'A Walk Along the Beach'

‘A Walk Along the Beach’ (Ballantine Books) by Debbie Macomber.

With more than 170 million books in print, Debbie Macomber didn’t need to write another word, and in fact, had resolved to do just that.

After the death of a close friend to cancer, Macomber writes by way of introduction in her recent novel, “A Walk Along the Beach” (Ballantine Books, July 14), “I decided I needed a break from writing. I told my agent I was taking a year off.”

After all, after such a loss how could a romance author famous for happy endings find a happy ending to the tragedy that was consuming her life?

But as with so much of that life, writing would prove to be the balm. After several weeks had elapsed, Macomber realized that “I thought perhaps the best way I could remember my friend wasn’t to stop writing but instead do the opposite.”

So she did, and the result is this sparkling, multifaceted love story that explores the bonds between two sisters, parent and child, and finally — because this is a Debbie Macomber novel — a relationship tested not only by time and place, but the ability, or lack, to mature in romantic love.

Returning her readers to Oceanside, Macomber introduces us to the Lakey sisters — perfectly opposite housemates who share a tumultuous past and everything else about their lives. Following the death of their mother, Willa found herself sometimes more mother than sister to Harper — a role that intensified as Harper developed and worked through leukemia while their alcoholic father was physically and emotionally absent.

Ever afraid that the cancer would one day return, Willa sometimes smothers her sister to the point that Harper will eventually feel the need to break free. Complicating the story is Sean O’Malley, who, unusually for the sisters, is smitten not by the outgoing, beautiful Harper, but Willa — beautiful herself, but driven by her work, familial responsibilities and the fear of losing those she most loves.

Writing through her grief, Macomber’s “A Walk Along the Beach” is a gift, and the timely beach read we need in today’s global climate of pandemic uncertainty.

Right now, many of us can only long for that beach — not to mention face-to-face romance — but here Macomber offers a respite from our own complicated lives, and a visit to the sea with its ever-changing tides.

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