Thursday, April 14, 2016

Firefly Hollow (T. L. Haddix)

Firefly Hollow
(The Firefly Hollow series, Book 1)
T. L. Haddix
Streetlight Graphics Publishing
Fiction, Fantasy/Romance
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: In 1960's rural Kentucky, the old Appalachian ways slowly yield to the new, but the hills still hide some ancient secrets, such as the magic running through the blood of the older families. Owen Campbell never asked to be a shifter, able to take on the form of a deer or a wolf, and his gift brings him little peace. It already cost him his relationships with his father and brother; now, after his mother's passing, he lives as a recluse, believing that if he never forms another human attachment, he'll never lose anything else. But he didn't count on fate, or on neighbor girl Sarah.
Since she was a teenager, Sarah Browning has been sneaking across the border from her family's land in Firefly Hollow to the Campbell property, visiting a secluded pool that has become an oasis in times of trouble. She thought she'd never see it, or home, again when she left for school - but her father's failing health brings her back to help with the family. When she finally crosses paths with the elusive Owen Campbell, she finds him handsome, but less than welcoming. Still, there's something about the man that won't let her forget him - and it isn't long before she realizes the feeling is mutual. If only she knew why he kept himself hidden away... and why he's so reluctant to share his heart.

REVIEW: This starts out with a nice premise and the promise of a different sort of shifter romance, a quiet, old-fashioned backwoods courtship rather than the modern trend of violent urban heat. At first, that's more or less what it is. The tale builds slowly, laying the groundwork of the characters and their lives while the relationship burns low like a banked fire. Unfortunately, it never really gains much momentum, mired in long, lazy strolls through the town and the thoughts of the characters, often repeating sentiments in thought and words and thought again, with crises tending to appear in sudden, unexpected bursts from nowhere like a firefly flash in the hollow. Some of the conversations feel forced, full of direct "on the nose" observations - almost like they knew modern readers were looking over their shoulders, and they were dictating things specifically to those observers. At times, the long conversations and slow action create a decent atmosphere, evoking small-town mid-century American life, but as the tale goes on the storytelling style becomes more annoying than charming, particularly when Owen's the one with all the secrets and Sarah's the only naive fool who hasn't a clue that the old hill tales of shifters are real, let alone that Owen himself is one. Indeed, the magic here is so laid-back that it barely impacts the plot, save as one more secret for Owen to hide and fret over. One almost wonders why Haddix included it at all, save as a tribute to the fast-vanishing old ways of rural Kentucky. It all wends along slowly, almost stagnant at times, before a sudden collision of (somewhat contrived) problems precipitates a foregone conclusion of an ending.
I liked some of what I read here. I appreciated the different setting and the rural American take on magic. Overall, though, it felt far too long, repetitious, and slow to hold my interest, and the old Appalachian magic felt ill-utilized.

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