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Monday, February 07, 2022

Dual-Timeline Family Secrets Novel Not As Compelling As It Sounds

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Inara Erickson has always done what's expected of her in order to please her father, an intimidating and successful Seattle businessman. Now that she's out of grad school, though, Inara's not feeling very keen on starting the job she's been offered with Starbucks, especially once she learns the offer is at least partially due to her dad's influence. Instead, she wants to turn the dilapidated house she's just inherited from her aunt into a boutique hotel. It might be crazy, but she knows that with a little remodeling (okay, a lot of remodeling), she can create a calming place of retreat on beautiful Orcas Island. All Inara needs is someone who believes in her ability to make it all come true (preferably someone with a lot of cash to invest in a new hotel). 

When Inara discovers a scrap of intricately-embrodiered silk hidden inside a forgotten cubbyhole at her aunt's house, she's puzzled. The fabric appears to be of Chinese origin. Inara's family has lived on Orcas Island for generations and she's never known any Asian people to reside there. How did the scrap come to be there? And why was it hidden away? Sensing an unsolved mystery, Inara begins looking into the history of the house and discovers the heartbreaking story of a young 19th Century Chinese-American woman who swam for her life in order to reach safety, only to find an uncertain future on Orcas Island. Inara feels that something awful must have happened to Lu Mei Lien, but what? And what role did her ancestors play in the woman's disappearance?

I'm always up for a novel that takes me back in time to explore intriguing historical moments, tantalizing family secrets, and the truth lurking beneath placid surfaces. If the story utilizes an always-compelling dual timeline format? All the better! The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes offers all of these elements, so I was eager to dive into the tale. While the San Juan Islands setting is atmospheric, the characters in this novel aren't nearly as vivid or colorful. They're sympathetic and likable enough that I cared what happened to them, but none of them are the kind of story people I think about after I close the book. The plot is compelling enough that I kept reading (listening, actually), but I never felt so engrossed that I couldn't have walked away from the story. Estes' prose also feels uneven, with patches of melodrama that made me roll my eyes. On the whole, then, I didn't end up loving this novel. I liked it well enough to finish it, though, and that's saying something.

Note: I listened to this book on audio. The narrator, Emily Woo Zeller, is okay. Her voices annoyed me at times, but overall, she's fine. 

(Readalikes: I can't think of anything. Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find


  1. I'm sorry this ended up disappointing you. It sounds compelling enough, but they can't all be winners.

  2. So it's one of those 'good but not great' books; I've read a lot of those! :)

  3. It certainly has an interesting premise. A good, but not great book.

  4. This does sound nice and the premise is fascinating. Too bad it didn't quite live up to it all but glad it was still an enjoyable read.


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