Author: Jan Eriksen,

Publisher: Archway Publishing


This ebook might be worth a few bucks to obtain a written description of New Zealand culture, landscapes, and people as portrayed by an aspiring author. I chose the book for that reason, and it didn’t disappoint me in that respect. Beyond that, I found the rest of the novel to be lacking. I should state up front that the author can put words down on the page in an intelligent and logical fashion, but there are more elements to writing a novel than this. Let’s consider some of these.

The plot: Recently widowed Julia wants to remarry. Having lived through some of that angst myself, this midlife crisis could be a theme lurking behind a romantic mystery, suspense story, or thriller, but not so here, and there’s too much of it. Julia’s desire gets her into trouble in a romantic sitcom-like way. Moreover, beyond my first line, the plot sections don’t cohere well. In fact, many seem unrelated, making this novel almost an Irish stew of short stories.

The characters: The main protagonist Julia is a sexy prude. That oxymoron underlines my problem with her character. Maybe she deserves to be happy and less abused emotionally, but I didn’t care much whether she was getting there or not because she creates many of her own problems. Creepy boyfriend Ken gives all farmers a bad name, although I had a nostalgic mental visit with dairy farming—maybe too much of a visit. Noble Peter, the local constable, is sweet on Julia. Why she feels anything toward the abusive Ken when he’s around and, in hindsight, just as available as Ken, is beyond me. All the characters leave me cold, though. I refuse to believe the real Kiwis are like this.

Beginning and ending: I hope this doesn’t sound like the Lord of the Rings (filmed in New Zealand), the novel should have started with finding the ring. The irascible tenants who hid the ring in Julia’s flat could have been briefly portrayed in flashback later. The chicanery surrounding the ring is the real story here. In other words, there’s no real hook to begin the novel and the interesting story takes more than ten chapters before it gets going. The denouement is lame too. In fact, the author just gets going with the ring story and then rushes through all that good drama, not even offering an effective portrayal of the real villain.

The setting: I’ll say it again: I loved the descriptions of the New Zealand ambiance. But what about that gold mine? Used as a vehicle for Julia to meet Peter, it serves some purpose, but it hardly deserves a place in the title. I can imagine a woman or man in Sacramento, California, suffering similar angst as Julia, but I wouldn’t expect Sutter Creek to play a role unless all the action occurred during the California Gold Rush. Nevertheless, a reader might be interested in extensive details about gold mining as well as dairy farming. If so, this is your book.

Dialog, POV, action, and so forth: Most of these technical elements are handled OK, but I found the dialog a bit stilted at times. Don’t Kiwis use contractions? Don’t they swear? POV is handled well until the end, where the author slips into omniscient POV in her haste to bring the novel to an end, thereby missing the good parts. I would have introduced that villain right up front, maybe putting Julia in that second school at the beginning. And I would have spent more time in his POV, especially in his race to escape. A lot of good action was missing toward the end.

Maybe the author is just trying to do too much with this novel. There is a wealth of material here—Julia’s desire for a romantic and fulfilling life, her problems with attracting men who emotionally abuse her, her struggles as a single parent, and all the conflict associated with that infamous ring. Maybe the potpourri of lapses listed above can all be traced to genre ambivalence. I’m not against a wee bit of cross-genre writing (I do it myself), but picking one or two genre themes allows a writer to focus. That’s my main critique: this novel lacks focus.

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