Emma Appleby arrives in a small village in County Durham, having made her way across from America. She brings with the a small boy who is not her son and she seems to be looking for something from the past.
The locals are suspicious, they have long memories and feel that they cannot be associated with her. Only one person seems to connect with Emma and that is Mick Castle. But Mick Castle has problems of his own, not only is he trying to run many pubs in the area, where trouble and fighting is commonplace on most nights, he has a wife who never leaves their house and a daughter running wild.
Emma suddenly seems to be the answer to some of his problems. She tackles the domesticity which is missing from one his pubs, The Black Diamond, and wants to help the likes of Connie and channel the energy she has into something else. The opportunity presents itself when a visit with George to the local school, Emma sees how the teaching method leaves a lot to be desired. If she could teach them in her own way in her own academy then maybe she will find her place in life. What she is searching for seems to have alluded her so far, and perhaps the small village so far from America is the perfect place to start.
The characters that Elizabeth Gill has created are intriguing and rather infuriating. Emma’s brother Laurence back in America, was instantly dislikeable and the way he deals with his sister as a commodity is shocking perhaps today, but not in 1906. Mick Castle’s wife Isabel, has a problem and whilst it is not perhaps apparent, as the book goes on, the author deals with a rather modern issue in a historic setting. Add into this mix, the wonderful humanistic qualities of the dogs that guard both Mick and Emma and the children as well as the wild weather and landscape of the north of the country adds to a very enriching read. A book full of social history and the circumstances of single women trying to make something of themselves, when faced with prejudice at every turn.
At times I thought I was reading a Catherine Cookson novel, and I wanted to devour more about the locals, more about the academy, and more about Emma and Mick Castle. I did not want the book to finish, but as the final page was read, I have taken these characters and continued their journey wanting what can only be described as the best for them.
I picked up this book from a recommendation by the author Trisha Ashley (@trishaashley) who was talking about it onTwitter. She is also quoted on the front of this book. I am so glad I picked it up and read it, I really did enjoy it and again it reminds me how much I like these types (or should that be genres) of novels. I am certainly going to add Elizabeth Gill as an author to read more of her work.