Most of the time it doesn’t really matter to me that there’s a big gap between reading the book and writing my review, but with this book I really wish I’d taken the time to sit down and dash off my thoughts when they were still fresh because I really, really enjoyed this book. As a side note, I read it for the traveling book club, so it’s already been mailed off to the next reader – this means I may get a big vague on names because my notes aren’t very good!!!
Generally speaking, two things that I don’t really enjoy in books are: (1) dual timelines and (2) a touch of the paranormal. But this is my second Kearsley book (the first was Mariana), and both times Kearsley has taken plot devices that normally grate on my nerves and somehow produced a story with likable characters that kept me completely engaged.
Charley (a woman) has recently taken on the job of a curator for a historic home that the town is turning into a museum. The Wilde House belonged to a Revolutionary War hero, and the idea is that they will restore the house to it’s 1770s state. Charley has lived several years in the city, but was originally from this town. Part of the reason that she moved back was because of the recent death of her brother, who left behind his teenage-but-adult daughter. Charley has moved in with her niece to help her out during this time (since the niece’s mom has been out of the picture forever). There was a big falling out between Charley’s dad and his parents, and Charley has never known her grandparents, even though they live in the town where Charley is now living. It will come to no surprise to learn that the contractor for the historic house is a good looking, single, and practically perfect in every way. As Charley is gathering research for the museum, she is intrigued by a local ghost story/legend that says that during the French & Indian War (when the Revolutionary War hero was just a young man), two French officers were held as prisoners of war at the Wilde House and that while they were imprisoned there, one of them fell in love with Wilde’s sister – they tried to elope but one of her brothers killed her lover and she later killed herself from grief. Charley begins to dig deeper into the Wilde family’s history, trying to find more information to confirm or contradict the story.
Meanwhile, Kearsley gives us the historic story of what really happened in the Wilde’s home during the French & Indian War – a tangled tale of a family conflicted by opposing loyalties and frustration with the British government that is supposed to be protecting and helping them but isn’t. The seeds of the Revolution are shown well here, a harbinger of the complications that would divide families a few years later.
I ended up loving basically everyone in this book. Kearsley writes sympathetic characters, doing an excellent job of showing different perspectives and motivations, meaning that even unlikable characters are still understandable at some level. I love the parallel between Charley’s research and what we, as the reader, are learning about the true story of the past. Kearsley does a fantastic job of reminding us that all of history is based on interpretation because we weren’t there – the best we can do is piece together puzzles from the past and make our best guess at the motivations behind what was happening. The clearest example is when Charley finds records that prove that the Wildes were renting a slave from another relative, making an annual payment to him for her services. But as the reader, we’re privy to what was actually happening – the relative refused to sell this slave because he knew the Wildes would free her, so the best they could do for her was to pay her rent each year and keep her with their family, still paying her a wage for her services as though she were free. The present-day people pass a judgment on the Wilde family for “supporting slavery”, but the reality of what was happening was much more nuanced and complicated. It was just such a good reminder that our present-day view has decided what was right and what wrong in the past – but when you are actually trying to live through these things, it’s much more difficult to find the right path.
There is some argument to be made that the storyline for the present-day was wrapped up much to easily, but I’m honestly all about happy endings, so I was here for it, even if it was a bit too tidy. There was also a minor complication for me concerning written records from the past versus what actually happened, and why the discrepancy was there, but overall I enjoyed this story so much that I was willing to overlook it. There is a bit of a ghost story aspect in the present-day line that can only be explained by the actual presence of a ghost, something that isn’t usually my cup of tea, but that honestly worked here.
All in all, this story was much more layered and engaging than I was anticipating. I was completely drawn in to both stories, and loved the way that Kearsley wove them together in multiple ways. (My favorite – having something in the present link to a moment in the past – i.e. a thunderstorm in the present… and then the past chapter opens with a thunderstorm as well.) This was a 4.5* read for me, and one of my favorite books of the year.