I received an ARC of this book in return for an honest review. It’s called The Dead Tree and it was written by Lori L Clark. It’s available to download here:
And the blurb, as sent by the promoters of the book tour:
“The town of Steele Grove, Missouri sits high along the bluffs of the Mississippi River. Legends run rampant around town about crazy Blythe Fountain, who discovered her beau hanging from the oak tree in the family’s front yard. A short time later, two of her friends mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen, or heard from again.
Eighty years later, Ariel Fountain has inherited the property, and after catching her boyfriend cheating on her, decides she needs a change of scenery and runs headlong to a place shrouded in superstition and family mysteries which may be better off left unsolved.
Ariel sets out with the help of a local man, Grady, to uncover the truth behind the hanging and the girls’ disappearances. What Ariel discovers is a secret so horrific she wishes she would have left it buried.”
And here is a little bit about the author and all the places you can find her!
Lori L. Clark was born in Iowa, where she spent the first forty-six years of her life. In 2007, she loaded up a moving van and relocated to Missouri, where she currently resides. Lori’s only child is a very spoiled Min Pin named Barkley. When not writing, she reads and runs. She completed her first half marathon at the age of fifty.
In 2009, after participating in NANOWRIMO, she began to take seriously the voices in her head. Two New Adult contemporary romance novels, Different Roads, and I Breathe You, were published in 2013, and showed early success. The Heart Knows What the Heart Wants is set to release in March 2014, and has her venturing into the realms of Romantic Suspense.
Lori is a member of Savvy Authors, the St. Louis Writers Guild, and Romance Writers of America.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LoriLClarkAuthor?ref=hl Twitter: https://twitter.com/clarklori Personal blog: http://www.lorilclark.com Book review blog: http://www.shereadsnewadult.com Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6093884.Lori_L_Clark Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/clarklori/ Amazon author’s page: http://www.amazon.com/Lori-L.-Clark/e/B0085953FA/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
So, without further ado, here is my review for the book…
4* – intriguing and unusual!
This story follows Ariel, a young woman who is at a turning point in her life. Her boyfriend has cheated on her and she’s about to be made homeless. Then her great aunt Blythe dies, leaving her a fortune and a mansion where a large, dead oak tree stands in the grounds.
The book captures the essence of small town life really well. There’s only one landscaper in town, one bank and one store. Gossip travels faster than wildfire. In looking for help with taking the grounds into hand, Ariel comes across Grady Tucker, a handsome landscaper to whom she is incredibly attracted.
As the story unfolds, you learn that their families have a difficult past and that history sometimes really does repeat itself.
I have to admit that when I first started reading this, and the reason that I’ve given it 4 stars instead of 5, was because the writing style is a little odd. It’s very choppy with short sentences and very little description. There was also one chapter about halfway through that suddenly descended into swear words and crude language, I think when Grady wakes up with a hangover. It’s just so jarring compared to the rest of the book, where the language is mostly gentle. For the first 25% of the story, it’s all from Ariel’s POV and then suddenly it starts leaping around all over history. However, the more I read, the more I got into it. It reads almost like an old-fashioned fairytale. As the name would suggest, the story revolves around the tree. It was believed to be tied to the life of the great aunt and it’s around the tree that so many of the important events occur in the story. The idea of cursed trees and superstition is what makes it read like a fairytale. I did read the whole thing in a couple of sittings, which should tell you how engrossing the story is.
It was a brave decision to tell the story as she did. It might almost have worked as a detective novel set in the 1930s, so to write it in the present with snapshots of the past takes a lot of skill. It’s not an easy thing to do. I think Ms Clark has done a good job of setting the scenes – the sections from the 1930s have time-specific language etc. In my personal opinion, they got better towards the end of the story. At first the changes were very abrupt.
I wasn’t really sure about the end of the book, the way the story unravelled. It’s probably because I’m used to reading crime novels where you get the shocking reveals and the little clues here and there that build up to it. With The Dead Tree, I’d figured out what had happened about halfway through and there wasn’t really any big climactic moment. It all felt very disconnected. That said, it’s as much a romance as it is a mystery and I thought that part was well done. Ariel is an unusual woman compared to most romance heroines – very much into gardening and not much worried about her clothing or appearance. Grady is also interesting – he’s just an ordinary guy who makes mistakes and sometimes drinks too much and makes stupid (but entirely believable) decisions that land him in hot water. It was refreshing to read. I liked that they argued and she took her time deciding what to do about it.
The characters in themselves are all very likeable, even the ones from history. I think Ms Clark has done an admirable job of bringing them to life. There were touches of humour throughout the story that made me smile. Ariel is one sassy chick and I liked that.
I know this is going to sound weird, but what I most liked about this story is that it’s so ordinary. It’s about ordinary people – no damaged billionaires, no shy and virginal twenty-somethings. The fact that Ariel is rich doesn’t feature anywhere in the story and Grady is just an honest guy trying to do an honest job. Even the sections that are set in the past are just about the ordinary lives and loves of young people on the cusp of becoming adults. It’s about young love and jealousy and the easiest of betrayals. There are no whizz-bang revelations that instantly move the characters out of relatable territory. Even the fact that Ariel’s parents and brother died in a house fire is handled sensitively and with great subtlety. Had it been used as a method of providing angst, it would have been the greatest of fiction tropes. As it is, it hardly featured. It’s not an excuse and it’s not used to provide pages of pointless internal emotional wrangling. It’s simply the part of the story that explains how Ariel came to be living in California. It’s great. I was really tired of reading about people who are scarred from their past – it’s nice to read about someone that hasn’t used it to justify being an idiot.
I really liked the premise of it too – I liked that the thread of the story was about unravelling the superstitions surrounding the tree. At the end, it still leaves a mystery. You never really do find out whether the oak was tied to Blythe’s life or whether it was just coincidence. It leaves you with a little touch of magic that remains unresolved. It’s also really good that it genuinely is about Blythe and her tree. The mystery of the missing girls and the hanged man is kind of a side story of Ariel trying to get closer to the memory of the woman that left her everything. Because the tree and Blythe were interconnected, the mystery surrounding it is almost a by-product of Ariel’s curiosity. It’s understated but good.
There were a couple of editing issues, but the ARC I got specifically stated it was pre-edit, so I would assume that any errors have now been picked up in the version that’s for sale. On the whole, there weren’t enough to be really noticeable anyway and I’m not taking them into account in my rating of the story.
I didn’t actually see the cover until the time of writing this review, but I have to say that I think it’s amazingly well done and really draws the eye.
So overall – very much recommended. This book is different. It’s a great diversion from most of the romantic fiction out there right now. For the price tag of 77p, it’s definitely worth it!
In closing, I’d like to say that I think this would make a really good film! I’d certainly pay to go and see it at the cinema!