Thursday, December 8, 2016

Nine Lives

Nine Lives
by Wendy Corsi Staub
Recommended Ages: 13+

After losing her husband and her teaching job in quick succession, recent widow Bella packs up her 5-year-old son Max and what belongings will fit into her small car and hits the road, hoping to make it from the New York City suburbs to her mother-in-law's cold, unfriendly home in Ohio with only one night camping out along the way. But somewhere in western New York state, a storm blows up, and a mysterious billboard advertising a non-existent campground leads them astray. But it is finally an encounter with a very pregnant cat that leads them to the odd little village of Lily Dale, birthplace of the Spiritualist movement and home to many psychics and mediums to this day. An attempt to return the queen kitty to her owner leads, somehow, to Bella being hired as a temporary manager for a guesthouse just as the town's busy season of psychic readings picks up.

She doesn't believe in all the mystical stuff that brings everyone else to town. She just wants to move on, both in her grieving process and in her search for a new home, as soon as her car gets out of the repair shop. But during a weekend of spooky manifestations and all-too-real human threats, Bella finds herself at the center of a web of mystery. If the eyewitness testimony of a rambunctious little boy and the clairvoyant dream of an eccentric neighbor count for anything, they add up to the possibility the owner of the cat and the guesthouse was murdered - possibly by the same person who has been sneaking around the guesthouse and attacking solitary guests. Before Bella can decide whether to accept Lily Dale's offer of a home and perhaps a little romance, she must learn to trust the eccentric people around her. But to do that, she may have to solve a mystery that puts her and everyone she loves in danger.

This is a fast-reading, emotionally involving piece of entertainment by a seasoned author whose sentences, only once in a while, go clunk. Parts of it were touching enough to make me feel misty-eyed with sympathy, for example, when she praises little Max's courage when, loaded into the car and about to leave behind the only home he has ever known, his small voice says "Yes" to his mother's "Are you ready to go?" The mystery has its thrills and its red herrings, and in spite of one character's complaint there are no straight, available men in town, Lily Dale presents Bella with an overabundance of romantic choices - no doubt, to be explored in more detail in subsequent books.

This is the first of (so far) two books in the "Lily Dale Mystery" series, not to be confused with the four-book "Lily Dale" series, featuring a character mentioned but not seen in this book. The sequel is titled Something Buried, Something Blue. Sometimes writing as Wendy Markham or Wendy Morgan, Wendy Corsi Staub is also the author of the Campus Life 101, Live to Tell, Nightwatcher, and Murphy's Landing series, plus numerous other novels, mostly of the paranormal thriller and crime thriller types; some books for younger readers, such as Henry Hopkins and the Horrible Halloween Happening; and several mysteries co-authored with former New York City mayor Edward I. Koch.

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