Plot Summary: Camden Bristow is jobless, homeless, and out of money. She decides to pay a visit to the only relative who ever cared about her—her grandmother who lives in a rambling historical mansion on the edge of a small town in Ohio. But when she get arrives, Camden meets up with a surprise she was least expecting, and her life is about to make a huge turn from where she thought it was going.
My Review: This book seemed to bring several things that interested me together into one story: family mysteries, genealogy, history, and a small town setting that takes place not far from where I used to live in OH. The author herself grew up in Ohio so the descriptions of the fictional small town of Etherton were realistic–I really could picture it!
Two years ago I’d read, “The Black Cloister,” and was eager to pick up another book by the Melanie Dobson. One thing I’ve appreciated about this writer’s style is that she doesn’t get too comfortable in a perfect, fictional world. She creates characters with fully developed backgrounds, even if having so many people with unusual pasts does start to seem a bit unbelievable at times. It’s a way to understand where the characters are coming from. I also like that she delivers the story little bit by little bit, unfolding snippets of the mystery, revealing the past histories slowly throughout each chapter to keep you interested and wanting to read “just one more page” before it’s time to turn out the light and go to bed. In this respect, I thought it was similar to “The Black Cloister.”
One of the themes that is brought up in the story can be summed up in the lines of an elderly character named Dotty:
“’It’s too bad they keep tearing down all the old buildings.” She sighed. “It’s like they’re not important anymore…they only appreciate it if it’s worth money.’”
Though I don’t think this mindset is exclusive to the rest of the country, it was totally believable to me that the people of Etherton would be so progress-minded that they would tear down much of their past. I found this to be the case while living in Ohio, and often lament the fact. Just like Camden, many of my ancestors settled in that state, and it is hard to find the places they used to build, live, and farm, without looking out over a development and saying wistfully, “Just try to imagine the barn standing here before there were condominiums…” Don’t get me wrong, people need places to live, and one of the problems Etherton was dealing with was the fact that their town was dying and they needed to bring business to keep themselves from turning into a ghost town. People need jobs. But there is a fine balance between doing things in the name of your kids’ future, and thoughtlessly losing the past and the historic and aesthetic value of your community.
I like how Camden sought to find her place by learning more about her family’s history. But in the end, she wasn’t bound by it. Everyone has their own choices in life, their own stories to live, regardless of what background you’ve come from. People have the choice to start over as well, just like Alex did.
Serious subjects are dealt with in the story (including domestic abuse and unwed mothers), but it was not a hard book to read, the reading went quickly, and it was a little lighter than “The Black Cloister.” For the record, I did prefer “The Black Cloister” to “Refuge…” probably because I cared more about the characters in that book. SPOILER ALERT: Although this wasn’t a deal-breaker for me, the only thing I didn’t prefer about “Refuge…” was the last two chapters! Alex and Camden got engaged and married pretty quickly, the proposal was so not romantic, and although I was glad they could save the house, I was left feeling like Alex and Camden had no privacy to themselves, with so many people living there! But I was satisfied with the solving of the mystery…:) END OF SPOILER.
I must say, the front cover art was done very well! I felt they illustrated the characters well, easily enough for me to vividly picture them in my mind’s eye. I kept seeing Camden looking like skier Julia Mancuso, and Alex was definitely “played by” Campbell Scott! The house in the picture is actually a good representation of the real-life house Melanie Dobson based Crescent Hill on. You can read more about the Curtis Mansion and the author here. If you’re in the mood for an interesting read full of mystery and secrets, this will be your cup of tea!