Beautiful Lies

Fox River

Iron Lace

Once More With Feeling

One Moment Past Midnight

Rising Tides

Twice Upon a Time

Whiskey Island

Prospect Street by Emilie Richards
(Mira, $23.95, PG) ISBN 1-55166-921-8
Emilie Richards' first hardcover release is a rich, satisfying character-driven novel with a strong sense of place. Youíll be hooked by the end of the Prologue, but youíll stick around to see how this skilled writer develops the web of relationships among the characters. Iíve been saying for years that Richards deserved hardcover status, and Prospect Street emphatically proves my point.

Faith Bronson receives an unwelcome surprise shortly before Christmas, when she discovers her conservative lobbyist husband in the arms of another man. Unfortunately, the media discovers David Bronsonís secret at the same time, and he quickly winds up unemployed and disgraced. Faith, the daughter of a Senator and granddaughter of a foreign diplomat, is accustomed to presenting a calm, regal facade, but this crisis is almost too much for the attractive, petite blonde to endure. With money suddenly scarce, she moves into the faded Georgetown row house that has been in her motherís family for generations.

Once a cherished home, the Prospect Street house has seen its share of tragedy. Thirty-seven years ago, Faithís mother Lydia lived there with her young, politically ambitious husband. But when their infant daughter, Hope, was stolen from her crib and never found, Lydia abandoned the house and let it fall into disrepair. It is an unlikely refuge for a suburban divorceť and her two adolescent children. But a determined Faith sees the houseís potential, as well as the benefits of exposing her kids to a wider range of cultures and classes.

A quirk of fate leads Faith to Pavel Quinn, another Georgetown resident who shares her passion for restoring old houses. He quickly becomes a friend to Faith and her awkward but endearing son, Alex, who accepts the familyís move as an exciting new adventure. Faithís daughter, Remy, isnít as eager to be a good sport. As far as sheís concerned, her life is ruined and itís all her motherís fault. With the typical adolescent narcissism exaggerated by the stress of her parentsí divorce and other life changes, Remy is a time bomb just waiting to explode.

As Faith starts to renovate the dilapidated house, she also must rebuild her family relationships. She has never been close to her strict, formal parents but finds that Lydia is surprisingly supportive of the changes and has begun to open up. Although sheís furious at David for lying to her - and to himself - about his sexuality, Faith realizes she has to negotiate a civil truce for the childrenís sake. She also must tread carefully with Remy, an angry teenager who needs support as well as limits. Through all of this, Pavel Quinn seems like a godsend, as well as a sign that Faith is still an attractive woman. But Pavel has secrets of his own that tie him to the houseís history, and he hasnít been completely honest with Faith about the reasons for his involvement in her life.

I was impressed with Prospect Street from the first few chapters when I realized that David was not going to be treated as a cardboard villain. Instead, he is portrayed as a decent guy whose strict Baptist upbringing simply didnít allow him to admit his sexual preference. Much of Faithís journey centers around her anger and forgiveness of Davidís actions, but Richards never stoops to making him an easy man to hate.

David is just one of the many multi-layered characters who interact with Faith. Itís clearly evident that Emilie Richards has a background in the human service field, because she understands the complicated dynamics among parent and child, husband and wife, man and woman. As Faith struggles to define her new role in these many relationships, she learns the truth about long-held secrets that shaped her destiny as well. Iím not a big fan of the Big Secret plot, but Richards lets the truth emerge gradually and naturally, and her characters, despite the secrecy, communicate about other issues that are just as important.

David, Remy, and Faithís unusual next-door neighbor Dottie Lee make a strong impression on the reader, but itís Faith who hold the novel together. She may be a Soccer Mom in the Big City, but she appreciates Georgetownís cultural diversity and is open to the new experiences she encounters. She is a loving parent and a caring daughter who is cautiously thrilled when she and Lydia start to move closer. Sheís no paragon, however; she makes her share of mistakes. Despite her outward appearance of quiet competence, Faith harbors a deep core of insecurity that wonít diminish until she understands and accepts the past.

Emilie Richards brings all of the threads of the past and present together in a thoroughly appropriate and somewhat surprising epilogue. Prospect Street is a fine start to Richardsí hardcover career - a big, juicy novel that should satisfy her many fans and attract new readers as well.

--Susan Scribner

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