Friday, February 10, 2012

Review: The Seascape Trilogy by Vicki Hinze

In 1996-97, St. Martin’s Press published three connected books by Vicki Hinze, writing as Victoria Barrett. The books center around Seascape Inn, a bed-and breakfast in Sea Haven Village, Maine, which was once the home of Cecilia and Colin Freeport and is now owned by their grandson, an Atlanta judge, and managed by Miss Hattie Stillman, a gentle, nurturing woman. Portraits of Cecilia and Colin hand in the inn, and something of the great love they shared and of the healing gifts of Cecilia linger as well. The mystical qualities of the inn and the mysterious presence of a spirit known as Tony combine to make the Healing House, as it is sometimes known, the site things strange and wonderful. Each book focuses on a man and a woman who come to the inn seeking serenity and who discover each other and the kind of love shared by Cecilia and Colin in the process. Bell Bridge Books has recently reissued the Seascape Trilogy in electronic and trade paperback formats under Hinze’s name.

Beyond the Misty Shore (October 17, 2011)

Artist T. J. MacGregor first came to Seascape Inn after the deaths of his parents. He finds there the healing he needs to return to his painting, and, in fact, his painting of the inn wins acclaim and seems to offer comfort and the promise of peace to some. The painting also brings into his life the woman who becomes his fiancée. When she is killed, T. J. returns to Maine, only this time he can’t leave the inn. Each time he tries, he experiences bone-chilling cold and a feeling of being restrained before he blacks out. He is tortured with guilt and filled with despair over this supernatural restriction.

Marketing executive Maggie Wright is convinced there is something suspicious about the death of her cousin Carolyn who perished in an automobile accident. Her body was burned beyond recognition, but T. J. MacGregor’s painting of Seascape Inn, found at the accident scene, was unmarked. Maggie, who has been on leave from her job for two years in order to care for her mother, makes discovering the truth about her cousin’s death her mission. When she learns that T. J. MacGregor is at Seascape Inn, she makes a reservation.

Despite her suspicions, she finds herself drawn to MacGregor, and she soon becomes aware of the mysterious forces at work in the tranquil spot. MacGregor is drawn to Maggie just as powerfully as she is to him. But they both harbor secrets, and they must learn to trust one another before the healing and love they seek can be theirs. Miss Hattie, the matchmaking ghost Tony, and a full cast of colorful villagers add to the story.

T. J. and Maggie are both likeable characters, and Miss Hattie is the perfect chatelaine for the mystical inn with its poignant history. There is much to appeal in this story, but too much of the movement is circular rather than linear. There are wonderful moments when T. J. and Maggie talk, but the extended interior monologues and the repetitious action slows the pace unbearably at times.

Upon a Mystic Tide (December 13, 2011)

Bess Cameron is a psychologist with a popular radio call-in show in New Orleans. Her divorce from John Mystic, a private investigator from whom she has been separated for six years, is just about to become final—and public. The latter fact will almost certainly end her career, given her conservative socialite boss and heavily Catholic audience. Amid what may be her final show, she takes a call from a mysterious man named Tony who communicates with Bess telepathically as well as via telephone and advises "Sometimes you have to leap upon a mystic tide and have faith the sand will shift and an island will appear." The experience with Tony sends her to talk with her friends Maggie and T. J. MacGregor (Beyond a Mystic Shore), and a viewing of T. J.’s painting of Seascape Inn sends Bess to the bed-and-breakfast with its promise of peace and healing.

John Mystic is grieving. Elise Dupree, the client who has been a mother figure to him for six years has just died, and John is devastated by her death and by his failure to solve the case of her missing daughter. His obsession with Dixie Dupree’s case cost him his marriage. He’s still in love with his wife, but he believes that she has found someone else. Nevertheless, he is determined that she will be taken care of financially, and when he learns that she is persistent in her refusal to accept half their assets in the divorce settlement, he heads for Maine determined to make her see reason.

John is the last person whom Bess expects to see in Sea Haven Village. She refuses to talk to him and plans to leave Maine. Thanks to Tony’s interference, her car won’t start, and she’s stuck at the inn until it’s repaired. It soon becomes clear that Bess still has strong feelings for her almost-ex husband, but John is still committed to the Dupree case and neither he nor Bess is able to be honest about their pasts or their feelings. Tony encourages both of them to be honest with themselves and with each other, but even the powerful physical attraction between them and the recognition that their love has not died may not be enough to reunite two hearts defended by fear and pride.

Like the first book in the series, this one offers readers an intriguing pair as heroine and hero, but their lack of communication becomes irritating when it goes on and on. Bess particularly seems immature at times; I found it difficult to believe that a professional with her credentials would behave as she does. John is the second hero who is moved to tears a bit too frequently for my taste. Still, Seascape Inn is a lovely setting, Miss Hattie and the quirky villagers are as appealing as ever, and Tony the ghost is more active and more human than in the first book. And the ending is enough to satisfy the most romantic readers.

Beside a Dreamswept Sea (December 13, 2011)

Attorney Bryce Richards, a widower with two children, is a friend and lawyer of John Mystic (Upon a Mystic Tide). Desperate enough to try anything to help his nine-year-old daughter, Suzie, break free of the nightmare that has plagued her since her mother’s death two years earlier, he, his children, and their gloomy, repressive nanny arrive at Seascape Inn. Despite some skepticism about his friends’ claims concerning the magic of the inn, Bryce nourishes a spark of hope that his family will find help in the serene setting.

Cally Tate is headed for a cabin in the area when she sees the sign for Seascape Inn and feels compelled to change her plans and register as a guest at the bed-and-breakfast.  Cally’s dream of building a loving family has been destroyed by a disastrous marriage with an emotionally abusive, controlling, unfaithful husband who eroded her confidence and sense of self. Although she doesn’t yet know it since she refused to attend any of the divorce proceedings, Bryce is her former husband’s lawyer, and she owes the alimony she is receiving from her ex to Bryce’s ethics. Cally’s purpose in Maine is to find herself and discover the courage to create a new life.

Tony, Seascape’s benevolent guardian spirit, recognizes that young Suzie’s recurring nightmare is extraordinary. Because he fears for her life, he breaks the rules governing ghostly behavior and enters her nightmare to save her. He encounters another spirit whose purpose is unclear but who reminds him that his action may have consequences greater than he imagined.

As if that weren’t problem enough, Bryce and Cally are both scarred by earlier experiences of love and reluctant to become so vulnerable again. Tony promised Suzie the new mother she believes essential for her younger brother and sister and that she longs for herself. Cally is that woman, but she and Bryce must learn that merely caring is not enough to make the healing magic work. Only love that withholds nothing is strong enough for the magic that is Seascape Inn.

This is the strongest book in the series. The plot is more developed, and the emotional stakes are higher for all the characters involved. Bryce and Cally are sympathetic characters from the beginning, and the children are endearing, especially Suzie. Miss Hattie and Tony’s story becomes more that mere context, and Tony discovers that even spirits have something to learn.

Overall, the trilogy offers readers characters to care about, a setting with strong sensory and emotional appeal, and a touch of the paranormal. It is not without flaws, but if you like your romances tender, your setting significant, and your paranormal light, you will find much to enjoy in the series.

I can forgive just about anything if I find the characters engaging. What's the most important element of fiction for you as a reader? Have you enjoyed books despite some things you would label "flaw"?


quantum said...

Excellent review Janga.

The covers and titles are quite appealing and a benevolent match making ghost is intriguing.
A little reminiscent of Susan Carroll's 'Bride Finder' series.

It has to be a 5-star (or equivalent) to get into my TBR though. I still have so many top rated authors and titles to try! Though if I feel the need for a romantic ghost then I might try it.

I don't really understand what makes certain authors a compulsive read while others with similar stories and equally interesting characters just don't keep me turning pages.

Perhaps the intangibles of atmosphere and the mystery of romantic attraction .... why do I fall in love with a particular heroine? .... might play a role!

Janga said...

Thanks, Q. I agree that it's difficult sometimes to explain why some books capture our minds and hearts in ways that others, which may be just as well written, do not. Maybe it has something to do with the way our imagination works with the author's to create the book we read that is never identical to the same book read by another reader.