When the weather has been brutally hot like it has been recently, sometimes the best thing to do is to curl up with a good book and visit someplace new. This month’s Book Report will take you away.
Beatriz Williams takes her readers to the wealthy Long Island Sound enclave of Winthrop Island in the 1950s in The Summer Wives. Teenage Miranda Schuyler comes to Winthrop Island as her mother marries a wealthy man following the death of her husband in World War II.
With her new stepfather comes a stepsister, wild child Isobel. Isobel is expected to marry someone of her own social station, but she becomes involved with Joseph Vargas, the son of a Portuguese fisherman.
Williams shows the readers the contrast between the lives of the wealthy summer visitors to the island and the people who live on the island full-time. The relationship is complicated, as the full-time residents depend on the summer visitors for their livelihoods, but fraternizing between the two groups causes complications.
Part of the story takes place in the 1960s, ten years after Miranda leaves the island under mysterious circumstances and returns as a famous actress. When she returns, she finds that her stepsister and mother have turned their home into an artists’ colony, and they have fallen on hard times.
She also comes home to find that Joseph has escaped from the prison where he has been held for ten years, convicted of murder. Williams takes us back and forth in time to tell us the story of what really happened the night of the murder, and how it impacted everyone on the island.
The Summer Wives is one of Williams’ strongest novels to date, and the topic of "the haves versus the have nots" is a topical one today. Regular readers of Williams’ novels will recognize the Schuyler name, as many of her novels feature characters from that family.
Ann Mah takes her readers to the Burgundy winemaking region in France in her fantastic novel The Lost Vintage. Kate is studying to take a test to become a master of wine in San Francisco when she returns to her mother’s family vineyard in France to prepare for the test.
While there, Kate and her cousin’s wife are cleaning out a cellar and Kate finds a hidden room. There are hundreds of bottles of vintage wines in the room, where they were placed so that the Nazis wouldn’t find them during their occupation of France.
Kate also discovers that her mother had an aunt, Helene, who was accused of being a collaborator with the Nazis. Helene was shunned by the townspeople, and her family never spoke of her again.
When Kate finds Helene’s journal, she discovers the truth about Helene, which surprises everyone in the family.
The Lost Vintage is a dual timeline story, as we see Helene’s journal entries alongside Kate’s story. Frequently in dual storyline novels, one story is much stronger than the other. In this case, both stories are equally interesting.
Along with learning all about how to make wine, The Lost Vintage is great for foodies, as Mah shares the delicious meals the family eats, which will make your stomach growl. You can brush up on your French vocabulary as well as you traverse the Burgundy countryside.
In Laura Lippman’s Sunburn, we go to Belleville, a small beach town in Delaware. Polly shows up in Belleville after having abandoned her husband and small daughter after a day at a different beach.
Polly gets a job as a waitress at the High-Ho Tavern. She keeps to herself until the day that Adam shows up as the new cook. Adam is there to keep an eye on Polly for a client. But who is his client? Is it Polly’s abandoned husband?
Adam and Polly fall into a sexual relationship, one that Polly wants to keep secret from everyone in town. Soon Adam falls in love with Polly, and he is conflicted about his responsibility to his client.
We slowly learn that Polly is a complicated woman. She has a secret past, and as Adam falls deeper in love with her, Polly has to fight her feelings for Adam or risk her future.
You get a real feel for this small beach town that comes alive with tourists in the summer season in Sunburn. This book is a homage to the novels of James Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce), and if you like those noir novels, Sunburn is a must-read.