THE SWEETEST SUMMER by Susan Donovan
A mermaid statue could be the cause of heartbreak or everlasting romance for a practical-minded police chief and his first love—in the second of the delicious Bayberry Island trilogy by national bestselling author Susan Donovan….
Every instinct told Police Chief Clancy Flynn that his island’s claim to fame was nothing but a silly tourist attraction. But now and then, he couldn’t help but wonder if his lifetime of bad romances—starting with the pretty tourist who broke his twelve-year-old heart—could be traced back to a childhood prank involving that very statue….
Then one day the pretty tourist comes barreling back into Bayberry—all grown-up and on the run with her niece. Though Evelyn McGuinness is wanted for kidnapping, she tries to persuade Clancy that there’s more to the story. Now the by-the-book police chief must make the toughest decision of his life: to take Evelyn into custody—or into his arms….
Susan Donovan is a “new to me” author who lured me in with the cover and blurb for this book. I enjoy a well-written small town romance and they don’t get much smaller than on an island. It seemed like the perfect summer read. The Sweetest Summer focuses on Clancy Flynn, who grew up on the island and is now the chief of police. While prepping for the island’s annual Mermaid Festival, he gets involved with Evelyn. Things aren’t what they seem and it’s not long before his ethics as a police office are challenged. Evelyn had kidnapped her niece, in an attempt to keep her safe from her biological father. There’s an Amber Alert for the little girl, Christina (sometimes spelled Christiana in my ARC), and an arrest warrant for Evelyn.
The story line around Christina, her father, and her mother was full of clichés. Richard, her father, was utterly one dimensional and a walking stereotype of the slimy politician. He bribes blackmails, threatens, sleeps around, etc., but there’s no depth, and nothing that makes him different or anything other than a cardboard character. I would have loved a more nuanced, fully developed character. While he was a sleaze ball, I could not get behind Evelyn’s decision to essentially kidnap her niece. She had options and the story still would have worked.
I enjoyed the romance and thought that Clancy and Evelyn made a good couple, despite the odds against them:
“There was no logical explanation for what was happening. They hadn’t said a word to each other for nearly two decades. She was a fugitive on the run and he was a cop who decided to risk everything to help her. This detonation of lust made little sense.”
And, “Clancy’s eyes were huge. “You look like a French vanilla ice cream drizzled with sex sauce.”
Clancy is devoted to his family and passionate about his job, even though much of the time it’s mundane and boring. Evelyn is devoted to her family, as evidenced by her actions concerning her niece. Both have a strong sense of humor and both have trouble bending. For about the first half of the book, Clancy and Evelyn aren’t a couple; we get a lot of flashbacks and then when Evie returns to the island, they dance around each other. Evie remembers Clancy, knows he is a police office, and tries to steer clear of him. But when they finally hook up, it’s both hot and sweet.
What I didn’t like, and had a really hard time with, was the cult surrounding the mermaid statue. I started the story thinking it was more of a good luck charm or talisman but it quickly became apparent that in fact, it’s a cult. The author never directly acknowledges that it’s a cult, and I think that she may have meant it to be tongue-in-cheek, but it doesn’t come across that way.
“She had renewed her devotion to the legend six times in that tail, and believed it had absorbed the purest of light, been infused with love energy, and now hummed at an advanced, open-hearted frequency. In short, any woman who wore that ensemble would receive protection and strength from none other than the Great Mermaid herself, the goddess of the sea, the patroness of true love.”
And, “They claimed curse words had no place in the spiritual domain of the mermaid. They said Polly’s fondness for the “F” word, in particular, tainted their rituals and diminished the sacred nature of true love itself…”
I’d have enjoyed the story more without all the mermaid statue cult nonsense or if the author had been facetious about it instead of earnest. I can empathize with Clancy’s disdain for it and lack of belief in the mermaid’s powers.
But if you like small town romances and second chances, and your tolerance for the cult aspect is stronger than mine, give The Sweetest Summer a shot — you just might enjoy it.