Karen and Val are family - yet they're anything but close. Karen has carried the burden of responsibility for her aging mother ever since her sister left town years ago to pursue a career in theater. But Val had darker reasons for leaving town – and had a secret to keep – so coming home has never been an option . . . until their mother suffers a stroke.
Reunited in their hometown, Karen and Val must grapple with their past mistakes, their own relationship and their issues with a mother who is far from ideal. When a physical therapist raising his daughter alone and a handsome but hurting musician enter the picture, the summer takes on a whole new dimension. As their lives intersect and entwine, each sister learns how to forgive, how to let go and how to move on. And strengthened by the healing power of faith, they also find the courage to love.
Irene has written numerous shorter novels in the women's fiction genre, but That Certain Summer is her first long contemporary romance, and I hope there will be many more. It is easy to read because the writing flows so smoothly, but there is great depth through its complex characters.
The story begins when two very different sisters, because of their mother's stroke, are brought together after years of hardly speaking.
"Storms, she could handle. This, however, was a tsunami." Karen has always been organized, competent, able to cope with whatever - the responsible daughter, in other words. "So far, she'd kept all her balls in the air, but how many more could she juggle? Didn't a shattered marriage, a job outside the home for the first time in more than a dozen years, and a rebellious daughter whose transition to teenager had been complicated by her parents' split provide enough challenges?"
Val, on the surface, seems to be the golden girl with a charmed life, Mom's favorite. But when David, Margaret's physical therapist, first meets Val, he realizes that "There were layers there, and deep, turbulent pools beneath the placid surface. Complexities and shadows and hidden corners, all safely concealed behind a beautiful face and great body."
Two other characters add richness to this story: Margaret, a manipulative, self-centered mother with a martyr complex, and Scott, a jazz musician and sole survivor of a horrible traffic accident.
I think the greatest strength of this story is its spiritual theme, which shows through fiction how Christ's teachings can be implemented in our daily lives. Val sought freedom from guilt by confronting her mistakes and dealing with them herself. Karen had spent her life trying to please people by being passive and giving in. Scott struggled with having to give up the musical career he had planned. Each character's spiritual journey unfolds in a realistic and interesting way. Repentance also enters into this story, an element not often mentioned in Christian fiction.
Something else that I loved about this story was the effective way Irene used the ministry of a local church - the minister's sermons and counseling, the church choir and Scott's interim directing, the hosting of a benefit to raise funds for a much-needed ministry. The church is the bride of Christ, where God works through believers, and many authors barely even mention it. Irene showed in a realistic way how instrumental the church can be in changing people's lives.
Irene excels at suspense fiction, but she also ranks among the best at contemporary romance and character development. That Certain Summer is a beautiful story of love and redemption, and I highly recommend it to all readers.
For more information about Irene and her books, visit her website at irenehannon.com.
Questions for group discussion can be found at: irenehannon.com/thatcertainsummer.html
Available June 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing.
This book was provided by Donna Hausler as part of the Revell Blog Tour in exchange for my honest review.
I'd love to share my copy with one of you. Simply follow the instructions below to be entered for the giveaway.
UPDATE: Congratulations to Michelle P. on winning Irene's book! I sent you an e-mail, Michelle. Thanks again to all who entered - for your interest in That Certain Summer and for supporting my blog.