The town of Hope’s Crossing, Colorado is as much a character in Blackberry Summer as the hero and heroine. The author prefaces the novel by explaining that it was inspired by her own community’s outpouring of support during a difficult time in her life. This theme definitely shines through.
Claire Bradford is a divorced mother of two, owns a bead store, and generally feels in charge of everything in her life until a group of wild teens cause a car accident that puts Claire temporarily in a wheelchair, one of the teens in a coma, and kills the niece of her best friend. The small town is reeling from the crash, with nearly everyone affected or knowing someone affected. And Claire has to adjust to the realities of her injuries, leaving an arm and a leg in casts.
There to help, though, is Riley McKnight, her best friend’s younger brother who had his own wild youth, left Hope’s Crossing to become an undercover police officer, and now has returned as police chief. He’d had a crush on Claire during his youth and returning to her years later hasn’t dimmed his attraction. But he feels a lot of guilt for things he’s done, and doesn’t want to hurt her. It’s clear that a lot of healing needs to happen.
If you don’t like small town romances, you will probably find this book a bit trite. It doesn’t have a simplistic “small town good, big city bad” take on things, but it certainly preaches the goodness of neighbors helping neighbors in their time of need. It isn’t entirely rosy; Riley is cynical about charitable deeds and Claire admits that helping neighbors don’t solve all the problems. But the message is clear: Helping others helps yourself, and supporting another’s healing process speeds along your own.
Riley and Claire were both interesting characters, each with different experiences in their lives that make them complex and imperfect, while still being likable and understandable. I thought that their relationship progressed too slowly, though. They kiss, he backs away. They kiss, she backs away. They kiss, he backs away. It went back and forth like this for almost the entire book with little real progress made. Their HEA is satisfying, but I wanted to see more leading up to it.
The cast of secondary characters is well done. Many of them are developed characters in their own right that have conflicts and trials; certainly the casualties of the car crash put burdens of grief and loss on many of the townspeople. This struck a very nice balance with the stories of the protagonists; the side characters didn’t detract from Claire and Riley’s story, but they still had a strong presence and shaped the plot. I also was happy to see that the story didn’t have a neatly happy ending. Not everything is resolved, and there are still tensions between some people, still conflicts or questions or sadness. It made it feel a bit more like the book was one part of a larger story of these people’s lives, not just a novel that ends with everything perfect.
The epigraph of the story is a quote from Luciano de Crescenzo: “We are each of us angels with one wing. And we can only fly embracing each other.” This may be a bit cheesy, but I have to give RaeAnne Thayne some props; she manages to bring this image into Blackberry Summer without making it overly sappy. A feat, indeed.