Sandcastles is essentially the story of the love between John and Honor, two artists who live at Star of the Sea Academy in Connecticut. On a family trip to Ireland to see one of his sculptures, John is arrested and charged with manslaughter for killing a man. Though John claims it to be self-defense, no one really knows what happened except John, the dead man, and his 14-year-old daughter, Regis, who loses all memory of the events.
Six years later, John returns to his family at Star of the Sea Academy, wondering if he will be accepted back and completely unsure of what to expect. What he finds is a broken family that has struggled to heal from old wounds all these years, and he begins to question whether coming back has helped them or done even more harm to his family.
While Rice is a talented author, Sandcastles falls flat at times. The story drags quite a bit – it seems like she had about 200 pages of story that she expanded and fluffed to fill a 400-page mass market paperback book. It is also extremely slow. Hints throughout the novel suggest “the real story” behind what happened that fateful night when John took another man’s life, but it drags through the entire length of the book, only to be revealed at the end. Also, Regis’ story is entirely predictable, and as it is carted through the length of the book as well, it provides little suspense and is not really enjoyable.
The characters are somewhat confusing, and it is difficult to sympathize with Honor at times. She seems to completely change her mind on a whim, with little or no explanation from the author. Instead of being a person the reader feels for, Honor is frustrating and bewildering – she seems unnecessarily mean at times, most likely because her reasoning and thoughts are not well fleshed-out by the author. It is understandable that a woman whose husband has been in prison for six years would be a bit hard and cold; however, while reading the book, I had to keep reminding myself of that fact in order to keep from severely disliking Honor.
The most interesting points of the book are Tom and Bernie, two minor characters whose storyline peeks out through the drawn-out tale of John and Honor. The account of their aborted romance is detailed in Rice’s book What Matters Most, which is definitely a step above Sandcastles. Having read them out of order, I can definitely say the reader does not miss anything by reading What Matters Most first. However, if you are planning on reading both books, What Matters Most ruins the ending of Sandcastles (but it is very predictable, whether or not that qualifies as ruining it is difficult to say).
By no means is Sandcastles bad – it’s just not good, and definitely does not live up to Rice’s reputation as an author. It’s an acceptable book, but not one that easily recommends itself. If you are looking for something to pass the time, this book may work (although you have been warned about it being slow). If you are looking for something to enjoy, I’d say skip Sandcastles and go straight to What Matters Most.