In The Sea Keeper’s Daughters by Lisa Wingate, Whitney Monroe has successfully opened, run, and sold several restaurants, but now she’s run into big trouble. She has one successful restaurant in Michigan, but their second location is near failure due to a constant “war against crooked county commissioners, building inspectors taking backroom payoffs, deceptive construction contractors, and a fire marshal who was a notorious good ol’ boy,” all in “cahoots” with a local business enemy who wants their location and doesn’t want their competition.
Right in the middle of this crisis, Whitney learns that her estranged step-father has fallen ill. They’ve not spoken since he raved at her after her mother’s funeral years earlier. He lives in an old historic hotel on the North Carolina coast that had been passed down from her formidable grandmother. She doesn’t want to go to him, but his sons won’t go, so she decides to make the trip and see if she can gather up some family mementos to keep as well as anything of value to sell to help out her restaurant.
The first floor of the hotel is occupied by a variety of businesses, and one of the business owners in particular gets off on the wrong foot with Whitney, thinking she has come to sell the building and boot them all out. Her reunion with her step-father doesn’t fare any better.
As Whitney starts to sort through items that have been collecting dust on the second floor, she makes a couple of interesting discoveries: an unusual necklace, and a number of letters torn in pieces from her grandmother’s twin sister, which Whitney never knew existed. Piecing the letters together, Whitney discovers that her grandmother’s sister, Alice, was a widow with a young child who started working as a writer for FDR’s Federal Writer’s Project, which sent people through the US to write about different areas and the people who lived in them. Among the people Alice discovered was a young pregnant mixed-race Melungeon girl who needed a safe place to stay, and though they encounter racial opposition along the way, Alice determines to see the girl to safety. But Whitney was mystified as to why the letters were in pieces, and why had Whitney never heard of Alice.
The unique necklace and Melungeons appeared in the previous novels in Lisa’s Carolina Heirloom series, and I enjoyed seeing how the story all came together and how it impacted Whitney’s own story. It was also quite interesting to learn about the Federal Writer’s Project.
There seems to be a theme of sisterhood as well throughout the series: several of the major characters have one or more sisters who play pivotal roles, and Sandy (based on Lisa’s real Aunt Sandy) of Sandy’s Seashell Shop (which shows up in several of the books) forms a “sisterhood” of friends.
The series has novels and novellas, but each of the novels involves a woman with problems of some kind coming back to a place from her childhood and finding writings of someone from the past which impact her present life in some way. At first I was confused about which story came when. Lisa has them in order now on her web site, but I don’t know if they were configured that way when I was first trying to figure it out – when I first looked, some of them were in a Carolina Chronicles series but it looks like they’ve all been compiled in the Carolina Heirlooms one (much less confusing now!) I think the fact that some were novellas, sequels, and prequels confused me further, so early on I made a list of the publication date of each so I could read them in order (and even then I mixed up the last two, but it all worked out in the end). I’ve linked the titles to my reviews.
Sea Glass Sisters (novella prequel to The Prayer Box): July 2013
The Prayer Box: August 2013
Tidewater Sisters (novella sequel to The Prayer Box): June 2014
The Story Keeper: Aug. 2014
Sandy’s Sea Shell Shop Christmas (novella): Dec. 2014
The Sandcastle Sister (novella sequel to The Story Keeper): May 2015
The Sea Keeper’s Daughters (September 2015)
I read the first two out of order as well, and read the Christmas one during the Christmas season, but none of that hindered my understanding of the story line. I think any of the books could be read as a stand-alone novel, but the unfolding of the overarching story line makes the most sense if at least the three novels are read in order.
Overall I thought the series was very good and enjoyed it quite a lot.