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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Oregon coast has no better publicist than JoAnn Ross, July 12, 2010
This review is from: The Homecoming: A Shelter Bay Novel (Mass Market Paperback)
The beach along the Oregon coastline is the homecoming destination for Navy SEAL Sax Douchett and former high school classmate and widow Kara Conway. Each is suffering recent losses that leave them vulnerable to one other, recalling unforgotten memories and exploring a chance for love.

Sax returns home to Shelter Bay to be with family and re-enter civilian life. He is the sole survivor of a deadly mission in the hills of Afghanistan that left his comrades and friends dead. The small town is honoring Sax with a hero's welcome parade, but he isn't feeling like a hero: "SEALs don't leave men behind." Sax is not alone, though, as New York Times bestselling author JoAnn Ross uniquely inserts the ghosts of Sax's fallen comrades on his shoulder as "angels on a mission," cheering, joshing and laughing with Sax, easing his guilt. The mission: watch over Sax. The message: the dead are never truly gone, and their memory helps pave the future.

The allure of coastal living saturates THE HOMECOMING, the first in Ross's Shelter Bay series, and invites readers to imagine and savor the vistas: "...looking out over the ocean, where the whitecaps were gilded with silver moonlight...;" "...gaze out the window, where a giant ball of sun was sinking beneath the sea, gilding the water a shimmering gold and bronze..." Ross ravishes her audience with imagery of "a pebbly starfish in a tide pool," "sea lions on the rocks of the sea stacks beyond the tide line" and "whitecapped waves," to the point that readers are like seagulls gliding over the characters.

Ross uses symbolism repeatedly to solidify the theme that Shelter Bay is a haven for the brokenhearted. The location of Sax's house on the cliff overlooking Shelter Bay seems to indicate that each character is on the precipice of something new in their lives. Sax reopens the restaurant his parents ran for years. He names it Bon Temps, meaning "good times," and sets about refurbishing it in time for his brother Cole's wedding. He also engages the help of Kara's young son, Trey, as two men seek to move forward and emerge from the shells of the past. The tide is ever-changing in THE HOMECOMING, bringing new shells from the sea to replace the broken ones on the shore. In the midst of tragedy, Shelter Bay offers renewed hope.

The rocky coast of Oregon draws readers into the grief-stricken lives of Sax and Kara and follows their footsteps in the sand as they reconnect and find a love that extends beyond summer. The pair are no strangers. They were best friends in high school, along with Jared Conroy, whom a pregnant Kara married right before Jared was deployed to Iraq for military service. Jared asked best friend and bad boy Sax to watch over Kara just in case he did not return. Two tours later, Jared did come back safely and became a policeman, only to be killed in a domestic violence call.

Kara's mother, Faith Blanchard, plays a strong role in her daughter's and grandson's lives amidst the recent loss of her sheriff husband's mysterious death. Faith is a successful surgeon, but confesses to Kara one evening that she is wondering "what if?" about her life. In a rare mother-daughter moment, she shares her fantasies with Kara, drawing the two closer.

Sax and Kara navigate the ebb and flow of emotions as Sax befriends Trey and takes him to the VFW hall where he learns more about his dad, the fallen all-American hero. The young boy's acceptance of Sax takes time, and the warmth of Sax's large family envelops him as he remembers his dad, but makes way for a relationship with Sax. Trey observes Sax as he takes care of Kara after a series of seemingly cold case-related physical attacks and comes to realize that the shelter of a father's love and legacy can come from unexpected places.

"Sometimes the best journeys aren't planned down to the nth degree." Sax and Kara could not have known what lay before them in Shelter Cove, but each returned to a place that held family and memories. Ross's series can be defined by the words she writes for Sax: "Besides, no place better to recuperate than on the coast, drinking in all that fresh salt air."

Sax is no longer a sniper spotter. He is still a wizard with flirtation and calls Kara "sugar," but his mission has changed, all because he listened to "...a pull of desire as strong as the tides pounding away at the cliff outside of the house..." and accepted the help of "angels on his shoulder." The Oregon coast has no better publicist than JoAnn Ross, and starting over can be as invigorating as a breeze coming off the ocean bringing the love of our life.

--- Reviewed by Hillary Wagy
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