Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Driftwood Summer" by Patti Callahan Henry

As usual, I read a description of this way back when, thought it sounded good, reserved a copy to come much later, then couldn't remember why I wanted it in the first place. Oh yes, I thought as I read the back cover, the family owns a little bookstore! That must be it....

Well, it certainly wasn't what I thought it would be. Call it "family drama" and not overly good at that. The story revolves around the three Sheffield sisters, their mama, and the aforementioned Driftwood Cottage Bookstore. Riley, the eldest sister, runs the store that Kitsy, her mother, bought 12 years ago, right around the time Riley's son Brayden was born. Riley is a single-mom, hard-working and responsible, but a bit dull. She used to be absolutely fearless in her teen years but now worries about everything, including losing the bookstore.

Her mother, Kitsy Sheffield, is controlling, domineering, and all the other adjectives you can think of that would be used in this sort of work. She's also written as a typical, well-off Southern woman of leisure, the kind that starts having "cocktails" around 4 in the afternoon. When she falls down a flight of stairs and lands in the hospital, Riley learns that some broken bones and bruises are the least of her worries - Kitsy has cancer. It's serious, but of course, Riley is not to tell her sisters. The Sheffields are preparing for the 200th birthday party for Driftwood Cottage; the building used to sit on a plantation before it was moved to its current location in Palmetto Beach, Georgia, where it served as a summer rental for tourists for years. And this party has to come off without a hitch - the bookstore is drowning in debt, and if Riley can't make enough money on the week's worth of festivities, Mama has declared that she will sell the property.

Riley calls in her two younger sisters to help her out. Maisy is the middle child, not much younger than Riley, and the sort of woman who always falls for the "wrong" man (ie - married or otherwise taken). She and Riley used to be the best of friends until the summer that a boy showed more interest in Maisy than in Riley. They've barely spoken since Maisy ran off to California, where she still lives and works in interior design. Adalee, the youngest Sheffield sister, is the baby of the family, not arriving until 8 years after Maisy. She's in college, failing most of her classes, and determined to spend her summer partying and hooking up with her current beau (and loser), Chad. Neither Maisy nor Adalee is thrilled with Riley's demands that they get themselves to work, and neither can understand why Riley is always caving in to their Mama's every whim.

Then there's Mack Logan, the boy who broke Riley's heart, the boy that had been her best friend for several summers running - until the summer that he noticed Maisy. Mack and his father, Sheppard Logan, return to Palmetto Beach to enjoy the celebrations; the family used to spend their summers at Driftwood Cottage. Mack spends time with both Riley and Maisy, but he has concerns of his own regarding his father. Will he rekindle his relationship with Maisy? Or will he realize that he loved Riley all along?

So what's not to love? Several things. First of all, the story revolves around the three sisters, but is only told from the alternating perspectives of Riley and Maisy. This made Adalee come off like a third well, not important enough to merit her own chapters, which made me want to read her side of things. Sure she's a lot younger, but wouldn't her perspective on her two older siblings round things out nicely? I also felt like things never really seem all that dire; I never really believed that there would be anything other than a happy ending. This goes for all the "tension" points - Riley losing the bookstore, the romantic "triangle" between the two sisters and Mack, the sibling rivalry between Riley and Maisy, etc. Come to think of it, the "romance" never felt very real, either, more like the idea of a summer romance. Overall, the characters were a bit on the cliched side, very one-dimensional, and that meant they never really clicked with me.

The one thing that did resonate was the sibling rivalry, and I think that's why I'm so disappointed with this book. Riley and Maisy had this huge falling out, a betrayal of trust on both their parts that actually sent Maisy into a tailspin and off to the other side of the country. They've barely spoken in years, yet they manage to mostly patch up their differences in just one week? Are you kidding me? Speaking as a sister, and as someone who has had a situation where she did not speak to her sister for almost 4 years, this is just complete crap. Trust me when I tell you that it takes much longer than a mere 7 days to get that train back on the tracks.

I did finish this book, but I can't say I really enjoyed it, more like I tolerated it. Maybe I just don't like the "family drama" genre, but really - I think I just didn't like this book very much.

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