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A Woman's Heart

 
Far Harbor by JoAnn Ross
(Pocket, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-02707-7
***
Before I started writing this review, I visited TRR’s Archives to read Susan Scribner’s review of JoAnn Ross’ last novel, Homeplace. I knew Susan had recommended the book because it sits on my “to be read” pile. That I felt the need to revisit her comments speaks to the weakness of Far Harbor. I realized early on that I was reading a sequel and I continually had the feeling that I had come in in the middle of the story.

Sequels are a real test of an author’s skill. Ever popular with readers, they allow us (and the author) to revisit characters and settings that we have come to love. But writing a sequel poses unique problems. There are always lots of readers -- like your reviewer in this instance -- who have not read the previous book. Thus the writer must interweave the back story and the new story in a seamless web so that both readers familiar with the first book and those who are not can enjoy the book. I’m afraid that Ross didn’t quite pull this off in Far Harbor. And I think I know why.

A sequel can reintroduce characters from the previous book. It can allow us to see how their lives and loves are working out. But the story must concentrate on the new romance rather than revisiting issues and situations from the previous book. There was too much “revisiting” in Far Harbor which is probably why I felt like I was coming in in the middle.

Perhaps one reason Ross found herself concentrating on the surround rather than the romance is that the romance doesn’t have enough oomph to carry a whole book. Don’t get me wrong. I liked the heroine, Savannah Townshend, and the hero, Dan O’Halloren. They are very nice people. But nice doesn’t make a compelling story.

Savannah is the granddaughter of Ida Lindstrom, who had served the people of Coldwater Cover, Washington as their general practitioner for four decades. She is the daughter of Lilith Lindstrom, a sixties flower child and B-movie star and her second husband, rock star Reggie Townshend. Because of her mother’s impulsive and irresponsible nature, Savannah and her half-sister Raine had found refuge in their grandmother’s home. Now, Savannah has fled to Coldwater Cove to pick up the pieces of her shattered life after she found her husband in flagrante delicto.

Savannah has decided to fulfill a lifelong goal of opening a bed and breakfast in the place where she feels most at home. She decides that the old lighthouse and its keeper’s house will be the perfect place.

Dan O’Halloren had left Coldwater Cove in search of fame and fortune. He found both in San Francisco, along with a wealthy wife. But an accident that killed his sister and brother-in-law had brought him home to take care of his mildly retarded nephew. His wife chose to stay in San Francisco. Now he is a small town lawyer and quite happy to have returned to his roots.

Since Dan lives next door to the lighthouse and since he is the current owner’s lawyer, Savannah and he become reacquainted and are quickly attracted to each other. But Savannah is not yet ready to think about a new relationship, so Dan patiently and sweetly woos her, helps her with remodeling the lighthouse, is there when her grandmother gets ill, shows her the joys of sexual expression and finally asks her to marry him.

All this is probably the way life really works, but it isn’t the stuff of great drama. Even the introduction of the ghost of the last lighthouse keeper’s wife and the discovery of the real truth about her death doesn’t add much too the romance quotient.

Indeed, the drama in Far Harbor doesn’t center on the romance at all, but rather on Ida’s health problems. As this feisty and independent woman suffers from loss of memory, we watch her fear of dreaded Alzheimers. And we learn a great deal about TIA’s and strokes as well.

Far Harbor then, falls short as a romance. In fact, it is more like “women’s fiction.” If evaluated as such, it is an interesting portrayal of small town life and family relationships. And I imagine that readers who enjoyed Homeplace may want to revisit Coldwater Cove. But readers who prefer that their romance novels to center on the love story may well be disappointed with Far Harbor.

--Jean Mason


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