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A Hundred-Plus Year Old Mystery, a Long Lost Relative, and Apple Pie
on August 31, 2009
I have to admit upfront that I'm not a big fan of ghosts or paranormal stories. They just aren't usually my thing, but I'm a huge Odelia Gray fan and would follow Sue Ann Jaffarian's writing anywhere. So I was pleasantly surprised to really like Emma Whitecastle. I like that she's a single mom who's middle-aged and trying to figure her life out. She's somewhat at the mercy of her parents and her famous ex-husband, but over the course of the book, starts to stand up for herself, with a little help from her many years dead great-great-great grandmother Granny Apples, aka Ish Reynolds, who she barely knows anything about at the beginning of the book. When Emma finds herself craving apple pie (what Granny Apples is known for) and feeling a chill in the air, she comes to realize, albeit reluctantly, that her ancestor needs her help, and, more importantly, deserves it, having gone down in history for murdering her husband, which she insists she didn't do.
Jaffarian weaves history and mystery together beautifully as Emma first gets accustomed to seeing ghosts, then has to figure out which are friendly and which aren't. Combine that with a spooky cemetery and some determined gold-diggers, and Emma's in danger, though she keeps poking and poking. She befriends a man who at first is wary of her, and Jaffarian weaves their budding romance into this historical whodunit. Once again, Jaffarian takes characters who aren't always heard from in our society (even though Granny Apples is actually fairly young, I couldn't help picturing her as elderly since she's been dead over a hundred years), such as those getting divorced, and turns them into intriguing characters I look forward to reading more about. Her note at the end of the book letting readers know they can take their own tour of Julian, California, the setting for Ghost a la Mode, adds a fun footnote.
Perhaps what's most impressive is that Jaffarian makes her ghostly characters as varied and fascinating as her living ones. We don't get to meet them for long stretches of time (they have to "recharge") but, coming from another era, give a little insight into what life was like at the time. The family dynamics here are also interesting as Emma grapples with being close to her parents while not following their advice to the letter. Seeing how Granny Apples interacts with Emma, their similarities and differences, as well as their struggles, was also a great delight in this mystery. Emma is also different enough from Odelia Gray to make this series stand out on its own.