I recently started two books around the same time, one by a favorite author and the other by Sandra Kitt. Though I’d never before read a book by Ms. Kitt, I almost immediately dumped the book by the favorite author in favor of Southern Comfort. There is something very human and natural in the problems that occur in the lives of the main characters that keep the reader interested throughout most of the story.
As a young girl, Rachel Givens spent some of the best summer days of her life in Highland Beach, Maryland. It is there where she met Julia Winters, an older woman who immediately became a mother figure for her. Those wonderful days though, were short-lived for Rachel had no idea that the summer of her thirteenth birthday would be the last time she would see her surrogate mother. As an adult, Rachel becomes a successful jewelry designer thanks, in part, to Julia’s mentoring years ago. Although there has been the occasional phone call, Rachel has not seen Julia since she was but a child. When she hears that Julia died, it is the shock of her life, but Rachel does not realize that there are more surprises yet to come.
Lucas Monroe grew up in a loving, if somewhat nontraditional home. He barely remembers the African American mother who abandoned him when he was just a small boy, leaving him with the white grandparents who raised him. Lucas could not ask for more caring grandparents, supportive even when Lucas quit his law firm to become a saxophone player. But they could never truly understand what it was like to grow up with a mixed ethnicity and they could never fill the hole left by his mother. When word comes that Lucas’s mother has died, his emotions are mixed. He does not want to care, yet he cannot help but feel grief over what could have been.
Julia’s death certainly comes as a bombshell to Rachel, yet it is even more shocking when she attends the funeral and meets Lucas, the son Julia kept secret. It is obvious that Rachel is stunned when she meets Lucas, but that is no reason for the man to be so curt. True, maybe he should not have been so annoyed with Rachel, but her worship of his birth mother certainly grates on his nerves. Meeting each other face to face is rather unexpected, but what is even more astonishing is when they learn that Julia left her summer home to both of them. But Rachel and Lucas do not realize that there are even more surprises yet to come. In the end, Rachel and Lucas must overcome not only their own imperfect childhoods, but also their dislike of each other in order to move on.
I was immediately drawn into Southern Comfort because of the basic human emotions that are conveyed. With the blended families of today, one cannot help but relate to one or more of the problems that the characters go through. When it comes down to it, the book is about the human need to be loved and accepted, something to which anyone can relate. Although there is no overt suspense plot, there are questions that beg to be answered and keep the reader involved. I could not help but be surprised right along with Rachel when she realizes that even her own family has been keeping secrets.
The problem comes in the second half of the book. I was so immediately interested in these primal desires for love and acceptance that once the romance kicks in, it jolted me from my interest in Julia, her past, and the intriguing problems she left behind. Once the surprising revelations were made, I found myself not as interested as I had been. In a way, the love scenes were far less interesting than the story of a mother and son and the feelings that went along with it were just not as powerful and interesting as those between Lucas and his mother, and even Rachel and her own family. Although the relationship between Lucas and Rachel is appealing, it is the problems between the parents and their grown children that kept me turning the pages. So read this one, but less for the romance than the family dynamics.