Growing up with a near perfect sister and a mother who criticized her every move, Karen felt second class. She and her sister Val were complete opposites. While her sister was beautiful, thin, popular with the boys and talented, Karen was the brain, the studious one, bland, slightly overweight, and without a boyfriend. While Val stood up to their mother, firm and strong, Karen just wanted to please her, she dreaded her mother’s criticisms, and never knew how to confront her. As soon as Val could, she left town never to return again. Karen, however, took on the responsibility of taking care of their mother and never asked Val for help.
When their mother suffers a stroke, Karen, now divorced and raising a teenage daughter with her own set of problems, reaches out to Val for help. Now, Val must confront the secret she has been hiding, the reason she left and never looked back. And Karen must learn how to stand up for herself, how to be strong and have courage. The two sisters working together find common ground in which to build a new friendship and the closeness they both crave but never thought possible. And when an injured musician and a physical therapist enter the picture, new chances at love are given, secrets are revealed, and forgiveness, grace and redemption are extended.
After reading Irene Hannon’s Vanished, I had high expectations for That Certain Summer. And, although they are very different novels from very different genres, the author did not disappoint. Again, she gives us very good and likable three dimensional characters, intelligent, smart, willing to speak their minds and who act like mature adults. You will not see silly or childish misunderstandings or out of character choices. The author gives us true to life characters in familiar situations, which makes for a good reading experience.
The difficult family situation in which Karen and Val grew up, which has mold them and shape their outlook in life, is very common. Growing up with a mother who pit one sister against the other, who seemed to favor one over the other, naturally made them envy one another and grow apart. But as the story progresses it’s beautiful to see the two sisters grow closer, and find support in each other, not necessarily due their mother’s illness, but to the need each sister has for closeness, love, friendship and understanding.
Thanks to their new found friendship, we can see Karen grow stronger, feel sure and find strength in her faith and in the support of her sister. Val, on the other hand, does not benefit from it as much as her sister due to the secret she has been hiding since she was 17 years old. It was a little disappointing, not only because Val’s growth as a character comes towards the end, but also because the secret was too easy to figure out. Very, very early on, the reader knows it, but the author keeps treating it like a big, mysterious secret, which made its final reveal uneventful. The reader knows where the author is going, and how she will get there and it’s a bit of a letdown.
Of course, as most contemporary/romance fiction, some predictability is expected. We know where the romance is going, who each sister will fall in love with. But since it is such a nicely written book, we can enjoy the ride, watch them fall in love, and see them make the difficult decisions that will give them their happy ending. But going into the book with the expectation of it being somewhat predictable, I was hoping for the secret to keep me guessing and wondering.
The romance aspect of the novel is very sweet and endearing; all about the redeeming quality of love, how love can heal past hurts and give hope. However, I did not like the way Karen handled her falling in love after being divorced. One of the wonderful things we have in God is a second chance, but the author shies away from that until the story makes it completely safe to proceed. But it nevertheless had a nice, satisfying ending for both the romantic side of the story as well as the sisters’ relationship, which was in my opinion the story driving the book.
That Certain Summer is a nice story with a message of how forgiveness and God’s redeeming love and grace can heal us, strengthen us and help us move forward.
3.5 out of 5 stars
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher through The Christian Manifesto in exchange of an honest review.