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Summer Secrets by Barbara Freethy
(Onyx, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-41082-3
***
Summer Secrets is the story of three women forced to deal with the repercussions of a major event eight years in their past. Kate, Ashley, and Caroline McKenna won a prestigious round-the-world sailing race when they were teenagers, under the direction of their forceful father, Duncan. All four still make their home in the little seaside town of Castleton, Washington, where Kate runs a bookstore, Caroline works in a styling salon, and Ashley does freelance photography. Duncan mainly drinks and curses his fate.

Enter Tyler Jamison, a reporter with a nose for what happened all those years ago. He’s in Castleton to do a “Where Are They Now?” piece on the famous sailing McKennas. Or so everyone thinks. Tyler has another motive, one he hides: he wants to find out which one of the girls gave birth to a little girl and then gave her up in a less-than-legal adoption. That child is now Tyler’s niece, and Tyler fears the mother wants her back.

Kate, the eldest, is the family caretaker. She hauls her father home to sleep it off; nags her sister, Caroline, to clean up her act; offers Ashley a supportive shoulder. All three girls lost something during the race. In a way, they are still paying the price. Now here comes Tyler, determined to open the Pandora’s box of their secrets.

Unwillingly, Kate and Tyler fall for each other. He believes she’s the mother of little Amelia; why did she give the child up? Can they get past it and forge a relationship? Ashley, the timid one, lost the man she loved over the events of the race. In order to find that love again, she’ll have to tell him the truth about what happened. Caroline has attempted to drown her own guilt in partying and alcohol, and she’ll need to come clean in more ways than one.

With three storylines running at once, none of the lead characters are given a great deal of page space. Ultimately, Caroline and Ashley are sympathetic. Their struggles are believable, especially Caroline, whose somewhat frantic lifestyle covers a great deal of pain. Kate is more annoying than anything else. She comes across as a bossy know-it-all who doesn’t know when to butt out, as Caroline tells her time and again. Her romance with Tyler isn’t given much substance. He’s gorgeous; he likes her looks; they can’t resist each other. Because Kate was so prickly, it was hard to care.

The girls’ relationship with their father was alternately poignant and problematic. Duncan is portrayed as vaguely caring, but overwhelmingly self-centered. He’s quite happy to drown his sorrows in a whisky bottle and then let his daughters pour him into bed, while moping about the had life has dealt him. And the girls let it happen, over and over again.

Summer Secrets is well-written. I don’t know that Barbara Freethy could write a book that wasn’t top-notch, at least from a technical standpoint. But it’s stretched so thin, covering thee women, their love lives, their father, and a backstory that impacts the entire novel, that it wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped. The word that comes to mind is “scattered”. Maybe it will focus better for you.

--Cathy Sova


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