Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

Rating: ★★★+.5 | 414 pages | Simon & Schuster | Historical Fiction|  Release Date: 04/24/18 

It's sort of fitting that I read this book at the end of the year because the end of this book was such a letdown.

Bellwether is a blend of historical and contemporary fiction revolving around the Wilde Family and their lasting legacy in small-town Millbank, NY 

In present-day, Charley Van Hoek is the newest curator at the Wilde House Museum who discovers the Wilde house and the ghost within it have a story to tell about the forbidden love between daughter Lydia Wilde and Jean-Philippe--a captured French Candian Officer being held at the Wilde house during the Seven Years' War. The story goes that when the star-crossed lovers tried to escape together Jean-Philippe was shot and his lantern has been seen still lightning the way and looking for Lydia ever since.

We travel back in forth in time and the historical chapters reminded why I like historical fiction, I always find it fascinating how people lived off the land and worked in the "olden days." The Wildes are a close-knit and hardworking family-- this warmth draws Jean-Philippe to them even though he is a prisoner and there is a language barrier.

The present-day chapters were full of competency porn as Charley, her friends and colleagues use their skills to track down documents and artifacts to tell the story of Lydia and the Jean-Phillipe while turning Wilde House Museum into a community gathering place--which leads to some cozy small-town scenes.

I appreciate how Kearsley directly confronts slavery in the time period. It is discussed and debated multiple times and she even gives a voice to a slave family the Wilde's "saved" from an abusive relative. Although, I still feel like having  “good” white character ignores that they are all complicit in the system.

This audiobook featured three narrators. Sarah Mollo-Christensen and Megan Tusing narrate Charley and Lydia's chapters sound very similar to one another. Tim Campbell narrates Jean-Philippe's chapters and he notably makes use of a very good French accent.

So, the ending.  *spoiler alert*   it’s revealed the story of Jean-Philippe and Lydia being star-crossed lovers and Jean-Philippe dying was fake news. An old French woman shows up and explains that the ghost story wasn’t true at all.  Jean-Philippe was released under a technicality and then he and Lydia just...lived HEA. It felt like both timelines were hurtling towards the tragic event we are told about in present-day and then it's like...no. The story just fizzles out.

I mean there was this thread throughout the book about how one of the Wilde brothers with PTSD    was left out of the family history and he was supposed to be the one who killed Jean-Phillipe...but no. IT JUST DIDN’T HAPPEN. It was a red herring and the ghost turns out not to be Jean-Philippe but  Lydia’s mother who died before the book started??? Even the prologue alluded to his death but I guess this was supposed to be when he died of natural causes?

I'm intrigued by Kearsley's format enough to want to pick up another one, but I'm not sure I will if all of her books feature red herrings like this.

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