I keep a running list of available books for AAR reviewers, most of which have a brief description. Over the years, I cannot count how many times I've typed something like the following:
"When Heroine __________ (gets divorced, loses her job, has a death in the family) she is forced to go back to _________ (invariably a small town) to take care of the family's _______ business (usually an inn, but a ranch, café, or bookstore will do as well). There she runs into _______, the guy she either dated or wanted to date in high school, and she must decide whether to return to her glamorous life in New York (because it's almost always New York) or to stay in the charming hamlet with Hero."
Since dozens of these stories are published every year, this is a tale that clearly resonates with some readers. Done well, it can make for a good story (some of Rachel Gibson's books come to mind), but the sheer number of these books gets pretty overpowering. Seaview Inn has something of a twist in that both the hero and the heroine are returning home to the tiny Florida town of Seaview Key. But though both main characters are likable enough, nothing about this story feels very different or innovative.
Hannah Matthews is in a tough spot in her life. She just lost her mother to breast cancer, and is fighting the disease herself. And though she's just taken leave from her high-powered PR career, she is forced to use even more vacation time. Her grandmother is having trouble running the family's inn on her own, so Hannah goes down to Florida to convince her to sell the property and move into a nice retirement community. While Hannah is dealing with this, her daughter Kelsey, a 20-year-old college student, calls with the surprising news that she is pregnant. Taking a leave of absence from Stanford, Kelsey comes out to Seaview Key to make some decisions about her life.
At the same time, Hannah's grandmother has taken a guest at the [temporarily] closed Inn. Luke Stevens grew up in Seaview Key too, but left after high school and owns a successful medical practice in Atlanta. When he decided to enlist for a year in Iraq, his life fell spectacularly to pieces. His wife was less than supportive of his choice, and she manifested her displeasure by having an affair with his (former) best friend and business partner. He also injured his leg in Iraq and has not entirely recovered. When he leaves rehab, he's not sure what he wants to do with his life, so he returns to Seaview to make some decisions, staying at the Seaview Inn and doing odd jobs in the meantime.
Naturally, Hannah and Luke share a past. He was the popular jock in high school, and Hannah was the brainiac who concentrated on her studies. She always liked him, but because he dated her best friend, he was completely off limits. Now they are both free, and the attraction is immediate. But neither is sure that a relationship would be a good idea. Luke has a lot of baggage from his failed marriage. Hannah is more worried that her cancer will come back, and she doesn't feel that starting a romance with Luke would be fair to him or his young children. Also, both of them need to decide whether they are going to stay in Seaview Key, and if so, what they will do about the jobs they have elsewhere.
As if that isn't enough decision making, there's also Kelsey. Kelsey's pregnancy is completely unplanned, but she truly loves Jeff, the baby's father. Jeff is completely sure of his feelings and wants to marry Kelsey. Kelsey isn't sure whether that's the best choice.
Oh, and one more thing. Hannah finds out new information about the father who abandoned her as a child, and she needs to decide what to do about that.
As you've probably gathered already, this book reads like a laundry list of problems and decisions. While they aren't presented in a completely linear fashion (some of the problems occur simultaneously) the overall effect is like a multiple choice test, with one problem following another. What should Kelsey do about the pregnancy? What should Hannah do about her father? What should Luke do about his medical practice? And so on. There really are too many problems for just one book, and toward the end, the inevitable fatigue sets in.
That's not to say that the book is terrible, because it isn't. I liked the second chance at love aspect. Maybe it's just that I'm getting older myself, but stories about characters who have been around the block a few times – but still get giddy and sappy when they fall in love – seem kind of fun to me. And who could help rooting for the smart girl to finally get the guy?
However, even though I liked Luke well enough and had no problems with his later decisions, I couldn't help sympathizing with the evil ex-wife. Not, of course, with her adultery and the aftermath, but with her anger at Luke's decision to go to Iraq. The problem is not that he went, but that it was entirely his decision; she was not consulted in the matter, and he refused to consider her feelings. While he assumes some blame for this later on, I still felt like he discounted his culpability in the marriage's demise.
In the end, I probably wouldn't go out of my way for this one, at least not unless you never tire of the "small towns cure all of life's problems" kind of thing. On the whole it's basically an average read with a theme you've seen before.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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