at 95 walking naked into the ocean in chilly October. Though Andrews’ writing continues to be fully engaging, this novel seemed to go long, and it felt as though the author decided at one point to simply wrap up all the loose ends, with revelations coming fast and furious after the typical length of a novel, around 300 pages. There’s a contemporary would-be killer paralleling the murder mystery from decades past, and neither seems credible, nor true to character, even given the circumstances. Despite this, it’s an interesting story and worth it for a sandy good beach read.
I was fortunate to receive a pre-release copy from the publisher of one of my favorite authors.
Michael Ellsworth Newberry’s life has been miraculously spared multiple times throughout his life. In his hometown of Bellhaven, South Carolina, he is the unofficial leader of the unusually diverse, small town, Southern community. He has lost his wife to the town hall fire after her rescue of a young black child sought by Klansman, who set the fire. He has lost his leg to World War I, where he also lost his best friend and any chance at the Big Leagues as a pitcher. Left bereft and wallowing in self-pity, Ellsworth is the last of the townfolk to receive the forgiveness and peace offered by lost loves in the mysterious chapel in the woods, the same woods that the children of Bellhaven had been warned to avoid for as long as they can remember. He doesn’t respond as readily as the others to this gift, fighting it, determined to expose the double-edged sword of such a gift.
Good and evil are not clearly delineated throughout this story of redemption, as flawed, complex individuals come together to fight the true enemy, the enemy to which their eyes must be opened. Each time it seems the story may be slipping into the stereotypical, Christian concept of Armageddon, it edges back into a tale of mythical fantasy with graphic descriptions of extraordinary happenings. Though a tale of good versus evil, it uniquely casts shade on all characters and delivers an astonishing climax and unexpected ending.
I appreciate the chance to read the ARC of this wonderful story through NetGalley.
Tess DeMello abruptly leaves Baltimore’s LIttle Italy and expectations of wedded bliss with a man she grew to love throughout her childhood to marry a man from a small southern town, cutting off the future of his expected marriage to a local girl. She has trapped herself in a loveless marriage, alienated by her husband’s family, their friends, and the townfolk. She slowly learns about the enigmatic man she married as she attempts to find her way back to herself against all obstacles, including him. A polio epidemic changes the town, all hearts and minds focused on treating its victims, and Tess DeMello Kraft becomes a highly respected nurse.
Diane Chamberlain has upped the ante with her historical fiction, weaving her imaginative tale throughout a real event in Hickory, NC, where a polio hospital was built and staffed over two days. Tess becomes a nurse against her wealthy husband’s wishes, and ends up working in this hospital with a doctor who is her childhood true love. I love when an author sets fictional characters into fascinating historical events, so that history comes alive, and I remember details and dates, which often elude me. Chamberlain throws the reader through loop-de-loops and draws everything credibly toward a credible, heartening end.
Readers who love historical fiction based on real events, not necessarily historical figures, will appreciate this novel, with its complicated race relations and laws of the times, and its complex characters true to themselves and to the time. If you fall in love with timeless, relatable characters, read Diane Chamberlain.