Book review: ‘On Folly Beach’ by Karen White

Emmy Hamilton arrives in Folly Beach, South Carolina with a heavy heart. Her beloved husband, Ben, has been killed while fighting in Afghanistan; her mother, though compassionate, can barely stand for the grief of it all. Devastated at having to watch her own daughter lose someone so dear to her, Emmy’s mother encourages her to travel to the East Coast and purchase an old bookstore — Folly’s Finds — after purchasing boxes of old books on eBay.

Sifting through the novels, Emmy begins to feel a kinship to whomever owned the books before — especially after she begins finding handwritten notes in the margins, many of them with a loving or longing quality to the words. Since her mother has such fond memories of Folly’s Finds and Emmy is almost completely adrift, lost and without purpose, the idea of getting away — to another place, another time, a world about which Ben knows nothing — becomes . . . if not appealing, then not unappealing.

Life on Folly is a different animal. Emmy rents a cottage from Abigail Reynolds’ (no relation to the author!) son, Heath, a contractor with a past of his own. As Emmy adjusts to island time, meets the locals and is introduced to Lulu, Heath’s great-aunt, a tapestry of a story begins to unfurl.

Karen White’s On Folly Beach is, in fact, two stories skillfully told at once: Emmy, living in the present day and nursing her grief like a child; and Lulu, a woman who grew up during World War II and became quite adept at keeping secrets. Intertwined with Emmy’s portions of the novel in 2009 are stories from 1942, when Lulu was a child living with Maggie, her older sister, and Cat, their wild and recently widowed cousin. At 19, Cat was beautiful, seductive — and living dangerously, much to the anger of her cousins. All orphaned, the three girls lived on Folly Beach decades before Emmy arrived — but there may be more linking them than Emmy first realizes.

At this point in the game, White has proven to me that she’s a top-notch storyteller. I loved The House On Tradd Street and its sequel, The Girl On Legare Street, so to say I went into On Folly Beach with high expectations is accurate. And were they met? Absolutely.

Take several love stories, plenty of intrigue, a giant mystery, some supernatural qualities — then shake it all up, pour it out and take a long drink. White’s novel, set in the South, has a small-town charm with plenty of questions lurking just beneath the surface of the text — and that’s what I loved most about it. Like Tradd Street and Legare Street, Emmy possess an almost metaphysical ability to “know” things before they happen — or while they’re happening, as the case may be. The fact that White doesn’t make A Big Deal about this reminds me of Sarah Addison Allen’s novels, which I love, in that characters are just . . . sort of magical. I love the unexpected touches so much that I don’t question them.

And Maggie’s romance. I loved it. I was absolutely, totally swept up in it — which is how I felt through the majority of the novel. Caught up in an age where ordinary Americans blacked out their windows, fearing German attacks, and young women were trained to spot enemy aircraft approaching the shores. When rationing kept silk stockings and sugar off store shelves, and thousands of young men left home and never came back. A lover of history and historical fiction, it’s hard for me to imagine what life was like in 1942 — and that’s why I read books. So I can feel like, even in a tiny way, I might begin to understand.

The interplay between sisters and family reminded me of Elizabeth Berg’s Dream When You’re Feeling Blue, another novel I adored. Lovers of historical and contemporary fiction will be taken in by the secrets, mysteries and questions in this atmospheric drama. And having closed the final page, I can still hear the siren song of the Atlantic Ocean calling me.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0451227999 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

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Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours

11 thoughts on “Book review: ‘On Folly Beach’ by Karen White

  1. I can’t believe how quickly you finish books. You are such a quick reader. And you write about the books so well. I wish I devoted more time to reading.


  2. Yes, I do wonder. You just reviewed a previous book few days ago and now you have another one reviewed. I envy your busy-ness.

    As usual, I starred this Meg just in case I see it on the bookstore. You know how scarce it is here. Amazing review, by the way.

    I found According To Jane by the way. You know what I did? A very impolite ripping of the plastic cover just so I could read the first chapter. Pardonable I guess because I plan to hand the cashier my cash and bring the book home.


  3. I also wonder how you knock out these books so quickly! Your book reviews are always so amazing. It makes me want to read the book right away. Every time I go to your blog I have to add another book onto my TBR list. Thanks for all the book recs!! 🙂


  4. I’m looking forward to this one. I read the series but had some problems with the interaction of characters. I’m anxious to see what White does in a completely different story line.


  5. I know what you mean about having high expectations when you start reading a book by an author who wrote other books you loved. It is the BEST feeling when you find out they don’t disappoint you! So glad Karen White does that for you. Tana French does that for me. 🙂

    Thanks for being on this tour!


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