Orphaned as a child in Russia, boat captain Sasha Petrov has spent most of her life adrift, anchored by only her loving foster family. So when they beg her to return to the family marina in Safe Harbor, Florida, for Mama Rosa’s sixtieth birthday, Sasha complies, hoping to put the past behind her. But Mama Rosa has other plans: she wants her three foster daughters to find Tony, the biological son who disappeared twenty years earlier.
Sasha agrees to try, but that’s easier said than done when bad boy Jesse Claybourne shows up, reigniting an old attraction. Back in Safe Harbor on a quest of his own, Jesse gets tangled up in Sasha’s search, and soon the two are close to uncovering an old town secret that some will stop at nothing to protect.
When Sasha’s dog and Jesse are attacked, they realize the past is hiding something more sinister than they ever imagined. Can they expose the truth without destroying Sasha’s family and breaking each other’s hearts, or are they sailing against the wind?
“This quest, it is nonsense, Sasha. Pure nonsense. Tony has been gone for twenty-three years. This is the foolish hope of a desperate woman.”
Sasha agreed with him, though she wouldn’t have put it in quite those terms. She reached up and patted his hands.
“Maybe foolish, maybe not.” She shrugged. “But I’ll do my best.” She forced a smile. “And if we get Eve involved, well, then our chances go way up, immediately.”
He wrenched out of her grasp. “No!”
Sasha watched, stunned, as he paced. Back and forth, back and forth, hands fisted at his sides. Beside her, Bella whimpered, and Sasha reached down to reassure her. “It’s okay girl.”
When Pop turned back her way, Sasha stepped into his path. “Pop. Stop. Please. Tell me why not.”
He wouldn’t meet her eyes, just kept shaking his head, muttering in Italian.
She reached out and grabbed his arm, holding him still. Finally he looked up, jaw clenched.
“It is a fool’s errand. A waste of time. And when nothing comes of it Then I will be left holding her as she cries in the night again, desperate for her baby. I can’t, Sasha. I can’t watch her go through it again. He’s gone. Our Tony was gone years ago, and she can’t -” he stopped and wiped tears from his eyes. “Your mama, she can’t let him go. And I can’t watch her suffer anymore.”
He cleared his throat and visibly calmed himself. “Tell her no, Sasha. Tell her you cannot do this. Please. For me.”
Sasha swallowed the lump in her own throat, trying to find words, but nothing came out. How could she refuse him? This was Pop, the man who had found her living behind the marina in an abandoned shed when she was twelve years old, a filthy, starving runaway with nothing to call her own but the clothes on her back, a gold mariner’ cross she wore around her neck, and an attitude that screeched like rusty armor. It had taken almost a week, but Pop had finally coaxed her out of the shed with Mama’s homemade bread and deep-fried fish he’d caught that day.
Pop and Mama had saved her in every sense of the word. They’d loved her despite her attitude and had given her a home, no questions asked. After a while, she’d become a part of their family and, later, part of their faith, too.
So how on earth could she tell one of them yes without breaking the other’s heart?
And how would she ever choose?
I haven’t read anything by Connie Mann before, so I can’t compare this novel in terms of the author’s other books, but I’m disappointed to say this one hasn’t inspired me to check them out. It was a combination of factors in this case; several aspects of the story and writing that prevented it from coming together as a compelling whole.
The main thrust of the plot is the search for Mama Rosa and Pops’ biological son who disappeared twenty years ago, when he was just a toddler. The case was ruled an accidental death – it was presumed he fell into the lake and drowned – but his body was never found, and Mama Rosa is convinced he is still alive. She asks her three eldest foster daughters to help look for Tony, but it is largely Sasha who takes up the search, assisted by Jesse Claybourne and another troubled teen Mama Rosa and Pops have taken in, ‘Blaze’.
Jesse Claybourne hasn’t been back to Safe Harbor for several years, but his arrest for possession of drugs was big news with the locals, so he doesn’t exactly receive a warm welcome. But he doesn’t want to cause any trouble; just use his aunt’s slip at the marina to work on The Painted Lady before he races her in the Tropicana in a few weeks – a race he needs to win in order to keep a promise to a friend.
As Sasha begins to investigate what happened the day Tony disappeared, it becomes obvious that many, Pops included, would prefer that she didn’t dredge up the past; a little too obvious, in my opinion. One of the things that niggled away at me throughout this book was the lack of subtlety or sophistication to the characters’ actions and dialogue. Characters who didn’t like Jesse and/or Sasha’s questions either voiced their opinions quite freely, or had very obvious non-verbal reactions – often a particular emotion that ‘flashed’ in their eyes, or a nervous look, etc. Perhaps this was all in the name of showing rather than telling, but it was all too ‘on the nose’ for me.
The author seemed to take the same approach to showing the tension between Sasha and her sisters, and Sasha and Jesse. Sasha and her sisters therefore came across as snarky, which was not at all endearing, and Sasha flip-flopped between being attracted to Jesse and pushing him away, without any particular rhyme or reason as to why. It didn’t help that many of their romantic interactions felt forced or contrived, with no build up to lead into them.
Another disappointing aspect was that I didn’t feel the emotional connection between Sasha and Jesse. Their attraction to one another seemed more physical than emotional, and was occasionally expressed in ways that crossed the line to inappropriate for me, particularly for a book classified as ‘Christian Fiction’. For example, Jesse thinks Sasha has a body that ‘screams to be touched’, and when Sasha jokes that Jesse is getting the locals riled up about her virtue (because they were overtly flirting in public) Jesse replies, “I like your virtue. I want to get all kinds of familiar with your virtue, just so you know.” I think there are times when it’s realistic to acknowledge sexual attraction, but I also think there are more subtle and respectful ways to do it.
Neither Jesse nor Sasha really showed any personal growth through the course of the novel. I actually found it difficult to connect with Sasha’s character. There were a few times when I thought her attitude to others was uncharitable (eg: trying not to stare at how much weight a former cheerleader had gained), and the constant ‘accidental’ letting down of her family by never hearing her phone ring, or forgetting about promises got a bit old.
The last thing I’ll mention is the suspense plot itself. It just didn’t grab me. It has its moments, but half of the suspense came from Jesse’s and Sasha’s constant ‘feeling’ that ‘something wasn’t right’ or that they were being watched, and many of the clues were too obvious. The resolution to the mystery of Tony’s disappearance did hold one surprise for me, but it was a little underwhelming on the whole.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
Buy now US: Amazon
Release date: 24 May 2016
Publisher: Waterfall Press
Author’s website: http://www.conniemann.com/