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By: Camille Di Maio
Publisher: Lake Union
Publication Date: 5/16/2017
My Rating: 5 Stars +
From the bestselling author, Camille DiMaio of The Memory of Us, the smashing debut landing on my Top 50 Books of 2016 returns with another stunning follow-up, equally as gripping.
An enthralling modern mystery: BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS —Beautifully written and incredibly poignant, a story of love, loss, and redemption. 5 Stars + Top Books of 2017
A tragic tale which will restore your faith and strength of the human spirit to rise despite adversity― A courageous woman who keeps a dark secret and makes tremendous "sacrifices" that will change her family forever.
Emotional and intriguing. At the same time— a timeless love story, reminding us that often in our darkest hour, hope shines a candle to light our way.
Set in humid South Texas (author's hometown San Antonio), a dual storyline (almost three), alternating between Della’s dark and horrific experiences of the 1940s; her parents: Herman and Eva, and sister Eula (the beloved songbird); and Paloma (grandmother Abuela) and Mick’s present-day search for answers―paths destined to cross, decades apart.
Two sisters. A death. Two mysterious portraits. One found, another lost. A town in need of hope and much-needed rain.
Told in alternating chapters between the 1940s and present day. A washed-up journalist and a young doctor cross paths while searching for the truth behind the mystery murder decades earlier.
Della Lee and Tomas Trujillo had been married only four hours when it happened, their newly minted future ripped apart by an ivory-handled knife.
Tomas said he understood why she’d done what she did. But the fairy tales that Della had imagined for them ever since that day were over. Someone had attempted to break that bond.
She made a choice that would change her world forever, and alter the path of someone she holds dear.
Texas 1943— Eula Lee had been murdered. The tiny border town was devastated for the second time by the Lee family. The daughter everyone cherished. Della Lee Trujillo was convicted. Guilty of murder in the death of her younger sister.
"The drops of rain make a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by oft falling."—Lucretius
Alternating from Puerto Pesar—Present Day: Della was back in the place that consumed her memories through seventy years in prison. Now, in her nineties. Tomas had lived in the house for a few years until going off to war, but he had the foresight to take care of all the legal bits that Della never had the chance to consider.
It was not until she returned to her childhood home that phantoms and memories stirred her, making it impossible to rest. There were births, deaths, marriages, joys, sorrows that were absorbed into these walls.
Did their ghosts mingle, along with those of Herman, Eva, Tomas, and Durla—all watching her this old woman in this old house? The painting, the shrine, the beloved girl. Where was the second one?
She looked back at her life. The forties —when she learned to be a champion, catcher of greased pigs. The fifties— when she discovered a love of reading. The sixties— when she sabotaged her chance at parole. And yet they seemed like yesterday.
The days in which her sister was no longer the belle of Puerto Pesar— drawing crowds from around the country to the little church on Sunday mornings. The days instead when Eula resided six feet below the parched soil in the churchyard.
These were her Freedom Days. She would walk around without bars to block the view. That was one kind of freedom. It was the freedom in telling your secrets before it was too late. Her guilt over not being a good enough caregiver for her sister.
Della had a story and she was ready to tell it. This would be the Truth Days.
Present Day: Mick Anders, a reporter for the Daily Talk in Boston, looking for a story to revive his career. He is in Texas to research the origins of a church painting depicting a “crying girl”. He is staying at the La Palma Inn the only lodging in the small border town of Puerto Pesar. He is struggling with his own battles.
His editor wanted him to lie low regarding a fiasco with a senator (backstory here). He had been told to work his magic in this Podunk town and turn the story into a Pulitzer winner. Go to Texas until his other deal blew over. Two weeks of leave. His orders were to find a knockout story or he was finished. No per diem of course since this was not a real assignment.
His girlfriend Stephanie had taken the keys to the Lexus and kicked him out of their condo. He was going to get a story and spin straw into gold and return to the newspaper as the prodigal son.
The area had not had rain for one hundred and eighty-two days. The photo had shown rosaries and holy cards outside the church as people begged for salvation from this hell. Would he discover the mysteries of this family before the rain falls? Before the woman dies without telling her story. He wanted to be the one.
It all boiled down to this: A portrait found in a thrift store and was thought to be leaking tears. The image of a young girl about four years old. Eula Lee, whose father owned the fish cannery that had been the town’s largest employer at the time. Her sister had murdered her years later. Della Lee had gone to prison and recently returned to the family house after seventy years of incarceration.
However, what was the real story?
The people of the town had enjoyed a regional notoriety for a while. Then the heat, the drought, and skepticism sent people away. Mick had received his Hail Mary pass. “Had one mistake, one reckless grasp at advancement been worth banishment to a Hades what seemed so out of place in a civilized country?"
And could any kind of salvation be found in a convicted nonagenarian and the portrait of a long-dead girl named Eula?”
Mick meets Paloma Vega by chance, who is back in her hometown to help her grandmother recover from a heart attack. An unexpected meeting. He does not realize how this girl and her family will change his life.
Present Day: Paloma Vega. She had moved away ten years earlier. She was a bona fide New Yorker now and grew up in Puerto Pesar. She had a restless heart. She graduated from high school and received a letter from her father in Connecticut. There was a trust large enough for her college and grad school.She had to leave her sister Mercedes who was only six at the time. At nineteen she left for a new future.
Now a few months away from thirty, she was a different person. Four years at NYU, four more at Columbia for medical school, and a two- year residency and a job offer for a permanent position. Her dad would be proud.
Her sister, Mercedes was only sixteen. How was she going to communicate or help her? Who was this creature with the dark eyeliner and darker mood? How would she reach her? She is feeling guilty.
Abuela’s own mother had been a product of the Depression and learned to hoard items for reuse. She had only made four visits in ten years. Not often enough to visit the intricacies of her sister growing up or her grandmother growing old.
Puerto Pesar. Family. There was something comforting about returning home, even if you’d dreamed of leaving it. She had done what any girl from a small border would do when her upper-class father offered her a way out; escaped. She had been too young to think twice. Too starry-eyed to feel guilty.
Until recently. The hospital had agreed to hold her new position for a month so she could go home and help Mercedes take care Abuela after her heart attack. This was the woman who had raised her while her own mother flitted in and about town.
Abuela needed her, even if she denied it. So here she was. She could never repay her grandmother for all she had done raising Paloma and then Mercedes while holding down three jobs to do so. Paloma quickly realized the toll her absence had taken on her sister. What could she do about it in the short period of three weeks while here?
Past 1943: The author takes us back to Goree State Farm for Women— Della Lee Trujillo was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole in twenty years and would live out those days at Goree State Farm in Huntsville. At the prison, there she met the musical group and friends, the Goree Girls. The good, bad and ugly. Not much good.
Tomas had said he would wait for her. She drove him away.
On the way to prison, the driver had something else in mind and pulled over at the motel. She had never been with a man, not even her own husband.
Reporters wondered why she killed her sister. To others, she was not a victim help by a captor. She was a convicted murderer being lawfully transported by an agent of the state. She was now helpless. The violation. The humiliation. She could not think about the future ahead of her. No one would listen to a murderer.
While in prison . . . she was consumed with darkness. She feared for her life. She was angry with her mother for leaving, with her father for checking out, with her sister for dying. Eddie for raping her. They had all failed her, and because of them, she failed Tomas.
Everyone thought she was a murderer. It had been her wedding day. In prison, she could not read his letters. She loved him too much to make him sacrifice his happiness for her. She was stubborn. She had to raise a headstrong Eula.
It was all about Eula. It had always been about her. Della and Eula only two years apart. Essentially, momma and daughter. Eula had an effect, on everyone. She had a fearsome temper. The same look on her mother’s face on that last day at the beach with the painter. An unspoken triumph.
However, was she really a murderer? Who was she protecting?
“Regret. A word she knew intimately. Only three people knew the truth about what happened that day, and two of them resided in this cemetery.”
Present day: Paloma and Mick meet, while in town. . . Two East Coasters here for a brief time.
The scandals of the Lee family had been talked about for years. Mick and Paloma discuss speaking with Abuela to find out more about Della Lee. She would know stories to help point him in the right direction. Abuela begins telling what she remembers. She is recently home from the hospital and weak.
Where it all started: She recalls a trip where Eva and the girls and the painter went out of town. Eva packed up and left while Herman was at work and the little girls were in the house alone until he returned. Two young girls, ages six and four. Eva never came back. Herman retreated from everything except his office and the girls had to fend for themselves.
Della Lee was no murderer. Her mother had thought she was innocent. There was no proof and it was complicated by the fact Della pled guilty. However, uncle Tomas was convinced of her innocence.
Tomas came back from service defeated by Della rejection. He volunteered for combat and joined the Marines, and turned down a safe post with the army locally. Was Eula like Eva? Carrying on with the boys—rages. But to everyone else a saint?
DiMaio takes us back to the Lee family when they came to Puerto Pesar around the turn of the century. Herman fell for a local girl Eva. She was troubled, beautiful. Some said she was unfaithful. Herman Lee had money. They had a daughter, Della and a few years later another girl named Eura. The mid-twenties and Herman was a slave to keep Eva happy.
Then along came a vagabond from El Paso. He earned his keep as he went along painting landscapes and portraits. They said his name was Teddy Brown. Eva and Teddy caused quite the scandal. The husband was busy with work and she would meet him at the coast.
Herman Lee found out something about the painter Teddy Brown and he died in an airplane crash on his way to Europe. A tragedy. Two young girls left alone. Eula’s troubles started when her mother left. The paintings.
Mick is drawn into the story and, Paloma is a real distraction for him. Seeing the painting, and going to her grandmother’s house. However, he was here for a reason.
He needed to meet Della Lee, now ninety years old and lived alone. This woman seemed normal. How strange it must be for her at this age reentering the real world. He had come originally to see the portrait of her sister. Santa Bonita. He soon comes to respect this woman. Why had her mother gone away for ten years and then go find her? They lost a mother so young and a father so tragically.
“Things aren’t always as they seem. Don’t assume you know everything you might have read about me is the truth. Only I know the truth. And the only other two who did have long since died.”
An exclusive interview with the woman herself. Incarcerated for seven decades. He needed this knockout story. He felt alive. Difficult to think this woman could have murdered anyone. Mick must learn the mysteries behind Eula. He hoped she could hang on and have enough strength to get it all out.
"Sacrifice is sanctifying." Mick was learning this family was about religion. However, it was cryptic. What drove her to murder her sister if so much had gone into protecting her?
There were also two portraits. One of Eula and one of Della. A story which needed to be told before it could be snatched away, as so many other things in here past. Holding on to things so deeply driving you to do things that seem inexplicable.
So much fun reading about the tales of the Goree Girls All Strings Band! The friendships of these women. The letters from poor Tomas pouring out his heart. A doctor and a journalist pulled into this saga.
Two people from the East Coast, visiting a small border town, and transformed by a place that did not even show up on most maps.
At 95% was dying to learn what happened that night. This lady can write folks! She has a knack for tugging at your heart strings and never letting go.
A beautifully told, tragic tale. Women enduring facing insurmountable hardships. Loved ones separated. Choices and consequences which trickle down through generations. A sacrifice. A strong parallel between the generations.
With memorable characters, and conceptual depth, and heart-pounding tension, DiMaio’s novel is one that simply unputdownable. I love this author! From her first book, I knew this one possessed a God-given talent. A gifted storyteller.
Both timeline stories were equally developed, absorbing, and engaging. The characters jump off the page and you feel their intense pain, agony, and difficult decisions. Both heartbreaking and a very satisfying ending. This saga and its characters will remain with long after the book ends.
There are also religious tones with both her books regarding Roman Catholicism and its distinctive beliefs including certain doctrines, beliefs, and sacraments: Other distinctive Catholic practices include veneration of saints, use of the crucifix, and the use of rosary beads in prayer.
Through all the pain, loss and tragedy there is hope and life gives us surprises and something beauty out of tragedy when we least expect. For fans of historical, women’s, literary and contemporary fiction as well as romance, suspense, and modern mystery.
Perfect for fans of Nicholas Sparks, Charles Martin (Long Way Gone), Richard Paul Evans, Fredrik Backman, Catherine Ryan Hyde, Karen White, Kristin Hannah, Katherine Hughes (The Secret and The Letter), Sarah Jio, Kate Morton, Lisa Wingate, and Diane Chamberlain.
I adore the author’s book trailers: They are powerful, moving, emotional and will immediately draw you into the lives of her characters. Oh, and the stunning cover . . .
View Book Trailers:
Before the Rain Falls
The Memory of Us
What a great way to spend a Saturday! Set aside the time—Unputdownable. Spectacular—another smashing hit by Camille DiMaio! Fans, you will want to pre-order BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS, now.
In the meantime, if you have not read The Memory of Us , highly recommend. Would love to see both these played out on the wide screen. Movie worthy!
A special thank you to the author, Lake Union, and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.