Sand Castle Bay

Sherryl Woods
April 2013, Contemporary Romance
Harlequin Mira, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0778314367
Part of a series

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Warm

Remember when you held me tight And you kissed me all through the night Think of all that we've been through Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
These immortal words from Neil Sedaka serve as a reminder that breaking up can be hard for some. For the heroine of Sand Castle Bay it was an event that made her bitter toward life.

Emily Castle left the small town of Sand Castle Bay, NC, and longtime boyfriend Boone Dorsett to chase her dream of being an interior designer. It is unclear what she thought would happen, but what did happen completely shocked her. Boone dusted himself off and married a local girl, started up some restaurants and made a success of his life. Emily, while deeply hurt by this, has comforted herself with the thought that she too has been a success, designing for some of the most famous people in Los Angeles. However, that comfort has been cold. She has never found a love that had the heat and passion that she experienced with Boone.

When a large storm hits North Carolina, barreling through Sand Castle Bay, Emily and her sisters all set out for home. Their grandmother’s restaurant, Castle’s by the Sea, has been damaged. The three girls basically grew up there, working through their summers and hanging out after school. It seems only natural to head back now that there is a time of crisis.

Emily arrives in town in full feisty mode. Convinced that Boone’s friendship with their grandmother has to be opportunistic ,she tries to undermine all the help he throws Gran’s way with snarky comments and nasty insinuations. In spite of this, Boone’s son B.J. immediately falls in love with Emily. Realizing that she is the only one who sees Boone as the enemy she talks him into a peace treaty. Both of them will keep civil tongues in their heads and their hands and hearts to themselves while she is there.

Boone is delighted with this compromise. Emily’s Grandmother has been a good friend to him for the past several years and the death of his wife a year ago has left him needing every friend he has, especially those that are important to his son. He is less than thrilled to see B.J. warming up to Emily. Emily crushed him when she left last time. Will she do the same to his fragile little boy when she goes this time? He has no intention of letting that happen. But as Emily’s stay gets extended and he finds the three of them spending more and more time together he realizes that B. J. is not the only one who will be hurt when Emily leaves.

I’ll take a moment here to say that the name B.J. was a complete distraction to me throughout the novel. Every time I read it I was yanked out of the story. I hate to out myself as some sort of pervert but those letters mean something very different to me than a child’s name. I couldn’t decide if the author was trying to do some sort of cutesy wink by using those particular letters or she somehow managed to work in the romance industry for years without knowing the meaning most often ascribed to those two initials, but that simply shouldn’t have made it through editing. Can you imagine the teasing that child was going to get in junior high? We are used to weird names in romance but this seemed inexcusable to me.

Another area of difficulty with the book came from that poor child as well. When Boone and Emily decide to give it another chance, the one rule that Boone stipulates at the beginning is that B.J. will not be introduced to the idea of them as a couple until fairly deep into their relationship. Given that they had had one nasty break up under their belts already and they were trying a very long distance relationship (California to North Carolina, literally coast to coast) I thought this was reasonable. However, Emily quickly grows tired of it. She feels that this is “hiding” their relationship, cheapening it to the level of a “meaningless fling.” And yet not a few pages later, when Boone is asking her how she sees the relationship working, she says, “I thought we were just starting to test the waters, find out if we had anything left.” This struck me as ludicrous. When it came to her job, compromises couldn’t be made because they were just starting out. When it came to a child, risks should be taken if it meant Emily got to spend more time with her boyfriend. At this point I lost respect for both characters. Emily was clearly too selfish to be a decent stepmother and Boone too spineless to deal with that fact.

The above really encapsulates most of their relationship. Emily is endlessly trying to take care of herself while at the same time incorporate Boone and his son into her life. Much of this “incorporating” circles around the difference between working to make a living (the horror!) and having meaningful work, such as being the interior decorator of a shelter for battered women. What I found really unromantic was how quickly Boone and Emily fell back into the pattern of what broke them up when they were teens. Emily has dreams she wants to chase. Boone has responsibilities he needs to handle. Emily was stunned when Boone didn’t wait for her before, although it is unclear how long she expected him to wait. Since ten years down the road she isn’t ready to come home, was he to wait even longer than that for her? Or was he simply to follow her? I don’t think even she had thought it out. What page space isn’t devoted to this is spent on Boone’s evil mother-in-law, a woman who claims he never really loved her daughter because he was still hung up on Emily. That story line wasn’t much fun to read either.

In the end I just can’t recommend this book. With the plethora of small town romances out there, I know better reads are available for those that love that subgenre.

-- Maggie Boyd

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