Everyone has their favorite authors, even avid readers like me who will resort to perusing the back of cereal boxes if nothing else is available. I mean, let’s face it. I read a lot of books. By a lot of different authors – most of whom are extremely well-talented and gifted with the art of storytelling. As you may expect, I have a lot of favorites.
Even so, I still have my favorite favorites 🙂 My “favorite favorites” are the authors whose books I will first shove at you when you ask me for a recommendation… but I won’t lend you my copies. You’ve gotta read them… but it’s up to you to obtain the necessary materials. And in case you’re wondering what in the world this tangent has to do with my review, Irene Hannon – three–time RITA Award winner – is one of my “favorite favorites”. I normally read her various romantic suspense series which I’ve mentioned here on the blog before, but she also writes a darn good contemporary romance. Hope Harbor falls into that latter category.
Hope Harbor native Tracy Campbell burns the candle at both ends – and in the middle – as she juggles part-time work as a CPA with a demanding volunteer schedule all while trying to help her uncle keep their three-generation cranberry farm in business. The changing economy, soaring prices, and aging equipment aren’t making it easy. But at least keeping busy means she has less time to dwell on the guilt and regrets that haunt her.
Michael Hunter is visiting Hope Harbor from Chicago but he’s not there simply on vacation; he’s on a mission – to fulfill a promise he made to his wife before her sudden tragic death. Riddled with his own guilt and regrets, romance is the last thing he wants. When their paths suddenly crash together, will fish tacos and one rather-squished cinnamon roll feed more than their stomachs? As they are drawn deeper into each other’s lives, change begins wafting through Hope Harbor one hurting heart at a time… starting perhaps with their own.
To Michael Hunter, at least for the first few hours of his stay, the idyllic town of Hope Harbor fails to live up to its name. Instead of a peaceful end to his long journey from Chicago, he was “greeted with an unwelcome surprise at the motel, a near calamity with a bicyclist, a free lunch from a philanthropic taco maker, and a lodging proposition from a stranger.” Okay, so maybe those last two are signs that things did start to look up for him in the end, but my goodness, the poor man had a time of it when he first arrived on the scene. We’ll come back to that “philanthropic taco maker” in a moment – as well as the stranger who offered him a place to stay – but first, let me talk about Michael and Tracy.
Their chemistry right from the beginning was tangible. You could almost hear the air crackle with it whenever they shared the same page, but as you might expect they both dragged along quite a bit of baggage. Too much to insure smooth sailing in the romance department. Both widowed tragically, both dealing with a boatload of angst and grief that’s still very much alive and well… both adamant that romance is completely off the table forever. You can read the book for yourself to see how well that works for them. But to quote Tracy herself…
THE CHEMISTRY!!! Something you can always count on in Irene Hannon’s stories – be they romantic suspense or contemporary romance – is the electricity between her characters. Lots of dreamy sighing on my part as I read this one!
But before we get too caught up in the sparks and the heat, there is so much more to this delightful and heartwarming book. The plot of healing and forgiveness (both of yourself and others) and selflessness – all of those themes just add layer upon layer to the romance until you’re left with a book that redefines “love story” as something deeper and more Divine than you expected.
And the characters! Oh goodness, I fell in love with ALL of the secondary characters in this book! I want a whole series with them – to settle in and take up residence in their lives. I want to spend some time on the cranberry farm with Uncle Bud and Nancy. I want to sit on Anna’s back patio with her and sample some of those delicious cookies she bakes. I want to giggle at Father Kevin and Reverend Baker as I listen to their friendly sparring, and I want to watch Floyd and his new gal Gladys stroll along the beach (as long as they don’t get too close to me….but that’s a story for another day). But most of all? I want to hang out with Charley… that philanthropic taco maker I mentioned earlier. I think Charley is more than he seems, even more than Irene Hannon let on, and I would so love to follow him around for a day or so and see if I’m right.
Alas. The characters of Hope Harbor aren’t real. Neither is Hope Harbor for that matter. The message of Hope Harbor? That’s more real than any of us can imagine.
“For a tree there is hope;
if it is cut down, it will sprout again,
its tender shoots will not cease.
Even though its root grow old in the earth
and its stump die in the dust,
yet at the first whiff of water it sprouts
and puts forth branches like a young plant.”
Bottom Line: Read this book. If I have to shove it at you, I am not above doing so. But yeah, you’re gonna have to get your own copy somewhere else, because I’m keeping mine on my favorites shelf. A romance that is so much more than a romance, Hope Harbor will wind its way into your heart and settle there along with the reminder that sometimes healing can start with a fish taco 🙂
No surprises here, I’m sure, if you stuck around for that whole review – Hope Harbor gets a well-deserved 5 out of 5 stars and a firm spot on my favorites shelf!!
(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for only my honest review.)
Irene Hannon is a three-time RITA Award winner (the “Oscar” of romantic fiction) & RWA Hall of Famer, plus the bestselling author of more than 50 romantic suspense and contemporary romance novels. Her books have also won a Daphne du Maurier award, a Carol award, three HOLT Medallions, a National Readers’ Choice award, a Retailers Choice award, two Booksellers’ Best awards and two Reviewers’ Choice awards from RT Book Reviews magazine. One of her novels was also named by Booklist as a top 10 inspirational fiction books of 2011. In addition, she is a two-time Christy award finalist.
When not otherwise occupied, Irene and her husband enjoy traveling, Saturday mornings at their favorite coffee shop and spending time with family. They make their home in Missouri.
*pictures of Oregon and cranberries/farms used in this post were taken from Wikipedia, tourism pages, and an online article about a local cranberry farm. That picture links to the article.