Thursday, April 14, 2011

"Charleston, Charleston, Made in Carolina"*

One of my absolutely favorite cities in the United States is Charleston, SC. I was there for a long weekend at Easter about five years ago and fell head over heels in love with the city. The architecture, the history, the food: it was all completely wonderful. We explored the Battery, took the boat out to Fort Sumter, and shopped in the city market. (I only wish I had been camera girl back then, although I probably would have been taking photos non-stop, which isn't that much fun for my traveling companions.) Sister K and I even went on a twilight ghost tour, which totally scared me into a completely sleepless night. (Turns out Charleston is one of the most haunted cities in America.)

Which leads me to my subject: author Karen White has released two books about haunted Charleston (with a third book to come out this fall) that are a lot of fun to read. The first one is The House on Tradd Street; its sequel is The Girl on Legare Street. The heroine of these stories is one Melanie Middleton: a successful realtor in her late thirties, single, utterly Type A, wicked sugar junkie, and inclined to see ghosts (which is unfortunate when you sell old houses in one of the most haunted cities in America.)

The first book begins with Melanie inheriting a neglected historical house on Tradd Street from an eccentric Charlestonian, with the caveat that she has to renovate it and live in it for a year before she can sell it. With her alcoholic father as the trustee and her architectural preservationist best friend insisting on using antiquated methods to restore the house, Melanie has her hands full, and that is before she realizes she isn't the only one "living" in the house. Enter Jack Trenholm, historical novelist (and the son of "Mellie's" mother's best friend), who comes to Melanie's aid researching the history of the house and trying to solve its mysteries. The second book picks up as Melanie's long estranged mother returns to Charleston to buy back the old family home when it comes on the market. The house on Legare Street is not only full of spirits, but secrets as well. It is up to Melanie, Jack, and an assortment of Charleston locals to solve the mystery there before someone else loses their life.

As I mentioned, these books are really fun to read. They have got a little something for everyone: a little mystery, a little romance, a little history, and a little humor. White does a great job recreating the feel of Charleston without drowning the story in description. The mysteries are clever, but are not too complicated, and the pacing of the stories is spot on. The characters are really well drawn, even the minor ones. (Melanie's secretary is obsessed with golf, and regularly Melanie comes upon her practicing her putting in the lobby.) Best of all: Melanie and Jack have a terrific flirty banter that recalls the "will they?/won't they?" of some of the best sitcom couples.

My mom had introduced these books to me because she noticed that I have several interesting bits of overlap with the main character, other than our first name. (There is nothing wrong with being well organized!!);-) With the anniversary of the start of the Civil War this week, I started thinking about them and bought copies for my Kindle. It has been great rereading them, and, unlike my actual visit to Charleston, these ghosts haven't given me any nightmares!

*Charleston, written by Cecil Mack and James P. Johnson

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