Barefoot Season: A Blackberry Island Novel
Michelle Sanderson is a wounded veteran returning to her family home on Blackberry Island, Washington, to take possession of her inheritance: the inn that her mother, Brenda, owned and ran until her recent death. Despite the old axiom, you are able to go home again. But as Michelle is about to find out, you might wish you hadn’t. Immediately upon her return, she learns that her mother had run the inn into the ground, with two mortgages, a bloated staff, and a vengeful bank manager looming in the distance. The place is hemorrhaging money. Michelle quickly realizes that her inheritance has now become her albatross.
"BAREFOOT SEASON will appeal to book clubs (great discussion topics abound!) and fans of Barbara Delinsky and Jodi Picoult. Susan Mallery weaves a tale of broken friendship with enough twists and turns to keep even the most seasoned reader of commercial women’s fiction guessing about where the story will lead."
Carly Williams has been working for Michelle’s mother for the past eight years. She and Michelle had been best friends in high school, but when Carly’s mom eloped with Michelle’s dad, their friendship became strained: “Then the actions of the adults in their lives had split them apart.” And if that wasn’t enough, Carly discovered her fiancé and Michelle in bed together two days before her wedding. Sadly, Carly went ahead with the marriage. She was pregnant and scared, and was told by Allen that Michelle had seduced him. She went along with his story, because she needed to believe that Michelle was the bad guy.
So that was the end of their friendship. Allen abandoned her soon after, and Carly has been raising their daughter, Gabby, on her own. But losing her husband wasn’t what hurt Carly. She pined more for the loss of her best friend, Michelle: “The worst part wasn’t losing Allen…it was losing her.” She was grateful to Brenda for hiring her and giving her a place to live. Now, with Brenda gone and Michelle in charge, will she and her daughter be thrown out onto the street?
With everything bearing down on her, Michelle knows that she must make some hard decisions. Her mother seemed to have made every mistake in the book. Carly had been assisting her all those years, so why didn’t she see the mistakes? Was she taking advantage of the woman, or is she just as clueless at business? (Michelle had no knowledge that Brenda had promised Carly part of the inn when she passed away.) At least there’s Damaris, the long-suffering cook who has been like a true mother to her. She has always been on Michelle’s side, and she needs all the friends she can get because she’s about to make some decisions that will guarantee her some new enemies.
Given that Carly and her daughter are living in what was once her room, Michelle has to find new digs. She rents a room from Jared, another veteran who helps newly returning vets get back on their feet. Michelle had seen some horrific things in her tours of duty --- things she has a hard time putting behind her. Her nightmares have gotten worse --- to the point where she wakes up screaming. Jared recognizes the classic signs of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and urges Michelle to seek help. But with all she has on her plate, this is one problem she’s not ready to address just yet. She has accepted that she is damaged and tries to move on her with life. A sergeant she once knew told her that “dying was the easy part --- it was living that was the real bitch. She knew now that he’d been telling the truth.”
Carly decides to stop living in fear that she and her daughter will be homeless and tries a new tact. She attempts to work with Michelle instead of against her. As much as Michelle hates to admit it, Carly has some really good ideas about how to bring in new business and generate enough of a profit to pay off the bank. Maybe she was clueless to Brenda’s hapless ways after all. Despite their complicated past and all that has gone on between them, these two very different women must come together to make a success of this business --- and rebuild their own lives in the process.
BAREFOOT SEASON will appeal to book clubs (great discussion topics abound!) and fans of Barbara Delinsky and Jodi Picoult. Susan Mallery weaves a tale of broken friendship with enough twists and turns to keep even the most seasoned reader of commercial women’s fiction guessing about where the story will lead.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on March 29, 2012