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Happy New Year!! I thought I would start off 2017 by celebrating the best of the books I read last year. Rather than do my usual Top 10 list, I thought I’d try something new this year and list my favorites in various categories, with links to (and quotes from) my reviews.

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION (WWII)

A Moment Forever by Cat Gardiner

A Moment Forever Cover LARGE EBOOK

A Moment Forever is not a book you merely read; Gardiner ensures you actually live the story — from the overindulgence of Long Island’s Gold Coast to the wartime excitement in the Big Apple, from the airfields and USO dances and the fashions of the ’40s to the solemnity of Paris 50 years after the roundup of its Jewish residents for deportation. There are so many layers to this story, and I never wanted it to end.

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION (OTHER ERA)

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

lost among the living

Simone St. James is a new-to-me writer, and as soon as I finished Lost Among the Living I determined that I must read her previous novels, which all seem to be equally suspenseful. I loved her writing here, particularly the passages that describe the intensity of Jo and Alex’s relationship, which enable readers to feel Jo’s grief and the frustration inherent in not knowing Alex’s fate. I also liked that while there was romance and passion, Lost Among the Living is at its core a ghost story, but it’s so much more than that. St. James shows the impact of the war on the returning soldiers and the women whose men never came home, as well as the blurring of the boundaries between social classes and how greed and selfishness can tear families apart.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (REGENCY)

Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes

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Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter is a beautifully written novel, with just the right amount of angst to move me to the brink of tears without making me put the book down in despair. Starnes has a knack for putting Elizabeth and Darcy in impossible situations, delving deep into their souls, and keeping readers on the edge of their seats as they wonder how a happily ever after will be achieved. I loved the pacing of the novel, and Starnes does a wonderful job evolving their relationship through many ups and downs as they navigate the challenges posed by their families and themselves.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (MODERN)

Without a Conscience by Cat Gardiner

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Like Denial of Conscience, Without a Conscience is sexy (definitely for mature audiences only) and exciting from the very first page. Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller who weaves clever plots and navigates Darcy and Liz through the twists and turns while further evolving their relationship. In the midst of the danger and excitement, Gardiner provides plenty of humor, and the obvious rivalry between Liz and Caroline had me laughing out loud several times. The novel is perfectly paced, and there’s just something about Gardiner’s writing style that has me hanging on every word.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (SECONDARY CHARACTERS)

The Trouble to Check Her by Maria Grace

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The Trouble to Check Her exemplifies why Grace is one of my favorite authors of Austen-inspired fiction. Her attention to detail in terms of character development and the history of the era is fantastic, and I hope there is another book in the series (mainly because I want to find out what happened to Jane Bingley after her falling out with Elizabeth Darcy).

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (OTHER)

The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James

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I enjoyed reading both Elizabeth’s diary and about the rocky start to Charlie and Evie’s relationship and their determination to find Elizabeth’s papers. I especially loved how James showed that even Austen’s beloved couple likely didn’t have a perfect marriage, and by telling that story from the point of view of Elizabeth, readers are able to see her insecurities and her frustration while having little clue what Darcy is thinking or feeling, which creates just the right amount of tension. I also loved getting a glimpse of the Darcys and their family years into their marriage, so they are no longer bright-eyed newlyweds but older and wiser and settled into their life together. Charlie and Evie’s story was exciting and even had some similarities to Darcy and Elizabeth’s, and Charlie’s client, Cressida Carter, is very Caroline Bingley-esque. The dual narratives were seamlessly connected, and the shifts between the two were timed perfectly to ensure readers can’t put the book down.

MOST UNIQUE AUSTEN VARIATION

The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Beau North and Brooke West

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The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy is unique and exciting. It made me laugh, and it left me in tears, so much so that my husband kept asking if I was okay and I worried I would short out my Kindle! It’s been a while since I’ve been so emotionally affected by a Pride and Prejudice variation. It’s absolutely one of the best books I’ve read this year, possibly one of my all-time favorites, and definitely one I won’t forget!

BEST HOLIDAY NOVEL

Lucky 13  by Cat Gardiner

lucky 13

Oh, how I loved this novel! Gardiner is a master at bringing Jane Austen’s characters into the present day and turning up the heat (and the laughs). From their heated arguments to their heated encounters at the jaw-dropping calendar audition and the chest-oiling photo shoot, I couldn’t get enough of this Lizzy and Darcy. The secondary characters are equally entertaining, from Jane, the supermodel with a secret, to Caroline, the matchmaking poochie mama, and especially Charlotte (aka “Punky) and Darcy’s cousin, Rick (aka “Preppy”), who are the most obnoxious of the numerous matchmakers.

BEST POETRY COLLECTION

The Jane and Bertha in Me by Rita Maria Martinez

BerthainMe

Martinez’s poems are full of vivid imagery (“The Bertha in me sleeps until three in the afternoon and sits on the back porch with a cup of Earl Grey that quells the desire to chop up her crotchety landlord,” from “The Jane and Bertha in Me”), sensual (“Charlotte’s manuscript sepulchered like an incorruptible saint, splayed on its back like a woman whose architecture I want to touch,” from “At the British Library”), insightful (“Pain caused by first love never truly subsides,” from “Jane’s Denial”), and even humorous (“She’ll be sorry for canoodling with the missionary, thinks Rochester, who’s exceeded his cursing quota and looks like Wolverine,” from “Jane Eyre: Classic Cover Girl”). Martinez even writes about Brontë herself, from her different personas to the migraines she suffered through in order to create her “pristine prose” (from “The Literature of Prescription”).

BEST SHORT STORY/COLLECTION

“Tea Time” by Tiffani Burnett-Velez

tea-time

I finished reading “Tea Time” in less than half an hour, and I was satisfied with the abrupt ending even though I wasn’t ready for the story to be over. The final few lines pack a punch and made it a story I won’t soon forget. I can’t wait to read more from Burnett-Velez.

FAVORITE COVER

Undercover by Cat Gardiner

undercover book cover

Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller who had me hooked from the very first page. The use of slang from the era, her vivid descriptions, the steamy scenes, and the murder mystery are handled so perfectly that I could picture the entire book in my head, as though I were actually watching a black-and-white hard-boiled crime drama on the screen. She moved Austen’s characters into 1952 New York City in a way that felt true to them. I loved that she gave Darcy a painful back story and that Elizabeth and Jane weren’t the best of friends. Gardiner’s portrayal of Georgiana as a modern and independent though innocent and sheltered young woman is handled beautifully, as is Lydia’s downfall at the hands of Slick Wick.

****

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Some of the more memorable 5-star books from 2016 (click the covers to read my reviews)

darcys-hope

denial-of-conscience

undeceived

COAOEB cover

Miss Darcy's Companion front cover_V4

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Liebeslied-Final-Kindle

the forgotten room

What were your favorite books of 2016? I’d love to know!

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the forgotten room

Source: Review copy from NAL
Rating: ★★★★★

But it was better this way, wasn’t it? Better that she pretended it hadn’t happened. Better that the door to the room upstairs remained shut, because what beckoned beyond it — she had a vague impression of colors and vibrancy and imagination and laughter, something extraordinary and never ending — was nothing more than a fairy tale.

(from The Forgotten Room)

Quick summary: In 1944, Kate is a doctor at Stornaway Hospital who is drawn to one of her patients, Captain Cooper Ravenel, who seems to recognize her from somewhere, though she’s never seen him before. The mystery of a miniature portrait and a ruby pendant bring them together while the reality of their lives outside the hospital threaten to keep them apart. In 1920, Lucy is a secretary for a dashing lawyer whom she believes holds the key to uncovering her true identity, but she is captivated by a smooth-talking art dealer from Charleston who is looking for the truth about his father. In 1892, Olive is a housemaid seeking revenge against the wealthy family who tore her family apart, but her attraction to the charming, artistic Harry Pratt could be her undoing. The Forgotten Room is a beautifully written collaboration by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig that follows three generations of women as they navigate society’s constraints, love and loss, secrets and betrayals — all connected to an attic room in a Gilded Age mansion in Manhattan.

Why I wanted to read it: I’m a big fan of Karen White, and I was intrigued by the mystery and the World War II setting.

What I liked: I loved this novel from the start. The women’s stories switch from chapter to chapter, and the layers of the mystery are gradually and beautifully unraveled. The writing is so seamless, it’s hard to believe that it’s a collaboration among three authors. I felt like I truly knew and understood all three women, and I loved that each was ambitious, hardworking, and strong.  There were some aspects of the story that were predictable, but there also were some twists and turns that I didn’t expect. I also equally enjoyed each of the narratives, which is unusual for me when the story shifts back and forth in time.

What I disliked: Sometimes it was hard for me to keep track of all the characters and their connections, but that’s only a minor quibble. There are some pretty amazing coincidences that occur throughout the novel, which are hard to believe, but it is fiction after all.

Final thoughts: I was surprised by how emotional I was at the end of the book. I liked that the stories weren’t all happily ever after and tied up neatly, but that made me a bit sad, too, because I’d grown so connected to the characters. The Forgotten Room is a rich novel with memorable characters whose stories span more than five decades, from the Gilded Age to Prohibition to World War II. The authors did a fantastic job with each setting, and the pacing was spot on. I really hope they team up again for another novel!

Disclosure: I received The Forgotten Room from NAL for review.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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grand central

Source: Review copy from Berkley
Rating: ★★★★★

In those moments when she was alone, her body propped up in bed and a borrowed book she was using to study English on her lap, she saw her mother saying good-bye for the last time through a forced smile, and her father still holding on to her bag for a few more moments.  She didn’t want to look at those horrible photos in the paper and believe her parents could be amongst the piles off bodies or reduced to dark ash.  She wanted instead to look at the family photograph that sat on her nightstand and believe that they were still just as she had left them.  Father in his dark brown overcoat and stylish fedora, and Mother always with something warm and sweet in her hands.

(from “Going Home” by Alyson Richman, Grand Central, page 27)

Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion is a collection of 10 short stories that at some point bring readers to Grand Central Terminal in New York City on the same day in September 1945.  The stories are set shortly after the end of World War II, when refugees were creating new lives in America and soldiers were making their way home.  When I saw the list of authors and stories in this collection, I definitely couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read it.

  • “Going Home” by Alyson Richman (The Lost Wife)
  • “The Lucky One” by Jenna Blum (Those Who Save Us)
  • “The Branch of Hazel” by Sarah McCoy (The Baker’s Daughter)
  • “The Kissing Room” by Melanie Benjamin (The Aviator’s Wife)
  • “I’ll Be Seeing You” by Sarah Jio (Blackberry Winter)
  • “I’ll Walk Alone” by Erika Robuck (Call Me Zelda)
  • “The Reunion” by Kristina McMorris (Bridge of Scarlet Leaves)
  • “Tin Town” by Amanda Hodgkinson (22 Britannia Road)
  • “Strand of Pearls” by Pam Jenoff (The Kommandant’s Girl)
  • “The Harvest Season” by Karen White (The Time Between)

I don’t usually read short stories because I often feel like they end before the story takes off, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself satisfied by every one of these stories.  I couldn’t put this book down, and while I liked some stories more than others, in the week since I finished it, I still can’t decide which story was my favorite.

These stories are all unique in their subject matter, from a Holocaust survivor trying to get on with his life after losing his wife and daughters to a female pilot struggling with a different sort of grief and guilt, from a woman who dreads her soldier husband’s return to a young girl leaving her home in England to start a new life with her mother and GI husband in America.  Another story follows a young girl who travels alone from Shanghai to New York City to reunite with her father only to learn he’s not the man she thought he was, and Sarah McCoy lets readers know what happened to Hazel from The Baker’s Daughter, who joined the Lebensborn program.

Grand Central seems to perfectly capture the postwar atmosphere in a big city, with the chaos in the train station and the roller coaster of emotions within each character.  The changes in society, especially in regards to women and their romantic relationships and career aspirations, also feature prominently in some of these stories.  I was impressed not only by the character development in these stories but also by the ways in which the characters crossed paths with one another, which emphasizes how well this collection is structured.  If you love novels set during World War II or have loved novels by these authors in the past, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on a copy.

war challenge with a twist

Book 16 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 17 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Grand Central from Berkley for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Review copy from NAL
Rating: ★★★★☆

I tasted briny water as the world went silent around me, a liquid world I vaguely remembered from the beginning of a journey.  What was only seconds suddenly felt like a lifetime, a moment in time spent immersed in the peacefulness of knowing everything and nothing at the same time, of understanding how the water could carry us in any direction regardless of how hard we fought against the current.

(from Sea Change, page 305)

Karen White is one of the few authors I turn to when I’m in need of a comfort read.  I’ll read anything she has published, and while I might not love every book, I’m confident before I even start reading that I’m at least going to enjoy it.  And she certainly didn’t let me down with her latest novel, Sea Change.

Set on St. Simons Island, Georgia, Sea Change successfully weaves together the past and the present in the story of Ava Whalen, a young midwife who falls passionately in love with Matthew Frazier, a child psychologist, and marries him after knowing him for just a couple of months.  Ava knows in the marrow of her bones that she and Matthew belong together, and despite her intense fear of water, she leaves her family home in Antioch to move into the island home that has belonged to the Fraziers for hundreds of years.

Soon after arriving on the island, Ava learns that Matthew was married before and that his first wife, Adrienne, also a midwife, died under mysterious circumstances.  Matthew seems intent on putting the past behind him and moving forward with his new life with Ava, but Ava understandably feels uncomfortable living in a home with so many reminders of Adrienne.  At the urging of Tish, a Frazier family friend, Ava becomes a member of the historical society and grows increasingly interested in digging up the Frazier family history.  Her need to piece together the story of Geoffrey Frazier, whose ghost is said to roam the island in search of the wife who supposedly left him for a British soldier, becomes entwined with her need to know more about Adrienne, why Matthew is withholding information, and why she feels so drawn to the island even though she has dreams of drowning.

White also includes two other points of view, that of Ava’s mother, Gloria, who loves Ava deeply but feels a need to keep her at arms’ length, and that of Pamela, a midwife whose life is thrown into chaos by the War of 1812.  Ava already has enough to contend with when it comes to the secrets in her new marriage without having to deal with the suspicions of Adrienne’s brother, John, whatever her mother is hiding, and the skeletons in the Frazier closet.

I love how White always manages to move seamlessly between the past and the present and cleverly connect the two.  I thought Pamela’s story was the stronger of the two and the most compelling.  Pamela’s fragile relationship with her younger sister, Georgina, and how her fierce love for her husband and son prevented her from seeing the bigger picture were skillfully depicted.  I liked Ava, but her story didn’t grab me the way Pamela’s did, and I grew tired of her mother after awhile.  I think the pace of the present-day story could have been quickened a bit, and I also wish Matthew’s character was more well developed.  Ava’s intense love for him is expressed time and again, but readers never really see for themselves what makes Matthew such a wonderful guy.

Nevertheless, Sea Change is an enjoyable novel, and with all the water imagery and life on the island, it’s a perfect book for the summer.  If you love the convergence of the past and the present and novels about family secrets and relationships between sisters and mothers and daughters, then you’ll want to get your hands on a copy.

Disclosure: I received Sea Change from NAL for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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“Jack’s in trouble, Mellie.  I don’t know how or why, but maybe that’s what Bonnie was trying to tell you.”

“But why me?  Why not Rebecca?”

My mother looked at me, her eyes hard.  “Let it go, Mellie.  Whatever it is you’re holding on to that’s preventing you from seeing what everybody else sees so clearly, let it go.”

I thought of Jack, and the way he’d always made me feel as if I were standing at the edge of a cliff, and how unprepared I was for the free fall if I should take a step forward.  And I had no idea what it was that made me cling so hard to solid ground.

(from The Strangers on Montagu Street, page 121 in the ARC; finished version may be different)

The Strangers on Montagu Street is the third book in Karen White’s Tradd Street series, which began with The House on Tradd Street and continued in The Girl on Legare Street.  The series focuses on and is told from the point of view of Melanie Middleton, a Realtor in Charleston, South Carolina, with a need to neatly organize every aspect of her life and the ability to communicate with the dead — a gift she’s still not sure she wants and definitely doesn’t advertise.  To best understand The Strangers on Montagu Street, you probably should read the first two books in the series, and beware that some details from those books may be included in my review of this one.

In The Strangers on Montagu Street, as in the previous books, Melanie refuses to admit her attraction to Jack Trenholm, the true crime writer who helped her unravel the mysteries associated with the house she inherited on Tradd Street and her mother’s home on Legare Street.  Their banter is humorous, but I always want to reach in the book and give Melanie a good shake; you can cut the sexual tension with a knife, and why she refuses to accept her feelings for Jack is beyond me.  Well, this time, the two have more to worry about than their relationship (or lack thereof).  Jack just learned he has a 13-year-old daughter, Nola, who is struggling to come to terms with her mother’s death and is convinced that Jack wants nothing to do with her.  He has no idea how to handle a teenage girl, so he turns to Melanie for help.

Melanie knows what it’s like to feel abandoned by her mother, so she takes Nola into her home, and of course, that means Jack is around more often.  Not only does Melanie have her hands full with a teenager and her career, but she also must juggle her concerns for Jack, whose career is in limbo, and the ghosts in her home that have set their sights on Nola.  Melanie senses the protective spirit of Nola’s mother, Bonnie, but there’s a darker entity connected to the antique dollhouse given to Nola by her grandmother.  The dollhouse is a replica of an old house on Montagu Street, and Melanie, Jack, Nola, and Melanie’s mother befriend the old woman who lives there.  They all must work together to solve the mystery of the woman’s past — which is connected to the disappearance of her brother in 1938 — if the spirits attached to the dollhouse are to find peace.

The Strangers on Montagu Street offers exactly what readers of the Tradd Street series have come to expect:  Melanie’s quirkiness, drama between her and Jack, and plenty of restless spirits.  This is my favorite book in the series so far, mainly because Melanie isn’t as annoying as I’ve found her in the past.  Her character showed a lot of evolution this time around, and even though she is still a bit thick-headed, she really has grown on me.  Jack is one of those hard-to-resist characters, especially when he’s being protective of Nola, and the addition of Nola was a breath of fresh air.  She is very mature and intuitive, brings out the best in Melanie, and is spunky and likable.  I can’t wait to see where White takes her next.

White has become one of my favorite authors in recent years, and like her other novels, The Strangers on Montagu Street is a comfort read.  It’s light and fun, with just the right touch of drama, romance, and Southern culture.  However, I was a bit distressed by the shocker of an ending, mainly because I hate having to wait for the next installment in the series.  Rest assured, though, that the mystery associated with the dollhouse is wrapped up by the end, but White definitely knows how to get readers excited for the next book.  I waited for two years for this book, and I really hope I don’t have to wait that long again!

Check out my reviews of other Karen White books:

The House on Tradd Street
The Girl on Legare Street
The Lost Hours
On Folly Beach
Falling Home
The Beach Trees

Courtesy of Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting, I am giving away the first two books in the series, The House on Tradd Street and The Girl on Legare Street, to one lucky winner. To enter, please leave a comment with your e-mail address and tell me what intrigues you about this series. Because Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting is shipping the books, this giveaway is open only to readers with addresses in the U.S. and Canada. The winner will be chosen randomly from comments received by 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, December 4, 2011.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Strangers on Montagu Street from Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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As part of the blog tour for the latest novel in Karen White’s Tradd Street series, The Strangers on Montagu Street, Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting is offering a copy of the book, slated for release on Nov. 1, to one of my readers.

Psychic Realtor Melanie Middleton returns — only to be greeted by a house full of lost souls.

With her relationship with Jack as shaky as the foundation of her family home, Melanie’s juggling a number of problems. Like restoring her Tradd Street house — and resisting her mother’s pressure to “go public” with her talent, a sixth sense that unites her to the lost souls of the dead. But Melanie never anticipated her new problem…

Her name is Nola, Jack’s estranged young daughter who appears on their doorstep, damaged, lonely, and defiantly immune to her father’s attempts to reconnect. Melanie understands the emotional chasm all too well. As a special, bonding gift, Jack’s mother buys Nola an antique dollhouse — a precious tableaux of a perfect Victorian family. Melanie hopes the gift will help thaw Nola’s reserve and draw her into the family she’s never known.

At first, Nola is charmed, and Melanie is delighted — until night falls, and the most unnerving shadows are cast within its miniature rooms. By the time Melanie senses a malevolent presence she fears it may already be too late. A new family has accepted her unwitting invitation to move in — with their own secrets, their own personal demons, and a past that’s drawing Nola into their own inescapable darkness… (publisher’s summary)

I will be reading and reviewing The Strangers on Montagu Street soon, but in the meantime, you can check out my reviews of the first two books in the series:

The House on Tradd Street
The Girl on Legare Street

To enter to win a copy of The Strangers on Montagu Street, simply leave a comment with your e-mail address and tell me your favorite spooky or creepy read that would be perfect for the dreary Autumn months.  This giveaway is open to readers in the U.S. and Canada and will close at 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, November 6, 2011.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Disclosure: I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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“So why are you here?  I would think you’d want to be as far away from a hurricane zone as possible.”

She looked at me as if I’d just suggested streaking down the beach.  It took her a moment to answer.  “Because this is home.”  She waited to see if the words registered with me, but I just looked back at her, not understanding at all.

After a deep breath, she looked up at a tall oak tree beyond the garden, its leaves still green against the early October sky, the limbs now thick with foliage.  “Because the water recedes, and the sun comes out, and the trees grow back.  Because” — she spread her hands, indicated the garden and the tree and, I imagined, the entire peninsula of Biloxi — “because we’ve learned that great tragedy gives us opportunities for great kindness.  It’s like a needed reminder that the human spirit is alive and well despite all evidence to the contrary.”  She lowered her hands to her sides.  “I figured I wasn’t dead, so I must not be done.”

(from The Beach Trees, page 123)

I always know I’m in for a treat when I read Karen White’s novels, but The Beach Trees blew me away and really shows how much she has grown as a writer.  From the moment I began The Beach Trees until I turned the last page, I was engrossed in the characters and the setting and had a hard time pulling myself out of the story to get back to the real world.  White once again has created a place I’d love to live and characters I’d love to know in real life.

Julie Holt has been floating through life, never really living it, since her younger sister disappeared when Julie was 12.  She was supposed to be watching Chelsea, so she carries some guilt and has devoted 17 years of her life to trying to find her sister.  When her mother died, Julie continued the search alone, her father and brother long ago pulling back from the family unit.  Working at an auction house in New York, Julie found a true friend in Monica Guidry, and when a heart condition leaves Monica dead at the age of 28, Julie finds herself the guardian of Monica’s five-year-old son, Beau, and the owner of a beachfront property in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Julie has nowhere to go but Biloxi, where she finds out that the family Monica left behind 10 years ago — her grandmother, Aimee, and her brother, Trey — are living close by in New Orleans.  It’s hard not to see the similarities between Julie and Trey, both of whom lost beloved sisters and never stopped looking for them.

If the story wasn’t interesting enough, with Trey and Julie reluctantly working together to rebuild the beach house that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and Julie trying to figure out what to do about Beau and her inability to move beyond her childhood, White manages to flawlessly insert a mystery that had me on the edge of my seat.  Monica left Julie a painting of her great-grandmother that was painted by Julie’s great-grandfather, and Julie pursues the connection between her family and the Guidrys.  Why did Monica leave home in the first place?  How and why did the woman in the portrait disappear?  In a leisurely Southern style, Aimee tells Julie how she met the Guidry family in the 1950s, was torn between two brothers, and intrigued by their mother, who refused to conform to society’s expectations.

The narrative shifts back and forth from Julie’s plight in the present and Aimee’s coming-of-age in the 1950s.  The transitions are seamless, the plot is well crafted, and the writing is beautiful.  There’s a conversational flow to the narrative and such vivid descriptions that I felt like I was watching the story unfold before me instead of reading it.  In fact, the setting is a character, and White does a brilliant job painting the portraits of two cities in healing mode.  The scars from Hurricane Katrina and the recent oil spill are still visible, but White shows that the people of the South are resilient.  Julie questions why people would continue to rebuild and live in a disaster-prone area, but she soon learns why people love to call Biloxi and New Orleans home.

White tackles a lot in The Beach Trees, from lost siblings and family secrets to rebuilding homes and lives after disaster.  There are some profound moments, some life lessons, but they never come across as melodramatic or maudlin.  White takes what everyone loves about the South — the people, the architecture, the culture, and the landscape — and brings it to life.  The Beach Trees is a novel to savor and one I won’t soon forget.

Check out my reviews of other Karen White books:

The House on Tradd Street
The Girl on Legare Street
The Lost Hours
On Folly Beach
Falling Home

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in the blog tour for The Beach Trees. To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Beach Trees from NAL/Penguin for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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