By Sarah Addison Allen
Published by Random House
Source: the publisher and Pump Up Your Book
Emily Benedict has come to Mullaby, North Carolina, following her mother's death, to live with a grandfather she has never met, in a town her mother has never told her anything about. But Emily quickly learns that her mother growing up was not the same woman Emily knew. In fact, she seems to have been the town pariah--a spoiled little rich girl who went out of her way to torment others. Her grandfather is a giant, there are strange lights that skip across the yard at night, and the wallpaper in her mother's old bedroom changes patterns. When Emily meets young Win Coffey and Julia Winterson, a woman who was one of the victims of her mother's nastiness, she begins to learn more and more about the Mullaby lights and why the people of Mullaby hate her mother so much. Grandpa Vance isn't much of a talker, but Emily gets him to start telling her exactly what happened so many years ago. Maybe she will be able to fit in; maybe she and Win will overcome his family's strong objections to their growing friendship.
Julia, meanwhile, is wrestling with her own demons. She's come back to Mullaby for a couple of years to wrap up her father's estate but she's also trying to avoid her former stepmother Beverly and Sawyer Alexander, a man with whom she had a one night stand almost 20 years ago in high school. Her hatred of Sawyer has kept her going for all of these years. But when he finally does reappear in her life, her high school feelings for him come flooding back and he's doing his best to overcome her defenses. I most enjoyed Julia's part of the story and watching her overcome and come to terms with her past.
The book relays on the action to move it along and I think I would have liked that more without the magic that is such a big part of the story. If you're a fan of Allen's, though, you're looking for that in a book and you won't be disappointed. I felt that a lot of the characters were stereotypes but readers who've posted reviews on Barnes & Noble's site don't agree with me.
I found some descriptive phrases a little jarring. At one point Allen writes that a "smell was intense and delicious, like being in an oven." A smell is like being in an oven? But overall, this was an quick, enjoyable read that didn't require much thought and which I knew, early on, could be counted on to end happily.