Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99stg

'A Free Woman' tells the story of Maggie Reave, a woman with no ties and not a care in the world. Despite being in her thirties, she still lives her life out of a backpack, travelling the globe on what her family describe as a permanent gap-year. Her elder sister Sarah couldn't be more different. She has a husband, Leo, who runs a small bookshop in a small country town, a teenage daughter, two boisterous sons, and a part-time job, leaving her with few prospects for adventure or excitement. Although she looks forward to Maggie's all too in-frequent visits, her sister's exotic lifestyle only serves to emphasise the restrictions of her own life.

Maggie's latest trip home will have significant ramifications for all of the family. When Sarah's daughter turns to Maggie for advice following a pregnancy scare and a secret hidden for years is inadvertently blurted out, both Maggie and Sarah find their respective illusions of freedom and family happiness shattered and their own relationship destroyed.

Although Purves tackles such worthy subjects as underage sex, single parenting, loneliness, adultery and the need for adventure, she fails to deliver a satisfying read. She has the basis for an excellent story, but there is too much going on for the reader to feel any theme is sufficiently dealt with in this book. Various relationships are not explored as well as they could have been during the course of the novel and some of the characters are unrealistic and one-dimensional. If Purves had not been so ambitious with 'A Free Woman', one feels she could have achieved so much more.

Amanda Fennelly