Enjoyed “The Guests on South Battery” by Karen White

The Guests on South Battery” is the fifth Tradd Street novel for those who have read about Melanie Trenholm and her many adventures with other worldly spirits who have not moved on to, as Karen White writes, the light. I love this series, although this is my first review, because the plot ideas are fun and quirky but always include significant human interest stories, be those stories be about the living or dead.

The setting for South Battery, as with White’s other books in this series, is Charleston, South Carolina. Melanie is just returning to work at her real estate sales job a year after the birth of her twins with her new husband, novelist Jack Trenholm.

On her first day back at work, a Jayne Smith shows up wanting to see Melanie because she has just inherited a local historical house and she had heard that Melanie specialized in selling such houses. Of course, that house is on South Battery Street and reflects the title of the book.

The problem is that Jayne knew nothing about the previous owner, Caroline (Button) Pinckney, a former friend of both Melanie’s mother Ginette Middleton and her mother-in-law.

Needless to say, that house has spirits in it and Melanie does her best to shield Jayne while it is being renovated prior to putting it on the market. The problem is that one spirit is unfriendly and tries to block Melanie, while the other is just the opposite.

For example, there is an incident where Jayne is pushed down the long staircase but she isn’t seriously hurt because she said it felt like something was cushioning her fall.  However, beyond this description, I am going to stop talking about the plot because to write anything else could act as a spoiler for anyone who has not yet read the book.

What I like about this series is the way White weaves the stories around real people and their problems and foibles. In previous books, for example, Melanie’s parents, who have been apart for many years, reconcile and get back together in a way that is realistic and believable. They both admit the mistakes they made and try to change.

In this book, Jayne Smith is an interesting character. Left on the steps of an orphanage as a new-born, she grew up with the name Smith because no one knew who she was or where she came from. One thing she did always know, however, is that she was psychic. Which makes Melanie’s attempt to shield her all the more amusing. They are each trying to shield the other from the criticism of being “different.”

If I have any complaints about this novel, it is that White made Melanie an obsessive compulsive, wanting to label everything in the house and using spreadsheets to keep track of what her kids did. If she was that way in previous books, I don’t recall it but it sticks out in this narrative. Also, the Melanie in this book is very insecure about her relationship with her husband, again an emotion I don’t recall from previous books. He has to continually prove his love for her which was jarring at times.

Yes, I began to guess the ending about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through the book but my suspicions didn’t adversely affect me when I found out I was right. Nevertheless, all that said, I enjoyed this book very much and was sorry when it ended. I also look forward to the next book that I know will include a story line that starts early on in South Battery as you could see Karen White laying the preparations for a sequel from the start of “The Guests on South Battery“.

I rate this novel 4 stars out of 5.

Published by Berkley, January 2017. (338 pages)

Review of “The Spice Merchant’s Wife” by Charlotte Betts

Although I missed “The Spice Merchant’s Wife” by Charlotte Betts when it came out in January of 2013, it is well worth the read at any time. Categorized in the historical genre, it is also an historical romance. Moreover, there is a good deal of mystery in it as well.

The story opens in 1666 just before the great London fire and goes on for a few years until 1670. The setting is primarily London but, at times, also includes some rural locations as well and all within horse riding distance of London.

The main characters are Kate Finche and her husband Robert and Gabriel Harte and his wife Jane. Of course, there are many other secondary and important characters but these four take us through the entire book alive or dead.

Kate meets Gabriel right after the story opens in Chapter One. She sees that he is about to be run down by a coach being driven wildly down the street. Kate is momentarily confused because she can see that the young man is about to be run down and likely killed but seems frozen to the spot in the middle of the road.

However, just in time, Kate manages to push him out-of-the-way. It is when she is helping him get himself together that she realizes the reason he didn’t know what was about to happen was because he was blind. At the time of this awkward meeting, both are married to other people and they frequently meet socially. Gabriel is a famous perfumer and always seems to know when Kate is nearby.

In Chapter 3, we experience the London fire, which went on for days because of a horrendous wind. Kate and thousands of others end up in a field, where they find out they and Robert’s parents have lost everything.

What is different about this book is that the author doesn’t just gloss over the consequences of the fire. She takes us through every single day and what happened to those, like the Finche’s, who lost everything. Robert Finche’s parents, for example, end up in debtors’ prison, where his father dies, because their successful spice warehouse was burned to the ground. While Gabriel did not lose his home and studio, he did lose all the landmarks he used to get around and which everyone, previously, took for granted.

Obviously, there was no such thing as fire insurance in those days, and the hardship must have been incredible. In the book, we meet young women and girls left destitute, who had no choice but to sell their bodies as there simply weren’t any jobs until the city was rebuilt. Kate was able to do contract sewing, which of course, was all done by hand.

Yes, Kate and Gabriel do eventually realize they love each other, but even with both their spouses deceased, as with everything else in Kate’s life, happy ever after may not be possible. Readers will have to read the book to find out why.

I would highly recommend this book. Yes, it is unsettling in places, particularly when we are faced with the role of women in the 17th century and what they had to do to survive. There is also a murder and an attempt at murder. But, there are upbeat moments as well and Betts does have some surprises that will make you smile.

My rating for this novel is 4 1/2 stars out of 5.

Published by Piatkus — First printed in January 2013, Reprinted in Paperback January 2014 (381 pages)