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Title:  Beach Trip

Author:  Cathy Holton

Published:  May 12, 2009

Page Count:  432

Genre:  Women’s Fiction

My Rating:  4.5/5

Mel, Sara, Annie, and Lola have traveled distinct and diverse paths since their years together at a small Southern liberal arts college during the early 1980s. Mel, a mystery writer living in New York, is grappling with the aftermath of two failed marriages and a stalled writing career. Sara, an Atlanta attorney, struggles with guilt over her son’s illness and her own slowly unraveling marriage. Annie, a successful Nashville businesswoman married to her childhood sweetheart, can’t seem to leave behind the regrets of her youth. And Lola, sweet-tempered and absentminded, whiles away her hours–and her husband’s money–on little pills that keep her happy.

Now the friends, all in their forties, converge on Lola’s lavish North Carolina beach house in an attempt to relive the carefree days of their college years. But as the week wears on and each woman’s hidden story is gradually revealed, these four friends learn that they must inevitably confront their shared past: a failed love affair, a discarded suitor, a betrayal, and a secret that threatens to change their bond, and their lives, forever.

When I accepted Beach Trip for review, I was expecting to get a fun and light summer read that would entertain me but probably not provide much substance.  Well, I was both right and wrong about that.  This novel is definitely fun and I would still classify it as a summer read, but it’s a lot more than just “light” and it definitely came with substance!

I was drawn into this story and its characters right from the start.  I found the characters extremely well-drawn, they had four very distinct personalities and I both loved and hated aspects of each of them, which, to me, made them extremely realistic.  Sometimes in women’s fiction, especially when there’s a group of friends, each character has a role to play and doesn’t really go outside of that role, so the characters end up being sort of cliched.  Although these four women did sort of have that “role” feeling to them, they had interesting enough backstories and complex personalities so I never got that cliche feeling from any of them.  Holton did such a great job crafting these four women and showing that even with how different they were, they so obviously cared about one another and were still so comfortable being with each other, even after so many years spending time apart.

I also really liked the way this story was written.  Some reviewers have noted that they found the format of the book, back and forth between past and present, slightly choppy, but I actually disagree.  I liked how there was clear page breaks and notations when showing scenes from back in their college days.  And even though, during the “present” there were many flashbacks from college days or in between then and now, I found those transitions extremely well done, and I was never confused about who was talking and what time period they were talking about.  I feel like telling the story this way allowed the reader to get a complete picture of each of the four women, I was able to see for myself what they had been through in college, what their marriages were like, and how they came to be in their current states.  For me, it just worked perfectly.

Not to be spoiler-y, but I have to just say one thing about the ending:  I loved it.  I truly thought it was the best possible way to end the book.  For those of you who’ve read this one, thoughts on the ending?  (if you want to be spoiler-y, I’m totally ok with that, but just email me spoiler stuff please instead of saying it in the comments!  Thanks.)

All in all, Beach Trip has everything I love about women’s fiction – an interesting and complex story, well-written characters, and great writing.  I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and will be keeping my eye on Cathy Holton.  Perhaps I may have to look for her earlier novels next…

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