Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Published by HQN Books on May 17, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan returns with the ultimate beach read, as one woman forges the most unlikely friendship of all, and embarks on a summer of confronting her past in order to build the future she wants...
When Joanna Whitman's famous ex-husband dies in a car accident, she doesn't know what to feel. Their dysfunctional marriage held more painful secrets than she cares to remember. But when she discovers that the young woman with him in the crash is pregnant, Joanna feels compelled to act, knowing exactly how brutal the media spotlight will be on celebrity chef Cliff Whitman's ex-wife and his mysterious female friend.
Ashley Blake can't believe it when Joanna shows up in her hospital room and suggests they hide away at her beach house on a sleepy stretch of California coast. Joanna should be hating her, not helping her. But alone and pregnant, Ashley can't turn down Joanna's offer. Yet she knows that if Joanna ever found out the real reason Ashley was in that car, their tentative bond would shatter instantly.
Joanna's only goal for the summer is privacy, but her return causes major waves in the local community, especially for the man she left behind years ago. All Ashley wants is space to plan for her and her baby's future, and to avoid causing any trouble for Joanna. But as secrets spill out under the hot summer sun, this unlikely friendship is about to be put to the test.
There can be a huge difference between the truth and “the story”. In this era of 24/7 “news” where everyone has an opportunity to voice their opinions using social media as a megaphone, it’s “the story” that keeps people interested and engaged – the truth be, well, not so much damned as ignored in favor of whatever slant gathers the most eyeballs and sells the most advertising.
So when celebrity chef and serial philanderer Cliff Whitman dies in a car crash with a young woman in his car, the media sharks already know where the story is, because “the story” of Cliff’s sexcapades has never been about him. The story has always been about his now ex-wife Joanna.
There’s way more interest in making her a victim yet again, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, than there is in finding out the truth about the crash. After all, Cliff was a celebrity, and let’s not forget male and charismatic. People are always willing to believe that whatever a famous man does wrong is somehow the woman’s fault. Even if they’re divorced. Even if she was nowhere near the place or the person at the time.
Even Joanna’s non-reaction is a story, and the vultures (read that as reporters) are more than willing to stake out her house and harass her neighbors to get it.
That there was a young woman in Cliff’s car when he crashed just adds fuel to the fire. After all, everyone knows that Cliff liked them young and younger as he got older. And the girl survived, which makes her fair game as far as the vultures are concerned.
Which is where the story gets interesting. Everyone assumes that the young woman, Ashley Blake, was Cliff’s latest fling. Or that she was about to be. She was certainly his type.
So no one expects Joanna Whitman to sweep into Ashley’s hospital room and rescue her from the schooling piranhas staking out the hospital just waiting for her to be discharged. They’ve already breached her privacy once, so it’s only a matter of time until they can find a patient, a visitor or even a hospital staffer to give one of them the juicy scoop.
Joanna, who has already evaded the swarm of stalkers outside her house, sweeps Ashley away to somewhere no one will look – at least for a little while. They both need a bit of peace, a time to heal, and a chance to figure out what happens next.
But the place Joanna has taken Ashley is her own hometown on the California Coast, to the beach house that sits on the land she once called home.
Joanna thinks she’s helping Ashley. And she is. But Ashley is also helping her. And by returning to her roots, Joanna finally gives herself a chance to take stock of her own life – and to explore the road not taken, the one that everyone, including Joanna herself, expected to take all those years ago.
Escape Rating A: Beach House Summer isn’t so much a romance as it is women’s fiction or relationship fiction. Not that a romance doesn’t eventually occur in the story, but the romance is not the center of the story.
The heart of Beach House Summer is in the relationship between Joanna and Ashley, and then Joanna’s relationships with all the people she left behind in Silver Point, especially her childhood best friend Melanie and Mel’s twin brother Nate – who was, once upon a time, the love of Joanna’s life.
More than anything else, though, the story is about Joanna’s hesitant reaching out to, well, anyone at all.
For the 19 years of her marriage, and the year of her divorce, Joanna has been the media’s punching bag whenever one of Cliff’s affairs was exposed. Which happened often. Extremely often. Even after their divorce, she was still the one who got stalked whenever he was seen with anyone. Because after each and every affair, she went back to him. Over and over and over. The speculation and innuendo, as occurs whenever a famous man is involved with a less famous woman, was vicious. Every single time.
And every single time Joanna’s response was “no comment” if she gave a response at all. She trusts no one because she knows they’ll either stab her in the back with the press or turn away from her in pity or even horror whenever the press comes stalking. Because they inevitably will.
Joanna’s reaction is to make like a turtle and hide all her vulnerable bits. Which is pretty much all of them. But bringing Ashley into her life opens a door that she realizes she doesn’t want to close. Letting one person in lets in others. Going back to her hometown lets her see that there ARE people who love her and people who can be counted on – no matter what her vicious stepmother used to tell her.
As much of the joy of this book is wrapped around Joanna’s relationships with both her new and her old friends, as lovely as it is that she does get back the friendships and the love she left behind, the part of the story that kept me turning pages in fury was the part about the relentless stalking behavior of the media.
Cliff is the one who cheated, Cliff is the one who lied, Cliff is the one who crashed his own car because he thought the speed limit on a cliffside road was a suggestion and not a warning. But Joanna is the one who suffers for it. Every. Single. Time. Even after their divorce. He’s the guilty party but she’s always the one to blame because that’s the story that people want to read.
It reminds me of a story going on right now that seems to be distracting the entire country from pretty much every substantive issue that should be getting more attention. So I wasn’t surprised at all that Joanna did her level best to hide and hope it would all blow over, and I saw so many parallels with the way she was treated and the way that the sharks circle any woman who speaks up about rich and/or famous men. What did surprise me was that when she finally stood up and refused to be a victim any longer, that it actually worked. I wish that was true in real life – at least more of the time.
Wrapping up, I loved Beach House Summer for its story about love and friendship and second chances. But its ripped from the headlines background is what really put it over the top for this reader.