Author: Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Genre: Historical Fiction • Mystery
Version: Hardback (400 pages)
Publisher: Crown (May 31, 2016)
From the New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet comes a novel of suspense and passion about a terrible mistake made sixty years ago that threatens to change a modern family forever.
Twenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in rural St. Jude, Ohio, mourning the loss of the woman who raised her—her grandmother, June. But a knock on the door forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery’s vast fortune. How did Jack Montgomery know her name? Could he have crossed paths with her grandmother all those years ago? What other shocking secrets could June’s once-stately mansion hold?
Soon Jack’s famous daughters come knocking, determined to wrestle Cassie away from the inheritance they feel is their due. Together, they all come to discover the true reasons for June’s silence about that long-ago summer, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered by murder, blackmail, and betrayal.
As this page-turner shifts deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages.
I’m not sure what it was exactly that compelled me to request June to review, but I’m sure glad I found this little gem. June was so much more than I anticipated. Sure, I was expecting a historical mystery filled with family drama and scandal, but I also got a beautiful story that included friendship, love, and sacrifice.
June is one of those books that takes place in two different periods of time. In this case, 1955 and 2015. Cassie, the main character in the present day story, is mourning the loss of the grandmother that raised her, June. After the death of June, Cassie moves into June’s home and slips into a depression. Cassie isn’t really living, but rather just existing. She is in denial about everything around her. One day, Cassie’s entire world is flipped upside down when she learns that she is named as the sole beneficiary of the legendary Jack Montgomery’s estate. How could she inherit millions of dollars from a man she never met? Cassie’s story is about her journey to discover who her grandmother really was and along the way also discovers who she is.
The story that takes place in 1955 centers around Cassie’s Grandmother, June. June is set to marry a man by the name of Arthur, but when legendary film star Jack Montgomery comes to St. Jude to star in the upcoming film, Erie Canal, things get complicated. June’s story is how she meets Jack, and the chaos that ensues. At first, I really struggled with June’s character. I wondered why June always seemed to do what she was told instead of what she wanted. Why was she letting others dictate her life? I couldn’t understand why she would sit and let people walk all over her. By the end of the book, I was in awe of June. I had misjudged her terribly. Whereas I thought she was weak, in reality her strength is inspiring. June turns out to not be the victim in the story, but rather, the hero.
I thought it was interesting that the majority of this story is NOT told through June’s eyes, but rather from the perspective of her best friend, Lindie. I adored Lindie’s character. I have never read a book with a character quite like her. This is actually the first book I’ve ever read with a transgendered character. I’m not going to lie, I was pleasantly surprised to see a LGBT+ character in a historical fiction book. Since this is my genre of choice, this actually got me thinking how much LGBT+ characters are underrepresented in historical fiction. Unless maybe I am just not coming across them in the books I choose to read? Regardless, I thought it was a breath of fresh air. I can’t really speak for the depiction of a transgendered individual, but I would think it was fairly accurate portrayal of someone who is struggling to figure out their identity. Lindie has this internal struggle with who she really is. On one hand Lindie wants to conform to traditional gender roles of women in the 1950’s, however on the other hand she known in her heart that isn’t who she really is.
I absolutely loved the friendship between June and Lindie in this book. Strong female friendships is a theme that I feel is a little lacking in literature these days. Even though June and Lindie have the ups and downs of a very complicated friendship, they are fiercely loyal to each other. Their friendship felt so realistic. Lindie spends most of the book devoted to doing everything in her power to ensure June’s happiness. In turn, June sacrifices everything to protect Lindie. It really was a beautiful relationship.
The plot line was very captivating! June definitely has a very complex plot filled with lots of twist and turns. There were multiple times where I was completely caught off guard with a plot twist. Based off the synopsis, the reader can almost guess the general storyline, which would make you think this book would be predictable. WRONG! The author almost lays out the story in the beginning, then spends the book filling in the how and why. For example, at the very beginning of the book, we are told that Lindie murders a man, but the identity of the man is not revealed until the end of the book. I thought this was a clever tactic since it really grabs your attention and draws the reader into the mystery. I spent the entire book trying to figure out who the victim was going to be and the reasons behind the murder.
I really enjoyed the acknowledgement portion of the book at the end. In this section you learn that there was a Lemon Gray Neely, the original owner of Two Oakes (the house in the story), in real life. Mr. Neely was actually the author’s great-great-great uncle, who build a yellow mansion in rural Ohio. Even though this is a fictional story using his name, I thought it was neat that she was able to draw inspiration for a story from a real life ancestor. I was also very excited to read a book that takes place in my home state of Ohio. Coming from a small town in Ohio myself, I was very easily able to imagine the backdrop to this enthralling story. The author captured the essence of what it is like to be from a small town in Ohio; the simplicity of it all.
“I thought Ohio was all strip malls and Burger Kings!”
I laughed out loud at this line. I would say this is true for half of Ohio, while the other half is cornfields and Dairy Queens 🙂
June was not without its slight hiccups, but nothing that really took away from my enjoyment of this book. While I think Cassie’s story enhanced June’s story, I wasn’t too fond of Cassie’s love interest. He was kind of a self absorbed asshat. There, I said it. Furthermore, while I liked that the author made the house a character and told some of the story from the house’s perspective, I felt it was too sporadic and not developed enough? It was all a bit random. The parts where the house was “alive” really added to the mysterious vibe, so I would have liked to see a little more of this. Lastly, while most of the loose ends are tied up at the end of this book, there is one little detail that wasn’t resolved that bothered me. It involves the paternal origin of one of the characters and it isn’t who you think it is.
Overall, this was a fresh new twist on a historical mystery involving family secrets and scandal.
About the Author:
I write novels. My fourth, JUNE, will be out from Crown Publishing on May 31, 2016.
My third novel, New York Times bestseller BITTERSWEET (Crown Publishing, May 2014), is set at the home on Lake Champlain where I spent my summers as a little girl. But that’s where the resemblance to life ends—the place, renamed Winloch in the book—is inhabited by a family of bad people. I wrote Bittersweet for people like me, who love The Secret History and The Emperor’s Children; it’s a literary beach read.
My first two novels- THE EFECTS OF LIGHT and SET ME FREE- were published in 2005 and 2007.
Based in some part on my own experience being photographed by two fine arts photographers, Jock Sturges and Mona Kuhn, I started my first novel, The Effects of Light, to answer the question most Americans seemed to ask when I explained this photographic work to them—would I still love it if an innocent died because that work had been made? My second novel, Set Me Free, was based in part on the time I spent on the Crow reservation in high school, the legacy of my countercultural parents, and the complications of their generation of liberal do-gooders. The book was also an homage to my theater school-aged days and based on The Tempest.
Check out more about me and my work at MirandaBW.com and Twitter: @MirandaBW. Also, check out my web project about girlhood friendship: FriendStories.com.