Summer of Joanna by Janice Carter
(Harl. Superromance #995, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-70995-1
Kate Reilly and Matt Sinclair meet at the funeral of Matt’s stepmother, Joanna Barnes. Joanna was Matt’s stepmother for only two years, some eighteen years previously. But Matt holds no affection for her. In fact, he blames her for ruining his late father’s life. His only purpose for attending her funeral is to uncover the location of some important papers that went missing at the end of his father’s marriage. Matt believes Joanna hid the documents and now he must meet the person most likely to have inherited them...Kate Reilly.

Kate appears to be the least likely person to inherit anything from Joanna Barnes’ estate. She’d only met the recently divorced woman a few times at a summer camp when she was eleven-years-old. But those few encounters changed Kate’s life.

At the time Kate was an unhappy foster child headed for trouble, but Joanna’s attentions made Kate feel special. Joanna’s parents owned Camp Limberlost and she was spending the summer there, trying to put her life back together after the break-up of her marriage. When camp ended, Joanna promised to send Kate a card every year on her birthday and they agreed to meet again in nineteen years, when both were reaching age milestones. Kate would be turning thirty and Joanna, fifty. At that time they could compare how their lives had turned out.

Joanna kept her promise and every year a card arrived on Kate’s birthday. As a foster child, Joanna’s cards were the only continuity in Kate’s life and she’s worked hard through the years to prove that Joanna’s faith in her was justified. Kate is now an elementary school teacher and “Big Sister” to a troubled young girl.

But just weeks before the long awaited reunion could take place, Kate discovers Joanna has committed suicide. Kate finds it impossible to believe Joanna would kill herself and even more impossible to believe that she’s inherited Camp Limberlost. Now everyone is suddenly interested in Kate and her inheritance: Joanna’s husband, politician Lance Marchant, county police officer, Tom Andrews and especially, Matt Sinclair. Everyone seems to have a different take on Joanna’s life, so in confusion, Kate and her “Little Sister” Carla travel to deserted Camp Limberlost to try and uncover the truth.

Summer of Joanna is more suspense than romance and the suspense is nailbiting at times. There are two scenes in particular that stand out in my mind. In one, Kate has fallen from a canoe and is drowning. The sensations Kate experiences are so intense, I had to pull back for a moment and catch a breath myself. The other is when Kate is being pursued through the darkened camp. I’ve read miles of pursuits over the years, but this one was particularly effective in making me really feel each tension-filled moment.

While the suspense elements worked for me, the romance did not. Matt may be the hero here, but it’s clear he has something to hide. Since the reader is meant to question some of Matt’s actions in order to make the suspense elements work, I never felt I could get into his head and discover how he truly felt about Kate. They seemed to fall into bed together often enough, but I could never sense any true affection behind the lust.

The secondary characters are well developed, particularly the “little sister” Carla. This troubled teen is written realistically and the relationship between Kate and Carla is really the center of the story.

Summer of Joanna is a terrific suspense novel, but if you’re looking for a romantic suspense with the emphasis firmly on the romance, this may not be the best choice for you.

--Karen Lynch

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