Discover the secrets of THE LYING WOODS in Ashley Elston’s latest release!
Owen Foster just lost it all. His father runs the major corporation in his Louisiana hometown and as it turns out, he’s embezzled millions from the company over several years. Owen only finds out this terrible secret after his father disappears and he’s abruptly pulled out of his private school. The teen, his mother, and most of the other people in town have been left penniless in the wake of his father’s deceit.
Forced to return to a town that hates him, Owen finds solace working for Gus Trudeau, an isolated pecan farmer who seems to be the only person willing to cut him a break. His father used to work on Gus’ farm too, after all, and it’s all he can do to get away from the sneers and the threats. Meanwhile, flashbacks show us 19-year-old Noah as he starts his job on the farm, meets Owen’s mother Maggie, and begins heading down the path that will irrevocably change him. As Owen and Noah’s youths play out parallel to one another, can Owen discover what really happened to his father, where the money is, and who’s relentlessly threatening his mother?
The Lying Woods is a rare read in that it’s a mystery, but not a thriller. There are secrets and layers to be unraveled, but it does so while remaining light and understated. Yes, there are some gory incidents of harassment, one of which could have been dangerous, but they don’t monopolize the storytelling and I was never afraid that someone’s life was on the line. You sink into the small town shrouded in family secrets quite easily, but everything runs at a pretty slow pace until the novel’s end, when the reveals come hot and fast. The vibe was interesting but definitely a little different for me because it largely lacks suspense. One could argue that it’s more contemporary fiction than mystery for much of the book.
Owen was an interesting main character, caught between his life of privilege, his current predicament, and the victimhood of those around him. I felt his frustrations with him, especially when his old friend Pippa argues that he can’t be mad at the people blaming and harassing him at school. Pippa turned out to be a great character overall, but that initial set of interactions was hard to swallow. Perhaps Owen needed to develop more empathy, but he couldn’t just be everyone’s punching bag, either. After that bit was over, I did really enjoy Pippa– she’s feisty, self-assured, and hopeful (despite a heavy dose of skepticism.) Owen also has some great friends from his private school who stick by him in really inspiring ways. In a little seen YA move, author Ashley Elston also does a great job giving credence to the adult characters too, from Gus the hermit, who has some ghosts of his own to contend with, to Owen’s devastated mother, who needs to do the near impossible: Start over on her own.
Though I didn’t figure out every last bit of the mystery, I was able to predict a very important aspect of it early on, so this might have jarred some of the excitement from me. However, if you’re up for a good character study, there’s still plenty to enjoy here. Don’t be afraid to uncover the secrets of The Preacher Woods!
RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
Owen Foster has never wanted for anything. Then his mother shows up at his elite New Orleans boarding school cradling a bombshell: his privileged life has been funded by stolen money. After using the family business, the single largest employer in his small Louisiana town, to embezzle millions and drain the employees’ retirement accounts, Owen’s father vanished without a trace, leaving Owen and his mother to deal with the fallout.
Owen returns to Lake Cane to finish his senior year, where people he can barely remember despise him for his father’s crimes. It’s bad enough dealing with muttered insults and glares, but when Owen and his mother receive increasingly frightening threats from someone out for revenge, he knows he must get to the bottom of what really happened at Louisiana Frac–and the cryptic note his father sent him at his boarding school days before disappearing.
Owen’s only refuge is the sprawling, isolated pecan orchard he works at after school, owned by a man named Gus who has his own secrets–and in some ways seems to know Owen better than he knows himself. As Owen uncovers a terrible injustice that looms over the same Preacher Woods he’s claimed as his own, he must face a shocking truth about his own past–and write a better future.