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A Breath of Fresh Air
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An entertaining excursion to an English village of the 1990s, this first novel updates the traditional English cozy with a few contemporary bells and whistles. Mere hours after lonely, dissatisfied Charlotte Lawrence has finally requested a divorce from her husband, Peter, she receives word that he has died in a car crash. Departing Brussels, where one of Peter's frequent job transfers had landed them, she returns to her home village of Hulme Welford. But retired father who is obsessed with gardening and a mother just a few degrees warmer than Medea do little to improve Charlotte's spirits, and she doesn't share her feelings of guilt with anyone. Worse, her meddling younger sister, Hilary, throws a dinner party, hoping to fix up Charlotte with new man in town, Alex Hamilton. Less than two days after her return, Charlotte is accused in church of already having slept with two men. The pranks, while humorous, have a bit of an edge, as when the local philanderer switches the town prohibitionist's nonalcoholic vino with something stronger at a fork supper, prompting a rousing rendition of Sinatra tunes from the smashed teetotaler. And some supporting characters shine, particularly the teenaged babysitter Tiffany, who drills her charges in math and helps Charlotte hunt for a job. With puce-colored hair and a decidedly postfeminist attitude, she's the freshest breath of air in this sturdy little English diversion. (Dec.)

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