Think cozy mystery, then swap out the mystery for a love story, and you’ll have a feel for the rhythm of Beach Haven. The seaside town of Sunset Cove, its cast of characters, and how the main couple interacts within the community are the strong underpinnings on which the love story unfolds. Beach Haven is the first of three books in The Carolina Coast Series, all planned for release in 2020.
In the beginning, the hero and heroine of the story have so little in common, it’s hard to imagine how they’ll ever end up together. Ex-marine Lincoln Cole moves to the small beach town of Sunset Cove, South Carolina, desperate for a change of scenery and eager to leave family unrest behind. His aching leg portends a coming storm, he’s reeling from months of misery due to injuries sustained in Syria, and he carries a dark cloud around with him he can’t seem to shake. Now his friend has set him up with a job at an antiques store. Beggars can’t be choosers. The alternative is living with himself, pain, and boredom. Walking into the store, aptly named Bless This Mess, Lincoln wonders if he slid down a fantastic rabbit hole. Old chairs converted to chandeliers hang from the ceiling, he can just make out the path through the jumble of outlandish furniture, and feminine humming floats over the chaos. Then the owner steps out to greet him.
Opal Gilbert is free-spirited and as whimsical in her own way as the refurbished and repurposed furniture which are the hallmarks of her business. Assessing Opal as he would a military target, Lincoln is stunned to think of words like “fairy” and “sprite.” Opal sees a handsome, brooding, hurting man before her, and despite his grouchy demeanor and responses of the one-word variety, she presents him with a cushioned bench made from a soldier’s footlocker and sturdy grey material, just the right size for the 6-foot-4-inch former soldier. The whole situation, including the fairy’s upbeat patter and uncanny look into Lincoln’s soul, seems too surreal, and with gruff rudeness, he stomps out of the store, never mentioning the job he had arrived to claim.
Opal refuses to give up on the wounded man, especially since the bench was clearly meant for him. Locating his jeep on the street, Opal hauls the bench to the vehicle and hoists it in. Confronted with such determination, Lincoln accepts defeat and takes the bench home, only to find a large plastic bag of seashells tucked inside. When he asks Opal about it, she says she always adds a seashell to every piece she sells along with a wish or prayer. Why a full bag in this case is Lincoln’s question. Her answer – she had a feeling the new owner would need lots of prayer. The swirling storm of feelings after this meeting has Lincoln regretting his rude manner, but not enough to consider working with this unsettling woman. When a hurricane slams into the coast and collapses Opal’s store, Lincoln decides to help her by way of an apology. After a day of working alongside the community to clean out the store, Lincoln arrives the next day to continue the clean-up, and within a few hours, the upbeat, teasing sprite has offered the ill-tempered man a job. An unlikely partnership begins.
The strength in the book lies in its theme – restoration – and in its characters, who are well-drawn and provide much of the enjoyment in the story. The delightful, quirky Opal, the elder ladies of the Knitting Club, Opal’s loyal friends, the handsome, brooding Lincoln — all of them brought me back to the story and will stay with me. Restoration occurs through the support and well-meaning interactions of the characters, and occasional statements affirm that God is moving to make things happen. The repurposing of old or battered furniture and the rebuilding of Opal’s business symbolize the restoration of people who have been battered or overused in life. Opal’s dearest friends have their own life problems for which they seek restoration, and Lincoln’s troubles at home stand at the center of his own recovery as much as his lingering physical injury does. Prayer is central to Opal, her wish-blessed seashells touching gifts which make a lovely story device.
For all of that, I could easily lay this book aside, and after reflection, several reasons for this come to mind. First, two of the important story arcs are rather flat. The romance lacks emotional punch, and in spite of their seemingly rocky meeting, I never had any doubt that Lincoln and Opal would get together. Opal is steadfast despite Lincoln’s sometimes hurtful behavior, and other than personality clashes, there is no real conflict between the two of them. Lincoln has a personal journey to travel, but I never viewed that as an impediment to a happily-ever-after. Also, the spiritual arc lacks cohesion. Two of the characters make a pivot in their view of God and His role in their lives, but those transformations seem to come out of the blue with no hints along the way.
Second, the author tells us several times how Opal is viewed as weird and outside of normal but shows us that Opal has a strong and loving support system around the town. I never believed the repeated ‘telling’ because Opal herself has grown beyond the past, and while reading, I believed that she had accepted herself and is now a mature woman who can consider the source behind any personal comment thrown her way.
Finally, although Lincoln’s journey to reconcile with his father forms a central thread throughout the novel, I felt the author missed an opportunity to show a transformation within Lincoln. Lincoln blames himself completely for their current estrangement and never considers that his father’s behavior played a significant role in it. I didn’t question that Lincoln feels the need to make amends, but I kept wanting him to reach out from an inner core of self-worth, and an acknowledgement that his father carried human faults and had a hand in damaging the relationship. Watching Lincoln’s self-image mature from child to adult would have made the story more powerful and Lincoln more likeable.
T.I. Lowe is a bestselling author, and in Beach Haven, her readers will find interesting characters, a sweet view of small-town life, and a commendable theme of restoration. However, given the lack of emotional beats in the key story arcs, a storytelling style that distances the reader, and the missed opportunity in Lincoln’s journey, I am unable to give Beach Haven my wholehearted recommendation.
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