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Jul 24, 2012

A Sound Among the Trees by Susan Meissner

A haunted house, memories of loved ones, and how War tears apart families

A Sound Among the Trees by Susan Meissner
WaterBrook Multnomah October 2011
Contemporary/Historical/Christian/Romance (a light blend of all)
Paperback 336 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: Three Stars

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, doesn’t believe that Susannah’s 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 husband’s home, it isn’t long before she is led to believe that the house she just settled into brings misfortune to the women who live there. With Adelaide’s 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. 
It took me quite a while to get into this book as it begins with contemporary characters Marielle and Carson as they move into Holly Oak, an old house that has withstood the test of time and war. The novel focuses on the house and its inhabitants, with the house of Holly Oak being a central theme that is strong enough to be a character in itself. As we slowly unwind the past via the contemporary newlyweds Marielle and Carson, we meet a few of the past inhabitants of Holly Oak. Many of the characters of the book were long gone by the time Marielle arrives at Holly Oak, but in order for Marielle and Carson to move onwards in life they have to untie the threads of the past that are holding them to Holly Oak .. and to Adelaide.

It is the story of the events of the Civil War that had intrigued me about this novel, and I was not disappointed with the story the novel finally creates surrounding this important period in American history. However, it took a very long time to come to that point in the past which was my main interest in the novel, and is why it only earned three stars in my book. It took me twelve days to read, when I would normally finish a book of this size within four days.

I prefer historical fiction because I like to immerse myself in another time, when I can learn about a different era and have instant empathy for characters who have to work hard for their daily bread. None of this should have any bearing on the current read.. but since it took so long for me to become invested in this novel, I felt an explanation was in order. I have found that I have an unconscious distaste for contemporary themes, no matter how hard I try to like the book, most often the main characters are shallow and wishy-washy and spoiled in the books I come across. I didn't like Marielle or Carson in this story, though I did like Adelaide when she was not acting superstitious even though she said she wasn't.

Holly Oak is hundreds of years old, and with a history that creates superstitions and possible ghosts as horrors of the Civil War were witnessed by the house. As Marielle moves into Holly Oak, its elderly matriarch is clinging to the past but stubbornly does not let its secrets unveil themselves to the reader. It turns out Adelaide's great grandmother was known as a Union Spy during the fight of the Confederacy in Virginia, and this ghost of Susannah has all of Fredericksburg talking about it to this day. It is Adelaide's estranged daughter who holds all the clues, but she has been MIA for many years, but when she does appear the novel is given new life.

In the end, we realize along with Adelaide the truth of the house, and the truth of her ancestors and their involvement with the Civil War. But, it is only through letters of Susannah herself (my favorite part of the novel, surprisingly) that the whole truth reveals itself, and that Holly Oak can figuratively rest in peace.

The epic conclusion was just what the book needed to make it worthwhile; the emotions of the characters as they discover the past were well portrayed, and everything came together in a very satisfying way. Although I wish the quickened pace had started a bit earlier, the novel as a whole was very enjoyable with writing that flowed easily with intriguingly flawed characters and I recommend it to those interested in how Southern life was affected by the Civil War. This intriguing story is a mix of light romance, an almost non-existent Christian nuance, and a good mix of contemporary and historical Virginians.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this honest review.