Dancing at the Colony by Cheryl Blaydon; North Country Press, Unity, Maine, 2020; 319 pages, paperback, $17.95.

DANCING AT THE COLONY

The Colony in Kennebunkport is a classic Maine resort, a luxurious, well-appointed hotel overlooking the ocean, site of countless garden weddings over the years. And now Hazel Mowry is there with her granddaughter Ellis, helping plan Ellis’s upcoming wedding.

“Dancing at the Colony” is East Boothbay author Cheryl Blaydon’s fifth novel, this one a modern-day romance featuring a charming, thoughtful grandmother reminiscing about a beautiful wedding at the Colony in 1963, and a loving, considerate granddaughter having second thoughts about her second wedding. This is a tender, warm story of two women sharing thoughts, dreams, hopes and memories as they work together to understand their futures and their happiness.

Blaydon cleverly blends nostalgia, secrets and forgiveness with romantic love, old and new, in a heartwarming tale of missed opportunities and second chances. Hazel, in her 70s, is a widow remembering her best friend’s wedding at the Colony in 1963, when Hazel danced a torrid tango with a handsome man she wouldn’t see again for 50 years. Helping Ellis with wedding details brings back fond memories of that dance long ago.

Ellis relies on her grandmother’s steady influence and advice as she recalls her disastrous first marriage, while also dealing with the judgmental whining and complaining of her future mother-in-law. Even her devoted fiance is tired of his mother’s constant harping.

The two women enjoy a strong bond, comforting and reassuring each other as Ellis’s wedding approaches. Ellis and Hazel’s closest friend, aware of Hazel’s loneliness, decide to find the long-lost tango dancer, realizing their plan may backfire. At the wedding, Hazel and Ellis come to realize: “Happiness always looks small in your hands, but let it go, and you learn at once how big and precious it is.” And the Colony is still there in Kennebunkport.

 

The Perfect Daughter by Joseph Souza; Kensington Publishing, 2020; 359 pages, $26

THE PERFECT DAUGHTER

Fictional Shepherd’s Bay, Maine is a coastal town simmering with resentment and the social and economic conflicts between locals and wealthy newcomers. The town is not a happy place, especially mixed with drugs, booze, rape, murder and the arrogance of entitlement.

“The Perfect Daughter” is award-winning Portland author Joseph Souza’s third mystery, after his excellent “The Neighbor” and “Pray for the Girl. This book, however, does not measure up to the first two. And there’s nothing perfect here at all. This is less a mystery and more a predictable, sappy melodrama, sort of like a dark combination of “Desperate Housewives” and “Beverly Hills 90102,” with adults and teenagers behaving badly.

Shepherd’s Bay is on edge. A rich teenage boy went missing three months ago, with no trace ever found. Now Willow Briggs, the smarmy teenage daughter of a wealthy Hollywood movie producer goes missing and her best friend, Katie, is found injured and uncooperative. Katie’s mother is Isla Eaves, the local barber/hair stylist, struggling with her business, a diabetic son and a slacker, inattentive husband. Now she’s frightened for her daughter.

And the soap opera begins. The local policeman is Isla’s high school sweetheart and he’s still in love with her. Her husband is an irresponsible lout with his own secrets. The high school coach likes young girls. The Briggs family is dysfunctional, with an emotionally unstable drama-queen mother and the father’s unnatural relationship with his daughter.

A murder, Willow’s strange disappearance and Katie’s odd ordeal cause Isla to snoop into family affairs that reveal sordid details about a lot of folks, including the filming of a transparent TV reality show, eventually making Isla the next target of a killer. Unfortunately, this tangled tale offers little suspense and less menace, and is too easily figured out.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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