Desert Isle Keeper
Do you ever pick up a book without expecting much from it, but then it knocks your socks off? That is what happened to me with Carolina Girl. I had never heard of Virginia Kantra so I didn’t know what I would get with the first book in the Dare Island series. The story is a familiar romance trope, girl in the big city has a problem so she has to return to her small hometown. However, Kantra does an excellent job of telling the familiar story. I ended up spending a whole day reading this book because I loved it so much I didn’t want to put it down.
When she goes in to work one morning, the last thing Meg Fletcher expects is to lose her job. She’s built her life around her high power job for an insurance company in New York and, without her work, she’s feeling a little lost. To make matters worse, her coworker and live-in boyfriend Derek isn’t very comforting or supportive. As her mother was only recently in a car wreck, Meg decides to return home to Dare Island to help with her mother’s recovery while she job hunts.
When Meg arrives at the airport, she finds that her old flame Sam Grady has come to pick her up. She’s had little to no interaction with Sam since she lost her virginity to him as a teen. After their one and only romantic encounter, Sam left for college and, with both of them away from the island, they have never been forced to deal with their lingering feelings. Now they’re both back at home and it’s time to settle things.
Sam has a lot of things he needs to work out while he’s home. His father is having health problems, which means he has returned to help out with his father’s construction business, in spite of their strained relationship. He spent most of his childhood with the Fletcher family and feels more at home with them, so he’s happy to help them out while their mother recovers. Getting to be around Meg is just an added bonus. He’s never forgotten their time together and is determined to convince her that he’s a better choice than stuffy Derek.
As things progress and Meg gets more comfortable being back home, the relationship with Derek only becomes more strained. She can’t help but compare him to funny, caring Sam and he isn’t measuring up. Still, Meg isn’t sure she is ready to rehash the past with Sam and she certainly isn’t ready to give up on the life she built in the city.
Kantra does a fantastic job of creating the atmosphere in this book. There’s a specific scene that comes to mind, shortly after Meg returns home where she is looking out on the stars and thinking about how beautiful it really is on the island. I got so swept up in that feeling of standing there with Meg. The starlight, the beach, and the sea breeze descriptions made me want to run away to the Carolinas for a vacation. Kantra really brings the little island of Dare alive.
I absolutely loved Sam and Meg’s relationship. They have chemistry and such a long history together that is nearly impossible for sparks not to fly between them. Sam quickly decides that he wants her to stay and be with him, but I believed Meg’s turmoil over making the decision. Too many times in romances where the heroine or hero has moved home but doesn’t want to stay, their reasoning is a little flimsy. I don’t really buy the excuse that they just don’t like the small town they’re from. With Meg’s character, she had a condo and job offer in New York that would obviously be very tempting to her. I totally understood her conflicted feelings with choosing between Sam and Derek, and New York and Dare.
I love a tortured hero that doesn’t just fall head over heels and spend the whole time doing nothing but winning over the heroine. Sam is definitely up against some challenges. He has a hard time processing his feelings for Meg. Sam has been best friends with Meg’s brother, and since he was practically raised by the Fletchers, he feels that being with Meg might ruin that relationship. He also constantly butts heads with his father over their differing views for the construction company. I appreciated how fully his character was fleshed out.
I also loved that the story didn’t just focus on Meg and Sam. The interactions between Meg’s parents in the wake of the car accident were so sweet. I also enjoyed their struggles with keeping custody of Meg’s niece. The next book in this series, due out next year, deals with Luke’s return from deployment with the Marines and getting to know his long-lost daughter. I am very much looking forward to his story in Carolina Man.
If you read Kantra’s first book in the series, Carolina Home, you will appreciate returning to the little fisherman’s island and checking in with the Fletchers. However, if you’re new to the series, you will fall in love with this family and want to go back and read the first book. I know I did. If you like this story and find yourself taken by Kantra’s writing, I also suggest looking for her book Mad Dog and Annie, which was also a Desert Isle Keeper.
There just aren’t enough romance stories about families that seem real. Too many depend on zany characters in unbelievable situations. So it was a great pleasure to find a strong novel that tells the story of regular people living regular lives that can still touch your heart. Any issues I might have found with this book were too minor to stick with me after I was done reading. I happily recommend Carolina Girl as a fantastic read.