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by Julia Crouch
Headline, August 2012
456 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 0755378024

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Marcus, Lara and their family move from England to upstate New York for the summer, whilst Marcus works in a local theatre. Each family member begins to make friends in the surrounding community, despite the unpleasant house in which they have to live. Although the family have moved so far, there are some things that Lara and her daughter Bella cannot leave behind and, typical of small community life, the family's past history and new friendships all coalesce, building slowly to a dramatic climax.

The very competent, smooth and readable writing paints a vivid picture of small town America. It captures the space, the dust, the forests, and the paucity of people, often by describing the way the characters feel, appealing to their senses such as smell or touch. There is a continual sense of low level, barely perceptible threat, with which it is easy to empathise. Indeed the first half of the book could almost be a woman's magazine serial. Then when bad things begin to happen they are vicious and unpleasant, all the more upsetting after the gentle build up.

The dialogue is very fluid although some contractions tended to be clumsy. Whilst each family member becomes familiar and appears fairly realistic, the youngest lacks consistency, at one moment seemingly very young, and the next walking confidently through rough forest, with dialogue varying too in age-related competence. This is not a problem with the older characters who gradually reveal their true characters through their actions.

The plot, although quite complicated in places, also seems rather superficial. The apparent lack of awareness of social issues is a missed opportunity and contributes to the rather tawdry impression given by some of the events, and to the rather disappointing conclusion. This is a book that might have been better targeted toward the grittier end of the romantic fiction market. However, as a first novel, the quality of writing alone should ensure some future gems, particularly if the plots are developed with more depth.

Sylvia Maughan is a retired university lecturer, based in Bristol.

Reviewed by Sylvia Maughan, September 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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