A princess trapped in a pink marble castle is a fairly accurate description of Darl Union's life. Raised by her maternal grandmother, the formidable Swan Hardigree, Darl's been isolated from the entire North Carolina town of Burnt Stand. The Hardigree Marble Company is the town's main employer and generations of Hardigree women have basically built the town.

Some of seven-year-old Darl's loneliness is relieved when young Eli Wade and his family come to Burnt Stand. Eli's father is a master stonecutter, but Eli's gifts lie in another direction. A math genius, Eli plans to make something of himself and rescue his family from poverty. The emotional connection between Darl and Eli is strong. Unfortunately, long-buried family secrets are bubbling to the surface and threaten to destroy yet another generation of Wades and Hardigrees. The return of Great Aunt Clara Hardigree opens old wounds and the repercussions will force Eli and his family to leave Burnt Stand.

Now more than two decades after Clara's "disappearance," Eli and Darl will be brought together once again, forcing Darl to face her deepest fears and darkest guilt.

Great authors have a special way of completely capturing the essence of their characters and the inspiring elements of their stories. Deborah Smith ranks as one of THE best writers of dark, romantic and emotional family dramas. Her southern gothic novels are filled to the brim with wonderful characters, complex and rich emotions, tragedy and hope. (Feb., 352 pp., $23.95)

Reviewed by: 
Jill M. Smith