Baxter House
by George Encizo

"He wanted to deflect the topic away from him because he could tell that Lottie was studying him."

Bradley Harding is a soldier. As a gunnery sergeant in Afghanistan, he has led his team into battle. He has also seen them get maimed and killed under his command. Now, after returning to the States and struggling with disillusion, he is considering hanging up his stripes for good. First, though, he has another battle to fight—a mission to reconnect with a past which has been denied him for decades by his father and paternal grandfather. It could end up being his most difficult assignment yet.

Harding's chosen base of operations is Baxter House, a quiet getaway tucked into the coastal community of Blocker's Bluff, South Carolina. When its proprietor, Miss Lottie, first welcomes the handsome Marine who will be staying with her for a few days, she can't help but notice a familiarity about him, even though the name he goes by, Roger Pritcher, is unknown to her. It doesn't take her long, however, to come to the realization that the soldier is actually the young boy who used to come calling with his maternal grandfather Travis so many years ago. Her heart aches for the child she once knew and loved and who was suddenly ripped away from much of his family and friends after his parents divorced, but she decides to respect Harding's privacy and wait for the time when he will choose to reveal his true identity to her. After all, she has some things from her own past she is keeping hidden, as well.

Two of the more notable aspects of this novel are its atmosphere and pacing. Encizo expertly captures the semi-mythical ambiance of the Old South with its sweet gentility, fragrant home cooking, and lazy evenings spent drinking sweet tea on the porch in comfortable companionship. And although Harding has more than one purpose for being in the area, he has time to take things slowly, to begin to heal from the war overseas, and to gradually find the answers to the pain of his childhood rather than be in a rush to do so.

To ensure this slower pace and yet keep the interest level high for the reader, the author injects an additional storyline with a bit of suspense involving two of the town's well-known residents: the former police chief and his wife (the new police chief) who were the protagonists of Encizo's previous book about the town. This skilled use of minor characters is one of the book's greatest strengths. The charming quirkiness of the locals is part of what has made Jan Karon's Mitford books so successful, and Encizo seems to have latched onto some of that same magic in his book. The various inhabitants of Blocker's Bluff are more than just names to us. They are people we wouldn't mind getting to know better in future stories.

In a poignant tale of small-town secrets, broken relationships, and the resilience of family, Encizo tells an engaging story filled with well-developed characters. Themes exploring such topics as post-traumatic stress disorder and biracial marriages only add to the richness of the narrative. Encizo has crafted an entertaining and well-written addition to the literature of the American South.

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