|Luanne Rice has settled into a comfortable niche of releasing several well-written but predictable Women’s Fiction novels annually. This year’s inaugural book is one of her strongest recent efforts. Although her trademark melodrama and less than subtle symbolism are present, the characters have some complexity, and a variety of interesting subplots are woven together to make it easy to keep turning the pages.
For sixteen year old Mickey Halloran, life is changing too quickly. Her parents’ divorce has just been finalized and her best friend Jenna is more interested in kissing boys than participating in their lifelong bird watching hobby. Things go from bad to worse when Mickey convinces a reluctant Jenna to accompany her to the beach to search for an elusive snowy owl that has been rumored to be nearby. During the trip there, Mickey learns that a wealthy developer wants to raise the sunken WWII German U-boat that has been part of their Rhode Island coastal town’s history and turn it into a museum. Before she even has time to digest that disturbing news, she falls off her bike and breaks her arm.
Coming to Mickey’s rescue is surfer Shane West, a neglected near-delinquent adolescent who has his own reasons for being upset about the impending U-boat move. Also drawn into Mickey’s plight is Tim O’Casey, the beach ranger, who is immediately attracted to Mickey’s mom Neve. When a violent, reckless act endangers the rare snowy owl, the two teens and two adults seek the aid of Joe O’Casey, Tim’s estranged father, who happens to be an expert on rehabilitating injured raptors. Although Joe is a decorated WWII hero who was responsible for sinking the infamous U-boat and saving their town from German attack, Tim holds him responsible for everything that has gone wrong in his own life, especially a tragic loss.
Can love melt Tim and Neve’s frozen hearts, heal a wounded owl, reconcile father and son and perhaps even save the coastline? With Luanne Rice in control, could you have any doubts?
With more than 20 novels to her credit, Luanne Rice is a guaranteed comfort read. In her world, the ocean is always nearby, sisterhood reigns supreme and love heals all wounds. Her books may be Hallmark Hall of Fame material, but Rice’s lyrical writing style and keen powers of observation make them admittedly effective. The Edge of Winter focuses more on the male characters than some of her other work, providing a testosterone-fueled edge to the plot that counteracts some of the syrupy sweetness. Shane West is an adolescent girl’s dream – a misunderstood loner who is nonetheless loyal, loving, cute and apparently willing to keep his relationship with Mickey on a safe kissing-only level. Tim O’Casey is a little more problematic; he’s cold and curt to Neve at first, but his generosity to Mickey, his grudging acceptance of Shane as a surrogate son and his ultimate ability to let go of past hurts make him an admirable hero. Perhaps the most compelling character in the book is Tim’s father Joe, whose wartime experiences 60 years ago left him unable to cope with human contact but led him to develop a special skill with wild birds.
The separate plot threads, including several romances, Mickey’s relationship with her unstable but well-intentioned father, the preservation of the U-boat, the owl rescue and the identity of a mysterious Audubon-like painter, are brought together at the climactic, tear-jerking conclusion. Just in case you don’t get the titular reference, Neve muses that, before she met Tim, she was stuck “somewhere between seasons in a gray, slushy, edge-of-winter neverland of disappointment and dashed hopes.” The symbolism may be a little heavy handed, but at least the sentiment is genuine.
The end of the novel leaves open the possibility of a sequel involving Joe O’Casey’s extended family, and perhaps we’ll find out this summer when Rice publishes her next book, What Matters Most. For now, her website invites visitors to submit their personal ideas of “what matters most” in their lives. The majority of the suggestions are redundantly predictable (“my children,” “my family and my faith,” etc.) but Rice will donate a dollar to the Women Build program of Habitat for Humanity for every entry submitted. Saccharine but sincere – that sums up Rice’s latest novel and, apparently, her approach to life.