Book Review: The Hideaway

The Hideaway

Title: The Hideaway
Author: Lauren K. Denton
Genre: Romance Fiction

What it’s about: Sara is the owner of Bits and Pieces, a store that refurbishes and sells antique items located in New Orleans. When she calls back the lawyer at the end of an impossibly long day at her shop, she finds out that her grandmother, Mags, had passed away suddenly due to a heart attack.

A few days later, Sara makes the three hour drive to Sweet Bay, Alabama for the reading of Mag’s will. Thinking that it will be a quick in and out, where she will spend a couple of days in the town that she sough to escape and then return to her life in New Orleans, Sara is shocked to discover that Mags left the b-and-b to her and implored her to restore it to its former glory.

Facing slight disagreement over Mags’ ultimate decision to leave the b-and-b called ‘The Hideaway’ to her from it’s occupants, Sara finds herself in the home of her childhood trying to seek what to do. Unable to walk away from either her job, or her grandmother’s wishes, Sara makes the decision to renovate the house first, upon urgining from her friend and employee, Allyn.  The house has good bones, but has been severely decayed and uncared for, which requires a lot of work and cleaning, so Sara finds a contractor to handle the renovation. But she really doesn’t have any plans of running an inn.

Throughout the work on the Hideaway, Sara learns that there’s more to her eccentric grandmother than she knew.  After all, Mags raised her after her parent’s car accident and death, and Sara thought she knew everything there was to know about her grandmother, who she recalls as always being old.  She had found her eccentric and embarrassing as a teenager, and as soon as she turned eighteen, she put distance between herself and Sweet Bay. But the old skeleton key insigna found on a bench that her grandmother used to frequent leads Sara down a path of finding out that her grandmother was a woman with many secrets, with a passion, and a woman who made a very difficult choice.

Margaret was born to a well-off family in southern Alabama. After courting, she married Richard, the son of a local banker, upon his return from the war. Soon, she discovered that marriage was not all that she had thought it would be, as she found out that Richard was going on little ‘business’ trips. Margaret decided to go off on a trip of her own while Richard went off on another one of his trips, and her father gave her his blessing to go away, assuming that she will return soon.

Lost and confused, Margaret finds herself at beautiful home in Sweet Bay, known as Alabama. The patron mistakes her for another woman, and Margaret doesn’t correct her, as she is trying to run away from her life and pretend to be someone else. She gives up her riches for a simpler life, which she loves.  Her time at The Hideaway is idyllic, and sheltered from the world outside the borders of the land.  She meets William and falls head-over-heels in love with him. He treats her better than her husband, cares for her deeply, and she begins to trust him so she tells him her story.  William is enthralled with her and shows her to a land that he purchased by the water, which they nickname “the Cove.”  He promises Margaret, who goes by Maggie at this time, that he will build them a home and build them a future there.

One night, the patroness of the house flees after failing to pay the mortgage to the bank several times, leaving the running of The Hideaway to Maggie, as she had been helping out in the kitchen and around the house.  Maggie makes the difficult decision to use the check her father gave her in order to save The Hideaway, and comes up with a plan to get money from the individuals living there in order to keep The Hideaway running. William helps build the furniture for the house, engraving a skeleton key in each one of his items, as a reminder to Maggie that she is the key to his heart. One day, not long after Maggie cashes the check, she finds her father on the doorstep of the house, and he tells her to return to her husband, who is sick.  Maggie has no desire to do so, but William overhears the argument with her father, and agrees that its the honorable thing to do, so he leaves her, hoping to come back to her in the future. He packs up all his woodwork

Ultimately, Richard moves into The Hideaway with Maggie, who sets boundaries by making it clear that from now on he is to call her ‘Mags’, he is not to get in her way, he is not to share a bed with her, and that she is pregnant.  They share a life for three years like this, before Richard, true to his nature, disappears. This time for good, as Mags gets a phone call from his mistress in Tennessee saying that he has passed away.  She makes his infidelity a known item in town, and moves on with her life–providing as best as she can for her daughter, and taking care of the townsfolk as best as she can. In the end, she also ends up taking care of Sara, when Sara’s parents die in a car accident–all the while, waiting for William to come back to her.

As Sara learns the truth about her grandmother, she realizes that her grandmother was a woman of strength, one she should have valued, listened to and looked up to.  The renovation continues at full speed, towards completion, while Sara falls in love with the owner of the construction company, who changes her mind about what she really wants in life.  At the same time, William reaches out to Sara to find out more about Maggie’s life, and after a few meet-ups, both of them end up finding out a deeper secret that Mags hid from those around her–that William is Sara’s real grandfather.

Upon being close to finish, a nasty, snivelling developer pulls the rug out from under Sara and the inhabitants of The Hideaway, by claiming emminent domain as he believes the land is in the prime area for a condominum, which would bring more benefit to the town.  Thinking that she has lost, Sara returns to New Orleans to her shop, and doesn’t seem to be content with the life she had there any longer, yearning for the looser clothing and barefoot freedom of The Hideaway.

Another call from Mags’ lawyer comes through to Sara.  This time to give her the news that the developer had backed off of claiming emminent domain to The Hideaway, as another, more favorable piece of land had come up for grabs.  When Sara returns to Sweet Bay, it is for good. She also finds out that her grandfather, William, was the one who had sold the developer the Cove, which he had owned all this time, in hopes of making the house. Except now that Maggie was gone, there was no point of doing so, as her spirit resides in The Hideaway.

My Verdict: Wow. This is an amazing book, especially as a debut novel for the author.  I really loved all of the characters in this book. It wasn’t a evil vs good book, but rather one that explored the various lives that inhabit one house, and how those lives intersect, and intertwine, and what effect they have on one another.  I loved that the author was telling us both the present story from Sara’s point of view, as well as Mags’ history through Mags’ flashbacks. It was such a rich book in terms of details, and it really made me want to root for Maggie and William. I kept hoping that William would realize that Richard left Maggie at one time, and would return to her…because what is better than true love winning? Alas, that was not to be, so that made me sad, because I could see Maggie sitting there on her bench made by William, waiting for him.

I really liked Maggie/ Mags as a character because she followed her instinct, her convictions, and her beliefs in a time and society where it wasn’t accepted what she did. Many people wish that they had the guts to do what she did, and not care about retribution or what other people say about them, but the truth is that it’s really hard.  The fact that Maggie did it, makes her an awesome woman in my book.  Her one downfall was that she never really shared it with anyone–she kept it all in–so it’s hard to tell whether or not her version of events are the ones that you want to believe.

Stories about returning home and realizing the importance of something really tug at my heart, because really, we only learn something about ourselves with the perspective of time. Sara thought that her grandmother was eccentric and out to embarrass her, which could not have been furthest from the truth, but as an eighteen year old, her world was only concerned with what her friends and the town thought of her.  It’s only after Mags dies that Sara gains the perspective–and the truth–that Mags was true to herself, and did things for a reason, no matter what others thought of her. In a way, this book explores the idea that if you want to change your life in a radical way, you have to be prepared for losing the life you knew, and also to really care enough about wanting that change that the whispers of others’ thoughts don’t bother you.

Overall, it’s a good book and I would recommend this read if you’re into Southern feel-good stories that tug at your heart.

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