Friday, January 6, 2017

Book #review: The Fifth Petal (The Lace Reader #2) by Brunonia Barry @CrownPublishing @NetGalley

The Fifth Petal (The Lace Reader #2)
by Brunonia Barry
Contemporary adult fiction
Hardcover, 448 pages
Expected publication: January 24th 2017 by Crown

Salem’s chief of police, John Rafferty, now married to gifted lace reader Towner Whitney, investigates a 25-year-old triple homicide dubbed “The Goddess Murders,” in which three young women, all descended from accused Salem witches, were slashed one Halloween night. Aided by Callie Cahill, the daughter of one of the victims who has returned to town, Rafferty begins to uncover a dark chapter in Salem’s past. 

Callie, who has always been gifted with premonitions, begins to struggle with visions she doesn’t quite understand and an attraction to a man who has unknown connections to her mother’s murder. Neither believes that the main suspect, Rose Whelan, respected local historian and sometime-aunt to Callie, is guilty of murder or witchcraft. But exonerating Rose might mean crossing paths with a dangerous force. 

Were the women victims of an all-too-human vengeance, or was the devil raised in Salem that night? And if they cannot discover what truly happened, will evil rise again?

Simply mention the word "Salem" and so many images come to mind. Witchcraft. Hangings. History. Atrocities. Evil. The list could continue. Author Brunonia Barry uses Salem as the perfect setting for her Lace Reader series and since I enjoyed the first book so much, I jumped at the opportunity to read the next installment.

Taking place seventeen years after the events of book one, The Fifth Petal sees the return of fan favorites Towner and John. They do play their roles in this book and it's great to catch up with the married couple, but this novel centers around Callie, her relationship with Rose, and unsolved murders.

When I read a Barry novel I expect rich settings, elaborate conflicts, intriguing mysteries and, of course, some unique supernatural topic. We were first introduced to the rich world of 'lace reading' with Towner's book and now readers are treated to Callie's mesmerizing world of music therapy, singing bowls, sound healing, and chakras. Rose also has her own interesting topics, like banshees and her close relationship to local trees. 

The Fifth Petal is a rich tapestry upon which Barry weaves sections of the past--events of 1692 and 1989--to present day where Callie, now a grown woman with a missing past, is called back to her childhood town. Her mother and some close girlfriends calling themselves 'the goddesses' 'bespelled' the town men with their debauchery and free spirited ways. Town historian Rose provided them shelter, while offering the proper nurturing Callie needed. After the young women are brutally murdered one night, 'Aunt' Rose becomes the prime suspect. Whatever happened at that locale robbed Callie of her childhood and forever scarred her. Forced to leave, she now carried the mark of a petal on her palm, a constant reminder of that night. Rose, robbed of her sanity, began a life of being institutionalized.

There's certainly a rich assortment of characters in this book. Callie grew on me as she pieced together her life. Her love for Rose was admirable and her determination to clear Rose's name kept me reading late into the night. There's an expansive murder mystery at the heart of The Fifth Petal, one which is far encompassing and involved. Besides that tragedy, what happened to Rose is heartbreaking. An intelligent, well-educated, independent woman is reduced to a babbling homeless figure resembling a mythic keening voice of death now content to roam the streets of Salem, drawing pictures of trees. 

Salem itself becomes an important character--the town's dark history steeped in witchcraft and mysticism provides the perfect backdrop for this story with its haunting locales and eccentric array of inhabitants. I so love reading Barry's rich and nuanced descriptions of her Massachusetts hometown. The highlighted sections in my ereader are proof. 

Did Rose kill those women? Was she possessed by the devil? Or was something far more sinister at play that night? There is A LOT happening in this story. Besides the multiple points-of-view, there were times keeping track of the past and present, along with the characters (the police, the nuns, the two feuding wealthy families, various townspeople, the possibility of another woman being a part of the 'goddesses') seemed overwhelming. After Callie's love interest is introduced, the story's pacing slowed down, especially when the setting shifted to Italy. I questioned the inclusion of this section, wondering how did caves in Italy tie in to Rose's trees? 

Did they? Of course they did. In the end, the story reached a satisfying conclusion. The Fifth Petal was intense, a long jam-packed ride with beautiful scenery, engaging characters, imaginative story lines, all which amounted to an absolutely engrossing read.

Rating: 4
Cover comment: Considering the subject matter, this is a tame cover.
Book source: NetGalley.

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