Summer at Hideaway Key

Written by Barbara Davis
Review by Sarah Johnson

For the core of her third novel, Barbara Davis takes a staple of historical women’s fiction – the discovery of an old diary – and grafts around it an engrossing story about sibling jealousy, the difficult path to self-discovery, and the importance of understanding the past and taking chances on the future.

In 1995, following her father’s death, wealthy fashion designer Lily St. Claire is surprised to discover he left her a beach house, Sand Pearl Cottage, on the small island of Hideaway Key on the Gulf Coast of Florida. The house once belonged to Lily’s beautiful lookalike aunt, Lily-Mae Boyle, the long-estranged older sister of Lily’s mother, Caroline. Determined to learn more about her family, despite her mother’s firm disapproval, Lily takes up residence in the cottage, sorts through her late aunt’s belongings, and makes connections with many of the locals – including her nearest neighbor, Dean Landry, a hunky architect whose friendly overtures she doesn’t fully trust: he wants to buy her cottage and tear it down for a new building project.

Beginning in 1953, Lily-Mae’s journal reveals the story of her difficult adolescence and the adult decisions that led to her renown as a cover model and, much later, her dying alone in her bed at Hideaway Key. With a heartfelt tone revealed through her rural Tennessee twang, Lily-Mae tells how her Mama abandoned her and Caroline at a poor farm after their money ran out. Lily-Mae’s resolve to do whatever it takes to protect her younger sister, even to her own detriment, instills in Caroline a resentment that festers throughout their lives.

Both tales are flawlessly interwoven, each enhancing the plot and themes revealed in the other, and they exert a similar emotional pull. The ending is perfect – have some tissues ready – and the glorious depictions of the Florida beaches will satisfy anyone who’s ever dreamed of an idyllic tropical haven.