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Love, Alice by Barbara Davis

Love, Alice by Barbara Davis
Pub. Date: December 6, 2016
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Berkley!)
Summary: A year ago, Dovie Larkin’s life was shattered when her fiancé committed suicide just weeks before their wedding. Now, plagued by guilt, she has become a fixture at the cemetery where William is buried, visiting his grave daily, waiting for answers she knows will never come.

Then one day, she sees an old woman whose grief mirrors her own. Fascinated, she watches the woman leave a letter on a nearby grave. Dovie ignores her conscience and reads the letter—a mother’s plea for forgiveness to her dead daughter—and immediately needs to know the rest of the story.

As she delves deeper, a collection of letters from the cemetery’s lost and found begins to unravel a decades-old mystery involving one of Charleston’s wealthiest families. But even as Dovie seeks to answer questions about another woman’s past—questions filled with deception, betrayal, and heartbreaking loss—she starts to discover the keys to love, forgiveness, and finally embracing the future…
Genre: Southern Fiction, Mystery, Family Saga

Oh dear. (and you know this isn’t going to be a praise-laden review if it begins with oh dear.) I’m the kind of reader that knows what I like when it comes to genres and tropes – and because of that, I tend to have pretty good luck with my reads – but every so often a book will come around that, on the surface, sounds like a novel I would love only to realize a far different story lurks within its pages.

Dovie Larkin has made a routine of eating lunch at the Magnolia Grove cemetery. A year ago, just a few weeks before they were going to walk down the aisle, Dovie’s fiance committed suicide. Her hurt and confusion only escalated with William’s lack of a note or explanation and so Dovie has taken to spending her days sitting near his grave, as though the answers she seeks will suddenly appear.

It’s while she’s eating lunch one day that she notices an old woman place a letter at the foot of the town’s most famous headstone, a statue of an angel watching over the resting place of a nanny. Rumors have surrounded the poor girl for decades – tales of an affair with the husband, for what other reason would there be for her to rest forever in the plot of Charleston’s richest family? Allowing curiosity to get the better of her, Dovie takes the letter and, worse, reads it. In doing so, she finds herself becoming immersed in a tragedy spanning oceans and decades.

That sounds interesting, right? I like family secrets! I like old mysteries! Unfortunately, Dovie herself played a large part in my utter disappointment of Love, Alice. For a year now she’s been spending her lunch hour at the cemetery and, until now, her boss has been incredibly lenient. He’s allowed her to grieve in her own way and has even turned a blind eye to the multiple occasions when time simply got away from her and Dovie returned late. But now her lapses in judgment are beginning to reflect poorly on him. Jack fought hard to get Dovie her promotion as museum curator and he needs her head back in the game, especially with the $2 million donation the Tate family is presenting to the museum.

How does she react? Not only does she blatantly forget about a meeting with Mrs. Tate, but she continues to while away the day at William’s grave. I don’t like to quote early copies, but at one point Dovie herself remarks on her appalling attitude:

“She had dealt with him on three different occasions, and out of those three, she had been late to a meeting, and had failed to deliver the same folder not once, but twice. Not exactly a stellar record.”

You know what would happen if I routinely came back late from lunch, made a habit of forgetting meetings (with someone about to donate two million dollars to my workplace!), and left important documents at home multiple times? I wouldn’t have a job. I would have been sent packing LONG before it even reached the point of numerous missed meetings and forgotten papers. I have know idea how or why Dovie kept her job throughout this book.

Had the novel been solely about the discovered letters, I would have been on board. HOWEVER, there are a handful of other storylines thrown in and many of them are so painfully predictable (from the start I had a feeling William was going to be gay, so that ‘big reveal’ wasn’t surprising at all, though I did raise my eyebrows at the near-instantaneous friendship that blossoms between the lover and Dovie). The identity of Alice’s baby also was unsurprising.

I would have loved to have read a book told entirely through Alice’s perspective. An unwed teen with a baby on the way (and the father recently lost at sea), her mother forced her to move into a church-run home for other pregnant girls and the living conditions were terrible. A quick note: at the end of the novel the author discusses the real homes that inspired Blackhurst Asylum for Unwed Mothers (including the startling news that one similar asylum in Ireland was still in operation until 1996. Once the baby is born, Alice’s hand is forced once more as the baby is immediately taken away (she doesn’t even know whether she gave birth to a boy or girl) and sent overseas to America. Penniless and ill, Alice doesn’t give up in her fight to be reunited with her child and that story kept me reading to the end.

Love, Alice is a novel that suffered from predictable twists and a frustrating main character and with only one storyline worth reading, the book’s near 450-page length felt overly long and wholly unnecessary. Maybe other readers would feel more for Dovie’s character, but her plight didn’t affect me one bit. In fact I feel the novel would be greatly improved if it was strictly a historical novel with no present day aspect. With a lot of editing (the cemetery and a high-end restaurant in the same town share a name which resulted in my intense confusion for a moment) Love, Alice could have potential, but as it stands, I wouldn’t recommend this one. There are countless other ‘search for baby given up for adoption years earlier’ novels out there.

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