REVIEW: Carolina Home by Virginia Kantra
Dear Ms. Kantra,
I grew up going to the beach each summer, often to North Carolina beaches, so a book set there looked like a good summer read. And let me say that grilled wahoo, served and eaten on a beach house porch with evening sea breezes blowing in, is some of the best eating I’ve ever had. Lots of contemporaries these days are set in small towns with one or both of the main characters having got there to escape from somewhere, something or someone. This feels like something slightly different. It feels more like coming home and less, despite the back blurb, like escape. And the small community is presented with a few scuffs instead of being an idealized haven.
Meet the Fletchers of Dare Island
Steady Matt, the son who stayed
Ambitious Meg, the daughter who never looked back
And rebel Luke, the Marine who thought he’d never return…
“Home to the Fletcher family for generations, Dare Island is a fishing village rocked by changing times-its traditions slipping away like the sands of the North Carolina coast. Single dad and fishing boat captain Matt Fletcher deferred his own dreams to support his innkeeper parents and build a future for his sixteen-year-old son. Matt has learned to weather life’s storms by steering a steady emotional course…and keeping a commitment-free approach to love.
Newcomer Allison Carter came to Dare Island to escape the emotional demands of her wealthy family. The young teacher aims to build a life here, to make a lasting place for herself. She doesn’t want to be another in the long line of Women Who Once Dated Matt Fletcher. It’s both tempting and dangerous to believe she can be something more.
Then Matt’s brother Luke makes a sudden return home, with a child of his own-and a request that will change all their lives. With a child’s welfare at stake, Matt must turn to Allison to teach him to let go of the past, open his eyes…and follow his heart.”
Janine recently commented about another book saying it “wasn’t full of contrivances, implausibilities, inconsistencies and continuity errors.” I read that sentence and immediately thought – that applies to “Carolina Home.” Reading this book is like relaxing in a Hatteras hammock, gently swaying in the breeze. It flows, it makes sense and nothing startled me out of my reading zone.
Allison Carter is the one looking to set down roots while Matt Fletcher already did 20 years ago. Allison might come from a wealthy, prominent Philadelphia family and not want to go back but there’s nothing really stopping her beyond the fact that she wants to make a difference somewhere. She discovered that she likes to teach – even though her botoxed, status conscious mother thinks it’s just a distasteful fad Allison is going through – and the chance to become part of a close knit community is what caused Allison to sign the teaching contract to work on an Outer Banks island of North Carolina.
Matt Fletcher has lived on Dare Island for 20 years but his ties go back even further since his Marine dad’s family has lived there for generations. The islanders are used to tolerating the tourists whose money keeps things going. They’re cautiously nice to new transplants though the verdict won’t be in until those people have weathered a hurricane and the quiet, downtime that comes with winter. But taking their time to accept newcomers doesn’t mean the locals won’t gossip about them. It is, after all, a small place and hard to keep anything secret.
Matt’s been burned with an outside woman before when his college girlfriend Kimberly “went slumming” with him and a pregnancy resulted in a marriage neither really wanted. His hesitancy to let Allison into his life based on that alone could work as the relationship conflict but add to it Allison’s unfamiliarity with how slow life can be on Dare Island once the fun of summer is over, how often new transplants fail to last long and the fact that she’s his son’s teacher and there are some concrete reasons for taking things slowly and not expecting too much from the relationship. He certainly likes Allison – naked or in her clothes – but he’s not going to commit easily. He also takes the world onto his shoulders and has to be reminded sometimes that there are people willing to help besides him. I like that you give Matt other reasons than simply being bitter and cynical that stand between him and a lasting romance.
Allison is the first willing to admit to her feelings and begin to sound out a relationship future but she’s also less tied down. Her baggage is her own. She doesn’t have a child to consider and, as she sadly thinks when things with Matt are looking unlikely, her contract is only for a year. She’s has to realize how Matt sees her and that’s as a woman who might decide island life isn’t for her. Though honestly I never got the feeling she wanted to leave Dare even before she started seeing Matt. She began to think of it as home very early and only thought of leaving when she didn’t think Matt would take the chance on them. But she does discover, through learning how much of her after school life is being discussed on the island grapevine, that small island life has its downside. The good part is seeing how the islanders take care of their own – in the small of a bicycle flat tire being fixed so quickly or the large of helping a family cope when a horrific accident occurs.
I like that time is divided between Matt and Allison building both a physical relationship and an emotional one. The sex is fun and hot with the two of them obviously getting along in bed yet this didn’t feel like the gratuitous boinking that so often annoys me because it’s included only because it’s expected in today’s romance books. Yes, the smexy comes first, but soon Matt is looking forward to sharing his thoughts and missing the opportunities to talk about his daily problems with Allison when he can’t see her. While she in turn soaks up the family atmosphere around the Fletcher Sunday dinner table and, with Matt’s encouragement, spreads her wings of independence from her controlling parents. I could see them developing the ties of a deep foundation on which to build a future together.
The book is all about relationships – lots of different ones. Allison and Matt’s is worked out, Taylor and her father’s is briefly outlined for future reference while Matt’s sister Meg’s future is hinted at. Some are long standing such as Tess and Tom Fletcher’s 40 year marriage, and some are transitioning like Allison and her parents who are just starting to accept that she’s grown and might know what she wants. Or at least that she’s not going to kowtow to them. I also enjoyed the father/son bond between Matt and Josh – who sometimes tosses Matt’s own lecture words back at him, much to Matt’s chagrin – and the budding trust Matt’s working so hard to coax from Taylor who has lost all her anchors in life. The mix feels real in that not all of them are a finished product at the end of this book and some might never be worked out such as that between Taylor’s deceased mother Dawn and Luke. Typing it all out makes the number seem almost overwhelming but in actuality, I found it easy to keep up with everyone and all the plot threads.
I know Matt’s younger sister Meg is getting a story next and assume that brother Luke will eventually get his as well. But their presence here never felt like sequel bait. They were in this story for a reason and not just to pimp themselves for later. Not everything gets finished which I actually think is good even beyond the fact that I know there will be more books in the series. I think there’s enough resolution about what’s going on not to feel cheated at the end of the book or that you’ve written it as a cliffhanger but neat endings aren’t shoe horned into the final two chapters either. There’s enough conflict going on for this book to feel meaty yet still finished. I’m not sure how that will play out in the next book – eg do people need to read this one first in order to feel comfortable – but I’m looking forward to finding out. B