Author: Annie Barrows
Publication Date: June 12th 2015
Synopsis: "In the Summer of 1938, Layla Beck is forced out of the lap of luxury and sent by her senator father to work on the Federal Writers' Project, a New Deal jobs program. Assigned to cover the history of the little mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, Layla envisions a summer of tedium.
But, once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is completely drawn into their complex world.
At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to acquire her favourite virtues of ferocity and devotion, but her search leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried.
Layla's Arrival strikes a match to the family's veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns and their deep entanglement in Macedonia's history. As Willa peels back the layers of her family's past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed - and their personal histories completely rewritten."
My thoughts: Very much like the previous book that Barrows worked on - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - I was taken by surprise by how much I enjoyed this book. The characters were so interesting and hid secrets that just begged to be uncovered. Layla Beck's character in particular intrigued me - I don't think I have ever simultaneously loved a character and also been so frustrated with their willful ignorance. At times I would mutter to myself 'stupid stupid girl', but then would keep reading because I needed to find out what happened next.
Willa is also an interesting character, somehow managing to be both your typical 12-year-old girl and someone quite intelligent and interesting to read about. At times - particularly towards the very end - I found her to be a bit too intelligent for someone 12 years old, but it somehow all fit with the story, so I forgave her for that. Both she and Layla Beck managed to do some sleuthing and finding things out, but each on their own, and following their stories as they veered towards each other was fascinating and even quite exciting.
But I wasn't just fascinated by Willa and Layla - all of the characters offered something amazing to the story, and I found myself doing that wonderful thing that you can sometimes do in books, where you disappear entirely into the setting and feel like you are a fly on the wall, watching everything and wincing when things start to go pear-shaped, or feeling heart-warmed when things go well. Barrows has described an good setting, yes, but it really is the characters in this story that make you feel welcome and excited to keep reading. To be honest, I am tempted to pick this one up again for a cheeky re-read, just to see if I missed anything the first time round.
I received a pre-release copy of this book from Dymocks as part of their Gold Booklovers Program, in exchange for an honest review.
You would like this book if: You enjoy complex and wonderful characters; you feel like some garden-variety sleuthing.
Tea to drink while reading this book: Iced tea - particularly lemon iced tea - so you can feel like you're sitting on the porch with Willa and Jottie, discussing how hot the weather is.
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