Thursday, March 28, 2024

What the Mountains Remember whisks readers to the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains with a tale of romance and self-discovery

During a week-long stay amid the mountainous beauty of Asheville, North Carolina, a young woman caught between two worlds must confront her hidden past and decide what she really wants in Joy Callaway's lushly rendered, character-centered historical novel.

It should be a dream excursion. In April 1913, Belle Newbold, stepdaughter of the gas magnate she calls Papa Shipley, accompanies family members on one of the highly publicized road trips Henry Ford makes with his friends and fellow “Vagabonds” to various points of interest across America. In this ultimate form of glamping – these scenes had me agog at the sumptuous luxury of the late Gilded Age – the group stays in tents, tended by servants who oversee their hair and elegant wardrobe and cook gourmet meals.

But for Belle, the trip spells potential danger, since she hasn’t seen mountains since she fled West Virginia. Her late father was an ordinary coal miner, not a manager, a fact her mother forbids her to reveal for fear the disclosure would plunge them into poverty again.

Also, seeing how distraught her mother was at her father’s death in a mine collapse, Belle seeks stability over love in her own marriage, one she hopes to her find in her arranged union with Papa Shipley’s family friend Worth Delafield, who owns the campsite land in Asheville. She puzzles, though, why Worth – a kind, handsome, considerate man – would agree to such a marriage himself.

After an outing to view the Grove Park Inn, an elaborate resort being built of locally sourced stone, Belle gets naturally drawn into the stories of those laboring on the project – and takes the opportunity to chronicle them when the opportunity presents itself.

All of the characters have interesting backstories that add intrigue to the unfolding plot. Belle and Worth’s growing bond follows a complicated path, since both are held back by secrets. Marie Austen Kipp, Belle’s troubled and attention-seeking step-cousin, develops into a credible antagonist without losing all the reader's empathy for her.

Callaway also draws in Asheville’s history as a mecca for tuberculosis patients due to its favorable climate, and entrepreneur Edwin Grove’s ambition to transform it into a major tourist destination. While moving toward a satisfying resolution for this atmospheric, romantic story, she shines light on the talented workmen and artisans who carried out the financiers’ glorious vision for the Grove Park Inn, which I’d love to view in person one day.

Sketch of the exterior of the Grove Park Inn by Fred Seely, 1912
Sketch of the exterior of the Grove Park Inn by Fred Seely, 1912
(via Wikimedia Commons; public domain)

What the Mountains Remember is published by Harper Muse next week (April 2, 2024). My thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC.


  1. I love the idea of reading about "the ultimate form of glamping"!

    Thanks for sharing your review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

    1. I used to go camping when younger but would like a bit more comfort these days - this sounds ideal!!