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Monday, July 8, 2024

Beat the heat with two great reads

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

Summer is in full swing and this month’s Book Report has two books to beat the heat.

We last heard from Jane L. Rosen with her wonderful novel On Fire Island, which made my list of the Most Compelling Books of 2023. In it, we met young widower Ben grieving the tragic loss of his wife. His older neighbor Shep, a widower himself, helps Ben navigate his new life, and Ben in turn takes a teen neighbor under his wing. (She is one of my all-time favorite characters.)

Rosen returns to the same Fire Island community with Seven Summer Weekends. Addison is poised to become the first female head of the art department at a prestigious Manhattan advertising agency when she accidentally sends a message to everyone in a Zoom that ends her career. 

When an aunt that Addison hasn’t seen in years passes away, she leaves Addison her Fire Island home. Addison goes to Fire Island to regroup, and plans to sell the house to tide her over until she can find a new job.

There’s one catch though- the guest house on the property is booked throughout the summer so Addison can’t sell the home until the fall. And the hot neighbor guy tells Addison that her aunt promised him that he could buy the house for a very reasonable price.

It turns out the neighbor is Ben, the young widower from On Fire Island. Ben and Addison have a push-pull relationship- one moment Addison is very attracted to him, the next he does something that makes her rethink her friendship with him.

Addison discovers that each of the weekly guests have a connection to her aunt, and through them she learns more about the aunt she never knew due to a family feud between her parents and her aunt. As the summer goes on, Addison becomes more involved in the Fire Island community and questions her future- should she stay or sell?

I loved Seven Summer Weekends just as much as On Fire Island, and that is a lot. The characters are interesting (Shep makes an appearance!), and Rosen’s writing is filled humor, heart, and even some steamy heat. I'd like to take the ferry to Fire Island and hang out with Addison, Ben, and the gang. I give it my highest recommendation. 

Francis S. Barry decided to buy a Winnebago during the pandemic and take off with his wife Laurel to follow the Lincoln Highway from New York City to San Francisco. He recounts their adventures in Back Roads and Better Angels- A Journey Into The Heart Of American Democracy. 

Barry, a writer for Bloomberg News, previously served in Michael Bloomberg’s administration as chief speechwriter when Bloomberg was mayor of New York City.  Dismayed by the rancor and political division he sees today in this country, he wanted to discover what people really thought about what was happening.

The fact that neither Barry nor his wife had ever driven a Winnebago didn’t damper their enthusiasm, and they had their fair share of mishaps (including a toilet pedal that continuously malfunctioned).

As they travel the country, they camp in KOAs and Walmart parking lots and meet up with people they know and those they don’t know. They stop at historic sites and find more places named Lincoln than you might think could possibly exist.

One learns a great deal about history that you’d never find in history books, particularly with regards to Native American people. Some of it is incredibly disturbing, and made me gasp at the callous inhumanity people inflicted on each other.

Barry ties the Lincoln Highway sites, as well as the state of the country today, to events and words spoken by Abraham Lincoln himself. He clearly studied our 16th President and gives him his due, showing Lincoln as the politician, man, and leader he truly was.

The one question Barry asks each person he meets is “What binds us together as Americans?”. The answers given are often profound, thought-provoking, and shine a light on where we are today as well as where we'd like to be.

Barry meets a politician in Nebraska who explains how the state legislature has the reputation as “one of the most civil and cooperative in the nation” because political parties are less relevant there. People work together in common cause to make government work better for all. Perhaps that is the most important export Nebraska has to share with the rest of the country.

Anyone who likes to read road trip stories and has an interest in history and Abraham Lincoln will get great pleasure and learn much from Back Roads and Better Angels. It is essential reading for all citizens, I give it my highest recommendation.

Seven Summer Weekends by Jane L. Rosen- A+

Published by Berkley

Trade paperback, $19, 302 pages

Back Roads and Better Angels by Francis S. Barry- A+

Published by SteerForth Press

Hardcover, $35, 552 pages