The Beach House

Things Remembered

An Unspoken Promise

Disguised Blessing
by Georgia Bockoven
(Harper, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-06-103020-1
Dependable Georgia Bockoven knows how to get the tear ducts flowing just enough to touch but not overwhelm the emotions. Her novels would make great movies for the Lifetime network. Disguised Blessing, her ninth novel for Harper, features a moving story of recovery, weakened by a sub-par romance.

Life's just about perfect now for Catherine Miller. Years after a painful divorce, she's engaged to a handsome fast-track businessman who is loving and supportive. She's proud of her beautiful, talented, 15 year old daughter Lynda, and equally proud of the close relationship they share.

But at the start of their annual summer vacation at Rainbow Lake, near Lake Tahoe, tragedy strikes. Lynda's sweater catches fire at a bonfire she is attending with her friends, and she suffers painful second and third degree burns that require a lengthy hospitalization and skin graft surgery. As Catherine is going out of her mind with worry, her fiancÚ Tom turns out to be more of a liability than an asset, his usual emotional support suddenly absent.

To the rescue comes Rick Sawyer, firefighter and volunteer burn counselor. Although he has a college degree, Rick has devoted his career to the blue-collar profession that he is passionate about. He also volunteers at the hospital, helping burn victims and their families navigate the winding road to recovery. He's immediately taken with Catherine, but reluctant to act on his feelings because he doesn't want to jeopardize his professional relationship with Lynda. For her part, Catherine also thinks that Rick is pretty wonderful, but she's now made two lousy choices in the relationship department and doesn't trust her own instincts. Besides, Rick is a lowly firefighter, and he would never fit into her wealthy lifestyle.

I think you can sense a bit of annoyance on my part with Catherine. I'm all for character development, but Catherine is too unsympathetic for the majority of the novel. She is a loving mother and will do anything to ensure Lynda's recovery, but she's also a spoiled snob. She's never worked outside the home, she lives in a beautiful house in an upscale neighborhood, she receives alimony from her ex-husband -- yet I'm supposed to feel sorry for her because she has to sell her house and buy a "modest" one that still has a Jacuzzi in the master suite? I don't think so! Her idea of cost cutting is telling Lynda to "only" spend $50 on a birthday present instead of buying her mother a $1,500 sweater. It's hard to identify with someone that rich and sheltered.

Perhaps Catherine's shortcomings wouldn't have bothered me so much if the love story had been more complex or unpredictable. It's obvious that Tom is a jerk from the second page, when he undercuts Catherine's parenting decisions with Lynda. It's no big surprise when he bails. And Rick is so perfect -- the noble fireman hero -- that I kept waiting for the halo to form. A hunky guy that saves lives, helps kids and renovates his own home -- what self-respecting woman wouldn't fall in love with him?

The novel is redeemed, however, by Lynda and the realistic portrayal of her gradual physical and emotional recovery. Being burned is probably the worst thing that can happen to a teenager, as it occurs just as the narcissistic preoccupation with appearance is at its peak. Bockoven poignantly relates Lynda's journey towards healing and acceptance, aided greatly by a male friend whose loyalty and selflessness does not go unnoticed.

Disguised Blessing ends strongly, with a dramatic twin-crisis climax. I closed the book wishing only the best for Lynda but hoping that Catherine would finally get a clue about Real Life.

--Susan Scribner

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