Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the digital copy in exchange for an honest review!
North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.
North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.
What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?
Trigger warnings: Sexism, rape, alcoholism, racism, mental disability: manic-depressive psychosis, murder.
You have to make peace with the past or you can never move in the future.
I loved this story so much that I made my boyfriend sit down and listen to me explain the whole plot to him. He pretended he was interested, so I’ll give him points for that.
2018. Morgan Christopher has been put in the North Carolina Correctional Facility for Women because of a crime she technically didn’t commit. Her minimum sentence is one year, but the maximum is three. Her parents are alcoholics, so she’s never really had company for the year that she’s been there, until Lisa Williams and Andrea Fuller show up. Andrea is an attorney, and Lisa is the daughter of Jesse Jameson Williams, a famous black artist. He was in the process of creating an art gallery in Edenton, North Carolina, before he died. In his will he stated that he wanted Morgan Christopher to restore a 1940s mural by August 5th of that year, or Lisa won’t be able to keep his house that she’s living in. He offered her $50,000 and extra thousands for art supplies. The problem? Morgan doesn’t know how to restore a mural.
While she figures out how to restore the mural, she is constantly being pressured by the possibility of going back to prison if she doesn’t meet the deadline. She’s constantly meeting new people that she feels like she should explain her situation to. Meanwhile, Anna Dale’s story is secretly being unveiled through old newspapers, Anna’s journal, and an old family member of Jesse’s.
1939. Anna Dale receives a letter that she is one of the winning artists in the 48-States Mural Competition, but she didn’t win for the state she lived in which was New Jersey. The judges were pleased by her work, so they offered her the opportunity to create a mural for a post office in Edenton, North Carolina.
She agreed, and left for a three-day trip to Edenton, a break from the harrowing task of burying her mother. “The one person in the world whose love and nurturing Anna could always count on.” Before she died, she had given Anna a journal, and Anna agreed to hold on to anything her mother gave her for the rest of her life.
It stated in the letter that she needs to become familiar with the town, so the mural can represent that town as much as possible. Unfortunately, most people in the town were either upset that Martin Drapple, a long-time resident and well-known artist in Edenton, didn’t win or that she was a woman. All the men didn’t trust her ideas for the mural. There was a famous Edenton Tea Party where women stood up for their freedom, but the Mayor mentioned Edenton was tired of hearing about it.
Her plan was to leave Edenton after three days, but the Mayor insisted that she stay. She can live Myrtle Simms, a widow whose daughter just got married and left the nest. Anna can give her rent to help fix up her big house. Eventually, they find a warehouse for her to work in during the process.
That is where the two timelines start to connect. I don’t want to spoil anything because it’s so much fun watching all the layers unfold, and let me tell you, there are A LOT of layers.
I loved both female leads. They were strong-willed, persevering, and self-aware women, who took others into account even when they don’t have to. That does become a flaw, but they’re still human after all. They deal with a lot of obstacles, especially Anna, living in the 1940’s amidst the times of sexism, racism, and everything in between. These are definitely women I would look up to and strive to be. They take on challenges that are above their heads. They confront their mistakes…eventually. Outstanding characters.
There is the teeniest, tiniest romance that slowly forms throughout the book, but it definitely doesn’t take over the story. It’s actually quite lovely. It’s between Morgan and a man named Oliver. He helps her with the mural, and he’s the curator for the gallery when it opens. I enjoy how much they enjoy each others company.
The writing is really good! There’s nothing complicated or hard to understand. The back and forth POVs are done extremely well. I was never bored at any point throughout the story. Diane Chamberlain knows how to write a good story, and I commend her for that.
I will pick up Diane Chamberlain’s other books from the past and anything she writes in the future. This is one of my new all time favorite books. There are no plot holes that I could find, the characters have strong personalities, and the writing is beautiful. What more could I personally ask for?
I will be purchasing this when I can!
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