After reading the first few chapters I put Sanctuary Island down and didn’t pick it up again for months. While not horrible, it didn’t grab my interest, and the two sisters featured in the opening chapters felt clichéd. When I finally picked it up again I enjoyed parts, but never warmed to a few major characters. This is the author’s first book set on Sanctuary Island featuring the two Preston sisters, Ella and Merry. Alexandra reviewed Merry’s story, Shoreline Drive, the second in the series, and gave it a C+. I didn’t like this quite as much.
As the book opens, Ella Preston is on her way to Sanctuary Island with her very pregnant sister Merry. The daughters of an alcoholic mother, the sisters will be seeing their mother for the first time in 15 years. Their father took the girls and left their mother when they were young, and didn’t allow them any contact in the intervening years. Ella wants nothing to do with their mother now, but will do anything for Merry, and soft-hearted Merry wants to see their mother.
Ella plans to stay for a short visit, have virtually nothing to do with their mother, and then take her sister back to the mainland where she feels they belong. Unfortunately for Ella, her plans are quickly ruined when Merry almost instantly falls in love with the island, and bonds with their mother.
The initial descriptions of the two sisters felt all too familiar. Ella’s hard-working, no nonsense, and unforgiving. In contrast, Merry is overly optimistic, flighty, irresponsible, and has dated a long string of losers including her baby’s father. While I can understand Ella’s feelings toward their mother, I didn’t find her a likeable character. And Merry, for the most part, comes across as a complete nitwit. What saved the book for me, is the hero Grady Wilkes, a handyman and friend of their mother.
Grady and Ella have strong sexual chemistry from their first meeting, but Ella doesn’t intend to do anything about it. For his part, Grady’s afraid Ella is there to hurt his friend. While Merry’s bonding with their mother and the wild horses on the island, Ella comes into more and more contact with Grady Wilkes. He’s complicated, brooding, and a true tortured hero.
Before coming to Sanctuary Island Grady was part of an elite urban search and rescue team. Always an adrenaline junkie, things went very bad in Grady’s last rescue when he risked too much. The experience left him horribly scarred, both emotionally and physically. While the island has helped to heal some of Grady’s emotional issues, he still wears gloves and long sleeved shirts to cover his physical scars, and is emotionally unable to leave the island.
Grady and Ella begin to learn more about each other as he shows her around the island. The island is a sanctuary for wild horses, and apparently for wounded people as well. Much of the island – including her mother’s home – is run down. Ella, a commercial real estate developer, sees the potential for development and tourism. That’s the last thing Grady wants. For him, Sanctuary Island is a magical, healing refuge, and he wants it to stay exactly the way it is.
In addition to Grady, I was intrigued by Ella and Merry’s mother, Jo Ellen. She completely owns up to her past mistakes and has forged a meaningful life on the island. But Grady and Jo Ellen aren’t enough for me to recommend the book. I wouldn’t mind reading another romance set on Sanctuary Island, but it would have to feature a more likeable, interesting heroine than Ella.