When Emily’s fiancé walks out on her while she’s still grieving the loss of her family in a terrible accident, she escapes back to Hope Haven on the remote Dune Island, where her family vacationed every summer. Emily hopes that fixing up the house will also mend her broken heart, but the cottage holds more than just bittersweet childhood memories. Emptying her father’s antique writing desk, Emily finds a letter that reveals a devastating secret about her parents.

With a head full of questions that can never be answered, it seems like returning to the island was the worst decision Emily ever made… until she meets Lucas Socorro, saltwater dripping from his dark curls after a surf session. As they take long walks on the soft sand, and talk late into the firefly-lit night, Emily wonders if Dr Luke—as the kids in the hospital call him—could be the one to help her heal. With Luke holding her hand, delving into her family’s painful past is a little easier.

Painting the gloomy cottage walls the colour of seashells, and revamping her grandmother’s flea-market furniture, Emily starts to feel she might call Dune Island home for good—and that she could build that home right here with Luke. But when Emily’s family secret spreads through a network of local gossips, her fragile heart breaks all over again. Luke is the only one who could have started the rumours. Was she wrong to trust him so easily?

Thoughts

When I read A Letter from Nana Rose last year I wasn’t aware it was part of a series so I decided to check out the other books. While the books are connected by their island setting, they don’t have to be read in orders as the characters change in each book.

Summer at Hope Haven is the first in the series and it centres on Emily Vandemark who is persuaded to return to Dune Island as she struggles to come to terms with the loss of her parents and her older brother in a helicopter crash. Emily spent many happy summers in her grandmother’s cottage on the coast but as soon as she arrives, the memories come flooding back and she begins to think it was a mistake. Having also just split up from her fiancé, Emily is suffering from depression and has retreated from the world to the extent she is suffering from social anxiety. Determined to help Emily recover, her childhood friend, Wilson, has not only persuaded her to return to the cottage, he has managed to get her a job painting murals on the new children’s wing at the local hospital.

As soon as Emily arrives, she crosses path with a husky surfer who turns out to be a paediatrician at the same hospital where Emily will be working and she is intrigued by the handsome man despite herself. The romance part of the novel falls rather flat because Emily and Lucas spend so little time together and Emily is reluctant to tell him about what happened to her family, it leads to a lot of miscommunication which just gets repetitive. Emily dreads being pitied so she goes to great lengths to avoid telling anyone about her grief but this really gets in the way of her forming real friendships on the island and it gets annoying after awhile.

As Wilson and his wife, Colette, prepare for the arrival of their first child, they take Emily under their wing to coax her back into the world but Emily is confused when Wilson begins to distance himself. Colette reveals impending fatherhood has made Wilson question the identity of his own father and is awaiting feedback from a DNA test he took recently. While renovating the cottage, Emily comes across some draft letters her father wrote to her mother hinting at infidelity and it leads her to uncover a family secret which is really not much of a secret if you have been paying attention.

The setting on Dune Island is beautiful and Harper once again uses the weather to reflect the inner turmoil within her characters as the rain beats down on the cottage not long after Emily arrives. As Emily opens up, the sun begins to shine and she spends more time on the beach reflecting on her life which isn’t necessarily a good thing as she does that a lot. While Emily is understandably grief-stricken, she is also her own worse enemy in refusing to discuss her situation with people who genuinely want to befriend her and exiting dramatically whenever she feels threatened. The story relies too much on conflict borne from misunderstandings and a lack of real communication between the characters.