Driftwood Cottage Bookstore, like so many independent bookstores these days, is in dire straits. Riley Sheffield and her mother, Kitsy, run the business together. In a last-ditch hope-filled attempt to save their beloved shop, they plan a week-long extravaganza of events such as a cooking demonstration by the cookbook club, a local author night, and a poetry night. The week will be capped off by "the biggest party Palmetto Beach has seen in two centuries."
Things get complicated, though, when Kitsy (who is a bit of a tippler) falls down the stairs at home, landing in the hospital with assorted injuries. Riley has been reading through her pile of party RSVP envelopes when she is stunned to spy the acceptance of a familiar name: Mack Logan. For a long and emotional moment, she is whirled into reminiscences. As a child and teen, Mack was a summer visitor to Palmetto Beach. He and Riley had been inseparable best friends and fishing partners. As the two grew older, she hid a budding romantic love for him. Just as he appeared to begin to return those feelings, Riley's younger sister, the gorgeous Maisy, made a successful play for him. Riley then retaliated in the worst way possible. Her actions resulted in a tremendous and permanent rift between the siblings. Although Maisy now plans to fly in from California to briefly attend the bookstore's celebration, Riley hasn't seen her in 12 years.
Riley's musing is interrupted by the news of her mother's accident. She rushes to the hospital where she finds Kitsy as sassy as ever, but confined to bed by her injuries. She also discovers some potentially devastating news about her mother, which she must put aside to concentrate on the bookstore festivities. Kitsy informs Riley that Maisy and younger sister Adalee, who had planned to return for just a few days, will simply have to stay to help her. Riley shrinks from the very idea. There's the estrangement between her and Maisy, of course. And young Adalee lives to party; she surely will not be any kind of help. But when Kitsy pulls the "we're family" card, Riley can't argue.
Riley's life is already complicated. She not only runs the bookstore, she lives above it. Both her living and her home may be gone soon. As the single mom of 12-year-old Brayden, she is a dedicated parent and guards the secret of who his father is. Now her life is about to become even more problematical.
We hear Maisy's story, too, beginning as she flies home to the Georgia beach town. Maisy lives with a terrible secret that once propelled her away from Palmetto Beach. She has had a successful career as a Laguna Beach interior decorator, but her romantic life has been dismal. She is currently unsatisfactorily entangled with a married man (and not for the first time) and dreads being home again. Can she avoid being confronted with repercussions from her long-ago terrible mistake? Will she and Riley be able to at least tolerate each other for a short period of time? Little does Maisy suspect that she may be coerced into working with Riley over a longer period --- or that Mack will also appear, further complicating her relationship with her estranged sister.
How does Patti Callahan Henry so skillfully reel her readers into her engrossing page-turners? First, she baits her hook with the characters; even though they are so often imperfect (refreshing in itself), they are definitely original and relatable. Readers simply must find out what happens to them as they seek healing and redemption. The family dynamics power the plot: the mother and her daughters have a dysfunctional relationship (certainly not “Jerry Springer” crazy-dysfunctional, but a fascinating and realistic discombobulation) that is offset by genuine connection and love. Romance and intrigue are subtly woven into the story to good effect, while the depiction of the Southern beach town adds atmosphere to this latest irresistible Patti Callahan Henry read.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on June 2, 2009