Lizzie, a small-town waitress, thought she’d finally met her prince charming in Dr. Grant Chatsworth. She was young and in love, and the quick courtship ended with the four carat diamond engagement ring of her dreams. Now residing in one of Buckhead’s finest estates, Lizzie soon learns all that glitters is not gold. Her handsome husband, renowned cardiac surgeon and developer of a new congestive heart failure drug, was becoming cruel and controlling. Lizzie finds herself captive in the vast expanse of his estate without a phone or a car, and under the watchful eye of Flossie. When Lizzie discovers that her husband’s drug development company is a Ponzi scheme, she realizes that her life could be in danger if she doesn’t somehow escape the gated mansion on the hill. With her parents deceased, her only hope is to get to Biloxi, Mississippi and seek refuge with her sister, Maggie. Maggie and her husband Leland quickly find a safe harbor for Lizzie in a house on the bayou. However the house at the end of the street might not be the quiet retreat Lizzie was hoping for. The confines of her hideaway soon get to Lizzie so she begins sneaking out in the middle of the night to walk in the historical cemetery next door. One night a damaged, carved lamb on top of the tombstone of a small child catches her eye, and the story of the child immediately captures her heart. Just when Lizzie Chatsworth thinks her world can’t get any more complicated, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery from the 1800’s that is pulling her in and demanding she seek justice. As her husband’s empire begins to crumble, he’s more determined than ever to find Lizzie and kill her. But, will the mystery of Baby Belle’s death end Lizzie’s life first?
Before I get started, I would like to once again thank the author, Kim Carter, for requesting this review and providing me with a copy of “Sweet Dreams, Baby Belle”.
After receiving a request from the author herself, I dived headfirst into the intriguing yet troubled story of Lizzie Chatsworth. Overall, I had an enjoyable experience reading this book. However while I enjoyed some aspects, others I found to be rather lacking, which I will explain below. Now this is only my opinion and not stated fact. I am always welcome to a healthy debate over those who disagree with me. Part of the reason I enjoy reading so much are the discussions I delve into with other readers once I’m done. This review is simply how I viewed the book and how the experiences within affected me.
The characters overall are decent, particularly Lizzie and my personal favorite, Kenny. Lizzie is a young woman stuck in a bitter, abusive marriage who only wants out. As the reader, you feel her desperation to escape Grant, especially when she finds out about the baby. The reader sees the wheels turning in her head as she attempts to gain allies in a house full of employees loyal only to her husband. The reader feels sympathetic towards her and wants her to be reunited with her family. Her husband Grant, at least for the first part of the book, was a very one-dimensional villain. On the outside, a very successful cardiac surgeon and charmer, Grant was secretly manipulative and cruel. He would hit Lizzie, keep her locked up and isolated in the house, and led an embezzling scheme with other doctors. And as you find out later, he has no qualms about committing murder. He even has the most cliched reason for doing what he does: money. Thankfully though as the book goes on, there is some character development out of him. Not layers, mind you, since he clearly has no remorse or even hesitates to commit any crime. But the reader gets a closer look at his thoughts and inner-workings, which proves to be rather interesting.
Clara and Iris are two characters that seem to be fan favorites. Clara is an older woman who has worked at Grant’s office for many years and Iris is her neighbor and long time best friend. They have a believable bond and at first are genuinely sweet and entertaining characters. Through a series of misadventures, they get tangled up in Grant’s crimes and try to get to the bottom of things, all the while keeping a low profile. The pair eventually get involved by directly helping siblings, Justin and Christi, which only pulls them all deeper into the web. At times, I found these characters amusing and endearing; however, towards the end, I felt they had overstayed their welcome and messed with the tone of the book. And personally, I felt their resolution at the end of the book was a bit silly.
Detective Pitts was a decent character. I always enjoy mysteries where we, as readers, get to see how the cops access the evidence and put things together, reaching their own conclusions and eventually solve the crime. On that end, he was effective, but other than that, he was not very memorable. Just your typical detective character, with little to no insight to how he ticks or even his back story. The reader gets a very brief and human interaction where he asks a woman out, but other than that there is no communication between them. Personally, I think it would have been effective for Lizzie to have somehow called the police on Grant once before and have a personal bond with the detective when he comes to talk to her. Not romance of course, but for Detective Pitts to have an overwhelming urge to protect her and save her from what seemed to be an impossible situation. And when she realizes that not even the police can help her, she decides to save herself. Sadly we never even get an interaction with these two, which rubbed me the wrong way.
Flossie, Grant’s head maid, was a very unlikable character for all of the right reasons. Both detestable yet loyal, she’s perfectly content with following Grant’s every order, no matter the harm it causes to Lizzie. In the end when you find out the reason for her unwavering loyalty, it does not come as a surprise but it certainly adds to her declining mind. Every time Flossie showed up, I got an odd sort of amusement from her. She was like this terribly fascinating combination of Lady Tremaine and Annie Wilkes. I will say the brief and unexpected appearance of Flossie’s adult daughter was random and did not add anything. I can’t even remember her name because it left such a little impression.
As stated above, my favorite character in the book was Kenny. He is a young man hired by Lizzie’s sister to help Lizzie remain in hiding and supply her with anything she needs. Immediately I was drawn to his down-to-earth likability and willingness to help. Kenny quickly gets wrapped up in Lizzie’s shenanigans and though several things are thrown at him, literally, he remains with an amusing outlook and cheery demeanor. I felt that him and Lizzie worked very well together and I commend Carter for not making him a new love interest. One particular tense moment with him towards the end of the book led to my favorite exchange in the book:
Kenny: “Lizzie…there’s something I have to tell you…I’m gay.”
Lizzie: “And I’m married and pregnant. Let’s get the hell out of here!”
The rest of the characters were likable enough, but there’s not a whole lot to discuss with them so I won’t go into further detail with the rest.
When the story began, with the direction the plot was going, I felt it was heading in the direction of the 2002 movie “Enough” with Jennifer Lopez: A desperate wife leaves her abusive husband and through all her running, decides to no longer be his victim. She learns to defend herself and her child and when her abuser tracks them down, she gives him a taste of his own medicine. Unfortunately, that is not at all what I got. My problems are not with the character of Lizzie, but rather, how the plot and story unfolds. Usually I view being surprised or caught off guard, particularly reading a mystery, as a positive thing. Here on the other hand, the surprise comes from the jarring tones of the book that seem to work against it.
In fact, I would say the “mystery” doesn’t truly begin until over halfway through the book when Lizzie finds the cemetery. I say this because up until then, the reader is fully aware of who the bad guys are and what their plan is. True, there are other characters intertwined with the crimes and one wonders if she will ever escape the threat, but there were not enough concealed elements for my taste. I would have rather been left in the dark until the inevitable revelation at the end. And though some parts and characters are certainly exaggerated, the first half of the book was at least somewhat grounded in reality. There are corrupt people who concoct schemes to embezzle money. There are people who murder and cover up their wrong doings. There are victims of abuse, trapped in a hopeless situation, just waiting endlessly for a window of opportunity. And then there’s ghosts. Oh yes did I mention this is a ghost story? Because it is. Or at least the last half is.
Now let me make this clear: I’m not against ghost stories. Far from it in fact. I thoroughly enjoy them. But there has to be a build up or reason to exist in the realm of the story. When Lizzie, a pregnant woman who escaped her murderous abuser, starts seeing ghosts, it just takes me right out of it. Truthfully, her whole mini adventure to solve the mystery of Baby Belle, while interesting and engaging as a whole, adds nothing to the story. If the whole book was somehow about THIS aspect, it would have worked. Sadly the ghost story seemed to be more of an afterthought. This book should have been either all about Lizzie escaping and building a new life for her and her child OR her solving mysteries with unmarked graves. To me, Carter’s integration of these two vastly separate story lines didn’t quite hit the mark. It seemed as though too much was going on and the clashing tones simply did not mesh well together.
Differing story lines aside, Carter does a good job introducing new elements and characters that will later play a role as things unravel. The book has 95 chapters, mostly around 2-4 pages each, and while sometimes it didn’t seem necessary, it does help to build on the tension and suspense. For the most part, each chapter either switched points of views or shows a passage of time. I enjoyed her descriptive writing and some small twists amused me greatly. Overall, a satisfying read.
Pros: Likable characters such as Lizzie or Kenny, suspense and the build up of tension, switching point of views, creepy elements, some good twists
Cons: Clashing stories, underdeveloped characters such as Detective Pitts, Clara and Iris’s silly resolution at the end
Who I recommend this for: If you enjoy mysteries, thrillers, or ghost stories
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
xx The Page Maiden