Pub. Date: May 9, 2017
Source: ARC + finished hardcover via publisher (Thank you, Thomas Dunne Books!)
Summary: Physician Bess Codman has returned to her family’s Nantucket compound, Cliff House, for the first time in four years. Her great-grandparents built Cliff House almost a century before, but due to erosion, the once-grand home will soon fall into the sea. Though she s purposefully avoided the island, Bess must now pack up the house and deal with her mother, a notorious town rabble-rouser, who refuses to leave.
The Book of Summer unravels the power and secrets of Cliff House as told through the voices of Ruby Packard, a bright-eyed and idealistic newlywed on the eve of WWII, the home’s definitive guestbook, and Bess herself. Bess’s grandmother always said it was a house of women, and by the very last day of the very last summer at Cliff House, Bess will understand the truth of her grandmother s words in ways she never contemplated.
Genre: Family Saga, Historical Fiction, Contemporary
I first came to know Michelle Gable through her 2014 debut, A Paris Apartment, followed by last year’s I’ll See You in Paris. Her novels are inspired by real life events or historical figures, which is basically at the tippy-top of Things Leah Loves in Books and her latest release is no exception.
Alternating between the early 1940s and 2013, The Book of Summer tells the story of a family and the summer home that’s weathered heartbreak, war, glitzy parties full of bubbly drinks and laughter, and weddings, until it becomes apparent that Mother Nature has other ideas in store. The Nantucket bluff is crumbling, sending entire houses into the sea below. Cissy Codman refuses to budge, determined to find a way to save her home despite half the yard already destroyed and the vast patio getting smaller by the day. Her daughter Bess, dealing with her own personal tragedy, has flown in from California to try to pry Cissy away from the home, while in the summer of 1941, Ruby juggles life as a newlywed with the devastating news of WWII – and her brothers’ and husband’s enlistment.
There are some authors who seem to write for me and Michelle is one of them – though she was a total tease when it came to the time jumps! Just as a big juicy secret was revealed, sorry, that’s it, time to head back/forward in time! There was one chapter in particular that actually made me want to skip ahead just to get back to that specific moment: Ruby uncovered something she shouldn’t have and while I easily pieced it together, I really wanted to watch the big reveal unfold!
For such an easy, breezy title, The Book of Summer is surprisingly somber. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a magnificent read and one I completely inhaled, but avoid going into it expecting swoons or a brain fluff type of read. There’s abusive relationships, multiple miscarriages, a family torn apart by war, and Cissy’s heartbreaking attempt to save the home her family loved. Alcoholism and sexual identity also make an appearance within these pages. Though there are happy moments (a rekindled romance and some humorous scenes between two cranky, crotchety neighbors, for example) they were definitely overshadowed by the rest of the book’s more serious tone.
Just like with her previous novels, Michelle used actual history as the starting point for The Book of Summer. Unlike her other two books, however, this one is firmly rooted in America where the story’s backbone is the erosion of Nantucket’s bluffs. In an author’s note at the end of the book, Michelle provided several links and sources and, being me, I leapt at the chance to dig a little deeper into the real events! I definitely suggest checking out some photos of the before and after, some areas have become so bad that there are actual pipes sticking out over the sea! The most mind-boggling part of the erosion, though, is that a light house was actually moved. Sankaty Head Light was first built in 1850 at a time when the bluff’s edge was 280 feet away. By 2007, it was just 76 feet away. So what did Nantucket decide to do to their historic lighthouse? THEY MOVED IT! It’s now 400 feet away from where it once stood!
Michelle Gable sits securely on my list of auto-read authors, that elite group of writers I will read anything by, no questions asked. The second she announces a new book it instantly goes on my To Read list – usually before an actual summary is given! Though she has yet to disappoint me, I have to say The Book of Summer has a far more tragic tone than her previous books as it deals with abuse, miscarriages, and death. While this might not be the best choice for a mindless vacation read, I absolutely loved this one and wouldn’t hesitate for a second to recommend it. The characters are great, the setting is incredible (and incredibly frightening since the people of Nantucket have been faced with this extensive erosion for so long), and I can’t pass up a good family saga. The only thing I hate about finishing one of her novels is the year-long wait for the next!