July 30 will be another Super Tuesday for Romance Readers with a stack of incredibly good books being released that day. I sang the praises of one of those releases at Heroes and Heartbreakers today: Why Dukes Say I Do by Manda Collins. Beginning today and continuing through Friday, I will review a July 30 release at Just Janga. Last week, I reviewed three—Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden, Three Little Words by Susan Mallery, and Home to Whiskey Creek by Brenda Novak. Sometimes soon, The Romance Dish will publish my reviews of Some Like it Hot by Susan Andersen and The Devil and Clan Sinclair by Karen Ranney. To celebrate this super week of releases, the Randomizer will pick one commenter from this week’s post (North America only) to receive a free copy—Kindle or print—of Why Dukes Say I Do and one other of these July 30 releases (reader’s choice).
Now for the regularly scheduled Tuesday Review!
By Lily Everett
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: July 30, 2013
Ella Preston is reluctantly accompanying her younger sister Merry to Sanctuary Island, a thinly populated island off the Virginia coast that serves as a refuge for wild horses. The free-spirited Merry is eager to reconcile with their estranged mother, Jo Ellen Hollister, a recovering alcoholic. Ella has no desire for reconciliation with the mother she hasn’t seen since their father divorced her and took the girls away when Ella was thirteen. Three years younger than Ella, Merry may remember less clearly than Ella what life with an alcoholic parent was like, but Ella hasn’t forgotten. Therapy may have helped her forgive her mother, but it didn’t make her want Jo Ellen in her life. But since impulsive Merry is going to Sanctuary Island, so is Ella, who has spent most of her life looking after Merry.
It’s not only wild horses who find sanctuary on Sanctuary Island. It proved a refuge for Grady Wilkes when he returned after one of his search and rescue missions literally blew up leaving him with grievous injuries that have left him still scarred physically and psychically five years later. Grady owes a lot to Jo Ellen whose contribution to his recovery was crucial and who has continued to be a mother figure in his life. He’s not about to stand by idly while the two daughters who have refused to have anything to do with their mother for fifteen years turn up to take advantage of her just as she come into an inheritance.
The open-hearted Merry and Jo Ellen reconnect immediately. Merry feels at home on the island and as her mother’s daughter. Ella is far more complicated, and even as she slowly comes to recognize that Jo Ellen is not the woman she has imagined, she clings to the past and to the anger she denies but cannot eradicate. She also discovers that Grady is more complex and vulnerable that her early conclusions about him suggested. As these two wounded people grow closer, their power to heal one another grows clearer. But they can embrace the future only if they can trust one another enough to let go of the emotional baggage they carry from their pasts.
I enjoyed Louisa Edwards’s Recipe for Love books, and even after reading the billionaire Harrington brothers novellas that served to introduce Sanctuary Island to readers, I wasn’t sure why Louisa Edwards was now writing as Lily Everett. Sure, there was a major change in setting, but she was still writing contemporary romance. Her stories were still a mix of humor, hurt, and heat. I understood better after reading Sanctuary Island, which has the definite feel of a romance/ women’s fiction hybrid. Ella’s journey to self-knowledge and self-acceptance are key to the story, but this fact does not lessen the power of the romance. In fact, there’s a love scene that I’d rank very high on the tenderness, heart-melting scale.
Ella and Grady’s story is richly emotional and rewardingly intricate. Despite Ella’s time in therapy, she is still very much the adult child of an alcoholic. Her need to be in control, her heightened sense of responsibility, her difficulty in letting go and just having fun, and, most of all, her difficulty separating the past from the present are all classic symptoms. She felt so real to me that I found it easy to understand and forgive her stubbornness and her carefully maintained distance from her mother. I fell in love with Grady from the start. His loyalty, his courage, and his ongoing struggles with the consequences—physical and emotional--of his injuries gave him depth and credibility. Without taking any respect away from military heroes, I was also pleased that his injuries were sustained in a different manner. As the recent deaths in Colorado surely reminded us, heroes wear a lot of different uniforms, and some even dress as civilians.
Although the romance is central to the story, Ella’s relationship with Jo Ellen is equally important. Truly forgiving her mother, not merely giving lip service to the idea, is an essential step in Ella’s ability to become healthy enough to give and receive love. Everett does an excellent job of giving both relationships their due. Jo Ellen too is a great character. Her love for her daughters is evident as are the regrets she lives with and her need to accept herself as worthy of a second chance, not just with her daughters but with a full life.
The Billionaire Brothers novellas are fun reads, and I think contemporary romance fans will enjoy them. But Sanctuary Island is something more than a good read. It has substance and heart, and it leaves the reader thinking about connections and disconnections and forgiveness and healing as well as happy endings. I highly recommend it.
I adored Merry and her curmudgeon match. Their story, Shoreline Drive (January 28, 2014) is already available for preorder.
I confess that I’m a great fan of romance/women’s fiction hybrid novels. Many of my favorites fall in this group. Are you a fan, or do you prefer your genres unmixed.