Serena Stone was born to a life of privilege. The youngest daughter of the greatest movie star of her generation and a heroic photojournalist, she grew up in Bel Air, New York City and Nice, France with plenty of time spent in Venice, Italy as well. Adored by her parents and older sisters, Serena’s world is one of designer clothes, cooks and nannies, gourmet food and spirits, jewels and portraits. It is also a world of war and heartbreak. The prolific Barbara Taylor Bradford’s latest, SECRETS FROM THE PAST, is the story of seven transformative months in which Serena must redefine family and redefine love.
While SECRETS FROM THE PAST doesn’t adhere to all the conventions of the romance genre, it is essentially a romantic novel. The majority of the tension revolves around Serena’s relationship with her long-time boyfriend, Zac North, with the theme of commitment at the fore. On the pages readers will find a fantasy of rich, smart, beautiful, happy and talented people, and the overall tone is optimistic. That being said, there is plenty of conflict to be resolved and a variety of potentially tense situations for the characters to deal with, though the anxiety level always remains remarkably low.
"The novel remains true to the genre that influenced it but is daring enough to introduce some heady topics as well. Serena Stone is a potentially interesting heroine, written with a compelling blend of strength and vulnerability, intelligence and emotion; she, along with her supporting cast, will thrill loyal fans."
It is coming up on the one-year anniversary of Tommy Stone’s death. Tommy was the beloved father of Serena and her two older sisters, the kind-hearted Jessica and the honest Cara. Their mother, the glamorous “earth mother” movie star Elizabeth Vasson Stone, had died years earlier. This anniversary is doubly fraught for Serena as it is also the anniversary of her break-up with her boyfriend Zac, the dashing war photographer seven years her senior who had worked for her father and his partner, Harry Redford. Harry is a support and friend to Serena, who has followed in his footsteps and those of her famous father as a war photographer. But now she has decided never to return to the front lines and instead is writing a biography of her father and getting over her break-up with Zac.
When Harry asks her to travel to Venice to nurse Zac back to health, Serena agrees, even though she knows she will have to face her feelings and deal with her heartache. Seeing Zac, devastated from being on the front lines in Afghanistan, brings back all Serena’s affection for him, not to mention her pent-up anger. The pair try for reconciliation, but with promises made and broken, the reality of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the lure of the front lines, the reunion proves harder than either expect. Add to all that Serena’s discovery of photographs that threaten her very identity and an unexpected pregnancy, and SECRETS FROM THE PAST takes on many emotional layers.
Barbara Taylor Bradford tells her story in a formal language, used both in narration and dialogue, which may be off-putting for some; but for her fans and many others, it is part of the charm of her literary voice. Because of the optimism and focus on resolution that characterizes romance novels, even mainstream ones like this, things wrap up pretty neatly. Zac’s anger and drinking problems, the medical issues that Serena and her sisters face, and even the question of Serena’s parentage are all dealt with in swift and pat ways. Again, this is a hallmark of the style of this novel and will immensely please many readers.
The novel remains true to the genre that influenced it but is daring enough to introduce some heady topics as well. Serena Stone is a potentially interesting heroine, written with a compelling blend of strength and vulnerability, intelligence and emotion; she, along with her supporting cast, will thrill loyal fans. But many of Serena’s decisions, not to mention those of the people around her, seem counter-intuitive, even emotionally and physically dangerous.
SECRETS FROM THE PAST aims to be a glamorous drama and emotional rollercoaster, and at its best achieves that goal. At its worst, though, it is old-fashioned, dull and unbelievable.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on April 19, 2013