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Charles Frazier’s third novel, “Nightwoods,” is set in the mountains of North Carolina in the early 1960s. The author of the best-selling “Cold Mountain” here vividly describes characters living in remote and picturesque areas of the Appalachians.

The novel’s protagonist is a young woman named Luce, who grew up in a dysfunctional family. Because of a personally traumatic event, she retreated to an isolated, rundown summer lodge owned by the Stubblefield family and works as a caretaker there.

Her self-imposed solitude comes to an abrupt end when she becomes the guardian of her sister Lily’s young twins. Lily has been brutally murdered by her husband, the stepfather of the two children. The twins, Dolores and Frank, are in shock when they arrive on Luce’s doorstep after witnessing their mother’s murder. Unable to speak, they are afraid of people, fascinated with fire and dangerous to animals. Invading Luce’s solitary life, the children change everything.

Luce does not know what to make of the twins. They show obvious signs of abuse. But Luce, too, had a strange childhood. Mostly ignored by their parents, she and Lily cared for each other, roaming the woods whenever they pleased. No mothering was involved, so Luce has no idea how to parent. She is bright and observant, however, and instinctively does the right things.

Though the novel revolves more around character than plot, the author creates unexpected twists in the story line. Mr. Frazier uses the Appalachian geography and atmosphere to add richness and depth to this tale of suspense and love.