I was delighted to be given the opportunity recently to review an advanced copy of Eliza Freed’s brand new novel, The Devil’s Playground. It’s unusual for me to read straight romance novels, and even more unusual for me to review them, but this one…intrigued me.
Meredith’s story seems typical at first – a bored housewife, sick of doing nothing bit dealing with the kids, tempted to have an affair to spice up her otherwise wearisome existence. There’s nothing new here, not in the setup at least, but it is the character of Meredith that brings this book to life. Sparkling in both personality and looks, she’s a bright young thing on the track to greatness, madly in love and on the verge of something great. Then her previously perfect husband drops a bombshell – he wants children. Suddenly Meredith’s career, hopes, dreams, and life, are meaningless in the face of husband Brad’s desires.
It is worse than simply a difference of opinion on the best time to children, however, Brad’s sudden assertion that it’s time, and life won’t end just because they have kids, brings Meredith’s entire world crashing down around her ears, as it makes her realise her husband doesn’t know her at all.
Flash forward nine years and Meredith is trapped in a stilted marriage to a man she now despises, with children she loves, yet also resents. Her character is well-rounded and dynamic enough to carry the inevitable romance that comes of her frustration and boredom, without it feeling cliched or shallow. She does not simply have a love affair because she is bored. She is searching for something that has been missing since the day Brad announced her wanted children, something ineffable that was taken from her when her children arrived.
Meredith is a feisty character who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, yet is oddly reluctant to face the truth of her marriage and her feelings for her once-adored husband. Colonel Vincent Pratt, on the other hand, is a love interest with a twist. He’s typically build to be astonishingly good-looking, yet as with Meredith, his character has enough dimensions that he can carry the burden of being beautiful without him feeling like a cardboard-cut out who is only attractive for his physical appearance. Vincent is the very thing Meredith needs, because he is challenging, he is surprising, he shakes up her world by being anything but ordinary and forcing her to be, as she once was, far from ordinary herself.
What is unusual about this book is that you really feel for the characters in it, particularly Meredith, and not only on a romantic/passionate level. While the romance is more than enough to keep the reader hooked, the characters have other emotions, far more complicated emotions, bubbling away beneath the surface, which enrich the whole book with a sense of – often agonising – reality. Meredith is a relateable character, not only because of her situation, but because of depth of feeling infused into every scene, from her earliest repulsion to her step-father, to her need for locked doors and boundaries, and her growing indifference to her husband and situation.
Well written and beautifully produced, this is a solid four star tale that is a must-read for anyone who enjoys intelligent romance.
The Devil’s Playground by Eliza Freed
(The Faraway Series, #1)
Publication date: November 10th 2015
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Former U.S. Attorney, Meredith Walsh, took some time off to raise her children. But the time took away everything she once trusted about herself. She’s lost within the mundane confines of her children’s schedules of lacrosse, soccer, Cub Scouts, and math facts. Desperate for a sliver of her former passion, and isolated in the small town her corporate husband relocated her to, she counsels herself on risking her family for the rush of a fling.
But Vincent Pratt, the local chief of police, weakens Meredith’s abhorrence of affairs and her dedication to her family. With him, she finds a new version of herself, one capable of contributing in her new world, and thriving in her lonely home. In spite of the fact, she’s not the kind of woman who has an affair.
Eliza Freed graduated from Rutgers University and returned to her hometown in rural South Jersey. Her mother encouraged her to take some time and find herself. After three months of searching, she began to bounce checks and her neighbors began to talk; her mother told her to find a job.
She settled into Corporate America, learning systems and practices and the bureaucracy that slows them. Eliza quickly discovered her creativity and gift for story telling as a corporate trainer and spent years perfecting her presentation skills and studying diversity. It’s during this time she became an avid observer of the characters we meet and the heartaches we endure. Her years of study have taught her laughter is the key to survival, even when it’s completely inappropriate.
She currently lives in New Jersey with her family and a misbehaving beagle named Odin. An avid swimmer, if Eliza is not with her family and friends, she’d rather be underwater. While she enjoys many genres, she has always been a sucker for a love story…the more screwed up the better.