Reviewed by: Ms. Bliss

Blackberry Summer
by RaeAnn Thayne

Published May 24, 2011 by HQN

Claire Bradford needs a wake-up call.

What she didn’t need is a tragic car accident. As a single mom and owner of a successful bead shop, Claire leads a predictable life in Hope’s Crossing, Colorado.  So what if she has no time for romance? At least, that’s what she tells herself, especially when her best friend’s sexy younger brother comes back to town as the new chief of police. But when the accident forces Claire to slow down and lean on others – especially Riley McKnight – she realizes, for the first time, that things need to change. And not just in her own life. The accident – and the string of robberies committed by teens that led up to it -  is a wake up call to the people of Hope’s Crossing. The sense of togetherness and community had been lost during those tough years.  But with a mysterious “Angel of Hope” working to inspire the town, Riley and Claire will find themselves opening up to love and other possibilities at the end of an extraordinary summer.

For a complete review which may contain SPOILERS, please click 'Read More' below:
Debbie Macomber says, “If you’re going to read only one book this season, make it Blackberry Summer.” Ms. Bliss could never survive a season with only one book but I have to agree with Ms. Macomber’s recommendation.  Blackberry Summer, RaeAnne Thayne’s first installment in the Hope’s Crossing series is a richly detailed tapestry of life in a small town in Colorado.  The characters are well written, endearing and invite you into their lives from the first glance. You find yourself wishing you were part of this idyllic town as it deals with tragedy and finds renewed hope.  In a world that so often moves at a break neck speed it was a pleasure and a respite to take off my shoes, pour a cup of coffee and visit with my new friends in Hope’s Crossing!

Claire Bradford, the successful owner of a bead shop has had her share of difficulties, least of which is being a single mom with two children and an ex-husband with a beautiful, pregnant younger wife.  Having lost her father in a scandalous incident in her teens, due to her mother's grief, she became the caregiver for her family. A role she is still playing in her mother's life. When her best friend’s younger brother comes back to town she feels an instant attraction for the sexy new Police Chief. 

Riley McKnight was a hellion in his youth. When his father abandoned the family and left him the only male in a house full of women he became rowdy and wild. When his teen girlfriend became pregnant he vowed to marry her.  After she miscarried her family sent her to live with her Aunt and Riley couldn’t get out of town fast enough.  As an undercover cop he is tired of dealing with the seamier side of society and when the Police Chief position becomes available in his home town he decides that maybe this is the change he needs in his life. Seeing Claire again, his teenage crush brings back feelings of tenderness and warmth he hadn’t fully realized he was missing.

When a string of robberies and vandalism leads to a high speed pursuit of the teenagers responsible, the tragedy that ensues changes the town and the lives of Claire and Riley.  While pursuing the teenagers in inclement weather Riley realizes the dangers are not worth the risk and pulls back but the teenage driver, the Mayor’s son, panics and causes another car to slide through the guardrail and into the lake before he crashes himself.  Clair and her children are in the car that slides into the lake and although her children are not seriously injured she breaks her arm and her leg. Unfortunately one of the teens in the other car dies at the scene. The young girl is Riley’s niece. A situation he blames himself for.  The guilt weighs heavy on him and although he is attracted to Claire he believes he is not good enough for her, or for Hope’s Crossing.

The town is shaken by this sad turn of events.  Already burdened by the economic downturn they had a small ray of sunshine… the mysterious “Angel of Hope”.  A good Samaritan who had been anonymously leaving much needed gifts of support to the members of the community.  When Claire comes up with the idea to enlarge upon this giving and have a day of “hope” and helping in the community it begins a much needed healing process.  A process that will bring the realization that she does not always have to be the nurturer, she can accept help and love.  A process that brings Riley insight into his own life and Claire into his arms.

I loved the way the people of this small town banded together to improve the lives of each other and in so doing, improve their own lives as well. Especially Claire who at times seems too good to be true but who deftly handles hardships with grace and dignity, something we should all aspire to.  In the end I think RaeAnne Thayne accomplished exactly what she set out to in Blackberry Summer; to bring warmth and hope into our lives. So dear readers, if you need an uplifting respite from your busy life, come home to Hope’s Crossing! (Hallmark – are you listening??)

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