Jamie Brenner was writing romance (under her own name, and the pseudonym Logan Belle), she always kind of skirted around the edges of the genre. Erotic elements, high drama of the soap opera variety, and with her most excellent (seriously read it!) Now or Never she blended the very best of erotic romance with women's fiction and it was simply divine. She's now gone full-blown into women's fiction territory with The Forever Summer and oh man, I loved this book. Even when I wanted to throttle some of the characters (and that's a compliment), I positively wallowed in this story.
Marin Bishop is a driven, ambitious woman who has had her life plan mapped out for a long as she can remember. She's a lawyer at a prestigious Manhattan law firm with a handsome fiance. Her father is proud, her mother over the moon, and then it all comes crashing down. Marin calls off her engagement because she's fallen in love with a partner at her firm. Then the affair is found out (and there's a strict no fraternization policy) and she's fired. Coming on the heels of this disaster? A home genetics kit unearths a unknown half-sister. When Rachel shows up on her doorstep on her way to visit the grandmother she didn't know she had, Marin goes completely off the rails and decides to join her on the trip. They head to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where their grandmother and her wife have operated a bed & breakfast for the past twenty years.
My one paragraph plot description really doesn't do this book justice. It reads as if Marin is the main character, and she sort of, kind of is - but this is one of those ensemble cast books. There's a load of interesting, well fleshed-out secondary characters and the author alternates points of view between a handful of the players including Marin, Rachel, Blythe (Marin's mother) and Amelia (the grandmother). Amelia's wife, Kelly, also plays an extremely prominent role in the story. As a one week visit morphs into a summer long stay, the author keeps folding in more drama, some of it with nods to soap opera, without making it over-the-top or of the "Oh no she didn't!" variety.
As always seems to happen in books written with large casts, there are inevitably story threads the reader finds more interesting than others. Blythe, Amelia and Kelly were easily my favorites. Marin slides in behind when she's past her wallowing, bitter stage, and Rachel was....well, young. She probably grated on me the most, but I'm a big enough person to admit it's because she was young, inexperienced in many ways, and kinda clueless. But Rachel illustrates perfectly what I loved so much about this story. How real the characters felt to me. I got irritated with them. I celebrated their joy, cried tears with them, and felt their pain. They felt real. Like I could go to Provincetown tomorrow, walk down the street and possibly run into them.
There is a lot of drama in this book, not surprising given the main story line. That said, more drama comes in through side doors, with all the characters experiencing some sort of loss and awakening over the course of the book. They all go on a journey, and mostly come out OK on the other side. That said (I'm going to tap dance around this a bit to avoid spoilers) there's tragedy in one of the story lines and a loss that's devastating. If your reading mood is currently Must Have Happy Sunshine All The Time, take this under advisement. What's truly remarkable is that even as more and more drama gets piled on (to the point where I was like "seriously?!") it never feels over the top or overstuffed. Don't ask me how Brenner pulled that off, but she did.
Final Grade = B+