Grace A. Johnson
Review: Blackberry Beach by Irene Hannon
#1 This is a long review, so pull up a chair and grab a bowl of popcorn. You’ll be here awhile. #2 When I read a review, I want substantial information. So I will not skimp on the details. Which may mean some spoilers, so watch out. #3—additional warning reserved only for this review—Here we go...again...I’m trying out yet another method. Let me know what you think: unconstrained stream-of-consciousness; numbered pros and cons; detailed review minus any fangirling whatsoever (I think I wrote, like, one of those before); or whatever this turns out to be. The feedback is appreciated.
Stars: 3 ½
Synopsis: Katherine Parker has abandoned her career to find solace in Hope Harbor after a tragic accident. Zach Garrett did the same several years ago, and now he’s at home in Hope Harbor as the owner of The Perfect Blend. Will the two neighbors be able to forge a friendship, or will Katherine’s secrets keep them apart?
Favorite Quote: “He didn’t pray for himself, Zach. He prayed for you.”
So, I think it’s become pretty obvious now that I have a love/hate relationship with contemporary fiction.
I avoid it, and yet, at the same time, I crave it. Make sense? Yeah, I don’t get it either. So, because of my strange relationship with contemporary fiction, I am always wary whenever I begin a modern-day story.
It wasn’t any different with Blackberry Beach.
Maybe I’m not the best advisor, since this particular style of contemporary isn’t necessarily my forte (I’m more of a Tammy L. Gray or Julie Lessman girl), but it’s always good to get a second opinion.
Blackberry Beach has great potential, but the escapist theme and slow progression kept it from making a lasting impression. The characters—Kat and Zach—had great character arcs and visible, although extremely slow, development. I liked seeing the definite change and their thought processes as they made huge decisions; however, I do think that took way too long (Kat, for instance, didn’t make her final decision until within the last five chapters), and I was lacking some of the emotional and spiritual struggle I was hoping to see.
Speaking of, though there was mention of prayer, church, God, and the two clergymen in Hope Harbor, I found the spiritual aspects lacking. For one, Kat has apparently been a Christian for some time, but she never made much mention of it or turned to God until it was nearly too late. In the meantime, Zach has given up on a relationship with God, and we barely see him mending fences with his Heavenly Father, which was upsetting. Blackberry Beach is definitely more of an “inspirational” read, but it’s not one to inspire readers to look to God in trials.
Blackberry Beach is the last book in the Hope Harbor series, and I’ve never read the previous books. I would wager that’s why I felt like there was something lacking the setting, as if Hope Harbor had been thoroughly developed and elaborated on in the earlier books and Hannon just skipped over that this time. Regardless, Blackberry Beach could definitely be read as a standalone. Nothing else seemed missing at all.
Unless we’re talking about the vibrancy of the period itself, which did seem lacking. When I read contemporary novel, I expect to read it just like I do a historical novel—I expect to see authenticity and to learn. So, yes, a few name brands thrown in, name drops, pop culture references—all of them make for a realistic and authentic experience that invests me into the story. It may not make the story timeless, but it helps me better envision the story. Blackberry Beach was lacking that vision.
And can I just say that Zach, although a well-developed character (by means which I will elaborate on in a moment), seemed very unguyish? (Which was not a word until now.) Maybe it’s because he’s an Atlantian-turned-Oreganian, but I did find both him and Frank very unrealistic in their voices (both in their monologue and dialogue).
I love it when an author has a strong voice and balanced writing—but at times the author’s voice overrides their characters’. Such happened in Blackberry Beach, where I wasn’t able to differentiate Zach from his aunt or Frank from Kat. I would’ve liked to have seen a more masculine presentation, I guess. One book that pulled that off was Becky Wade’s True to You. Y’all, What’s-His-Name’s POV sounded convincingly male and fit his personality—something for which I commended Wade in my review.
Unfortunately, Hannon doesn’t have that talent, so while the characters all looked good on paper, they didn’t sound good on paper—make sense? Their development and character from others’ POVs was strong and for the most part convincing, but once we entered their minds, I lost all sense of stability and realism.
That made it very difficult to connect with the characters. I had a hard time investing emotion into the story—and maybe that’s the point. Maybe this story was intended to whisk me away from life and empty my head and heart of all trouble. For some people, that may be why they read. But I read not only to escape but also to feel. To create lifelong friends, fangirl and ship my favorite characters, cry for the protagonist, ache for the villain, and even yell “Idiot!” at my Kindle a couple times. That’s how books like A Voice in the Wind, A Passion Redeemed, and Unblemished burrowed their way into my heart.
However, there is yet good to this book.
Despite how uninterested I was in the characters or story, I still kept coming back! Perhaps it was for the hope that it would get better, the desire to know what decision Kat came to (and, earlier on, what her past was), or simply because Irene Hannon does have well-balanced, maybe even captivating, prose.
She did a very good job of capturing the inner thoughts of the characters within the narrative, which left little need for italicized internal monologue. I appreciate that, even if she didn’t capture the male characters very well. The balance between thoughts, description, and action was very well done—however, I would’ve liked a little more emotion and less dialogue.
All that being said, I think Hannon probably makes a better suspense writer than romance. I can definitely see her writing style, developmental skills, and languid pacing giving a suspense novel more depth—but I’ll have to read one to find out!
I felt a thirst to finish the story, and I truly am glad I did. Now I know that this isn’t my preferred genre or contemporary style. I think this book would cater to a lot of readers—particularly the ones who like slow plots, clean reads, and not a lot of emotional investment! I’m just not one of them.
Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher, publicist, or author, including NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.
Irene Hannon, who writes both contemporary romance and romantic suspense, is the author of more than 50 novels. Her books have been honored with three coveted RITA awards from Romance Writers of America (the “Oscar” of romance fiction) and she is a member of that organization's elite Hall of Fame. She has also received a Career Achievement award from RT Book Reviews for her entire body of work. Other awards for individual books include National Readers' Choice, HOLT Medallion, Daphne du Maurier, Retailers Choice, Booksellers' Best, and Reviewers' Choice from RT Book Reviews. She is also a two-time Christy award finalist.
A former corporate communications executive with a Fortune 500 company, Irene now writes full time. To learn more about Irene and her books, visit www.irenehannon.com.