Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Thursday, August 9, 2012

On the Bookshelf—Two Summer Reads

Here are two books I've read recently, a new release and a classic, both perfectly suited for summer enjoyment.

Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand. This didn't seem like my type of book, but when we got an ARC at work I cracked it open. It was worth it.

Disaster hits Nantucket on graduation night when four high schoolers get in a car accident. One is killed, another in a coma, and the two others, along with their families and the rest of the Nantucket community, must deal with the aftermath.

Demeter was one of the survivors of the car crash. That night she had told Penny a secret that sent Penny into the rage that crashed the car and killed her. Demeter holds the secret close and spends the summer succumbing to alcoholism.

Jake was one of the survivors, as well. He was Penny's boyfriend, and just as he has to deal with his girlfriend's death his dad whisks him to Australia under the pretense of helping Jake deal. But maybe it's a last-ditch effort for Jake's father, Jordan, to save his own marriage to an unhappy Australian woman.

Or maybe Jordan is running away from Penny's mother. The mother who has to deal with one child dead and one in a coma, the woman Jordan has been having an affair with.

This captivating page-turner weaves together the stories and perspectives of multiple people in the Nantucket community as they deal with tragedy, try to figure out why Penny crashed the car, and eventually come to terms with their new lives.

Before Lunch by Angela Thirkell. Angela Thirkell began writing in the 1920s, and while she has been likened to Jane Austen and Agatha Christie, she is somewhat obscure and her books can be hard to get ahold of. But get ahold of one you should!

Before Lunch opens with Mr. Middleton, an eccentric and endearingly unaware sort (not unlike Mr. Woodhouse) who knows nothing more satisfying than a farm cart pulled by "a benevolent monster with long hairy trousers and a shining coat," a farm cart "emblazoned with one's own name." Mr. Middleton soon learns that the Stonors, his sister and her two grown-up step-children, are coming to stay for the summer. "All he knew about the young Stonors was that the son was delicate and the daughter, as he shudderingly remembered her, not delicate at all, and at the moment both states of health seemed to him equally repulsive."

The arrival of the Stonors—the robust and brash Daphne, the sickly composer Denis—ushers in a summer of dinner parties and town meetings, a host of quirky characters, falling in love, and inadvisable engagements. One of the things that makes this novel really good is not that it has a happily-ever-after everyone-hooks-up-with-the-right-person sort of ending, but because it contains both expected lightheartedness and unexpected melancholy, to produce an amusing and pleasant, yet bittersweet, story.

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