I read Sarah Jio's debut novel The Violets of March last year - and loved it. (my review) I had no doubt that I would enjoy her latest book, The Bungalow, as much. But I was wrong - I actually enjoyed it more!
Anne Calloway is ninety when her granddaughter Jennifer brings her a letter - one that asks questions about a murder in 1943 and so Anne begins to finally tell her story...
Anne has already gone against her well to do family's expectations for her. She and her friend Kitty both added nursing qualifications to their college degrees. "What we'd do with these credentials was of great concern to our parents. Heaven forbid we actually use them."
Anne's future is already planned for her - marriage to Gerard Godfrey, the local banker's son. "Mother and Mrs. Godfrey had planned the union since I was in infancy, of course. Calloways would marry Godfreys. It was as natural as coffee and cream."
But, it is 1942 and the War is on. When Kitty announces that she has enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps and is shipping out for the South Pacific, Anne does the unimaginable - she follows her heart and signs up as well.
Kitty and Anne land in Bora Bora. Kitty sees it all as a grand adventure, while Anne is more reserved. But Anne is inextricably drawn to Westry, one of the soldiers on base. Together they discover an abandoned beach hut and it is here that they fall in love - and plan for a life together when the war ends. But the locals say the hut is cursed. And it may well be - a horrific event puts an end to their sanctuary - and their plans for the future.
Jio has again woven the past and present together to create an absolutely addicting story. But it is the past that captured me the most. I loved the character of Anne, her decisions to follow her heart, her kindness and her innocence. Jio has captured the naivete of a young woman discovering herself in a turbulent time period. I initially enjoyed the character of Kitty as well, drawn to her sense of adventure. However, by the end of the book I quite disliked her. The setting itself is a character in the book as well. I was able to picture clear blue water, white sands, palm tree, island breezes and of course, the little bungalow.
Jio's writing flows easily and effortlessly. I was caught up in the story from first page to last. It's hard to pigeonhole The Bungalow into one genre slot. It's historical, but there's a (not too hard to solve) mystery as well, but the romantic thread is the most compelling. Yes, there are coincidences that tie things up quite neatly in the end, but you know what? - It works. For a feel good read to warm you up on a cold winter night, pick up The Bungalow. Releases Dec. 27/11.
Read an excerpt of The Bungalow. Book clubs would enjoy this story - a reading group guide is available as well. I'll be watching for Jio's third book - Blackberry Winter, due out in Fall 2012. You can find Sarah on Facebook and on Twitter.