Monday, August 15, 2011

Summer Reading

I've spent my summer-reading-hours on the beach - figuratively, since we live over 1200 miles from the Atlantic coast where these three books take place.  I expected the congruity of location to make for three similar stories, and in a way they were.  They each centered around the characters' relationships rather than a complicated plot.  But that's where the similarities end.

Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews: Book CoverFolly Beach by Dorothea Benton Frank: Book CoverMaine by J. Courtney Sullivan: Book Cover
Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews  

Ellis, Julia, and Dorie - Best friends since grade school, they now find themselves, in their mid-thirties, at the crossroads of life and love. A month in North Carolina's outer banks is just what each of them needs. Maryn Shackleford is a stranger, and a woman on the run. Four people questioning everything they ever thought they knew about life. (from book jacket)
 Summer Rental was the lightest of the three books.  I enjoyed the interaction between the three friends.  They knew each other so well that they could speak bluntly and even argue, but they always came back together.  Each of them faced a life-choice, which made for three separate interesting stories, but the main focus was their bond and how they joined together to help an outsider.  Romance, mystery, and chick lit - great reading choice if you happen to be on a beach or just wish you were.  I give it 4 stars out of 5.

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

This was the most complex of my beach reads.

In her highly anticipated second novel, Sullivan introduces four unforgettable women who have nothing in common but the fact that, like it or not, they’re family. Their beachfront property sits on three acres of sand and pine nestled between stretches of rocky coast.  At the cottage, cocktail hour follows morning mass, nosy grandchildren snoop in drawers, and decades-old grudges simmer beneath the surface.  As three generations of Kelleher women descend on the property one summer, each brings her own hopes and fears. By turns wickedly funny and achingly sad, Maine unveils the sibling rivalry, social climbing, and Catholic guilt at the center of one family, along with the abiding, often irrational love that keeps them coming back, every summer, to Maine and to each other. (from book jacket)
I have a long-time fascination with the state of Maine.  To vacation in a beachfront house there is near the top of my "bucket list", so this book had a head-start on being my favorite of the beach books.  At first I thought the large family was going to be too much to keep track of - to the point that I drew a sticky-note family tree to keep inside the front cover for easy reference.  But as the story progressed, the focus narrowed to four women:  Alice, the matriarch; her daughter, Kathleen, and daughter-in-law, Ann Marie; and Kathleen's daughter Maggie.  Like the first book, each of them had their own crises or ghosts to face, but the story was really about the family connections and stereotypes.  Alice's commitment to her faith and the Church, mixed with the more intricate look at relationships, made this a deeper read - save it for a rainy, indoor day.

I'm giving this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.  The missing half-star is due, partially, to points where I thought the story drug and, partially, to improper use of "bring" and "take" (you know that's one of my pet-peeves) and this sentence:  "Once in a blue moon, one of them made it to the mayor's office or city hall.  Those ones were remembered the longest, them and the criminals."  Those ones?  Did one of the Sopranos edit this book?

On the plus side, it added a few entries to my "fav quotes" book:

"...Daniel's belief in the importance of generations, of one person understanding life through the experiences of all the people who came before."

"He had been smart enough not to have children, so he could never know the peculiar sensation of caring terribly, insanely for a person over whom you had no control; a person who was your responsibility, yet no longer had to answer to you."

"The Church was the only constant companion of Alice's life, the only thing that made sense, always."

"Arlo held Kathleen's hand and she squeezed hard, imaging all the ways that motherhood could change a person, ways that you could simply never imagine for yourself until you were stuck right there in the middle of it."

"Until recently she thought she had done well.  But, the uncertainty of raising three children could wear on her, even now - especially now.  When she thought about that unpleasant business with Little Daniel and his last job, when she thought about Fiona, she wondered if she was somehow to blame for all of it.  Where were her children at this moment?  Were they wearing seat belts?  Did they still believe in God?  Did they understand not only how to keep house but why?  Had she done enough?  Could a mother ever do enough?"

Folly Beach
by Dorothea Benton Frank

With its glistening beaches, laid back Southern charm, and enticing Gullah tradition, Folly Beach has long been one of South Carolina’s most historic and romantic spots. It is the land of Cate Cooper’s childhood, the place where all the ghosts of her past roam freely. Cate never thought she’d return to the beach house named for this lovely strip of coast. But circumstances have changed, thanks to her newly dead husband, whose financial—and emotional—perfidy has left Cate homeless and broke.  And for Cate, Folly holds the promise of unexpected fulfillment . . . of the woman she’s always wanted—and is finally ready—to become. (from book jacket)
 The third of my beach reads was a disappointment.  The story of Cate - left homeless and "broke" (well, not totally broke by my standards, but destitute compared to what she had before) after her husband's suicide - starts with a bang, followed by 250 pages of fizzle.  In the first few chapters the problems stack like cord-wood , but they are all solved easily and without much effort.  It gave me visions of the birds and mice helping Cinderella make her ball-gown while they all whistle a cheerful tune. 

Warning - Spoilers:  Homeless? -  find an aunt with multiple rental homes.  Jobless? - take a week or two to write a play (your first attempt at writing) that is immediately put into production.  Widow? - meet tall, dark and handsome man on your first day in town.    New man is inconveniently married to woman in mental hospital? - wife has sudden onset of stage-4 cancer.  Facing a lawsuit from husband's mistress? - one letter will make her re-think her ways!  Daughter a struggling actress? - give her the lead in your new play and she immediately gets an offer to co-star in a movie with Julia Roberts.

Mixed within this fairy tale is a history lesson on DuBose Hayward, author of the novel Porgy; his wife, Dorothy; George Gershwin, and the summer they spent on Folly Island writing the music for Porgy and Bess, the musical adaptation of the novel.  Unfortunately, the history lesson turns into a feminist, man-bashing lecture on Dorothy's role as the true genius behind the scenes.

I finished the book because it was the third of my summer reads and I wanted to be able to compare all three, and because of the popularity of the author - I was sure there would be a twist at the end to redeem the plodding middle section.  But all I found was a story with no tension, random plot points (what was the whole criminally insane wife thing about?) and dialogue that was, at times, indecipherable.  I'm giving this book 3 stars, only because I figure there must be redeeming qualities to Ms. Frank's other works and even New York Times bestselling authors can have an "off" book.  And because the premise is good - even if it's poorly delivered.


  1. I've got "Maine" on my bookshelf. Really can't wait to read it soon!

  2. I was interested in Maine, but it looks like it needs some editing. Bummer.