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A Month at the Shore
by Antoinette Stockenberg
(St. Martinís, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-98155-4
****
I simply couldnít resist the title of this book. Here I was, enjoying my month (OK, three weeks) at the shore. This book seemed like a perfect beach read - and would have been, if it hadnít rained for 16 straight days. Stockenberg has penned a fine contemporary romance with a nice dollop of suspense to keep the story going. Primarily this is a tale which proves that you can go home again.

The setting is Cape Cod, the town of Chepaquit. Laura Shore fled her home as soon as she graduated from high school for Portland, Oregon, about as far as she could go. Her memories of her childhood and youth are anything but pleasant. Her family was less than respectable. Her uncle had murdered his wife in a fit of rage. Her father had a violent temper and had run the family nursery business, Shore Gardens, almost into the ground.

Perhaps her worst memory was the day when Laura was thirteen and she had been assaulted by four of her classmates. She was rescued by Kendall Barclay, scion of the townís leading family. Fourteen year old Ken, the class dork, had received a beating for his efforts and when Laura wrote him a letter of thanks, Ken had replied with a curt note telling her to stay away. Yes, Laura had no good memories of life in Chepaquit.

Laura has come home to dedicate her fatherís gravestone. She is joined by her sister Corrine, who stayed home to care for her now deceased parents, and her brother Snack, who also left home at an early age. Her fatherís latest will leaves Shore Nursery to Corrine and she has a proposition for her siblings. Will they spend ďa month at the ShoreĒ to help her save the business? If they succeed, Corrine will share the business with her siblings. After some resistance, both Laura and Snack agree. They both feel that they owe Corrine their help; after all, she cared for their mother and the nursery while Laura and Snack were off pursuing their own lives.

Shore Gardensí financial needs bring Laura back into contact with Kendall who, since his fatherís death, runs the local bank. The awkward and dorky teenager has grown into a hunk, but Laura doesnít trust him or his motives. Still, that event twenty-years ago shaped both Ken and Laura and created a link between them that still resonates.

A Month at the Shore illuminates the power of childhood experiences in shaping lives. By any measure, Laura is a success. She worked her way through college and is a prosperous computer consultant. Yet she cannot escape the feelings of inferiority instilled by her hard scrabble youth. If Laura had been moved to excel by the past, Snack reacted quite differently. He has drifted through life, getting into minor trouble with the law, never settling down. Corrine is confident when it comes to the nursery business, but insecure and shy about dealing with people.

There are three threads in A Month at the Shore, each intriguing in and of itself. The first concerns the efforts of the three siblings to get the business back in shape. The second centers on the developing romance between Ken and Laura. The third develops when a long-dead body is found in the nurseryís compost heap. Will their familyís disreputable past come back to haunt this generation of Shores? Before the truth about the murder is uncovered, Laura will find herself in grave danger.

The romance is engaging and enjoyable. Rooted as it is in their past, the attraction that sparks to life between Laura and Ken makes eminent sense. Ken is the perfect hero, perhaps almost too perfect, but clearly a gem. He knows that Laura is the woman he has been waiting for, yet he also understands that she has to overcome the baggage she carries from the past if they are to make a life together.

All in all, A Month at the Shore is a most enjoyable contemporary romance. Stockenberg has created an interesting cast of characters, provides a most satisfactory romance, and integrates the suspense element seamlessly into her story. This is a perfect book for a summer day - or any other day, for that matter.

--Jean Mason


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