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Apart From The Crowd by Anna McPartlin

This is McPartlin's second novel after Pack Up The Moon (which I have not read yet); it is also the second McPartlin novel I've read.  Alexandra, Gone, the first one I read, is actually her fourth novel.  I can tell the difference between the two novels as far as writing craft goes, and Apart From The Crowd is slow getting started until it sets up its characters and its story.  The story takes a good hundred pages or so to get rolling, but once it goes the reader will be glad they hung in there because the sparks of sharp wit and vivid characterization that ran so thoroughly through Alexandra, Gone are present in this one.  Music plays an integral role in the characters' lives as it did to the plot in Alexandra, Gone.

The novel alternates between the third person perspective of four characters: Penny, Ivan, and Mary, all Irish; and Sam, an American.  Each character has their own demons and past tragedies and misfortunes that need exorcising and that have in different ways marked them forever.  The novel is set in Kenmare, Ireland, a small town where everyone knows everyone else's secrets no matter how hard they try to hide them, heal them, bury them, or run from them.

Mary, called Mary of the Sorrows by townsfolk due to the inordinate number of tragedies that have marked her from birth, has her father and her best friends and her work to keep her busy.  She's completely closed herself off from love and new acquaintance, and thus she has no time for the handsome new neighbor named Sam who moves in next door.  However, in the wake of an injury requiring Mary's care and that he take up residence on her living room floor to recover, the two form a tentative friendship.

Ivan, Mary's cousin and best friend, is still recovering from his wife taking his kids and running off to England with her lover the year before.  Lately his kids have been withdrawing from him, and he can't help but worry that he's losing them for good and that something is terribly wrong in their English home.

Penny, Mary's best friend, has been carrying on an affair for the past five years with her first love who's the love of her life.  Unfortunately he's married with kids and ultimately chooses his kids over Penny.  Left devastated by the end of her affair and her lover's move to Cork, Penny drowns her sorrows in beer, wine and vodka.  Soon she becomes jealous of Mary's burgeoning friendship with Sam.  Penny is determined to dig up the man's secrets and expose them in a scathing article in her newspaper.  She embarks on a research project that cannot end well for anyone once all of Sam's secrets are exposed to Mary and the entire town.

Sam is seeking refuge from a lifestyle and an addiction that nearly killed him and destroyed his relationship with his family.  However, Sam's addiction is the symptom of devastating personal demons stemming from a highly traumatic incident from his teen years.  It has haunted him and derailed his life ever since.

This story is is as much about people working through the issues that haunt them and hold them back as it is about the boundaries and bindings of friendship.  I recommend you check out this title the next time you're at the library.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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