Every once in a while, I like to read a novel like this one. Sometimes romances surprise with a plot or some characters that I want to pay attention to.
Barbara Freethy is well-known as a writer of romance novels. Summer Secrets (400 pages, Onyx-New America Library, $14) was published some time ago, but it has just appeared for the Kindle. It came with the kind of fanfare that intrigued me.
It has some of the hallmarks of the romance genre. The women, in this case a family of twenty-something sisters, are all stunningly beautiful. These sisters turn out to be athletic as well—they sailed around the world with their father, and with him they came in first in a race that for some reason haunts them all even eight years later. The father, a compulsive competitor who also has a drinking problem, is a concern to all the daughters, but each of them has a love interest too, one more handsome and rugged looking than the next. Sex scenes are fantasies of complementarity, and even if some of these women resist their suitors, the reader knows that those muscular arms will be holding one of the women in fulfillment of all her dreams.
Well, it’s summer, and fantasies like this are no worse than the gay fantasies of Josh Lanyon’s novels, to be sure. In Kate, the oldest of the sisters, and the one who seems to be harboring the secrets, Freethy has an interesting heroine. Kate is struggling to keep the family together. She comes close enough to failing that the novel generates interest simply on the level of the plot, and that is not always easy.
Tyler has come to town—the novel is set on one of the San Juan Islands in the state of Washington—to discover which of the sisters is the mother of the child his brother has adopted. He has clear evidence that one of the sisters gave birth while on the sailing race, and he is determined to find out which one.
As he deceives the sisters and attempts to work himself into their good graces, he finds he is falling in love with Kate. Kate finds this muscular reporter attractive, but she is afraid that he is after their secrets, so she tries, unsuccessfully, to keep him at a distance.
All three girls have a complicated relation with their father and with the history of sailing with him all those years ago. Two of them are attracted to the water and imagine sailing again, and one, just as powerfully, wants nothing to do with the water ever again. When it turns out that the dad is hoping to get them out and racing once again, each daughter reacts in a different way.
In the end of course, all the secrets are revealed and the conflicted couples come together almost seamlessly. Even the father stops drinking for a while. But if the ending isn’t fully believable, some of the energy that went into telling the story surely is.
This novel will not be to everybody’s taste, but it can certainly suffice for a few distracted hours at the beach or at poolside.
Summer Secrets is available at Vroman's and Amazon.