Reviewed by Jeanne
When widow Bella Jordan and her son, Max, ended up in the spiritualist community of Lily Dale, it was supposed to be just a brief stop along the way to Millicent’s house. Maleficient—er, Millicent, is Bella’s overbearing mother-in-law, and she seems determined to have Max and Bella stay with her. Bella had agreed only because she was out of options since Sam’s death. Then Bella was given the chance to run a B&B in Lily Dale, a town she once found a bit too odd, what with psychics, palm readers, ghosts, and tarot card readers. Now it feels like home. Max is making friends and Bella is as loathe to uproot him again as she is to having her life under Millicent’s control.
Her greatest concern is that the B&B’s owner may decide to shut it down, especially since Lily Dale only draws tourists in the summer. Bella’s friend Odelia may have just the solution: make Lily Dale a destination wedding location. She even has a prospective bride and groom in mind: a wealthy young woman who is a friend of Odelia’s granddaughter.
What sounds like a grand idea quickly goes south once Bella meets the bride. Johneen Maynard is self-centered, demanding, and extremely prickly. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Lily Dale Spirits seem to be sending a warning that the bride may be doomed. Bella isn’t sure she believes in the Spirits, but the anonymous letter she receives expresses the same opinion.
And then her mother-in-law shows up.
This is the second in the Lily Dale Mystery series, so the emphasis is more on the mystery and less on the setting which fascinated me in the first book. Lily Dale, New York is a real place, a Spiritualist town that hosts various paranormal events, much the way Staub describes it. There’s a bit of the supernatural, but that can be accepted or dismissed. For me, the mystery took a back seat to the characters: what may be the beginning of a romance between Bella and Dr. Drew, the veterinarian, the relationship between Bella and Millicent, and, of course, the tangled web that is the bridal party. Bella is a sympathetic character, and a reluctant sleuth. Her objective is to try to get this wedding to go off well, creating another possible revenue source and possibly giving her a chance at continuing in this job.
The plot is well constructed and inventive, helped along by strong characterization. Chance the cat and her kittens are also underfoot, providing a touch of cozy comic relief. There is a prologue which provides a sense of menace as well as warning, and a satisfying ending. This is a good choice for those who like character, atmosphere, and a touch of the paranormal but without the mystery being solved through supernatural intervention. I found it to be best read on a rainy afternoon with a hot sweet drink at hand.