George Bellamy has lived a full life. He grew up in a wealthy family and never had to go without, despite the hard times following WWII. As a young boy, he survived a life-threatening illness and now has a large family with children and grandchildren. Despite a successful career and traveling all over the world, there are still many things on his bucket list that he needs to take care of before he dies. And according to the doctors, he may not have that much longer to live.
When he and his nurse, Claire Turner, “disappear,” his family goes into an uproar and calls the police, claiming that a gold digger has kidnapped him. However, when the police finally catches up to them, George maintains he wasn’t kidnapped and that he and Claire are on their way to a specific destination. He tells them he has personally hired Claire to take care of him, and she is only doing as he has asked her. He knows his family would have a hard time believing that Claire is nothing more than his nurse, but they are also finding it difficult to believe that he is dying and that he refuses any further treatment to prolong his life. George and Claire are headed for Camp Kioga, a place that holds many fond memories for George and will help him reconnect with a past that no one in his family knows about. It is yet another task on his bucket list that needs to be taken care of before he dies.
Claire enjoys her work with the terminally ill. Some wonder why she works for people who she is destined to know for only a short period of time --- the heartache must be unbearable --- but Claire has her reasons. She chooses not to put down roots and keeps her personal life private in order to protect herself and those she loves. Like George, she too has a past that not many know about, and she is trying her hardest to keep it that way.
When George’s favorite grandson Ross returns from the war, Claire meets him and soon finds herself falling for him. George thinks his plans of finding Ross a wife are slowly falling into place, because he also notices that Ross develops an attraction for Claire. Claire knows that opening up to Ross will only put his life in danger, so she continues to shut him out of her private life, even with his growing interest in her. Despite her better instincts, Claire spends more time alone with Ross than she should, developing a bond and breaking one of her rules of life never to get close to anyone.
While George’s matchmaking is part of the charm of THE SUMMER HIDEAWAY, the main storyline is George’s confrontation with his past, the years he spent at Camp Kioga as a young boy with his family, and in particular the brother to whom he had not spoken in decades. Idyllic scenes are depicted as George reveals in flashbacks the summer adventures with his brother Charles and a young girl they meet at the camp who changes both their lives. Their summers are spent swimming and fishing in the lake, dinner parties at night, and in later years, George’s recovery from a serious illness.
No one today knows that George has a brother, let alone a woman from his past with whom he had once been in love. Tension mounts as he prepares for the reunion with his long lost brother; he doesn’t know if Charles will even want to see him. But the other issue is Jane, the young woman who stole his heart as well as Charles’s.
There are two love stories that run through THE SUMMER HIDEAWAY, two romances that will remind the reader of Susan Wiggs’s skill as a storyteller. Claire’s involvement with Ross creates an appealing storyline on its own, as the reader knows she cannot ever get close to him without endangering either of their lives. At the same time, George’s story of his past and how it leads him back to Camp Kioga keeps the reader engaged until the very last page. For those who have been following The Lakeshore Chronicles, this will be yet another wonderful getaway to be savored and enjoyed.
Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton (Ratmammy@lofton.org) on January 23, 2011