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

tlc_logo copy

Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours

Book review: ‘The Girl On Legare Street’ by Karen White

Ghosts surround Melanie Middleton like cobwebs — present in the corners of every encounter, but typically just filling the background of her life, feather-soft and unintrusive. After almost 40 years of practice, she’d learned how to block out the voices only she can hear — until she inherited an historic home in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. And after solving a decades-old mystery on Tradd, her attention is called to a new location: Legare Street, site of her family’s ancestral home, sold when Melanie, now a Realtor, was young. The house is back on the market and though she’s promised a big sale, the listing comes with a price — a reconnection with her mother, Ginnette Priloeau Middleton, a famous opera singer who’s emerged on the scene after spending decades away from her only daughter with hardly a word.

As we learned in Karen White’s first novel following Melanie’s escapades, The House On Tradd Street, our narrator is a determined but very vulnerable woman — still susceptible to the pain of remembering her mother’s abandonment, which is never far from the surface of the narration. Ginnette, herself a psychic, has returned to Charleston with a warning for her daughter, and with one cryptic sentence — “We are not as we seem” — events are set in motion which will require Melanie to work with her mother to figure out what — or whom — is haunting the Legare home. Before things really get dangerous. Of course, the promise of a new mystery to unravel is enough to lure writer Jack Trenholm, Melanie’s obvious-to-everyone-but-her crush, back into the picture. And thus the trio sets out on trying to make sense of the ghosts haunting Legare — and Melanie must sift through her tangled feelings for both her mother and Jack in the process. And when a reporter arrives on the scene asking some hard questions, everyone has to come up with answers.

I can say unabashedly I enjoyed The Girl On Legare Street as much — if not more — than its predecessor, which I thought was funny, well-written, interesting and romantic. It’s been a long time since I felt the familiar zing! of well-written romantic tension, and White’s book has everything: family dynamics, love, friendship and mystery. Though Melanie’s grudge against her mother did become very tedious about halfway through the novel, I knew that she’d have to forgive her eventually — and eagerly waited for that scene when all would be revealed.

The mystery in this novel — centering around an old, sunken boat discovered off the coast of South Carolina — was, to me, much more intriguing than the family saga unfolding in The House On Tradd Street. Perhaps because this novel directly impacted Melanie, I felt more personally invested in what would be discovered, and felt more about what was happening. This one also spooked me far more than the first book! Though I’m admittedly skittish by nature, The Girl On Legare Street seemed to pack much more of a paranormal punch — but never to the point of gore or violence.

All family secrets were revealed gradually — too gradually, some might argue. And I can certainly see the validity of criticism that the novel moved too slowly, left us without new information for too long, forcing readers to try and fit the myriad of random puzzle pieces White gave us into some semblance of order. And that was a little frustrating. But I guess the difference for me came with the fact that I loved Melanie and Ginnette and was totally intrigued by their muddled relationship, and I didn’t mind that we spent long stretches in the present without historical details to help us solve with the mystery. I knew all would be revealed in time, and I was content to run along for the ride.

Fans of Southern fiction will find much to love in the lush, charismatic South Carolina setting, and those who get a kick out of paranormal fiction will appreciate the ghost stories and family secrets binding the book together. The push-and-pull tension between Jack and Melanie will please romance fans — like yours truly — and I am happy that plot moved forward a bit with this book. And an unexpected ending leaves me wondering whether or not we’ll see another adventure from White yet. Would I return again to her world where nothing is as it seems? You bet, y’all!

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0451227999 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

tlc_logo copy

Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours

Book review: ‘The House On Tradd Street’ by Karen White

house_on_tradd_streetRealtor Melanie Middleton meets with an elderly Charleston resident hoping to secure a listing for his home, a once-glorious but now dilapidated mansion on Tradd Street. What she gets, instead, is the house itself — when Nevin Vanderhorst suddenly passes away, leaving the estate to she and her estranged father.

Under the conditions of Vanderhorst’s will, Melanie must live in the home for a year and work on its restoration before she’ll be permitted to sell it — all that she desperately wants to do. A strange mystery has surrounded the home, which is haunted by the ghosts of the Vanderhorsts’ past — literally. Melanie’s supernatural abilities allow her to see but not communicate with the specters who currently reside at 55 Tradd Street and, persuant to Vanderhorst’s will, Melanie sets about trying to solve the mystery of why, in the 1930s, Nevin’s mother Louisa disappeared from Charleston, never to return. Even seven decades later, Vanderhorst’s pain over his mother’s “abandonment” is palpable; he wants Melanie to discover the truth about why she left and hopefully clear her name.

So she moves in, sets up shop — and quickly gets a call from Jack Trenholm, a local historian and famed author with an interest in the Tradd Street home. As Jack has fallen from grace in the historical community, he’s desperate to find a new, compelling true-to-life tale in the South — and he thinks the Vanderhorst mystery just might be it. Of course, he’s slick and handsome and charismatic . . . all qualities Melanie, single at 39, can’t help but notice. After apparitions begin to appear, the home is vandalized and the overall atmosphere turns creepy, Jack moves into the house with Melanie to help keep an eye on things — and look tirelessly for clues that could help solve the Vanderhorst mystery.

Karen White’s The House On Tradd Street functions well on several levels: it’s a mystery, ghost story, romance, family drama and slice of Southern life all wrapped up in one incredibly well-written package. White’s Charleston is alive and breathing, infused with the colorful characters you would expect to find in the South without resorting to caricatures or stereotypes. In addition to Melanie and Jack, Melanie’s father plays a crucial role in this tale — as does her mother, a woman whose absence in her life has accomplished far more than her presence. Melanie’s friends help with the restorations and add another dimension to the story, showing that beneath Melanie’s calm exterior is a frazzled woman still looking for her own version of “home.”

At several points in the novel, I started to sweat a little bit — mostly because every novel has a tipping point. The prevalent themes in a story are all fine and good when woven seamlessly through a story and not overdone, beating readers to death with the same concepts and ideas. But when we get the same whining and griping page after page, all I want to do is slam a book shut and go back to eating Peeps and making scarves! The House On Tradd Street could easily have gotten cheesy, ridiculous or campy, but White successfully kept it from going down that route. I was fascinated by all of the historical details and honestly had no clue what the clues were saying until it was all spelled out for me . . . probably because I was so interested in the story, I didn’t want to “spoil” it for myself by trying to guess!

The novel certainly has a romantic theme to it — or, should I say, some serious romantic tension. It’s obvious from the get-go Melanie and Jack have a kind of easy chemistry, complete with the witty banter and almost-kissing I adore in a good love story! I’m thankful White didn’t make that cheesy, either; there was just enough sizzle to keep me grinning, but she never resorted to cliches or gag-inducing dialogue.

I did roll my eyes a bit at Melanie’s constant slams over her mother leaving the family when she was a kid — I mean, you’re almost 40 years old . . . I know some wounds take a while to heal, but are you really going to carry that anger around like a tarnished trophy for the rest of your life? But this back story sets up the next of White’s novels following Melanie, The Girl On Legare Street, and I’m definitely eager to see what the story is there!

A multi-dimensional, interesting novel about family, forgiveness and moving forward — with the people we love and those we don’t love so much! Fans of paranormal fiction will be interested in the shiver-inducing ghost stories but if, like me, you get scared by someone just saying your name at a low volume in a dark room, none of the spooky qualities of the work kept me up at night. The romance and family dynamics tugged at my heart, too, and left me wondering what will become of all of 55 Tradd Street’s inhabitants. And while the novel could function fine as a stand-alone, I’m eager to begin the next in the series!

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0451225090 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher