I enjoyed reading this book. It is a well written love story with a twist. The story was a little slow to begin with but improved as soon as the hero moved to France. The author gives the reader a real flavour of life living in rural France. Ben is quite an endearing sort of chap who is in love with Mary, (originally his house mate and later his lover). The only downside for me was that Mary's character did not appeal however there is another book to follow and I look forward to seeing how the story develops.
March 2014 Update: I hear there's a brandspanking new second edition in circulation now, and that some or all of my original review may not apply to the new edition, since Sanctuary has undergone some rewrites. I hope to give the new version a peek when I have the time, but that could be a while. This review is for the original edition, not the second edition.
Aside from some rough spots in the writing (Using the passive voice really excessively, the very occasional typo or error, or dialogue that felt stilted because of the passive voice or because it made the character too transparent by telling something transparently, rather than sketching the overall picture.), this was a pretty fun read. I enjoyed the beginning moreso than the end, because of the humor underlying the romance or drama.
There were a few elements to the tone that felt mismatched. The beginning of the book was fairly flirtatious and sexual, and much lighter in tone and content the latter half of the book. I didn't mind it, but it did amplify some spots where the pacing felt rushed or transparent. It felt like Smith-Wild was trying to work in too many themes or ideas to give any of them the detail and time they needed to be fully realized. So some characters (such as Grunge/Georgina) or plot lines (Mary's arc during the last act) suffered, as they went through substantial changes without really having much screen-time to show reason, reaction, or nuance, or as they had to react too fast to give it the depth of their earlier arcs. Even the main character, Ben, lost a lot of depth in the last act, because Smith-Wild was focusing on the subplots around him. Towards the end, Ben seemed to be basically a hero-man standee, rather than a flawed but good-hearted individual, as he was in the beginning.
The last act felt rushed, compared to the pacing of the first 2/3 of the book. It also meant that the ending wasn't entirely satisfying, since it was clear that we were seguing directly into the next book, without a real pause. Despite the uneven spots in the pacing, the characters were well fleshed out and well written, though sometimes Smith-Wild veered fairly far into the whole "showing" end of the "showing vs. telling" writers' dilemma.
My favorite things in Sanctuary were the humor and the crisp details of the French lifestyle. There were a few spots where there was a language barrier, where something provided something in French and no translation was provided, and it was difficult to deduce from the surrounding scene what meaning was intended. I'm awful with foreign languages though, and I tried to channel the feeling of confusion into the main character, who seemed to feel similarly, when he was not using those foreign phrases.
There were a fair amount of those little flaws, but the overall book was entertaining, humorous, and the characters had enough nuance to engage with. The beginning of Mary's relationship with Donald going south was particularly well done, and the starts of emotional abuse are often hard to get across with readers who have little experience with it. It's easy to say "Urgh. Why doesn't she argue back?" when it's poorly written or fleshed out, and Smith-Wild did an excellent job of showing those early stages in a relatable manner. I kind of worry that he'll become a bit too cartoonish in the sequel; he seemed to be heading that way, and it would be a shame to spoil the excellent and realistic beginnings of his unhealthy character.
I can safely say that from the first to the very last page, I had no idea where the story was going, which is great testimony to the writer and the writing. As the story began and I had been introduced to all the main players, I found myself trying to second guess exactly where the suspense was going to come from and which character or characters, the plot twists were going to emanate from. As it transpired, I never would have guessed as the story initially concerned itself with what seemed like normal relationship issues which I found to be interesting and very realistic and relaxing into the story and the dilemmas of the main characters, I let go of all my second-guessing and sat back to enjoy the ride, which, despite the fact that this is part one of a larger story, was very rewarding and I did not feel cheated at the end when everything was not tied up neatly with a pink ribbon and party streamers. A bit like real life, I imagine:)
I started this book and got drawn into what appeared to be a romantic novel... But then it changed! A very easy read- finished it in two days as I simply couldn't put it down. The writing style appears to change as the story becomes more intense. Excellent description of the little French village which reminded me of the times I'd travelled through France. I have the second book ready. I don't want to give the story away, but I'd recommend this to make or female readers. Looking forward to starting the next book.
Highly well written. The first book I've read from start to finish. Love the desciptive text, and the way the author manages to create a really rather vivid experience and atmosphere. I truly felt as though I were in France. Clever use of the french language, subtly placed in various sentences. I would recommend this book to any adult looking for some serious escapism. 5 stars without reservation.
This book has everything. Romance, suspense, travel, buying a house in a unique place and fixing it up, interesting people, action, conflict, even a little sex. You name it, it was there. The moment I might have lost interesting, something new and interesting came up. Well done.