Readers' Favorite

June 6, 2024

Enthralling New Dual Timeline Novel From Lisa Wingate

by MK French

In 1909, Olive knows her stepfather has untoward intentions toward his new wards. When the oldest girl disappears, she takes the younger sister into the woods. She's willing to risk outlaws, hunters and desperate men to stay safe, and finds other people hoping to avoid those willing to exploit them. In 1990, law enforcement ranger Valerie Boren-Odell arrived at Horsethief Trail National Park to begin her career and be a single parent. Soon after, a hiker goes missing and the burial site of three children is unearthed. Val is determined to find the truth and finds allies in the nearby Choctaw Tribal police. There are many secrets in the land, and some of them are deadly.

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book cover of historical fiction novel Shelterwood by Lisa Wingate
June 2024; Ballantine Books; 978-0593726501
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); women's fiction

Each chapter of Shelterwood has the POV and which timeline is labeled, as well as a historical quote from the time period. (Something in me revolts at calling 1990 historical, but hey...) In Olive's timeline, the creepy stepfather takes steps to isolate the girls while the mother is wiped out from alcohol and opium making it impossible to stay safely in the household. She and Nessa are on the run in an Oklahoma forest, hoping that a near drowning convinces their stepfather that they died and shouldn't be chased down any further. The woods aren't safe for children, even when Olive is able to spin a story of woe to get help from kindhearted strangers in the form of food or supplies. In Valerie's timeline, the casual sexism and disrespect are upsetting, but she has no family in Oklahoma and can't afford to make waves. The good ol' boy network is fine with cutting corners and leaving things as they are, but even missing people and bodies can't be completely hushed up. 

Both stories unfold relatively slowly so we don't know who the bodies of the children are. The predicament both Olive and Valerie are in is enthralling, keeping me turning pages to figure out what happened next. The stories do eventually dovetail toward the end, though not in the way you expect at first. Valerie's dogged search for the missing teen and the truth of what's going on in the county gets subtle threats as well as very real consequences for the station, but she also develops real friendships along the way. 

A shelterwood is the old growth trees that protect the youngest trees and allows them to grow. Olive and Valerie in their own ways tried their best to be a shelterwood, protecting those who couldn't protect themselves. We need more people like them, and the historical figures in the story that tried to do it as well.

Buy Shelterwood at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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