Source: we received an e-ARC of the book through NetGalley for review purposes.
Susan Mallery is famous for her contemporary romances that are usually fun and light reads, but she also writes more dramatic stories that go well with the term women’s fiction. Barefoot Season is one of those more serious books.
Michelle Sanderson has returned to her childhood home in Blackberry Island after being severely injured in Iraq. She does it for necessity because years ago she fled home to never come back. After her father left, her relationship with her difficult mother became almost unbearable, and she had a falling out with her best friend, Carly. But now she’s back battling PTSD and alcoholism and all she wants is peace to recover from her wounds.
Carly Williams is a single mother struggling to make ends meet while trying to save the inn where she works from financial disaster. She also had a difficult childhood that got worse when her mother left her and she was forced to live with her abusive father. Getting married was the solution to her lonely life but when she caught her fiancé in bed with her best friend, Michelle, all came crashing down. Worse, she decided to get married anyway because she was pregnant, but the guy took all her money and left her alone with the baby. Michelle’s mother took her in and gave her a place to work and live at her inn with a promise that one day she would become part owner.
Now, the mother is dead, the inn is near bankruptcy and worse of all, Michelle is back and angry at everything and everyone, especially Carly. But now the bank is forcing them to work together in order to save the inn (the good old fashion gimmicky plot device) and while they are at it they will have to face the past and the present in order to have a future.
Because I know you are wondering I’ll tell you that yes, both ladies have romantic interests so there’s a bit of romance in the book as well as a happily ever after. However, the story is all about friendship, forgiveness and healing.
I had a hard time liking Michelle. I was able to sympathize with the fact that she had a traumatic experience during war that left her physically and emotionally wounded, and because it was so recent there was no way for her to act normal and adjusted. But she was so hard to like! So much misplaced anger and resentment got old pretty fast. Her relationship with Carly was very complicated and she wasn’t the villain there, neither of them was. But her inability to accept her own responsibility and her unwillingness to consider and respect Carly’s side of the story made her more villain than heroine. As I said, she wasn’t in the right frame of mind, and by the end of the book she became somewhat likeable -or less annoying-, but it was a difficult road for her, and for me as a reader. Kudos to Ms. Mallery for not making it easy to her heroine and for not allowing her to cut corners, no magical cure for her PTSD and she ends as a work in process, so it was real and believable. But most of the time I couldn’t stand how self-centered and egotistical she was. I understand that when you are in so much pain it’s difficult to think about everyone else’s feelings, but it was hard for me to spend half the book in her head and the whole story in her company.
Carly, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. This character had the most potential to be annoying but compared to Michelle she was a breath of fresh air. The main difference between her and Michelle was the daughter, Carly couldn’t be egotistical because she had a huge responsibility. I really liked her, she was kind and tenacious, not perfect, but mature and yes, a little bit of a martyr. There’s a fine line between stoically enduring and being a pitiful victim and she definitely kept crossing it back and forth. But overall she was a likeable character with her own set of terrible circumstances and healing to do. It was interesting to see how different yet alike Michelle and Carly were, and how two different people can react so different to pain and abandonment.
The secondary characters are exactly that, secondary. Both love interest were charming, likeable and what the heroines needed, especially in Michelle’s case. She gets paired up with a former soldier who knows what she’s going through and can see beyond her prickly personality. Theirs is a slow building romance that takes the whole book to materialize, which made me happy because she wasn’t ready for romance, and also because it means that the romance wasn’t what healed her. The story has two villains but both are cartoonish and over the top. One of them was slightly more layered than the other, but in the end need for conflict and exaggerated evil got in the way of character development.
The book was far from perfect but I did enjoy it. It’s an emotional story that makes the reader feel a whole set of emotions. It’s an engaging book with a complex main character and an interesting take on friendship. As I said before, the book is about healing, forgiving and moving on. If you like women’s fiction with a touch of romance and a happily ever after, you will enjoy it.
Review by Brie
Michelle Sanderson may appear to be a strong, independent woman, but on the inside, she's still the wounded girl who fled home years ago. A young army vet, Michelle returns to the quaint Blackberry Island Inn to claim her inheritance and recover from the perils of war. Instead, she finds the owner's suite occupied by the last person she wants to see.
Carly Williams and Michelle were once inseparable, until a shocking betrayal destroyed their friendship. And now Carly is implicated in the financial disaster lurking behind the inn's cheerful veneer.
Single mother Carly has weathered rumors, lies and secrets for a lifetime, and is finally starting to move forward with love and life. But if the Blackberry Island Inn goes under, Carly and her daughter will go with it.
To save their livelihoods, Carly and Michelle will undertake a turbulent truce. It'll take more than a successful season to move beyond their devastating past, but with a little luck and a beautiful summer, they may just rediscover the friendship of a lifetime.
Barefoot Season by Susan Mallery
Mira. March 27, 2012.