Book Review: A Sound Among the Trees by Susan Meissner (With First Chapter!)
A Sound Among the Trees by Susan Meissner
WaterBrook Press (October 4, 2011)
Christian Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)
About this Book:
A house shrouded in time. A line of women with a heritage of loss. As a young bride, Susannah Page was rumored to be a Civil War spy for the North, a traitor to her Virginian roots. Her great-granddaughter Adelaide, the current matriarch of Holly Oak, doesnt believe that Susannahs ghost haunts the antebellum mansion looking for a pardon, but rather the house itself bears a grudge toward its tragic past.
When Marielle Bishop marries into the family and is transplanted from the arid west to her husbands home, it isnt long before she is led to believe that the house she just settled into brings misfortune to the women who live there.
With Adelaides richly peppered superstitions and deep family roots at stake, Marielle must sort out the truth about Susannah Page and Holly Oak and make peace with the sacrifices she has made for love.
Once again, Susan Meissner has done it! This is one of the best character-driven historical novels Ive read in a long time. As in one of the authors past masterpieces The Shape of Mercy (one of my ABSOLUTE favorite books of all time see my review here), I was quickly drawn deep into the characters lives and hearts. Susan is a master at characterization I always care so much about her heroines and feel so drawn into the story that I dont want to put the book down. This leads to a lot of late nights and dark circles under my eyes, but oh so worth it! Shes also very good at jumping smoothly from one characters point of view to another something that usually annoys me. The way Susan does it, Im just glad to hear the thoughts of each character it makes the story real. If you havent yet read anything by this author, I highly recommend this one along with The Shape of Mercy. 🙂
Read the first chapter below but be warned, you might have to order the book immediately after doing so!
This is a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for oldor for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
***Special thanks to Laura Tucker of WaterBrook Press for sending me a review copy.***
Award-winning writer Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include The Shape of Mercy, named by Publishers Weekly as one of the Best Books of 2008. She is a pastors wife and a mother of four. When shes not writing, Susan directs the Small Groups and Connection Ministries program at her San Diego church.
Visit the authors website.
AND NOWTHE FIRST CHAPTER:
The bride stood in a circle of Virginia sunlight, her narrow heels clicking on Holly Oaks patio stones as she greeted strangers in the receiving line. Her wedding dress was a simple A-line, strapless, with a gauzy skirt of white that breezed about her knees like lacy curtains at an open window. She had pulled her unveiled brunette curls into a loose arrangement dotted with tiny flowers that shed kept alive on her flight from Phoenix. Her only jewelry was a white topaz pendant at her throat and the band of platinum on her left ring finger. Tall, slender, and tanned from the famed and relentless Arizona sun, hers was a girl-nextdoor look: pretty but not quite beautiful. Adelaide thought it odd that Marielle held no bouquet.
From the parlor window Adelaide watched as her grandson-in-law, resplendent in a black tuxedo next to his bride, bent toward the guests and greeted them by name, saying, This is Marielle. An explanation seemed ready to spring from his lips each time he shook the hand of someone who had known Sara, her deceased granddaughter. His first wife. Carson stood inches from Marielle, touching her elbow every so often, perhaps to assure himself that after four years a widower he had indeed patently and finally moved on from grief.
Smatterings of conversations wafted about on the May breeze and into the parlor as received guests strolled toward trays of sweet tea and champagne. Adelaide heard snippets from her place at the window. Hudson and Brette, her great-grandchildren, had moved away from the snaking line of gray suits and pastel dresses within minutes of the first guests arrival and were now studying the flower-festooned gift table under the window ledge, touching the bows, fingering the silvery white wrappings. Above the children, an old oaks youngest branches shimmied to the tunes a string quartet produced from the gazebo beyond the receiving line.
Adelaide raised a teacup to her lips and sipped the last of its contents, allowing the lemony warmth to linger at the back of her throat. She had spent the better part of the morning readying the garden for Carson and Marielles wedding reception, plucking spent geranium blossoms, ordering the catering staff about, and straightening the rented linen tablecloths. She needed to join the party now that it had begun. The Blue-Haired Old Ladies would be wondering where she was.
Her friends had been the first to arrive, coming through the garden gate on the south side of the house at five minutes before the hour. Shed watched as Carson introduced them to Marielle, witnessed how they cocked their necks in blue-headed unison to sweetly scrutinize her grandson-in-laws new wife, and heard their welcoming remarks through the open window.
Deloris gushed about how lovely Marielles wedding dress was and what, pray tell, was the name of that divine purple flower she had in her hair?
Pearl invited Marielle to her bridge club next Tuesday afternoon and asked her if she believed in ghosts.
Maxine asked her how Carson and she had metthough Adelaide had told her weeks ago that Carson met Marielle on the Internetand why on earth Arizona didnt like daylight-saving time.
Marielle had smiled, sweet and knowinglike the kindergarten teacher who finds the bluntness of five-year-olds endearingand answered the many questions.
Mojave asters. She didnt know how to play bridge. Shed never encountered a ghost so she couldnt really say but most likely not. She and Carson met online. Theres no need to save what one has an abundance of. Carson had cupped her elbow in his hand, and his thumb caressed the inside of her arm while she spoke.
Adelaide swiftly set the cup down on the table by the window, whisking away the remembered tenderness of that same caress on Saras arm.
Carson had every right to remarry.
Sara had been dead for four years.
She turned from the bridal tableau outside and inhaled deeply the gardenia-scented air in the parlor. Unbidden thoughts of her granddaughter sitting with her in that very room gently nudged her. Sara at six cutting out paper dolls. Memorizing multiplication tables at age eight. Sewing brass buttons onto gray wool coats at eleven. Sara reciting a poem for English Lit at sixteen, comparing college acceptance letters at eighteen, sharing a chance letter from her estranged mother at nineteen, showing Adelaide her engagement ring at twenty-four. Coming back home to Holly Oak with Carson when Hudson was born. Nursing Brette in that armchair by the fireplace. Leaning against the door frame and telling Adelaide that she was expecting her third child.
Right there Sara had done those things while Adelaide sat at the long table in the center of the room, empty now but usually awash in yards of stiff Confederate gray, glistening gold braid, and tiny piles of brass buttonsthe shining elements of officer reenactment uniforms before they see war.
Adelaide ran her fingers along the tables polished surface, the warm wood as old as the house itself. Carson had come to her just a few months ago while she sat at that table piecing together a sharpshooters forest green jacket. He had taken a chair across from her as Adelaide pinned a collar, and hed said he needed to tell her something.
Hed met someone.
When shed said nothing, he added, Its been four years, Adelaide.
I know how long its been. The pins made a tiny plucking sound as their pointed ends pricked the fabric.
She lives in Phoenix.
Youve never been to Phoenix.
Mimi. He said the name Sara had given her gently, as a father might. A tender reprimand. He waited until she looked up at him. I dont think Sara would want me to live the rest of my life alone. I really dont. And I dont think she would want Hudson and Brette not to have a mother.
Those children have a mother.
You know what I mean. They need to be mothered. Im gone all day at work. I only have the weekends with them. And you wont always be here. Youre a wonderful great-grandmother, but they need someone to mother them, Mimi.
She pulled the pin cushion closer to her and swallowed. I know they do.
He leaned forward in his chair. And II miss having someone to share my life with. I miss the companionship. I miss being in love. I miss having someone love me.
Adelaide smoothed the pieces of the collar. So. You are in love?
He had taken a moment to answer. Yes. I think I am.
Carson hadnt brought anyone home to the house, and he hadnt been on any dates. But he had lately spent many nights after the children were in bed in his studythe old drawing roomwith the door closed. When shed pass by, Adelaide would hear the low bass notes of his voice as he spoke softly into his phone. She knew that gentle sound. She had heard it before, years ago when Sara and Carson would sit in the study and talk about their day. His voice, deep and resonant. Hers, soft and melodic.
Are you going to marry her?
Carson had laughed. Dont you even want to know her name?
She had not cared at that moment about a name. The specter of being alone in Holly Oak shoved itself forward in her mind. If he remarried, hed likely move out and take the children with him. Are you taking the children? Are you leaving Holly Oak?
Will you be leaving?
Several seconds of silence had hung suspended between them. Carson and Sara had moved into Holly Oak ten years earlier to care for Adelaide after heart surgery and had simply stayed. Ownership of Holly Oak had been Saras birthright and was now Hudson and Brettes future inheritance. Carson stayed on after Sara died because, in her grief, Adelaide asked him to, and in his grief, Carson said yes.
Will you be leaving? she asked again.
Would you want me to leave? He sounded unsure.
You would stay?
Carson had sat back in his chair. I dont know if its a good idea to take Hudson and Brette out of the only home theyve known. Theyve already had to deal with more than any kid should.
So you would marry this woman and bring her here. To this house.
Carson had hesitated only a moment. Yes.
She knew without asking that they were not talking solely about the effects moving would have on a ten-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl. They were talking about the strange biology of their grief. Sara had been taken from them both, and Holly Oak nurtured their common sorrow in the most kind and savage of ways. Happy memories were one way of keeping someone attached to a house and its people. Grief was the other. Surely Carson knew this. An inner nudging prompted her to consider asking him what his new bride would want.
What is her name? she asked instead.
And he answered, Marielle
Excerpted from A Sound Among the Trees by Susan Meissner Copyright 2011 by Susan Meissner. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.