Berkley Trade|February 5, 2013|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-425-25969-6
Life can turn on a dime. It’s a common cliché, and I’d heard it often enough. People die or move away. Investments go south. Affairs end. Loved ones betray us…Stuff happens.
Daisy McCrae’s life is in tatters. She’s lost her job, broken up with her boyfriend, and has been reduced to living in the attic above her family’s store, the Union Street Bakery, while learning the business. Unfortunately, the bakery is in serious hardship. Making things worse is the constant feeling of not being a “real” McCrae since she was adopted as a child and has a less-than-perfect relationship with her two sisters.
Then a long-standing elderly customer passes away, and for some reason bequeaths Daisy a journal dating back to the 1850’s, written by a slave girl named Susie. As she reads, Daisy learns more about her family, and her own heritage, than she ever dreamed. Haunted by dreams of the young Susie, who beckons Daisy to “find her”, she is compelled to look further into the past of the town and her family.
What she finds are the answers she has longed for her entire life, and a chance to begin again with the courage, and desire she thought she lost for good.
The Union Street Bakery has been owned by a McCrae since 1852. First was, Shaun McCrae, an Irishman who lost his wife in the potato famine in 1842. He found work in a slave auction house but over time lost his taste for trading human flesh. For a few years, no record of Shaun surfaced but then in 1851, the City of Alexandria records mentioned that Shaun McCrae was the new proprietor of the McCrae Bakery, later to be known as the Union Street Bakery. His specialty was sea biscuits or ship’s bread, a hardy cracker that fed sailors who labored on the barges, schooners, and other ships docked in Alexandria’s thriving harbor. In 1865, Shaun married his second wife, Sally Good, and they passed the business to their eldest son, and he did the same when he retired. Ever since, a McCrae has operated the business. And now Daisy herself has returned to the city to what so many of her family did before her: bake bread.
Daisy’s birth mother abandoned her outside the Union Street Bakery when she was just 3 years old. As she sat eating a cookie her mother told her to “Be a good girl. I will be back soon.” It was Sheila McCrae who had 2 daughters of her own at ages 5 and 3 who took her in after an extensive police search and a few rounds with social workers. The McCrae family legally adopted Daisy.
A long-time 99-year-old customer of the bakery, Mabel Woodrow, was searching through her old wooden trunk for a journal that had been packed away in newspaper dating back to 1922. When she finally located it she could barely contain her excitement. Underneath the newspaper it was wrapped in blue calico fabric. Her own grandmother had given it to her and told her to put it away someplace safe until the time was right. Mabel passed away and left strict instructions with her nurse of 40 years to make sure that Daisy McCrae received the journal. The following morning the nurse appeared at the bakery and handed over the ancient journal to Daisy explaining that Mabel had left the strictest of instructions that she receive this journal. Of course, Daisy, had no idea why but accepted it with a grateful heart.
Inside, Daisy found the words written by a slave girl named, Susie, written over 150 years ago and she had no idea what this journal was going to end up meaning to her.
The next morning, Daisy awoke at 3:30 to get ready to head downstairs to the basement to begin the process of baking bread, buns, cookies, cakes and pies for the 7:00am opening. However, this morning, her attic room had very distinct chills and cool breezes as she moved about the room. Then suddenly she saw him – the hair on the back of her neck tingled. She had a sense that someone was lurking there in the shadows staring at her. The sensation burrowed down to her bones. She stood for several seconds, her heart thumped and then at the edge of darkness she saw the outline of a man. His hair was combed back and accentuated dark and expressive eyes. His partial grin revealed crooked, small teeth. His dark suit appeared hand tailored as did his shirt and vest. He shook his head, she shook hers and said: “Do I know you?” He stared as if assessing her and she sensed she came up short in his book. “What’s this about?” she asked. He eased toward her, assessing. “This is about the journal?” Daisy inquired. He nodded. “I didn’t read it last night, I was too tired and annoyed. I suppose you’re here to tell me not to read it.” The man’s expression darkened and the shadows around them thickened. The walls undulated ad moaned and suddenly the air in the room smelled of rotting eggs.
Fear dug into Daisy’s gut and triggered a set of worries she never had considered. She’d never been afraid of any bump or squeak in the night in the attic room, but now she was. “Just leave”, she said. For seconds, maybe minutes, they stood staring at each other and in the next instant he was gone. Daisy’s heart thumped and her breathing quickened. She felt confined and afraid. Several books piled high on the table tumbled to the floor, making her jump. This presence wanted her to leave. And that ticked her off. She told the ghost to leave, to get the hell out of her room. Seconds ticked as watching eyes stared at her. “Beat it”, she said. The air thickened and then in a blink cleared. Whatever it was had gone. She’d never felt unwelcomed in this house but she did now.
What on earth was she going to find in this journal about a slave girl and what did it have to do with her that she now had ghosts visiting her?
This was a well-written and extremely interesting story that kept me turning page after page and provided me with both chills and thrills. I never expected what Daisy was soon to find out. The Union Street Bakery is highly recommendable.