Followed by Summer of Roses Ė release date 6/21/05

Cloud Nine

Dance With Me

Dream Country

Firefly Beach

Follow the Stars Home

The Perfect Summer

Safe Harbor

The Secret Hour

Silver Bells

Summer Light

True Blue

Summerís Child by Luanne Rice
(Bantam, $7.50, PG) ISBN 0-553-58762-5
Iím sorry to report that at some point during the past three years prolific author Luanne Rice lost the ability to see in color.† Where once her characters were lovely, complex shades of hues, now they are either black or white.† Sheís still a strong, lyrical writer, but she has lost the subtlety that made her earlier work so uniquely engaging.† Sheís gone from an ďauto-buyĒ author to a safe, predictable one whose books Iíll pick up if thereís nothing more interesting available.† †

Summerís Child begins with a prologue recounting the disappearance of Mara Jameson from her seaside Connecticut hometown.† Newspaper photos accompanying the story showed Mara to be a radiantly beautiful, happy young woman who was eagerly expecting her first child.† Although her husband was questioned, he was never charged with any foul play and the case remained a mystery.† Nine years later, two individuals remain deeply affected by Maraís disappearance Ė her grandmother Maeve, who raised her after the death of Maraís parents, and Patrick Murphy, a retired police detective whose obsession with the case destroyed his marriage.† †

The scene then switches to Cape Hawk, Nova Scotia, where Lily Malone lives with her daughter Rose.† Lily is the owner of a needlepoint store and much beloved by her friends, the Nanouk Girls, who rally around Lily in her devotion to Rose, born with a serious heart defect.† Lily also accepts the help, begrudgingly, of Liam Neill, an oceanographer whose involvement with the two Malones helped bring him out of the isolation heís endured since a tragedy destroyed his family and left him permanently maimed.† When Lily meets Marisa, the mother of Roseís new best friend Jessica, she realizes that the two women have a shared, heartbreaking experience in common. †She tries to convince Marisa that she can trust the other Nanouks to protect her and Jessica.† But then Roseís health problems become critical, and Lily realizes just how much she has come to depend on Liam.† She will have to trust him with the secrets about her past, which is finally about to catch up with them all, even the newest Nanouk Girl.† †

As always, Riceís stories are well-written and fast-moving, making a 400 page novel a quick, page-turning read.† Her belief in the power of sisterhood, wherever it is found, is commendable, she eagerly conveys her love of nature, and the touch of whimsical fantasy she includes is enchanting.† †

But after reviewing the numerous Luanne Rice books Iíve read in the past seven years, I was struck by how much her style has changed.† Earlier in her career, her characters were multi-layered and complex.† Their actions were sometimes misguided but few of them were completely evil, and there were few clear heroes and villains.† The violent murder/suicide that started Firefly Beach was the impulsive but not malicious act of a desperate man.† The hockey-playing protagonist of Summer Light could be difficult and emotionally unavailable at times, but ultimately he proved to be heroic.† †

Contrast those examples to Summer Lightís villain, who kicks puppies and runs Internet cons while masturbating to porno websites.† Or the bookís hero, whose silent devotion to the heroine has never wavered for the past nine years.† Riceís writing contains little sophistication these days, Light reads like Lifetime movie in the making, complete with copious tear jerking moments courtesy of a sick, noble, wise-beyond-her-years child.† †

Summerís Child ends with many plot issues unresolved, but fear not, its sequel, Summer of Roses, is not far behind.† Unfortunately the sequel is being released in† hardcover, so if you want the complete story of the Mara Jameson saga you will have to shell out more than thirty bucks for the two books.† I suspect the decision to lure the reader in with a paperback and then switch to hardcover was made by the publisher, not the author, but it is still a bit on the sleazy side.† Consider yourself warned. †

Summerís Child isnít the weakest novel Luanne Rice has written, but itís far from her best.† Now that Bantam is re-releasing some of her older books (including long out of print gems such as Home Fires and Stone Heart), the contrast between her earlier and later styles is even more glaringly obvious.† If you want standard Womenís Fiction, check out her work after 2002.† If you want less predictable, less sugarcoated work, stick with the earlier Rice.† †

--Susan Scribner

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