Two strong female protagonists find their strength in supporting each other when they try to leave the spotlight behind and move to Joanna’s former hometown. Joanna Rafferty Whitman has been divorced from her philandering celebrity chef husband for over a year when he is killed in an auto accident. Unfortunately, he has a young woman, Ashley Blake, with him in the car. From the beginning of the book, Joanna shows her heart for other people and how much she sincerely cares about their troubles. She unexpectedly shows up at the hospital and offers to shelter Ashley from the unscrupulous media pursuing both of them. Together, they go to Silver Point and Otter’s Nest, Joanna’s renovated childhood home that is a dream on a beach waiting for occupants. The story is fast-paced and totally engaging, with characters that were fun to get to know. By the end of the book, I was completely invested in happy endings for all. This is a book about second chances, new beginnings, misunderstandings and friendship that endures. I loved the messages and the way the story moved seamlessly between the lives of the characters, showing their weaknesses as well as how they could bond and help each other. The setting is scenic, the story is memorable and the characters are my new friends. Fans of romance with a little steam (not too graphic, though) will enjoy this sweet story of finding yourself again after two decades of floundering.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”
Questions and Answers with Sarah Morgan:
Q&A With Sarah Morgan
1) I love the title and synopsis. Where did the inspiration for the book come from?
I’m fascinated by the idea of celebrity, and how it must feel to live in the spotlight. I was pondering on how much I’d hate that when I came up with the character of Joanna, who is an ‘accidental’ celebrity by virtue of her marriage to a high profile celebrity chef who both relishes and relies on media attention. Joanna didn’t just marry him, she married the lifestyle he’d chosen and she was never comfortable with it. As I was writing, I reflected a lot on how someone lives a private life, and how they keep secrets, if their every move is conducted under a spotlight. Those were some of the issues I wanted to explore. It was a fun book to write!
2) What was the best part about writing this book and why?
So many things. I enjoyed exploring the dynamics between the characters who are all quite different, and also being able to give Joanna a second chance at love (I’m a big believer in second chances!). But I confess that one of the best parts of writing this book was the setting. It takes me around six months to write a book, and during that time I’m immersed in the place as well as the people. Beach House Summer is set on the coast of California, which gave me the excuse to research beautiful beach houses. I was transported, and I hope the reader will feel that way too.
3) What was the most difficult part about writing this book and why?
Giving my characters a hard time – in particular subjecting poor Joanna to all the media attention, which she hated and found distressing. I felt so cruel! But writers sometimes have to be cruel to their characters, it’s part of the job, and a story where the characters are all happy in their lives and have no challenges to face would end on page one. But even knowing that, it’s always difficult when you’ve grown to love the people you’ve created. I remind myself that no matter how many obstacles I throw their way, I always, always give them a happy ending. That makes the whole thing easier.
4) Who is your favourite character and why?
That’s a tough question. I love all the characters, but in particular I enjoyed exploring the way that Joanna and Ashley interact, and how they gradually support each other and change over time. I find multigenerational friendships to be intriguing and interesting to write. With Joanna and Ashley, their age difference doesn’t stop them learning from each other and that part was such fun to write.
5) I have your books Sleigh Bells in the Snow, A Wedding in December and a Christmas Escape. Do you prefer writing books set in summer or winter and why? Which is easier or more challenging and why?
I love writing books set in winter and have done so almost every year since I’ve been published, but I wouldn’t want to only write Christmas books. It takes me around six months to write a novel, and by the time I’ve finished I’m ready to move on to a new set of characters, a new set of problems, and a new season! Each comes with its own set of challenges, but I enjoy writing both. In the end, whatever the season and whatever the setting, I aim to deliver and emotional story that will keep readers turning the pages.
6) The characters, plots and settings in your books are so memorable. What are your top tips for creating great characters, plots and settings, especially seasonal (summer, winter) settings?
The most important element is always the story itself. When you’re writing commercial fiction, you want to make your reader feel something. It’s important to create unique characters, with their own strengths and flaws, and to give them a problem or a dilemma that will keep the reader turning the pages. Sometimes you can turn the seasonal element to your advantage, and whenever possible I make sure that the season and the setting is integral to the plot. With a Christmas book, I try and give the reader all the magic of a cosy, snowy winter without any of the reality (freezing fingers and toes, scraping ice from the car etc). With my next book, Snowed in For Christmas, the season plays a big part in bringing the characters together, not just the weather but also the seasonal tradition of family gatherings. With summer books I want readers to feel as if they’ve had their own summer escape. If it’s a beach book (like Beach House Summer!) then I want them to feel the sand under their toes and the sun on their face.
7) Can you give some advice for those writing in the same genre as you?
Write the story that you’re passionate about. If you’re excited to write it, then there’s a good chance someone will be excited to read it. Create characters you really care about and give them a conflict that will keep a reader turning the pages. If you are rooting for that character, then the chances are the reader will be too.
8) Do you have plans for any other novels? When will they be released?
My next Christmas novel is called Snowed in For Christmas, and it will be out in September in the US and Canada. I had so much fun with this book and it includes all the elements I love including in my writing – family dynamics, friendship and romance. I laughed aloud when I wrote it, and I hope it will make readers smile when they read it.