Author: Emilie Richards
Let me start by saying… actually I have about three things lined up that start with that so perhaps I need to rethink my beginning.
Fans of Emilie Richards who may not necessarily be familiar with all of her work need to be aware that this is a re-release. Whiskey Island was first printed in 2000 so this is quite a ways back in the back catalogue. For me it really didn’t matter, except I had trouble finding it on Goodreads because they have all the other editions but not this one, this was my introduction to Richards’ so I have nothing to compare it to. For fans of Emilie Richards and her more recent work there could be a difference in style and polish that comes with the extra experience.
This is another book that I really should have started the review about three days ago when I was still halfway through the book, there would have been no ending-type undertones then. I even started to write it in my head, but alas… it never quite made it to paper so here I am at the end trying to go back to the beginning and not include spoilers.
There was a third starting point, which currently eludes me so let’s move on.
Whiskey Island is a tale that stretches from 2000 back to 1880, with each storyline stretching tendrils of itself towards the other time frame but never quite meeting. Never quite overlapping, which also means that it never quite comes together – it isn’t until the very last page that the final pieces fall into place rendering the big picture visible.
Frustrating as I found it to race through every page hoping for that hint of what ties these periods together, sometimes catching a fleeting glimpse from the corner of my eye but closer inspection sharpens the focus and throws off the scent, I was still hooked. I say this frustrated me, and it did, but it was a sweet anticipatory frustration. The frustration of a puzzling page turner when you find it’s time to head back to the real world and you haven’t quite got the answer you were holding out for yet.
In 1880 Whiskey Island was the decrepid home to a community of Irish settlers on the banks of Lake Erie, it was a cobbled together community of tarpaper shacks and poverty but the worst conditions on Whiskey Island were still preferable to the struggles continuing in Ireland. It was also the home of 14 saloons in its heyday which made it aptly named.
The 1880 story centres around Lena and Terence Tierney, residents of Whiskey Island struggling to save passage to bring the family to settle with them in Cleveland. Young, in love and newly married. The other character from this era to feature heavily is Father McSweeney, largely through his journal entries.
We follow the Tierneys through the challenges that Whiskey Island presented to a young Irish couple, Richards’ evocative way with words had me feeling the biting wind and wondering what it was that Terry’s best friend, and boarder, Rowan did to occupy his time away from home so that the young couple could have some time together. Rowan was always there, a little shadowy but ever present and you knew that he had his part but I could never quite make the pieces fit – until the closing scene finale.
The Donaghue sisters are now all back together and running the Whiskey Island Saloon, a family business that has been passed down through the generations. The three have only just come back together, bearing their fair share of baggage, to remember what it is that makes them strong and to follow the trail into the shadows of the past to lay more than one rumour to rest.
There is definite mystery here, that sucks you in and wraps you up – refusing to let go until you see it through to the very end.
More saturating than that is the tentative romantic awakening of some seriously stunted characters. Whiskey Island carries baggage galore, there’s no denying it, and it’s quite evenly distributed too. Functioning, healthy relationships- not so much and the few that exist are sidelines or backgrounds. Within these pages all of these characters will learn and grow as they work through their baggage and find their moment of clarity, their eventual awakening to an unclouded picture of themselves.
Whiskey Island is a soul searching, empowering tale of family, loyalty and getting to know yourself. Sometimes you need to let the walls down far enough that you can see yourself in the mirror. A fantastic mix of romance, routine and mystery that really had me thinking.