Review: A Sound Among the Trees

disclaimer: I rec’d this book as part of the publishers blog-review program. I rec’d no other compensation and my review is an honest reaction to this work of fiction.

A Sound Among the Trees by Susan Meissner

I live in the midst of Civil War Virginia — actually about 30 miles from the location of the setting of this book, set for public release on Oct 4, 2011. From the synopsis available, it sounded like a perfect book for me to read: a bit of chick-lit with a historical setting and it’s sense of “making peace” sounded wonderful.

So I received an “advance reading” copy of the book,A Sound Among the Trees by Susan Meissner with the hopes that this book would live up to it’s pre-publication hype. And, A Sound Among the Trees delivers. The message of love, forgiveness, sacrifice and reparation for past wrongs is strongly woven throughout the story, a story that moves from present-day, back to the Civil War south, and then returns to modern day. Meissner weaves a story that is a classic “page turner”, especially when I encountered the letters (which I won’t tell you about so as not to ruin the story).

The basic story-line is that Marielle Bishop marries a widower whose first wife is from an old Virginia family. Marielle agrees to move into the first wife’s family home, Holly Oak, the home her new step-children have known all their lives. Along with her new husband, and two step-children, the house is occupied by a grandmother-in-law who sort of welcomes this alien into her house and home. Marielle quickly discovers that the house is occupied by the past — whether it’s the house or a ghost, Marielle doesn’t know but there is a sense of doom and gloom that shrouds the ante-bellum structure. In trying to fit into her new situation and in order to seek the truth of the past, Marielle tries to ferret out the story of Susannah, an ancestor of Holly Oak, who was a young woman during the Civil War. At the height of the Battle of Fredericksburg, Susannah and her aunt are accused of spying for the north. Marielle tries to unravel the truth of the espionage and what exactly happened … the events that seem to be haunting all the women of Holly Oak, right up to the present.

Meissner does a great job with the story line, although her descriptions of living in the South lack understanding. Being a westerner who has now lived in the South (NC, SC and now VA) for the past 25 years, I have a sense of the depth of emotion engendered by discussion of the “war of Northern Agression”. Meissner doesn’t seem to understand this and so her descriptions of the blue-haired ladies, the Southern-ness of the setting, are a bit not quite right. The wording of the Union vs Confederate aspects of the story are definitely slanted toward the Blue side. Further, her take on the husband commuting to DC as being a real hardship is false — most people commute everyday from F’burg (and points further out) into the Nation’s capital because that’s what you do.

But these are small quibbles.

I thoroughly enjoyed the unique plot and especially, the pervading message behind that true love means sacrifice and that we often have to forgive ourselves and make reparation for our past without taking it out on others.

I highly recommend this book (for teens and adults) as an interesting start to understanding the personal side of the Civil War. I can see how this could spark a great unit study on the homefront during the Civil War and how those events still affect lives today.

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