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Art, WWI, and one unforgettable summer.

At the Edge of Summer by Jessica Brockmole
Pub. Date: May 17, 2016
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Ballantine Books!)
Summary: Luc Crépet is accustomed to his mother’s bringing wounded creatures to their idyllic château in the French countryside, where healing comes naturally amid the lush wildflowers and crumbling stone walls. Yet his maman’s newest project is the most surprising: a fifteen-year-old Scottish girl grieving over her parents’ fate. A curious child with an artistic soul, Clare Ross finds solace in her connection to Luc, and she in turn inspires him in ways he never thought possible. Then, just as suddenly as Clare arrives, she is gone, whisked away by her grandfather to the farthest reaches of the globe. Devastated by her departure, Luc begins to write letters to Clare—and, even as she moves from Portugal to Africa and beyond, the memory of the summer they shared keeps her grounded.

Years later, in the wake of World War I, Clare, now an artist, returns to France to help create facial prostheses for wounded soldiers. One of the wary veterans who comes to the studio seems familiar, and as his mask takes shape beneath her fingers, she recognizes Luc. But is this soldier, made bitter by battle and betrayal, the same boy who once wrote her wistful letters from Paris? After war and so many years apart, can Clare and Luc recapture how they felt at the edge of that long-ago summer?
Genre: Historical Fiction, Wartime Fiction, Romance

With her mother long gone and her father’s recent death, 15-year-old Claire finds herself packing her belongings and leaving Scotland for the French countryside where her mother’s best friend is all too willing to take her in. Claire’s mother was an artist and Claire has been developing her own talents which flourish under Monsieur Crépet’s tutelage, he himself a famous painter who once illustrated a book of fairy tales. Even Madame Crépet has her own gifts, but it’s the Crépets’ son Luc who really gives life to Claire’s sketches and drawings.

The entire summer the two are practically inseparable – when, of course, Luc is home from his university. Just as their friendship is on the edge of blossoming into something more, Claire receives an unexpected guest: her grandfather, returned from his years spent traveling, has come to take her home.

Torn apart by their families and, later, the onset of WWI, Claire and Luc still write letters – letters that slowly become more infrequent with Claire’s travels and Luc’s enlistment. It’s only when Claire accepts work with the Red Cross sculpting masks for servicemen who were gravely injured that their paths cross once again. With eight years and Luc’s horrific wounds between them, could they possibly return to that long ago summer?

Okay, cue the squealing and flaily arms. I LOVED this book. Loved. From the very first page I was hooked, not just because it’s – hello – Jessica Brockmole or because it’s a novel bursting with art (and you all know how I feel about art novels) but because it was just. so. good. From the first line I was fully and totally gone, completely immersed in Jessica’s gorgeous writing and the unforgettable setting. I got to know Claire and Luc and as I watched their shy friendship grow and barely begin transforming into something more, I wholeheartedly championed their almost-relationship (though I SO wanted to grab them and finally smoosh their faces together ♥!) Both were so sweet and innocent and Jessica so, so wonderfully showed that and how the war changed not only them, but France itself.

As the years progress, Claire blooms into a tough-as-nails young woman, unafraid to explore the desert or row down a raging river and quickly develops a knack for saying what she thinks. While Claire becomes full of life and warmth, Luc, however, struggles to find peace and internalizes his pain, every day sinking deeper into himself. He’s haunted by the war, by the things he’s seen and done and hides away so that he doesn’t have to face the stares he gets on the street.

To say more would be to spoil the entire thing, though romance is a driving force in this book, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. I could talk about At the Edge of Summer for days and the more I think about it, the more I love it. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful, full of joy and sorrow, with characters I not only loved, but wish I could know in real life! There’s art, letters, scenes that will give you a serious case of wanderlust – At the Edge of Summer is a novel to get lost in and is one I know I won’t stop thinking about any time soon!

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