Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tuesday Review: Secrets of the Lost Summer

Secrets of the Lost Summer
By Carla Neggers
Publisher: Mira
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Four Stars

Olivia Frost has spent the past five years as a graphic designer with one of Boston’s most prestigious studios, eventually landing plum clients and winning awards for her work, but her dream is to transform the early 19th-century house she bought in her hometown, Knights Bridge, Massachusetts, into a site for weddings, showers, teas, and small one-day conferences. When the questionable ethics of a friend leads to the defection of Olivia’s biggest client, Olivia decides it’s time to return to Knights Bridge and turn her dream into reality. A week later, with her sister’s help, she’s packing up and leaving Boston.

Olivia’s plans for the house she calls The Farm at Carriage Hill are coming together except for the house next door with a trash-strewn yard that makes it an eyesore in the picturesque setting. With the help of her friend Maggie, she locates the current owner who purchased the house from Grace Webster, a retired spinster English teacher in her nineties. Believing the owner to be an older man, Olivia writes to him at the California address Maggie located, offering to clean the yard herself.

Dylan McCaffrey, former NFL hockey player and current partner in a successful high-tech entertainment software company, thinks Olivia Frost has the wrong man when he receives her letter. He’s never heard of Knights Bridge or Olivia Frost. But when he discovers that he has inherited the house from his father. Puzzled that his nomadic father bought a house in an out-of-the-way New England village shortly before his death and intrigued by the picture of Olivia he locates via the Internet, Dylan books a flight to Boston.

Buster, a mean-looking mutt with a heavy German shepherd mix who belongs to Olivia, introduces Dylan to Olivia. They are an improbable pair—a small-town New Englander with a dream that roots her more deeply in her native soil and strengthens ties to her close-knit family and life-long friends and an ex-hockey star with millions in the bank and a house that hardly merits the term “home” in California. But the attraction between them is real, and so is their mutual interest in a generations-old mystery that may hold unexpected answers to questions about Dylan’s father’s connection to Knight’s Bridge.

When I first read Carla Neggers’s books, she was writing contemporary romance, including titles for Loveswept and Harlequin. In recent years, she has turned to romantic suspense, and since I read little in that subgenre, I haven’t read her books in some time. The description of Secrets of the Lost Summer made clear that this book marks her return to contemporary romance. I found in it the local color, the attention to seasonal details, and the eccentric supporting characters that I enjoyed in some of her earlier contemporary romances.

Secrets of the Lost Summer has a strong regional flavor. The history of Knights Bridge and the surrounding area is more than mere background; it is integral to the plot of this story. Early spring in New England with its mix of the reluctant loosening of winter’s hold and harbingers of spring and the promise of renewal served as a symbolic setting for the betrayal and the dream that send Olivia back to Knight’s Bridge. Both Olivia and Dylan are interesting, engaging characters. The focus is on their developing relationship, but woven into the story are also threads of the relationship between Olivia’s mother and father, between her sister and the man her sister loves, and the older love story buried as deeply as the remains of the towns that lie beneath the reservoir’s waters. Since I have a weakness for genius geek heroes, I’m hoping Neggers follows up with a story for Dylan’s friend and partner Noah. If you like layered stories with a rich sense of place and a touch of mystery, I recommend this book.  

How important is setting to you? Are you a fan of the still-growing subgenre of small-town contemporary romance?

To celebrate the start of what promises to be a stellar reading year for fans of romance fiction, I am giving away two books this week. One person will be randomly selected from those who comment on today’s post to receive a hardback copy of Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, the first book in Lisa Kleypas’s Friday Harbor series. You’ll get it just in time to read it before Rainshadow Road, Book 2 in the series, is released in late February.  A randomly selected commenter fron Friday’s blog will receive a copy of Eloisa James’s just-released fairy tale book, The Duke Is Mine, one of my three top of the top reads of 2011.

Note: Sorry, folks. Due to legal issues and shipping costs, only residents of North America are eligible for giveaways.


quantum said...

Janga, this book seems to have similarities to Sheryl Woods's 'Amazing Gracie'. Gracie is a perfectionist and longs to escape from a career in luxury hotel management when her boss becomes too concerned with 'the bottom line'. She moves to a small town in rural Virginia and falls in love with an old Victorian house which she wants to convert to a high class B/B. Buying it raises some issues however, with misunderstandings and love not being the least! LOL

I'm definitely a fan of small town contemps. Woods's Chesapeake Shores series being my latest obsession. I might try 'Secrets of the Lost Summer' later on.

PS I already have the Kleypas book. *smile*

Janga said...

Q, Amazing Gracie is my favorite Woods book, and I recently read The Summer Garden, the last of her Chesapeake Bay books. It was lovely to see all the O'Briens and their HEAs. I'm also looking forward to a new Sweet Magnolias book from her soon.

I hope you do try Secrets of the Lost Summer. I think you'll like it.

Jane said...

I've only read Carla's romantic suspense, but "Secrets of the Lost Summer" seems like a straight romance. I guess setting is almost like another character. I do enjoy small town romances like Toni Blake's Destiny series, but I'm from the city and I love books city in NY and San Fran, too.

Janga said...

Jane, there is an element of mystery in SOTLS, but it's certainly different from romantic suspense.

I was a fan of small-town romances before the current explosion, But I admit that I'm weary of the sheer volume of them now, especially with the ones that are indistinguishable from one another. Knights Bridge seemed real to me in a way that not all small-town settings do. But I vote with you for variety. I'd like to see more city settings--N.Y., San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, and some smaller cities too. Authors don't have to choose big city or small town. People fall in love everywhere.

Janga said...

Jane, if you will send your contact info to me at jangarho at gmail dot com, I'll send you a copy of Lisa Kleypas's Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor.

Jane said...

Thanks, Janga. I already sent my info.