Desert Isle Keeper
Stef Ann Holm moves to contemporary romance in Girls Night, and the result is one of the most delightful books I have read this year. It’s got it all: an endearing heroine, a wonderful hero, blessedly un-bratty teenage characters, and a senior citizen secondary romance that is sweet as can be. The town of Blue Heron Beach, Washington simply comes alive in this book, so much so that it almost made me want to move there.
Jillene McDermott’s husband David was the love of her life. Things were practically perfect for them, then David died of a brain hemorrhage. He left Jillene and their daughters in financial hot water – no insurance and only a struggling coffee shop (Java the Hut) as an asset. Well, it’s supposed to be an asset, but the shop is consuming all Jillene’s time and money. Jillene struggles, and it hurts her that she can’t provide all she would like for her daughters. They don’t complain, not much, but that doesn’t make it better.
Vince Tremonti has come back to his home town to visit his father Al, and rethink his life. Vince is a former policeman turned successful true-crime writer who is working on his latest book about a notorious serial killer. So? It seems as though the killer deliberately committed his crimes so Vince would write about him. He has written and called and taunted and begged Vince to begin their story, now. Vince is sick to his soul over the thought that his books gave this sicko the idea that led to a dozen murders.
Vince and Jillene meet when he comes to her shop. Jillene knows about Vince – he’s the town’s most famous native son – and she and her daughters are friends of his father. There is an immediate mutual attraction between them, but both of them are initially too caught up their own problems to pursue it. But when Jillene’s daughters put a personal ad in the paper that leads to a lot of odd phone calls (especially from someone named Moe), Vince passes himself off as her boyfriend – for protection of course. The two of them continually bump up against each other, and that initial attraction continues to grow.
I was delighted with Girls Night, simply delighted. After I read it, I made two lists. Things I Liked About This Book, and Things I Did Not Like About This Book. Since the second list was blank, I gave the book a DIK. Here is the first list:
- I bonded with Jillene. I can’t identify with the hip, chain-smoking, cynical, stiletto-wearing urban gals in Chick-Lit, nor the ditzy types in some romantic comedies, but a struggling single mother who is overworked, chronically tired, but still hopeful and forward-looking, is my kind of heroine.
- Can I have Vince? Truly, he was a hero to take to your heart. He likes women, he’s had relationships, but he doesn’t look to bed everything with a double-X chromosome. No Duke of Slut he. Vince is getting older, he’s 42 and he is beginning to want love, stability, a family and someone to talk to. Vince is a good son, a kind and decent man, he’s tortured enough to be interesting, but not so much that he’s twisted. Vince’s problem in this book is a real moral dilemma that he is loathe to talk about. It leads to some lack of communication between him and Jillene, but his Big Secret is one that I could very well understand him not wanting to share.
- I am so tired of bratty teen characters! Jillene’s two daughters, Faye and Claire, were darling. Sure they whine when financial reverses force them to give up cable TV and fast food dinners, but their grousing was realistic instead of petulant. Sometimes the girls acted mature, and sometimes childish, but they were never spoiled brats. They love their mother, they don’t just tolerate her. Bless their hearts!
- There was a delightful sub-plot involving Vince’s father Al, a widower, and his love for Ianella Sofrone, a woman he’s known for years. Nella’s husband Leonardo had left her years ago, but since she and Al are both old-fashioned Catholics, they would not dream of getting together while Leo was still alive. But when he finally does die, Al shyly asks her out, and that leads to a sweet and tender love story with all the uncertainty, butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling, and yes, passion that young people feel.
- The town of Blue Heron Beach was as real as Mayberry or Milford. The people in it were three dimensional, not just wallpaper. There are so many secondary characters I could not begin to name them all, and they all had personalities. They made Blue Heron Beach a real community, not just a stage set.
I was so delighted with Girls Night, that after I finished it, I had the urge to go tell total strangers how good it was – an urge I haven’t had too often this year. I’ve had some major disappointments in 2002 when it comes to contemporary romances, but this one was a unqualified success and one of the best books I have read this year. It’s definitely on my list of top 10 best romances for 2002, and one I can recommend without one quibble.