A Storm of Infinite Beauty by Julianne MacLean
Mystery, suspense, and second chances!
When writer Peter Miller contacts Gwen Hollingsworth regarding his research into the life of her cousin, a famous actress and songwriter who died tragically young at the height of her career, she is understandably suspicious of his intentions. Peter's career up to this point had been that of a notoriously dogged paparazzi, seemingly willing to do whatever it took to get photographs and the latest scoop on the rich and famous. Gwen, as the heir to Scarlet Fontaine's fortune and the curator of a museum dedicated to her life and legacy, was very protective of the memory of her famous cousin and wasn't about to help anyone try to sensationalize something in the past of a woman who'd spent her short life trying to avoid the public eye. But when Peter Miller arrives and shares evidence of a stunning secret in Scarlet's past, Gwen knows she must uncover the truth herself.
Told with dual timelines, A Storm of Infinite Beauty is the story of two women, separated by more than 50 years, coming to terms with their lives after suffering tremendous losses. In the 1963-4 timeline, young, unmarried Valerie McCarthy, known later by her screen name as Scarlett Fontaine, is sent from her home in Wolfville, Nova Scotia to Valdez, Alaska, by her father when she reveals she is eight weeks pregnant. She and the baby's father had split up during an argument before her delicate condition was discovered, and she is shipped off before she can tell him the news. Valerie is dumped off in rural Alaska at a tourist lodge where she is to work for her room and board and await the birth of her child, out of sight of the people in her hometown. Her father has decided she'll give the child up for adoption and then return home with a clean slate, no one the wiser. She's alone and heartsick but, thankfully, finds the support she needs to heal and determine her own future at the Wilderness Lodge.
In the 2017-8 storyline, Gwen Hollingsworth is grieving the loss of her first child two years earlier and the subsequent defection of her husband, Eric, for a considerably younger woman. When Peter Miller reveals that Scarlett Fontaine, believed to have never married or had children, may have gone to Alaska and had a baby there before achieving her film success, she's naturally drawn into the mystery, wanting to discover what happened for better or worse.
Gwen and Peter make a great team and a wonderful couple. He regrets his previous career and is earnest about creating an accurate and truthful portrayal of this much-loved star. He hits all the right notes for me as a thoughtful and considerate partner for Gwen, even as Eric comes back into the picture, remorseful over his prior actions.
The story is supported by wonderful secondary characters: the warm and wise Maud and Blaine Wilson, Valerie's coworker and fellow expectant mother, Angie Brown, and the unpredictable Jeremy Mikhailov. But if there was ever a character I wanted to slap up the side of the head, it is Angie's husband, Joe, and the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, as they say. I was taken completely by surprise by the actions of Joe's parents.
The Alaskan setting is captivating and atmospheric; the Wilderness Lodge is a place of warmth and safety. The background events that occurred in Valdez on March 27, 1964, give the story a feeling of a ticking time bomb, the suspense and tension building as the action edges closer and closer to what is revealed in the prologue. The author kindly includes the titles of some resource materials for readers who want to read further about the events of that day.
While both women's storylines are heartbreaking, Valerie's had already been written, and we are uncovering the past. Gwen's, however, was yet to be determined, and I was on pins and needles as I waited to learn her decisions. I couldn't put the book down until I knew.
I recommend A STORM OF INFINITE BEAUTY to readers of women's fiction, historical fiction, and even romantic suspense.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.