By Susan Mallery
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Michelle Anderson is a soldier coming home to Blackberry Island after ten years away, half of them deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wounded and suffering from PTSD, she’s hoping to find peace and healing of body and psyche running the inn left to her by her father when he abandoned the island and her. She believed the inn “the one place she could count on never to change.” But it has changed. Before her death, Brenda Anderson, Michelle’s mother, had renovated and extended the inn beyond recognition. Even the owner’s suite that had been Michelle’s home for the first eighteen years of her life is unfamiliar, changed to suit the tastes of its current occupants, Carly Williams and Gabby, Carly’s nine-year-old daughter. Carly is the last person Michelle wants to see. Best friends growing up, the ties that connected them were stretched their senior year in high school by choices made by the adults in their lives and shattered when Michelle slept with Carly’s fiancé two days before the wedding.
Carly Williams has spent the last ten years managing the inn, raising her daughter, and holding on to the thought that her long hours and poor pay would result in her owning an interest in the inn. But Brenda Anderson’s promise was a lie. Instead of owning twenty percent of the inn, two percent for each year she’s worked there, Carly finds her job in jeopardy. The inn is wholly Michelle’s, and Michelle wants her former best friend out of the inn and out of her life. Firing Carly gives her great satisfaction, but Brenda’s extravagance has resulted in a double mortgage on the inn with payments in arrears. Michelle needs Carly if the inn is to make enough money for it to remain in the Anderson family.
The two women are forced to work together to save the end. It’s not easy for either of them, and betrayal from unexpected sources serves a near knockout blow. Michelle must battle not only the old wounds from her life on Blackberry Island but also devastating memories from her final deployment. For a time, she finds surcease in alcohol, and she has to reach a dangerous point before she is willing to accept help. But honesty and forgiveness and memories of better times see both women through the troubles that threaten all they hold dear and enable them to restore their friendship.
Readers who know Mallery only through her popular Fool’s Gold series and other romances should be aware that Barefoot Season is women’s fiction. While there is a romantic element for both Michelle and Carly, the romance is strictly secondary to the relationship between Michelle and Carly. Even to their relationships to their parents is more significant to the plot than are the romances. But the story is powerful, dealing with some tough issues. Michelle and Carly are both layered characters with complicated histories and imperfections.
I found Carly the more sympathetic character. Whatever wrong choices she made in her past, she has become a devoted mother who works hard to give her daughter a good life. As the wronged party, she might be expected to harbor resentment and bitterness, but she is the quicker to forgive. I didn’t always like Michelle even when I felt sorry for all she had endured. She seemed very slow to accept responsibility for what under any circumstances was a reprehensible act. I admit I had a real WTF moment when I read these lines: “Yet despite what she had done, Michelle found herself wanting Carly to apologize. As if Carly was the one who had done wrong.” It’s a measure of Mallery’s skill that she could peel away the protective guises to reveal the hurting teenager who remained part of the tough, experienced soldier. And in Jared Tenley Mallery gives Michelle a hero perfect for her in every way.
Barefoot Season is the first book in the Blackberry Island series. This Puget Sound island, the “New England of the West Coast” is a lovely setting, and I look forward to returning there for the rest of the series.
Do you read women’s fiction? Have you ever been won over by a character whom you initially saw as unsympathetic?