Catherine Anderson’s newest contemporary, New Leaf, is a story about second chances. While the premise was a good one, I just couldn’t buy into her characters, so the whole thing felt flat to me.
Barney Sterling is a sheriff’s deputy in the small town of Mystic Creek, Oregon. He left his job with the state police because home called and he answered. While crime in Mystic Creek is of the small town variety, Barney loves his job and he loves being close to all of his family. From rescuing kittens from trees and dogs from sewer drains, Barney is your stereotypical good guy (and maybe he’s just a little too good to be true). He doesn’t date in Mystic Creek because he knows everyone and doesn’t want the town all up in his business. This all changes when he gets a call about a noise disturbance above Taffeta Brown’s health store and Barney finds that Taffeta has been hiding herself in plain sight.
Taffeta Brown/Gentry is in Mystic Creek trying to fly under the radar and she is pretty successful until she lets her wild side out one night and her geriatric neighbors call the police. When someone beats on her door late at night, she answers in her sexy little nightgown and carrying a cast iron skillet. Who else could it be but the handsome sheriff’s deputy that Taffeta has been crushing on since she moved to Mystic Creek? The problem is, Taffeta can only look and not touch. She has to be scrupulously circumspect in her behavior after losing custody of her daughter to her ex-husband. She has been building a life above reproach so she can get her daughter back and dating the sexy deputy doesn’t fit into that plan.
This book was just okay for the most part. The storyline was a decent idea and I was able to read the book in one sitting, but every character felt like they had been retrieved from central casting. Taffeta was the Madonna who survived foster care; Barney, the friendly neighborhood cop. Taffeta’s ex-husband was evil personified and his second wife was the Whore. Barney’s family was straight out of the script for an episode of The Waltons, so much so that I was just waiting to read: “Goodnight Jim Bob.” Even the daughter was a stereotype. I knew I was reading a book the entire time; I was never transported to another place.
While I could actually believe in a relationship between Taffeta and Barney, the daughter’s behavior was so unbelievable I nearly cringed whenever she was the focus of the book. I have been around at-risk kids quite a bit and I ran a program for such children for several years. Many came from extremely unfortunate backgrounds, but I have never seen a child of that age behave the way Sarah is portrayed and her characterization was just too over the top for me. It screamed “stereotype!” and just seemed like lazy characterisation. Sarah was the point around which the entire story turned, yet she was almost a throwaway character. New Leaf has an overall rating of 4.26 over at Goodreads, so maybe those readers saw something I did not. It wasn’t awful, just below average, and this author is capable of much better.