Fans of the Christy Award-winning SECRETS will enjoy Kristen Heitzmann's absorbing sequel that explores issues of trust, forgiveness, faith and romance between a lovely but cold Bed & Breakfast owner and an Italian man who is haunted by secrets from the past. At 400-plus pages, it's a long --- perhaps too long --- read. However, Heitzmann's competent writing keeps the pages turning.
The story swings back between the grandmother Nonna Antonia's life in 1931 and the present time, with Antonia sometimes remembering incidents in first-person point of view. It's a difficult thing to pull off, but Heitzmann handles it fairly well. Nonna Antonia's childhood home and vineyard are now the scene of her handsome grandson Lance Michelli's work as a chef at a B&B. He's fallen in love with the seemingly cold Rese Barrett, a welcome and an unusual female CBA protagonist who excels at construction and renovation, but mostly fails at relationships. Her fears about the schizophrenia that runs in her family helps make her a sympathetic character rather than a forbidding or one-dimensional woman.
Lance lures Rese, his "business partner" from Sonoma, California, back to his childhood home in Little Italy in the Bronx of New York City. Here, his lively extended Italian family lives together in rooms over Nonna's family restaurant, Bella Tabella. It's in the Bronx that Rese peels back the layers of who Lance really is and discovers the joys and foibles of large, chaotic family life.
Other storylines from SECRETS play out as well. Star struggles with love, acceptance, and her artistic gifts while acting out in destructive ways to deal with pain. Lance discovers a vendetta or curse against his family that must be dealt with --- by revenge? He must balance his family loyalties with his strong Christian faith and desire to please God while putting the past to rest.
Readers may find Lance's unusual healing powers a little spooky and contrived, and Heitzmann never really explores them in any depth in this installment. Some readers will find Lance's theology of suffering over Tony's death open to discussion: "Either I accept that this was His purpose, that He intended to take Tony and leave me and somehow it was right and perfect, or I despair and curse Him." Nonna Antonia's semi-recovery toward the end of the novel is a little difficult to believe, as she goes from being unable to say "yes" or "no" to communicating in sentences. There also are a few longwinded romantic clichés: "Her resistance shattered as he made his point until she wondered how she had doubted the possibility of connection, because in those moments she could hardly tell where Lance left off and she started."
That said, Heitzmann is one of the best at depicting sexual attraction between characters in Christian fiction --- and the women are as capable of passion as the men. Her rich culinary details will make readers salivate. Some of the delights of this story are Heitzmann's characterizations --- the multifaceted Italian family with a lovable momma who can't cook but insists on trying, the pack of unruly kids, and a father who has a surprising heart-to-heart talk with Lance over two bottles of Bud. The last pages of the story set up themes for a possible sequel that, if written, should be eagerly anticipated by fans of the series.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on August 1, 2005