The Sweetest Summer
Two of my favorite contemporary romances – Knock Me Off My Feet and Take a Chance on Me were written over ten years ago by Susan Donovan. I’ve tried a number of Ms. Donovan’s more recent books but none have come close in my affection. The Sweetest Summer doesn’t match those either, but I found it an enjoyable listen, and can give it a qualified recommendation.
The book begins with a flashback to a young Clancy Flynn and his friends being punished by having to “clean” the town mermaid statue, a statue supposedly endowed with magical love powers; scorn her and you may never find true love. While I found this opening sequence somewhat tedious, the narration is spot on. When one of Clancy’s friends is nervous and worried about the mermaid’s powers, and we’re told he’s “about to cry,” that’s exactly what he sounds like. In contrast, Clancy’s scorn and mockery for the mermaid is clear in the adolescent voice Ms. McFadden gives him.
Flash forward to the present, and a grown up Clancy, now Police Chief of Bayberry Island, is preparing to face a huge influx of tourists for the Island’s annual Mermaid Festival. Ms. McFadden once again performs Clancy exactly right as he walks amongst the incoming tourists, repeatedly saying, “Welcome to Bayberry Island.”
Two of the incoming tourists are Evie McGuinness and her four-year-old niece Chrissy. Evie has abducted her niece and plans to hide out on the Island. Evie believes that Chrissy’s father – a wealthy, older Congressman – illegally rigged a court hearing after her sister died to gain custody of Chrissy. Based on things her sister told her about the Congressman, Evie is determined to keep Chrissy from him. Evie spent a brief summer vacation on the Island and figured it would be an ideal hideaway; she didn’t count on running into her first love, Clancy.
The moment Clancy spots Evie getting off the boat, he’s drawn to her, sure there’s something familiar about her. It takes a while for Clancy to put all the pieces together, but he eventually figures out just why she looks so familiar. Interspersed with the contemporary story are numerous flashbacks to the summer that Clancy and Evie met. These flashbacks help provide depth to their relationship, and provide a foundation for why Clancy – a dedicated lawman – would be willing to help Evie and Chrissy.
Right from the first, Ms. McFadden successfully conveys the emotions the characters are feeling. Most notably, Evie’s fear of being caught and arrested comes through in her thoughts and words. Ms. McFadden also performs each character distinctly and believably, making it easy to follow the narration. The voice Ms. McFadden uses for Chrissy is definitely childlike; perhaps she doesn’t sound quite like the average four-year old, but it worked for me. Chrissy plays a critical role in the story and is featured in many scenes. Just as most four-year olds, she’s alternately silly, goofy, exhausted, pouty, whiny, and bossy. All of Chrissy’s childish emotions come through successfully in the narration.
In addition to the main characters, The Sweetest Summer is filled with numerous secondary characters, from Clancy’s family, to Evie’s grandfather, the Congressman, and various tourists and townspeople. I never felt as if they detracted from the main stories; the focus was firmly on Evie, Clancy, and Chrissy. Thanks to Ms. McFadden’s skilled narration, each of the many secondary characters was uniquely – and often interestingly – performed.
Heather gave the print version of this a C+ and had problems with Evie’s judgment in taking her niece on the run. I too had problems with that, and was also troubled by at least one too many “child in danger” episodes. What tips this into the recommend category for me is a combination of the excellent narration and the feeling that I could relate to the main characters. While I questioned Evie’s judgment, I never doubted her love for her niece or her love for Clancy. And Clancy has come so far from the scornful adolescent who scoffed at the mermaid’s power to a man who genuinely finds love. At the end, I was left with a smile on my face, and a willingness to visit Bayberry Island if the author sets future romances there.
Narration: A- and Book Content: B-
Unabridged. Length – 10 hours 24 minutes