Desert Isle Keeper
On Love's Gentle Shore
It’s always a pleasure to find a new-to-me author to enjoy, and Liz Johnson is one of those I discovered in 2017. Her novel On Love’s Gentle Shore won me over with its perfect balance of believable characters, faith-filled themes, wonderful setting, and emotionally deep romance. This is the third novel in her Prince Edward Island Dreams series, and although characters from the previous novels appear here, enjoying the story does not depend on reading the first two books.
For Natalie O’Ryan, the word ‘home’ only meant hunger, hand-me-down clothes, and parents too wrapped up in their own addictions to care for her. At seventeen she hatches a plan with her best friend, Justin Kane, to leave small-town life on Prince Edward Island and pursue their dreams in Nashville – he as a song-writer and performer and she as anything, as long as it’s far away. When Justin’s father dies suddenly, the plan falls apart. Justin decides his place is helping his mother run the family dairy farm, and Natalie, desperate to escape, leaves without him.
Fifteen years later, Natalie has risen to the position of concierge in a premier Nashville hotel and is engaged to Russell Jacobs, a successful music producer. Russell’s wedding present to her is to arrange for the ceremony to be held on Prince Edward Island, called PEI by locals and visitors alike. His plan includes Natalie staying most of the summer on the island to complete plans for their August wedding. Although Natalie is appalled by Russell’s decision, she avoids conflict by saying nothing; a tactic which has become a habit when dealing with him. She dreads facing the people on PEI who once ridiculed her and let her down, especially Justin. When she arrives on the island, she is, as expected, the focus of local gossip, but as an adult, Natalie can now recognize those people, particularly Mama Kane, who genuinely love her.
His father’s death shattered Justin’s dreams of a music career, but Natalie broke his heart by leaving town without a word, as if what they shared meant nothing. Now she’s back, all grown up and more attractive than ever, acting as if he’s the villain of the drama they lived through all those years ago. He soon learns of a big problem with the O’Ryan-Jacobs wedding. Since the Community Center is over-booked and the chapel sustained fire damage just a week ago, Natalie’s wedding planner suggests to Justin that this might be the perfect opportunity to use the rundown barn on his land as an ‘event destination’… for Natalie’s wedding. Although he tries, Justin can find no good reason to refuse, except that he’d rather be miles away from the woman who trampled on his heart.
Given the new wedding venue and Russell’s job demanding his attention, when a man’s – and a friend’s – perspective is needed for wedding-related decisions, Justin is often called upon to step in. Choosing flowers, cake tasting and updating the barn, all serve as a backdrop for a collage of memories, revelations and push-pull attraction that flow and simmer between Natalie and Justin as they sort out their long-ago separation and discover what, if anything, is next for their friendship. Planning a wedding with your ex as venue manager is bad enough but to add to Natalie’s distress, her father returns to PEI to apologize for his bad parenting.
Ms. Johnson says she visited the island and fell in love at first sight, and I have no doubt of that. The beauty of PEI flows through her descriptions, and her love shines through the book like the lighthouse in which a younger Natalie and Justin often met. The inspirational messages of the story have their basis in Christianity, and the author gently illustrates compassion, charity, and gratitude through the actions of the characters. Honesty to oneself and to others as well as forgiveness and redemption are all explored through Rick O’Ryan’s (Natalie’s father) desire to be a better man, the down-to-earth wisdom of Mama Kane, and Justin and Natalie’s slow, if somewhat rocky, rediscovery of their love.
The situations are believable, the characters are drawn with sensitivity and with a deep understanding of each person’s inner landscape, and the love story made me cry as well as smile. This book went straight to my keeper’s shelf, and I’ve got the first two books in this series queued up on my e-reader. I can recommend On Love’s Gentle Shore without reservation; it’s a book that will linger in your heart for a long time.