AUTHOR: Barbara Davis

PUBLISHER: The Penguin Group

ISBN: 978-0-451-41877-7

The Secrets She Carried is a lovely and intriguing tale of love from two generations, and on many levels – man and woman, father and daughter, and a woman who must face the history of the relatives of her past, whose legacy of love affects her today.

It’s a first novel by author Barbara Davis, but one would never know it, it’s so well-crafted and thought-provoking. Keep a notepad handy – you might need it to keep track of “who’s who” because there is a large cast of characters, related in various ways, and it will take awhile to understand it all, as Davis unravels one level after another. But that’s part of the beauty of the novel and a testament to her writing.

Two stories are told at once, beginning in 1940 with the spirit of a woman named Adele Laveau. She’s sharing with readers the pain of seeing Henry Gavin and his young daughter Maggie standing at her grave, high on a ridge above Peak Plantation in North Carolina. Not everything is revealed, but enough to set the stage. How did Adele pass away? And it’s clear she has a close relationship with Henry and Maggie, but to what extent?

Before answers are revealed, we shift to present-day New York City and a woman named Leslie Nichols, an out-of-work writer who receives two dramatic phone messages: her father Jimmy (whom she suspects had a hand in her mother’s death many years ago) is getting out of prison and is anxious to see her. And she’s one of the main beneficiaries of the estate of her now-deceased grandmother named…Maggie.

This isn’t the first time she’s received either message, in fact she’s been putting off thoughts of visiting her former childhood home, Peak Plantation, for many years now. She only has days until the one-year time limit on claiming her inheritance expires.

Realizing there’s nothing keeping her in New York at the moment, she sublets her apartment and reluctantly sets off to Peak to confront her past. It’s not easy opening the door to the Plantation, where her last recollection is of her mother lying in a pool of blood at the foot of the stairs. That, plus grief and guilt over more or less turning her back on grandmother Maggie leaves her almost sorry she’s returned. She’ll just sell the home quickly and return to New York, she decides.

To make matters worse, she encounters handsome young Jay Davenport in the house – her house. He seems to have been extremely close to her grandmother, taking care of her and becoming a potential partner in an upcoming vineyard project.

Sparks fly and tension is high as the two clash over loyalties of the past and plans for the future. Jay resents the fact that Leslie never came “home” when Maggie needed her and wanted to reveal secrets about her past. Leslie says she had her reasons. Then an attorney temporarily forces them to get along as they realize they are co-heirs of Maggie’s estate.

While readers are following the progression of Leslie’s story, the story of Adele unfolds. After the graveyard opening, we next encounter her as a young woman leaving home to work as a lady’s maid to Susanne Gavin at Peak Plantation. A love story soon unfolds, as do secrets about two young children. Davis captures not only the modern feel of Leslie’s story; she also brings readers back to earlier times with ease.

Slowly, we see how modern-day Leslie and Adele and Maggie from the early days of Peak Plantation all intertwine. The Secrets She Carried is quietly riveting, romantic and thoroughly enjoyable, with twists and turns until the last few pages, when it’s difficult to say goodbye to characters that have become familiar and well-liked. The door is left open for a sequel and readers should hope it will become a reality.

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