Desert Isle Keeper
Days of Summer
I was slightly leery about reading this book, the first for this author in several years. I have read most of Jill Barnett’s backlist. When she’s on, her books take on a life of themselves. But there have been a few stinkers that make me ask, “is this the same woman?” I chose this title for Barnett’s name alone. I knew nothing of this book besides suspecting it was a contemporary story. This, also, had me worried. In my opinion, the farther back in time Barnett writes, the better. Armed with the knowledge that I might be falling asleep in midst of a sentence or throwing the book against the wall, I read.
Barnett’s first book around two families and plays out over 45 years. It begins when a drunk and angry Rudy Banning and his wife are fighting while he drives their car around L.A. It collides with a station wagon containing rock star, Jimmy Peyton. The Bannings and Peyton are killed in the collision and ensuing fire. The Bannings leave behind two sons, Jud and Cale, who are sent to live with the cold-hearted grandfather they have never met. Jimmy Peyton leaves behind a young wife, Kathryn, and four year old daughter Laurel.
Part one revolves around 1957, the time of the crash, and focuses on the changes in the two families’ lives. Kathryn is grief stricken. She takes her daughter to live with her controlling and equally sad mother-in-law. The two women have very different ideas on how to grieve for the young man they both loved. Jimmy’s mother wants to hang his pictures, sing his songs and keep him fresh in everyone’s memory. Kathryn wants to forget and push everything away.
Part two centers on the spring and summer of 1970. Laurel, 17, first encounters 25-year-old Jud on the boat to Catalina Island. This first meeting leads to an embarrassing departure when Jud finds out how old Laurel is. They meet once again when he tried to save her from a group of drunk college boys and ends up getting the snot beat out of him. Again he dismisses Laurel and walks away. They never knew each other’s names.
Laurel then meets Cale, not knowing he is the brother of the man from the boat. After a whirlwind week, Cale falls hopelessly in love with Laurel and Laurel, who has been dying for love from someone, thinks she’s fallen for him, too. This starts a string of events that I wouldn’t want to spoil for future readers.
Through everything, Cale deals with a a manipulative and cold grandfather who has ignored him from the time he and his brother moved in…and worse, he has always favored Jud. Cale feels Jud is the golden boy who can do no wrong and always get what he wants the first time around. The scenes of the two brothers are written perfectly. They love each other. That much is evident, and they are good friends, but Jud’s disapproval of Cale’s life, and Cale’s anger towards what Jud represents is always present.
Part three, set in 2002, is more complex and complicated. A whole new set of characters are introduced: Laurel’s daughter Annalisa, Laurel’s ex, and Cale’s two sons (Dane and Matthew), and Annalisa starts a business deal with Matthew Banning behind her mother’s back. I would hate to say much more about the intricate plot so as not to ruin the experience. Let’s just say there are many twists and turns and a ton of revelations. You will not be bored.
This is not trademark Barnett. There are only touches of her humor, but given the book’s sad undertone, that is expected. Her understanding of what it is like to lose a parent at a young age is uncanny (perhaps the loss of her beloved husband when her daughter was a young teen gave her painful insight). I’m sure there are many people out there who have been in that situation who are saying “How could she know?” I was worried that the plot would turn sinister and make one of the brother’s the bad guy in effort to make who wound up with Laurel seem more forgiving. That didn’t happen. The way she puts Laurel together with her Banning brother is worked delicately.
I felt for these families. I could almost see the Three Fates wherever the Fates reside, pointing and giggling at them, thinking of new ways to mess up there lives. The closest thing we have to a villain is Victor Banning, the cold-hearted grandfather. At first he could rival any of Judith McNaught’s evil matriarch/patriarch villains. I could so see a Celebrity Death Match with him and Meredith Bancroft’s father (Paradise). He does, about half way through, start to show a more human side and I was glad that I didn’t despise him for more than half the story.
This was a very moving book that read, at times, like a soap opera. I think Jill Barnett knew that and threw in a funny scene towards the end poking fun at General Hospital. Reading Jill’s own history must have made this very hard to write. I give her kudos for making it through.
My only real quibble was the ending. It fizzled and left a loose end I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with. That being said, it was still a fabulous book ending on a good note even if the note didn’t measure up to the rest of the book. I would gladly recommend this. But, beware, it’s not a light read even if it is set in sunny California.