by Diane Chamberlain

February 2003
ISBN: 1-55166-664-2
Reviewer Graphic Button Mira Books
Trade Paperback

Kiss River is the second installment in The Keeper of the Light trilogy by Diane Chamberlain. Fraught with small town history, Kiss River is the story of Gina Higgins and a cast of many. This story beautifully depicts the complex intricacies of family ties that bind and the secrets they share. It is also a story within a story, dealt with in flashbacks to the World War II era, where a young girls life, innocent and carefree changes dramatically. Ms. Chamberlain deftly blends the two stories together, with finesse and uncompromising skill.

Gina Higgins has come to Kiss River in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with ulterior motives. Gina seems awfully interested in the Kiss River Lighthouse, particularly the lens that was lost in a storm, the Fresnel lens to be precise. This nineteenth century lighthouse steeped in rich history from World War II, has fallen to the sea, but Gina is desperate to resurrect it. She’s left her home in Washington State for the summer traveling to Kiss River, where she meets Lacey and Clay O’Neill. Little does Gina know how the impact of her search will affect the new friends she’s made, bringing to the surface more than one resurrected skeleton. Her mission is selfless, but clear and while she finds herself becoming attached to the community, she won’t lose sight of her purpose for being in Kiss River. A small child waits to be rescued, and as Gina says, “she’d sleep with the devil himself” to save her!

Clay and Lacey O’Neill have lived in Kiss River all of their lives, just the kind of people Gina needs to help her, they have a great deal of knowledge about the history of the lighthouse. Their father, Alec O’Neill at one time led a campaign to keep the lens from being retrieved, though he’s captivated by Gina’s beauty, he is suspicious of her motives. Alec too, has ties that bind him to the lighthouse in Kiss River involving his dead wife Annie. Alec also has his own reasons for leaving the lens where it is. Alec is re-married now, and wants the past left buried at sea. Clay, a widow mourning the loss of his wife, is piecing his life back together, the arrival of Gina is a much-needed distraction, one he isn’t sure he’s grateful for. Lacey, has gone out of her way to welcome Gina, inviting her to stay with them shortly after Gina’s arrival in Kiss River. The reader comes to find that still waters run deep in Lacey, her kind and open personality stem from the legacy her mother Annie has left behind. Clay and Lacey can’t quite figure out why Gina is so determined to find the lens, when they find the truth behind her search will they still want her in their lives?

The relationship between Clay and Gina is slow to develop, and I appreciated the lengths with which the author went to bring them together. Each has experienced heartache, and neither was too far out of the depths of grief to open up to one another too quickly. A painstakingly gentle connection emerges, and then reveals events, both past and present that threaten the fragile bond they’ve begun to create. Gina is never abrasive, and seems to tread carefully the path of deception. This reader understood her reasoning, and the deceptions seemed small in light of her situation. Clay though gentle by nature, and not nearly as open as his sister, harbors guilt over the death of his wife that made perfect sense.

Ms. Chamberlain uniquely breathes new life into small town Americana; this reader found herself well and truly embroiled in the lives of people that were not only interesting but, touchingly human. The characters in this book had more than one reality I could relate to, and handled them in true to life form. They are richly developed, and thought provoking. This was my first Diane Chamberlain book; I have to admit I’m not much of a relationship novel fan, I find keeping track of so many characters tiresome. However this has been an exception to the rule. There is great talent to be had when embarking upon the complex relationships of families, done well, as in this book; I was never confused by the constant new character and background introductions. The timing was paced perfectly, and written with spectacular ebb and flow, all working toward a united goal. Lush, descriptive settings, gave you just enough of a taste of the Outer Banks, but never overwhelmed the focus of the story. I truly enjoyed getting to know these characters, and most certainly will be on the lookout for the final book in this saga!

Kiss River is an investment well worth a lazy afternoon cuddled in your favorite chair, escaping into the lives of people you will ultimately come to care for!

Reviewed in January 2003 by Connie.

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