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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Domestic Life In Nineteenth Century Ohio

The Last Runaway - Tracy Chevalier

When Dorsetshire Quaker Honor Bright is jilted, she emigrates to America along with her sister Mary, who is intending to marry an established emigré from the same community now running a drapery in a small town in Ohio. But Mary dies of Yellow Fever on the journey and Honor finds herself a stranger in a strange land, entirely dependent upon the charity of her dead sister's fiancé.

A hasty marriage to local farmer Jack Haymaker seems to be the answer but Jack is part of an intimidating family, at the head of which stands his formidable mother Judith who is less than impressed with her son's choice of partner.

The gap between Honor and the Haymakers begins to widen when she becomes involved with the underground rail road of people smuggling slaves to freedom in Canada. Eventually a crisis is reached and both Honor and Jack are forced to make difficult choices.

Tracey Chevalier is an immensely visual writer, able to bring a scene to life with a few well-chosen details - the gleam of light on a bowl, the curve of a lock of hair, the colour of a ribbon - and this is a book that draws its strength from the intensely realised minutiae of domestic life.

It is marred a little by a slight tendency towards sentimentality in the latter third of the book and the dénoument feels a little too neat. Nevertheless, I found this an entertaining and moving read.