Love is the hero of novel partly set in 1950s Naples

Seagrape Sands, by Jessie Allen Chesser. CreateSpace [Amazon]. 184 pages. $16.00.

This romantic, uplifting tale brings into view the charms of two attractive settings. One of these is Naples, Florida in the 1950s when it was not much more than a fishing village. The other, which we get to a bit later and visit through the 1960s and well into the 1970s, is St. John, the smallest of the U. S. Virgin Islands.  Along with the fictional characters who reside in these places before the intrusion of large-scale development, we enjoy the largely unspoiled beauty and the easy-going lifestyles of these communities.  SeagrapeSands

And what better surroundings within which to follow the paths of two lovers who fall for one another at first glance and live together with the most ideal blend of passion and consideration? 

A masonry contractor for a big project in Naples sends a crew down from Venice. When Sam Johnson and his friends on the crew look for after-hours entertainment in the sleepy town, recent high school graduate Lillie and her friends help them get acquainted. Before long, Sam and Lillie are mutually smitten. Ms. Chesser portrays their blossoming romance with flair, getting into the emotions and concerns of each and conveying the tension of eagerness and caution as they move toward becoming a devoted couple.

Lillie decides to move in with Sam. Marriage isn’t even under discussion until cohabitation makes them more and more certain of a shared destiny. The couple moves out of Florida and then out of mainland U.S.A., as Sam sees business opportunities and a new lifestyle on St. John. Though Lillie’s parents and sisters first question her decisions, they come to accept and admire Sam. No one is enamored with the separation that Lillie’s adventurous life entails, but they make the best of it, visiting when they can – particularly on special occasions.

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Sam builds the homestead of Seagrape Sands: it is a lovely place, part residence and part resort investment. Sam’s enterprises (dive shop, etc.) make Lillie and him integral parts of their new home territory. Author Chesser underscores how this couple can create powerful bonds with others. Friendships old and new run deep. In fact, friends quickly and permanently become extended family.

“Seagrape Sands” is filled with larger and smaller adventures, most often uplifting ones, that dot the courtship and married life of Sam and Lillie. Many of these take place in the wilder natural settings of Southwest Florida or on St. John. However, not all of the episodes in this book are so uplifting. When pregnant Lillie loses her first child after a bad fall, she is thoroughly despondent and the healing process – physical and spiritual – is difficult and extended. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the March 7, 2013 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly and the March 14 Bonitia Springs edition, click here:

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