The last (unofficial) day of summer is Labor Day, with the New York State Fair closing and school beginning that week, so to commemorate the last gasps of summer, this month’s Book Report features two books with summer in the title: “The Summer of Good Intentions” by Wendy Francis and Dan Bakopoulos' “Summerlong.”
“The Summer of Good Intentions” is set at a family’s summer home on Cape Cod. The Herington family will once again spend all July together, but things have changed in the last year. Parents Arthur and Gloria are now divorced, although Arthur doesn’t understand why Gloria wanted to leave their quiet home in Maine to live in the big city of Boston.
Oldest daughter Maggie is the typical oldest child, organizing everyone and everything so that things run smoothly for all. She is the one who makes sure that everyone has a new pair of flip-flops and a towel stuffed into a pail to begin the vacation. Maggie is married to a wonderful man, a Boston cop who is a calming presence and a terrific dad to their three children. When she learns that her mother is bringing her new younger boyfriend to the house, she worries how her father will handle it.
Middle sister Jess is trying to balance her work as a high school principal with being a mom to her children and marriage to a man who spends too much time involved in work. This has led Jess into a situation that could endanger her marriage.
Youngest sister Virgie lives across the country in Seattle, where she works as a TV news reporter while she works to get her way into the anchor chair. She works crazy hours, and because of that has had some health problems that she has ignored.
“The Summer of Good Intentions” is the perfect end-of-summer read. Francis brings the reader into the Herington family’s lives, and all of the happiness and sadness of families is one that anyone who is close to their family can understand. You’ll feel like you are right inside the vacation home with them as you read their story.
“Summerlong” also features a family during a summer month. Don Lowry is a realtor in a small college town in Iowa. His business has taken a turn in the down economy, and now he is on the verge of losing the family home, something he has yet to inform his wife Claire of.
Claire wrote a semi-successful novel a decade ago, but now is floundering in her life. She loves her two children, but life in Grinnell is stifling her. While jogging she runs into Charlie, a young man returning home from an abandoned acting career, and they begin a friendship.
On that same night, Don meets ABC, a sad young woman who returned to her college town after the death of the woman she loved. ABC is a caretaker to the elderly Ruth, a wise and kind woman. ABC believes that Don will lead her to her dead love, and they begin a friendship, as well.
When the Lowrys lose their home, Charlie offers to take Claire and her children in to live in his parents’ home. Charlie’s father, a highly regarded professor at Grinnell College who had both Claire and ABC as students, is in a nursing home with dementia. Charlie finds hundreds of love letters that his father wrote to dozens of women, and doesn’t know what to make of it.
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Don moves in with Ruth and ABC, all the while looking for a way to get his family back. He wants to save his marriage, but Claire wants to move on. He has an idea for a last-ditch effort to save his marriage: a family vacation away from Iowa. The only problem is that Charlie, ABC and Ruth will be accompanying them.
"Summerlong" is primarily about the marriage of Don and Claire, but it also focuses on the different stages of the characters: ABC and Charlie are young adults trying to find their way in life, Don and Claire are almost 40 and struggling with where they go next to be happy, and Ruth is at the end of her life.
I found Ruth to be the most interesting character, perhaps because she has lived her life. She tells ABC that mothers have secrets and if those secrets get out, it is unforgivable. She knows this from experience.
Both "The Summer of Good Intentions" and "Summerlong" are fascinating reads, not light summer fluff — books that you can easily fall into as summer ends and autumn begins.