The Sacred Shore by Jennifer Fulton is the third book in Fulton’s Moon Island Series but can easily be read and understood as a standalone novel. Although, I do have to say that I’ll be getting the rest of the books in the series based on my love of this one. The Sacred Shore has a multi-layered structure that held me captivated by the main storyline as well as several subplots that weave through the book and explore some interesting ideas and situations.
The central plot is a romance between blues songwriter Olivia Pearce and Merris Randall, who has just sold her successful IT company and gone through a well-publicized divorce. A year after a breakup, Olivia is still trying to recover emotionally from a damaging relationship with her ex girlfriend, a country singer who became rich and famous on Olivia’s songs, while Merris is moving through her own healing process from the realization that her marriage, its dissolution, and even the birth of the twin daughters she and her wife had together aren’t what she thought they were.
When they first meet, Merris is immediately attracted to Olivia and can’t stop thinking about her, but Olivia is aloof, having vowed to never enter into another relationship. Olivia leaves town for a long vacation on Moon Island, an ancient setting for the spiritual rituals of a feminine-centered faith in the Cook Islands. When Merris finds out that she’s gone and where she’s gone, she decides to travel there as well, as though by coincidence, knowing how dangerously close to stalkerish this behavior is but unable to stop herself. But she isn’t the only island guest with an ethical dilemma.
Dr. Glenn Howlick, a cultural anthropologist, must decide how far she’ll go in exploiting the spirituality of another culture for her own career goals, while hiding her deepest secret that, if revealed, could destroy her reputation as a feminist scholar. And what about Riley Mason, Glenn’s graduate student she brought on this trip who’s in love with her?
With all this going on, Cody and Annabel, the island’s owners, have to face a life-changing decision when Annabel’s cousin Melanie shows up with a terminal illness and a baby.
When an astonishing revelation is disclosed, all of the island’s inhabitants and guests are invited to participate in the secret rituals that celebrate the guardian goddess of the island, and each one receives a gift of knowledge that is exactly what she needs to know.
All of the characters, main and secondary, are extremely well-written, each having her own distinct voice and interesting back story. Olivia has the strongest character arc, moving from disillusioned and emotionally shut down through a realization process to recognizing love and what her future would be without it. Olivia is also my favorite character. She’s written in such a way that reveals her strength, but she’s also going through a vulnerable time in her life, and the story takes place at the crossroads where she has to decide whether to keep herself safe from now on or risk her heart in order to live and love again. It is a romance, so of course we all know what she’ll choose, but I got so wrapped up in her and Merris’s story, I tended to forget that—a sign of a really good romance novel.
Merris’s character arc isn’t as pronounced, probably because she decides the first time she sees Olivia that anything would be worth the risk just to meet and get to know her, but there’s still movement and deeper realizations on her part as the story progresses.
One thing that struck me about the characterization is the plushness of all of the characters’ back stories. As readers, we expect that for the main characters, but in The Sacred Shore, we’re given enough rich detail about even the minor characters to bring them off the page. My favorite of these is Trudy, who’s on the island to scope it out as a possible site for her father’s business concept—Deluxe Transition Retreats. “The bereaved accompany their loved one to an exotic destination to commence his or her final slumber. All compassionate services take place in a customized luxury environment, the viewing, the funeral, catered mourning functions. And, of course, five star accommodations with therapeutic activities available. Like…say, golf?” Trudy provides some tongue-in-cheek humor as well as some of the subtext that explores the truth around the lack of understanding and respect for the spiritual traditions and grounds of cultures different from our own.
The Writing Style
The writing style is beautiful. Fulton has an exquisite command of words and language. There are passages that made me stop and listen to them several times just for their poetic nature. Such as: “You enter with your dreams intact. You leave them behind, scattered through the rooms you shared, taped to walls that heard too much, swept beneath rugs whose patterns you learned too well during unbearable silences.” Another one that touched me was “The beech trees in front of Olivia’s house marked the passage of time. Like love, they came into bud, bursting with promise, unfurled, rejoiced in the sun before it became their enemy, then withered, fell, and were trampled.” Between this kind of narrative, the gorgeous descriptions on the beaches, lagoons, and jungle on Moon Island, and the crisp dialog between the characters, this makes for a wonderful read/listen.
The pacing is handled skillfully, especially considering the number of interconnected storylines the author was juggling, and it kept me listening way into the night. I was impressed with Fulton’s ability to keep all of the characters and their parts of the story clear and easy to follow.
The Sacred Shore is narrated by Brittni Pope, and she did an amazing job with all the different voices for so many characters. I was never confused about who was speaking, and there were several characters with accents that she did very well. I was particularly taken with Olivia’s British accent, but then, I was taken by pretty much everything about Olivia. I think I’m a little bit in love. Also, Pope read at a nice, relaxed pace that fit the overall feel of the book, given the vacation nature of the plot.
As you can probably tell from above, I loved pretty much everything about this audiobook. I don’t think there’s any one thing that stands out above anything else, except…wait for it…maybe Olivia. Okay, I know…but you have to cut me some slack. After all, she’s beautiful, has a lovely British accent and that dry British sense of humor, and she’s a songwriter. AND she writes her best songs during hot, passionate sex. That last one got you, didn’t it?
Oh, wait! As lovely as Olivia is, there is something else I’d rank among the pros of this book. I loved the way Fulton wove a serious discussion of the importance of spiritual and cultural diversity and acceptance throughout a generally sweet and moving love story, without ever coming off as heavy handed or preachy. She makes enough solid points on the topic to give the reader who’s inclined to do so a lot to think about, while never forcing the issue.
There were none.
The Sacred Shore has an easy, relaxed feel to it and is the perfect listen for a road trip or a stay-at-home vacation, because the story and the setting do a fantastic job of taking you away. I highly recommend the book to readers who enjoy stories with exotic settings that take the reader far away from daily life. I also highly recommend it to those who love a multi-character and multi-layered story that’s well-written and fun. I’ve already listened to it twice and know it’s an audiobook that will become one of my comfort reads/listens over the years. I can’t wait to catch up on the rest of the Moon Island series as well.
Excerpt from The Sacred Shore by Jennifer Fulton
“Let’s stop a second.” Merris’s tone was gentle. “What are we discussing here? No one said anything about getting married. Or even getting laid. We’re just going to get together and shoot the breeze like people do.”
“Let’s not pretend people always stick to the rules they make for themselves. I’m trying to be realistic.”
“I can respect that, but we’re not powerless pawns in some mysterious cosmic game. We’re in charge. We choose what we do or don’t do.” Her face serious, Merris continued. “Forgive my saying this, Olivia, but you’re second guessing yourself way too much. I can see your ex has left you with some baggage, and I’m sorry you’ve been hurt. But it’s up to you to decide whether you’re going to allow the past to control you forever. Or not.”
Olivia felt her eyes prickle. Merris was right, but it was all very well in theory. Emotionally, she felt utterly stuck. “I understand what you’re saying…”
“But?” For a moment, it seemed Merris was going to get up and walk away. Instead, she lifted a hand to cup Olivia’s cheek. “I know it’s not that simple. But…I can help. If you’ll let me.”
“Why? I mean, why would you bother?”
“Do I need an agenda? I’d like to get to know you. No drama.” Her touch was comforting, her gaze tender.
Olivia placed her own hand over Merris’s and closed her eyes briefly. Her throat was tight. She felt a tear trickle down her face.
Merris brushed it away, then slid her fingers through Olivia’s hair. “You should wear it out more often,” she said, caressing the back of Olivia’s neck. Something in her expression altered, and she drew closer, until with each breath, their bodies almost connected. There was a frank question in her eyes.
Olivia hesitated, leaned forward, and answered it with her mouth. First, a tentative kiss, a recognition of the inevitable. Then a second, soft and curious, inviting a more urgent third.
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The Sacred Shore
A Guarded Heart
And according to Jennifer Fulton’s web page, Solace, Book 5 , is in the works.
Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781635552669
- Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
- Audiobook Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
- Narrator: Brittni Pope
Jennifer Fulton Online
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