About the Book:
Wendell Combs is as local as they come. Born and raised in the small town of Saybrook, Connecticut, his venture into the larger world was met with heartbreak. Now, middle-aged and a confirmed bachelor, he seeks solitude from his tour of duty as a soldier back in his hometown, working as head caretaker for wealthy Alan Lancaster’s forty-acre estate, White Pines, a place he has come to love for its beauty, peace, and quiet.
Alan’s eldest daughter, fifteen-year-old Julia, also loves White Pines, but for very different reasons. She and her little sister spend their days riding horses, swimming in the lake, and painting landscapes inspired by the property they adore. While her parents prepare to host their annual summer gala fundraiser, Julia’s eyes are set to the simpler joys of summer: she’s fallen in love with the boy-next-door and longs for their next encounter.
But as the last guests leave on that magical summer night, a tragedy no one could have predicted suddenly occurs, shaking the entire town to its core. Wendell and Julianow face an uncertain future. At the height of their grief, two very different women return to Saybrook: Ginny Foster, Wendell’s first love, who cannot stay away any longer, and Candace Lancaster, Julia’s estranged aunt who wants nothing to do with the town or the family estate she escaped decades earlier. Now, the only familiar things Julia has to cling to are Wendell and White Pines, but it looks like she’s about to lose both…
Message in the Sand by Hannah McKinnon has a solid premise and is filled with many of things I love in a story: small town, second-chance romance, family drama, and a good cause. While it ticked many boxes for me, the story didn’t grab me like I thought it would.
Mostly, it was to do with the characters. I just didn’t connect with any of them. Julia is sympathetic, but her desperation came off as insulate. Aunt Caroline is not a compelling antagonist. I would have liked more development of that character and a better understanding of her feelings toward her childhood home. Wendell Combs is the most compelling character. Wendell really steals the show. His journey through PTSD and opening up to close, caring relationships again.
I found the information about the legal system as it pertains to minors interesting. The resolution between Julia and Caroline is satisfactory. The chaste, sweet romance is a secondary story thread that leaves a hopeful end. I enjoyed the story arc, but the storytelling left me wanting. Message in the Sand could have been a deeply emotional book had I been able to feel the love, anguish and eventual contentment the characters should have been feeling.
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