I can't believe it has taken me this long to review a Barbara Freethy book. I just started reading a lot more FUN (not for work) books within the past year. Barbara Freethy is an author I stumbled upon early; I have not just read, but DEVOURED several of her books already. Though I loved all of the books I have read - and will review each of them eventually! - Ryan's Return is the one that stuck with me the most.
Kara grew up on a small town; she has fond childhood memories from the inn that was run by her aunt. After a failed marriage, Kara brings her daughter back to Serenity Springs to restore her aunt's inn - both the inn itself and the memories she created there. For the centennial celebration, she invites the local-boy-turned-famous-photojournalist, Ryan Hunter, hoping he will attract more visitors to the celebration. What she doesn't realize is that Ryan and his family don't get along; bringing him back to the town brings up long-buried secrets and resentments. Throw in the rainstorm of a lifetime, and turmoil is certain to follow.
On one level, this was a wonderful story about family, love, trust, pride, secrets...everything that a good romance novel is about. I've promised myself no spoilers in this blog, but there is one scene where Ryan is speaking with his nephew that just takes your breath away. The relationship between Ryan and his brother, Andrew, is multi-faceted; just when you think you have it figured out, we see it from a different angle, making it look completely different.
What made this book stand out for me is that, in many ways, the main character is the river that runs through town. Every theme in the book can be tied to the river. The state of the river reflects the emotion of the characters: the river starts low, but rises as tempers and emotion rise throughout the book. The river is the character that connects all other characters, past and present.
As a child, I spent a lot of time in a small, rural town. I didn't think much about it then - I just enjoyed the sound of the screen door slamming, being able to walk anywhere and feel safe, and not having to lock the door to the house when I left. As I have gotten older, and still go to that town, I see the tension between keeping that "small town feel" and "staying alive in a world that is anything but small town". Ms. Freethy did an amazing job of capturing this tension. It is the subtle thread woven through the tapestry of the book - you don't notice it at first, but you eventually realize it is an integral component of the story.
I give this book four hearts. All of the characters - the river included - will stay with you for a long time.