Before I started blogging I was a very focused reader. I would discover a series or an author, and I would read absolutely everything that person had to offer. That doesn't happen much anymore...just too much ground to cover. But there are exceptions. Sarah Waters, Marisa de los Santos (even though she's only written two, but I'm just sayin'), and Joshilyn Jackson. I have consumed every Joshilyn Jackson book with vigor, starting with "Gods in Alabama", which I believe to be her best, proceeded by "Backseat Saints", "Between, Georgia", and now this one. For me to get on this kind of roll is rare these days, so you must know that Jackson has something special going on.
What is it about Jackson that is so appealing to me? Well, all her books are Southern. All the stories have very strong female characters, all of them with Big Issues. There is abuse, divorce, bigotry, childhood secrets, alcoholism, death, murder, you name it. But as dour as all this sounds, it never is with Jackson. Her ladies laugh to keep from crying because that is the Southern Way, and if that doesn't work, they take action. Jackson's characters are flawed and lovable and real, and every damn one of them pries their way into your psyche. If you read her books, you'll remember them, I promise.
With the exception of "Gods in Alabama", Jackson narrates her own audiobooks too. If she were ever uninspired to write another book, she could make her living narrating because she is that good. She is a personality unto herself, and that essence fills up my ears in every production and makes me love her even more.
But I'm pretty sure by now you are tired of hearing me pledge my undying loyalty here, so why don't I tell you a little bit about the book?
Synopsis: Laurel didn't always have the perfect life. She came from a poor, uneducated family rife with problems of drinking, abuse and denial. But she escaped and is now a high-end quilt designer, married to a quiet but successful video game designer David, has a happy healthy 13-year-old daughter Shelby, and lives in a bubble of predictable suburbia (a lifestyle her unorthodox, take-no-prisoners sister Thalia loathes).
One night, however, Laurel's perfect world is turned upside down when she sees the ghost of a young friend of Shelby's, and soon realizes the girl has drowned in Laurel's back yard pool. Why was the girl even there in the middle of the night? And why is Shelby acting so guilty? Against her husband's wishes, Laurel calls in her sister Thalia to run interference with the cops and figure out what the heck happened.
But every time Thalia comes to town (and the reason why Laurel's husband can't stand her) all hell breaks loose. The sisters fight. Thalia plants the suspicion in Laurel's mind that David is cheating, questions are asked about happiness, and some pretty ugly secrets are revealed about Laurel and Thalia's childhood. Laurel begins to wonder if her life will ever go back to normal. What is normal anyway?
My thoughts: As I said before, the beauty in Jackson's novels are her characters. Every hilarious, quirky detail she adds to build a story or scene or a personality? It just makes the whole experience personal, intimate and ultimately precious. Whether it be the design details of Laurel's quilts, or Uncle Poot's creepy amputated ghost foot (you had to be there), Jackson's treasure trove of stuff that you get with every book is something you will stash away in your brain for future pondering.
I couldn't help but love Laurel, with her insecurities. Now, about Thalia. She seems to be a favorite in this story, and I will admit, she was HELL ON WHEELS. But I had a hard time trusting her. There were moments when she was so venomous and brutal to her sister, it was scary. I never quite forgave her for it, even if Laurel did. On the other hand, if I ever needed someone to come to my defense, Thalia would be at the top of the list.
The mystery in this story was resolved, but was far from predictable. Jackson generally gives you fairly happy endings, but never in a way that feels contrived. You want the best for these characters and it is pleasing to see them get it.
A word about the audio production: Well, I already told you, but I'll say it again. Nobody does narration better than Jackson. These little beauties are her children, and she pampers them and coddles them and makes sure they are taken care of in a way that few other narrators could manage. At the end of my audio, there was a short interview with her as well, which just solidified my adoration.
4.5 out of 5 stars