The Sweetest Summer
Fans of Susan Donovan’s Bayberry Island series will no doubt delight in returning to the tiny island with the weeklong festival celebrating its legend of the mermaid. Filled with quirky characters and situations, this book is part frivolity and part seriousness, with a love rekindled theme.
It’s time once again for Bayberry Island off the coast of Massachusetts to host its annual Mermaid Festival. Tourists come from all over to attend parades and parties, dressing in costumes and making merry with the locals. Police chief Clancy Flynn takes his duty to protect the people on the island seriously even though he thinks the mermaid legend is malarkey.
When Clancy was a young boy after committing a prank, his father, who happened to be the town mayor, sentenced him and his friends to scrubbing the island’s mermaid statue clean. Clancy, in an inspired moment, dares to mock the mermaid and her legend and followers who believe that she can lead them to their heartmate. Clancy then scoffs at his friends who are convinced he has doomed himself with his mockery and derision.
But while most of this year’s festival goers are harmless kooks, one person realizes dressing in costume amidst the throng is the perfect way to hide in plain sight. Evelyn McGuinness is on the run with her four-year-old niece Christina. They’ve fled their home in Maine after Christina’s father, a powerful US senator, was awarded custody of the child. Chrissy has lived with Evie and her father Charlie since birth, with Evie and Charlie having sole custody upon the death of Chrissy’s mother, Amanda. Knowing that Chrissy will be terrified being uprooted and thrust into a home with a father who is a stranger, Evie decides to go on the run until she can prove that Chrissy’s father used his power and influence to sway the custody decision in his favor.
As teens, Clancy and Evie met during her family vacation on Bayberry. First love memories are powerful and they’ve never forgotten one another even though they did not keep in touch after that summer. When Evie realizes her first love is now the police chief on the island, she knows she’s in danger of being recognized. And Clancy knows that there is something quite familiar about the lady with the little boy in the pirate costume.
I really enjoyed the setting of the book. The descriptions of life on a small New England island were vivid. The mermaid legend and festival were wacky and fun, providing levity for the more serious themes of the story.
But I had trouble buying into the setup of the story, believing Evie’s actions to be foolhardy and short-sighted. Forcing Chrissy to live with a stranger after suffering such a devastating loss would indeed be cruel, however disrupting her routine and going into hiding does not seem that much better. Plus, while it’s made clear in the text that the father is devious and ruthless in his pursuit of his daughter, I could not see that as equaling “bad father material.” Custody disputes are complicated and messy by nature, but it seems as though Evie didn’t think the consequences of her actions all the way through. Child abduction is much more serious than the treatment it’s given here.
But since this is a romance, everything does turn out all right for Chrissy, Evie, and Clancy. It was nice also to see the brief flashbacks to the summer that Clancy met Evie. Adding poignancy is Amanda’s presence in the flashbacks, reminding the reader of the fact that Evie and Chrissy had experienced a terrible loss upon her death.
Though I found Evie’s willingness to abduct her niece troubling, her heart was in the right place. There is no doubt that she loves Christina, and the themes of family and home run strong throughout the story, not just for Evie and Chrissy, but also for Clancy and his family as well. Those sentiments I could appreciate, even if I strongly disapproved of Evie’s tactics.
This is the second book in the Bayberry Island series, but may be read as a standalone.