That Certain Summer
National Readers’ Choice Award finalist
Revell, ©2013, ISBN 978-0-8007-2249-4
Karen and Val are family—yet they’re anything but close. Karen has carried the burden of responsibility for her aging mother ever since her gorgeous sister left town years ago to pursue a career in theater. But Val had darker reasons for leaving town—as well as a secret to keep—and coming home has never been an option . . . until their mother suffers a stroke. Once reunited in their hometown, Karen and Val must grapple with their past mistakes, their relationship with each other, and their issues with a mother who is far from ideal. When a physical therapist raising his daughter alone and a handsome but hurting musician enter the picture, the summer takes on a whole new dimension. As their lives intersect and entwine, can each learn how to forgive, how to let go, and how to move on? And during this summer of grace, might they also find the courage to love?
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Since the author is best known for her romantic suspense, you might call That Certain Summer the "softer side of Irene Hannon." But with deeply felt characters, two separate-but-connected romances and two women's journeys toward making peace with their pasts and each other, That Certain Summer is as much a women's fiction title as it is inspirational romance.
A great weekend or rainy-day read, That Certain Summer will warm your heart.
An emotional story filled with romance and small dramas. The lives of these endearing characters intertwine over a summer and undergo change as Hannon has readers rooting for each of them in this uplifting story about love and redemption.
Beautiful storytelling and genuine, vulnerable, faithful characters are the strength of this story. This one simultaneously moves you to tears, makes you laugh and leaves you speechless while warming your heart. A gem of a read.
RT Book Reviews
That Certain Summer is a story about hope, redemption and the power of faith. It’s about the courage to face one’s darkest fears and the wonder of the human spirit. Irene Hannon knows the power of words and the miracle of faith. She blends them both in this excellent story. Inspiring prose and embraceable characters…capture the reader from the very first pages.
New York Journal of Books
Storms, she could handle.
This, however, was a tsunami.
As the nurse adjusted the drip on her mother’s IV, Karen Butler fought back a wave of panic and shifted in her chair to stare out the window. In the distance, a solitary oak tree reached toward the sky, its bare limbs devoid of life despite the lush growth of a Missouri spring all around it. A casualty of the harsh winter.
She could relate.
“Your mother’s doing very well. She’s lucky it was a mild stroke. How are you holding up?” The nurse moved toward the door.
“Well, if you’d like some coffee or a soft drink, there’s a small kitchen next to the nurses’ station. Help yourself.”
Giving up the futile attempt to find a comfortable position, Karen rose, stretched the kinks out of her back, and began to pace.
No matter how mild the stroke, her mother was still going to need lots of help for the foreseeable future.
And guess who was expected to provide it?
Good old reliable Karen.
A weight settled on her chest, squeezing the breath from her lungs. So far, she’d kept all her balls in the air, but how many more could she juggle? Didn’t a shattered marriage, a job outside the home for the first time in more than a dozen years, and a rebellious daughter whose transition to teenager had been complicated by her parents’ split provide enough challenges?
Pausing at the foot of the bed, Karen watched the steady rise and fall of the white sheet over Margaret’s prone form. Her mother had looked the same for as long as she could remember. Iron gray hair, rigidly coiffed in a style twenty years out of date. Thin lips that turned down at the corners in a perennially disapproving expression that remained unyielding even in repose. An angular bone structure, softened neither by the extra weight she carried nor by a charitable, tolerant disposition.
In the best of times, she wasn’t easy to please. While dealing with a stroke? She’d be impossible.
The knot in Karen’s stomach tightened, and she crossed her arms, squeezing the flesh above her elbows. All her life, she’d tried to please Margaret. To accept family obligations without complaint. And what had it bought her? Nothing except criticism.
Yet what choice had there been after Val abdicated all family responsibilities and ran off to pursue a career in theater?
Her gaze fell on the small silver roses in her mother’s pierced ears—a gift from her sister on some long-ago birthday—and the familiar resentment bubbled up inside her . . . followed, as usual, by annoyance.
Good grief, would she never grow up? She was too old for such petty nonsense. So what if Val was the golden girl with the charmed life? So what if she was Mom’s favorite? She ought to get over it.
But she couldn’t.
Because it still hurt.
Huffing out a breath, Karen turned her back on the bed. Enough. She had more important things to worry about at the moment than her messy tangle of emotions—like figuring out how she was going to deal with this latest complication. It didn’t help that Kristen was hobbling around on a broken leg or that the busy season at work, with its requisite longer hours, was kicking in, either.
Face it, Karen. You need help.
She clenched her teeth and straightened her shoulders. Maybe she wasn’t as pretty or popular or confident or talented as Val, but she’d always been organized and competent and able to cope with whatever life threw at her.
She’d get through this, like she always did.
A garbled sound came from behind her, and she turned. Her mother jabbed at the air with her good hand.
Karen crossed to the side of the bed. “What do you need, Mom?”
Margaret grabbed her arm with surprising strength and uttered more gibberish as she shook it, her face contorted with frustration.
The heart monitor began to beep.
Her own pulse tripping into double time, Karen grabbed the call button and pressed it.
“Hang on, Mom. I’ll get the nurse.”
Two minutes later, as the woman calmed her mother down and retrieved a bedpan, Karen backed away.
She couldn’t do this alone.
Everyone had their limit, and she’d just hit hers.
Gritting her teeth, she pulled her cell out of her purse. Like it or not, Val needed to come home.
Not being the operative word—for both of them.
Hand on the door of her condo, Val Montgomery hesitated as the phone began to ring. Her teenage cast was going to freak if she was late for the dress rehearsal, and spending the first hour trying to calm a gym full of hyper adolescents held zero appeal.
Hitching her purse higher on her shoulder, she dug through her oversized tote bag for her keys. Let the caller leave a message.
“Val, it’s Karen.” Her sister’s voice echoed through the condo as the answering machine kicked in, and her hand froze. “I need to talk to you as soon as possible. Please call me on my cell when you get this message. I have a new phone, and I jotted the number down somewhere. Give me a sec . . .”
In the silence that followed, a tingle of apprehension zipped through her.
If Karen was calling, there must be a serious problem.
Hand still on the knob, she chewed on her lower lip. A crisis wasn’t in her plans for tonight . . . but if she left without talking to her sister, she’d be distracted all evening—and adrenaline-pumped teens required her full attention.
With a resigned sigh, she walked over to the phone and lifted it out of its cradle. “Karen? I was walking out the door. What’s up?”
“Thank goodness I caught you! I’m at the hospital. Mom had a stroke.”
As the word ricocheted through her mind, Val tried to process that bombshell.
It didn’t compute.
Their mother had a lot of problems, but despite her myriad complaints, she’d always been healthy as a horse.
Combing her fingers through her hair, she stared out the window at the gray clouds gathering on the horizon. “How bad is it?”
“Mild, according to the doctors. They’re still doing tests, but it’s clear she’s going to need some help for a while.”
And I expect you to pitch in.
Though the words were unspoken, the message came through loud and clear.
Clamping her lips together, Val tightened her grip on the phone. Not going to happen. The very notion of spending an extended period with her manipulative, self-centered mother turned her stomach. How Karen had managed to live in such close proximity to her all these years without going crazy was beyond comprehension.
As the silence lengthened and she struggled to fabricate an excuse that would absolve her of the implied obligation, Karen spoke again.
“Look, I’m sorry to dump this on you.” A thread of desperation wove through her sister’s words. “I’d deal with it on my own if I could, but Kristen broke her leg a couple of days ago in gymnastics, and things are hectic at work. I can’t manage two patients without some help. With your school year ending soon, I thought maybe you could come down for a few weeks, just to get us over the hump.”
A few weeks!?
As she tried to wrap her mind around that nauseating notion, the second part of Karen’s comments suddenly registered.
“Why didn’t you tell me about Kristen?”
“I didn’t see any reason to bother you. It’s not like you’re close enough to help out.”
Val let the inferred criticism pass. “Is she okay?”
“Not to hear her talk. She missed the final gymnastic meet, the pool’s off-limits, and she’s out of commission for her typical summer activities. In her mind, the world is ending. But according to the doctor, she’ll be fine.”
Val’s lips quirked. “Being a teenager is tough.”
“Trust me, I’m reminded of that every day.”
“Me too. As a matter of fact, I’ve got a bunch of high school thespians waiting for me, and if I doesn’t show up pronto, the drama won’t all be on the stage. Can I get back to you later tonight to talk about this?”
A slight hesitation, followed by a terse reply, told her Karen recognized the request for the stall tactic it was. “Yeah. I’ll probably still be at the hospital. Let me give you the numbers for Mom’s room and my cell phone.”
As Val jotted them down, she checked her watch. “I’ll call you in a couple of hours.”
The line went dead—and based on her sister’s resigned tone, it was clear Karen expected her to bail.
But as she shoved the phone numbers and cell into her tote, guilt niggled at her conscience. When had Karen ever asked for help—with anything? Never, as far as she could remember. Meaning her sister must be at the end of her rope. And it wasn’t as if her own plans for the summer were all that pressing, other than two modeling commitments she could commute to fulfill. Plus, she knew how to handle their mother—a skill Karen had never mastered.
She could go.
But as she toyed with the idea of returning to the Missouri river town of her childhood, a wave of panic swept over her.
Tightening her fingers on her keys, she closed her eyes and fought back a surge of painful memories—the same ones that had been cropping up more and more often during the past few months, battling their way out of the dark prison where she’d banished them, clamoring for release. So far, she’d managed to corral them. But they were growing more unruly and insistent, and her control over them was slipping.
One of these days, she was going to lose the battle to contain them.
She swallowed. It was time to face the hard truth she’d been dodging for months.
The only way to free herself from the mistakes that haunted her was to confront them and deal with them once and for all.
And maybe she’d just been handed an opportunity to do that.
Her hand began to throb, and she loosened her grip on the keys, eying the angry red imprint they’d left on her fingers. If she’d continued to hold on to them, the ridges would have become deeper, numbness would have set in, and function would have become more and more limited. Letting go was the only way to restore normalcy.
To her fingers.
And perhaps to her life.
Val closed her eyes.
It was time to go home to Washington.
“Come on, guys, pick up the pace. I’m ready to crash.”
Scott Walker shot Mark a weary grin and transferred his saxophone case to his other hand as they exited the jazz club. “Maybe you’re getting too old for this life.”
“Maybe we all are.” Joe led the way to their van. “What city are we in again?”
“Philadelphia.” Their publicist hit the remote for the locks. “After the honky-tonk dives you guys played for ten years, you should be grateful Prestige booked you in some class places to promote your debut album.”
“We are.” Scott opened the door of the van and climbed in. “But we’ve been doing one-night gigs for six weeks. It takes a toll.” He stifled a yawn. “We’ll be fine after some z’s.”
But the constant travel and disrupted sleep and incessant demands of the recording company for more radio and TV interviews, more social media visibility, more PR appearances and glad-handing was wearing. They hadn’t pursued careers in music to schmooze.
Funny how their big break had given them less time to do what they loved best.
Silence fell as they all settled in and their publicist took the wheel. Joe and Mark fell asleep within minutes. Lulled by the motion of the car, Scott began to drift too—until a rough jolt jarred him awake.
As he struggled to jump-start his brain, he heard a sudden squeal of brakes. His shoulder slammed against the side of the van. Headlights that seemed mere inches away blinded him. A screeching cacophony of ripping metal ricocheted in his ears, and he raised his hand to shield his face.
There were screams.
Pain that was sharp and intense and suffocating.
But in the moments before blackness engulfed him, Scott knew one thing with absolute clarity.
Their promotional tour was over.
And even if he survived, his life would never be the same.
“Why are we moving, Daddy?”
David Phelps set aside the stack of plates he was packing and looked down at his daughter. How many times had he answered that question over the past few weeks? Dozens, for sure. But five-year-olds didn’t retain information long—especially information that didn’t make sense to them. And no matter how he explained it, Victoria couldn’t understand why they were leaving the condo that had been her home since she was born.
“Because I have a new job in a different place called Washington, Missouri, and because I want us to live in a house with a yard for you to play in.” David dropped down to balance on the balls of his feet beside her, brushing a stray strand of silky blonde hair off her forehead.
She frowned, planted her hands on her hips, and tilted her head. The stance, so reminiscent of Natalie, clogged his throat.
“I can play in the park at the corner. It has swings and a slide.”
“But it’s not your very own yard. And you’ll have a much bigger room too. We can paint it pink.”
“I like purple better.”
“Then purple it is.”
All at once her shoulders drooped and she hung her head. “I still don’t want to move. I like St. Louis.”
So did he. But prayer had led him to this decision. To the acceptance that certain dreams had died and that it was time to let go of the past.
But how to explain that to a five-year-old? All Victoria knew was that her world was about to be turned upside down. Again.
He pulled her into his arms and gave her a hug. “St. Louis is nice, honey, but I think we’ll like Washington too, once we get there.”
“What if we don’t?” Her tear-laced words were muffled against his shirt.
“Then we’ll move somewhere else.”
She backed up and scrutinized him. “Solemn promise?”
Their private version of “cross my heart and hope to die,” reserved for only the most serious matters.
David’s gaze didn’t waver. “Solemn promise.”
She fingered a button on his shirt. “Okay. But we won’t know anybody there. We’ll be all by ourselves.”
“No, we won’t. Remember, Jesus is always with us, no matter where we go.”
“When you can’t see someone, though, it’s hard to remember they’re there.”
Pulling her close again, David cradled her head against his chest. No argument there. During the past few years, there had been many occasions when God had seemed far away to him too. But he had to keep believing that even on his most challenging days, when he felt most alone, God wouldn’t desert him.
Because he had a feeling moving to Washington would bring a whole new set of daunting challenges.
(Warning: Contains Spoilers!)
- Family relationships are central to this book—and Margaret, Karen and Val do some serious head-butting. What are some things they could have tried that might have improved their relationship in the past?
- Karen and Val struggle with sibling rivalry. Do you think this is a common problem in families? Why or why not? What are some ways parents can alleviate this?
- Val nurses a traumatic secret that has affected her entire life, and she’s been running from it for years. Can we truly run away from our past, or must we confront it before we can move on? Explain your reasoning.
- When Scott’s life is turned upside down—and changed forever— he suffers serious depression. What are some of the things that help him see light at the end of the tunnel during the course of this book? What can friends and family do to help someone they love who is suffering depression?
- In the beginning of the book, Karen’s daughter resents her for the break-up of their family and is struggling to cope with the divorce. What are some of the problems children might experience when a marriage crumbles? How can parents help them through that transition?
- Karen’s always managed to hold things together, but when Margaret has a stroke she’s forced to admit she can’t cope alone anymore and needs help. Why was it so difficult for her to acknowledge this?
- Val makes a journey not only home, but to the past. What do you think about what her choices years before? Do you know anyone who has suffered traumatic emotional aftereffects from such a decision? How might you counsel them?
- Karen and Michael’s marriage is an example of an unhealthy relationship. Cite some of the reasons why they had issues.
- When Michael realizes the grass isn’t always greener and wants to come back to Karen, she turns him down. Do you think this was the right decision? Why or why not?
- During the book, the sisters begin to repair their relationship. What are some of the things they do that help create a stronger bond?
- Margaret reveals some surprising insights into her background to Val and Karen. Do you think her experiences credibly explain the woman she became? What might her husband have seen in her that no one else saw?
- Both Scott and Val have fallen away from their faith. What prompts them to reconnect with God? If you had a friend in their position, what might you do to help them find their way back to the Lord?
- At one point, Karen says she thought acquiescence was the secret to winning approval—and love. But in the end she became a doormat. Is it possible to be assertive and loving at the same time? If so, how?
- Karen and Scott get off to a rough start. What happens to change her mind about him?
- David isn’t interested in a summertime romance, and Val doesn’t think a man like David could ever love her. What happens to give their relationship long-term potential?
- Val and Karen have to cope with a very difficult mother. In their situation, how would you have dealt with Margaret—or would you even have tried?
- Val presents a confident, in-control image to the world—but it’s a sham. Do we all sometimes try to present an image to the world that doesn’t reflect who we really are? Why? Is this ever a good thing to do? If so, give an example.
- Karen takes a leap of faith when she agrees to sing a solo at the benefit. What gave her the courage to do this?
- All of the characters in this book are on a journey. Whose journey did you think was the most difficult? Why?
- Val struggles to forgive herself during the course of this story. Do you think it’s easier to forgive others or ourselves? Why?
- Why does helping Steven and Karen have such a big impact on Scott?
- Were you surprised when Karen agreed to Michael’s request near the end of the book? Why or why not? What would you have done in her place?
- Who was your favorite character? Why?
- What scene lingers in your memory? Why?
- Which character do you think changed and grew the most in this story? Why?
- At the end of the book, Karen reflects that she’ll always remember that certain summer when so many lives changed for the better. Is there an interlude in your life—or even a single experience—that had a profound and lasting positive impact? If so, share it with your discussion group.
- Did you think the plot of That Certain Summer was well constructed and credible, and the characters believable? Why or why not? Talk about your impressions of the book from a literary standpoint—its strengths and weaknesses. If you were the author, would you have done anything differently?