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Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

ana2This time last week I was catching up with childhood pal Scout Finch. This week, it’s Anne Shirley, star of L.M. Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables and its sequels. Only this Anne is 15 year-old Ana Cortez, an East L.A. orphan desperate to avoid being sent to yet another group home. Then her social worker offers her the chance to work on a farm run by a brother and sister.

Hmm. The similarities — and differences — between Montgomery’s book and Andi Teran’s first novel Ana of California (Penguin Books, digital galley) are both obvious and intentional. Teran takes Anne of Green Gables as her inspiration and runs with it, updating the familiar story and characters but also veering in different directions when it suits her. I’m not generally in favor of authors piggybacking on favorite tales and characters, unless they can offer an original take, as with Laurie R. King’s  Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series or Helen Fieldings’ Bridget Jones books. Teran’s Ana may be as talkative and imaginative as Anne, and she has that same ache to belong, but she also emerges as a unique heroine in her own right, a talented artist burdened by a traumatic childhood.

Plunked down on the Garber farm in the tiny town of Hadley in northern California, city girl Ana doesn’t know the differences between blackberry bushes and vegetable plants, herbs and weeds. But she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and she works hard, determined to prove herself to gruff Emmett Garber. His sister Abbie is more sympathetic but also demanding, and Ana’s quick tongue gets her into misunderstandings with some of the farm’s neighbors and customers. She does makes a friend of fellow outsider Rye Moon and also attracts the attention of a rich kid on a neighboring farm. Still, unaware of family secrets, she inadvertently stirs up trouble that could send her back to L.A.

References to drugs, gangs and pop culture keep the story contemporary, but vulnerable Ana’s struggle to find her place in the world is timeless. Ana Cortez and Anne Shirley are kindred spirits, and Ana of California is a pleasing coming-of-age YA crossover.

augustIt’s been ages since I read Elizabeth Antrim’s 1922 novel The Enchanted April and saw the 1991 gem of a movie, but I have fond memories of both. Antrim’s comedy of manners about four Londoners who share a chateau in Italy is witty and wise, and the Mike Newell film glows in a sun-drenched paradise. There’s also a warm glow to Brenda Bowen’s update, Enchanted August: A Novel (Penguin Publishing, digital galley), where a huge “cottage” on a small Maine island subs as the transformative getaway for four disaffected New Yorkers.

Bowen keeps the same characters and names for the most part, although elderly widow Mrs. Fisher has become elderly Beverly Fisher, a gay man mourning the loss of of his longtime partner, a famous songwriter, and his beloved cat Possum. But he’s just as outwardly surly and selfish as the original character — he keeps the only coffeepot for himself in the desirable turret room — and the pleasure at watching him thaw is the same. Lottie and Rose also charm as the aggrieved wives and mothers who blossom in the sun and salt air, and young indie actress Caroline also falls under the spell of Little Lost Island. Lottie unwinds enough to invite her uptight attorney husband and toddler son to visit, and Caroline is text-flirting with a best-selling author who longs to meet her in person. He writes under a pseudonym so Caroline has no idea he is actually Rose’s philandering husband. Even as Rose is contemplating asking him to join her on the island, the house’s tweedy owner arrives in hopes of wooing Rose. So, yes, it’s a Maine midsummer night’s dream, but it’s also a smoothly written beach book. I couldn’t stop smiling.

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monroeI think everyone and her sister wrote a beach book this summer. Here are four more for the Fourth.
The title characters in Mary Alice Monroe’s warm-hearted The Summer Girls (Gallery Books, digital galley) are three half-sisters named after their failed novelist father’s favorite Southern writers: Eudora, Carson and Harper. One’s in South Carolina, one in California, one in New York, but their paternal grandmother Marietta Muir asks them all to her 80th birthday weekend at the ancestral summer home on Sullivan’s Island, S.C. Once the three women, who spent time as girls together at Sea Breeze, return for an awkward reunion, Marietta springs her grand plan: Spend the summer with her and renew family ties. Dora, in the middle of a divorce and totally focused on her autistic son, declines, as does Harper, wrapped up in her NY job as her imperious mother’s assistant. But middle sister Carson, at loose ends after losing her TV production job, welcomes the invitation. She’s right at home swimming in the ocean and making friends with a wild dolphin and a good-looking marine researcher.
This is the first book in a trilogy, and once Monroe supplies the backstory, the focus is mostly on complicated Carson, who soon finds herself at a crossroads with her family and the future. Presumably, Dora and Harper will get their day in the sun in future books. A subplot focused on protecting dolphins from humans’ good intentions adds depth to the familiar story of sisters finding their way home.
sweetsaltA picturesque island off the coast of Maine provides the setting for Barbara Delinsky’s new novel of friendship and romance, Sweet Salt Air (St.Martin’s Press, paperback ARC). Philadelphia food blogger Nicole and successful travel writer Charlotte reunite on Quinnipeague Island 10 years after Nicole’s wedding to surgeon Julian. Now Nicole has a cookbook contract and wants Charlotte as a co-author. Turns out Julian’s at home coping with a secret diagnosis of MS. Turns out Charlotte has a secret that could help Julian but endanger her friendship with Nicole. Nicole unburdens herself to Charlotte, who in turn, confides in island bad boy Leo, who harbors a secret of his own.
Everyone wrestles with her/his emotions and desires while feasting on fried clams, fresh salad greens, herb bread, blueberry cobbler and other island delicacies. Yum. Appetizing and satisfying.
stargazeyBack to lowcountry South Carolina for barbecue and hushpuppies and Shelley Nobles’ Stargazey Point (Morrow, digital galley), a fictional coastal town between Georgetown and Myrtle Beach that’s still recovering from a long-ago hurricane and barely making it through the tourist season. Chicago documentary filmmaker Abbie Sinclair retreats to Stargazey to stay with a friend’s elderly relatives at their once-grand home and wins the three Crispin siblings’ hearts. But a local architect, who is restoring an old carousel, is suspicious of Abbie, sure she’s another real estate agent intent on wresting the Crispin homestead for development. Then Abbie’s work at the community center with neglected children and her help on an oral history project begin to change his mind.
It’s a sweetly predictable story, but too many stereotypes abound, including a badly behaved ex-girlfriend, an elderly Gullah woman dabbling in voodoo, and a faded belle throwing a hissy fit at the very idea of selling the family silver to pay back taxes.
100summersNostalgia drifts on the sea air in Beatriz Williams’ period beach book A Hundred Summers (Putnam, digital galley), set largely in the uppercrust Rhode Island community of Seaview in 1938, with flashbacks beginning in 1931. That’s when Whartonesque-named socialite Lily Dane fell hard for college football star Nick Greenwald, and he for her. Seven years later, though, single Lily is at Seaview with her kid sister, aunt and mother, while Nick is improbably married to Lily’s one-time best pal Budgie Byrne.
What star-crossing doomed Lily and Nick’s love? Lily reveals all — eventually — as her account of the past is juxtaposed with the dramatic events of 1938, including the great hurricane that struck New England. Expect storm-tossed seas and emotions.

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Sorry I’ve been away so long. The last week or so I’ve been happily hibernating from the heat, eating lemonade bars and getting lost in books.  I motored through Maine and then went south to Folly Beach. Destination reading, so to speak. (I also solved quite a few mysteries along the way, but that’s a future post).

J. Courtney Sullivan wrote about four women in 2009’s Commencement, rotating perspectives as a quartet of recent Smith College graduates told of their coming of age in the new millenium. In Maine, the four women who tell the story are all members of the Irish-Catholic Kelleher clan of Boston.

Matriarch Alice, 83, and her late husband Daniel built a cottage on the Maine coast where the family has summered for 60 years. All the generations once piled in together on top of one another, but since Daniel’s death a decade ago, the children have divided up the months they’ll spend with their mother. An elderly beauty with a critical tongue, Alice has increasingly turned to alcohol and the church to assauge the guilt she has carried for years.

Eldest daughter Kathleen, 58, is estranged from her difficult mother, having remade herself in her 40s after a painful divorce. She quit drinking and used the money her father left her to move to California with her laid-back boyfriend Arlo, with whom she runs a successful worm farm. She worries about her daughter Maggie, a 32-year-old free-lance writer living in New York who continues to make mistakes with men.

Sister-in-law Ann-Marie is closer than any of them to Alice, and when it appears that Maggie’s plans to spend June in Maine have been cut short, Ann-Marie efficiently rearranges her own life, including babysitting her young grandchildren, and ships her latest dollhouse project to the cottage. That Maggie, hiding a surprise pregnancy, is still in residence hardly disconcerts her. She’s obsessed with perfecting her miniature furnishings while harboring romantic notions about a neighbor.

Sullivan takes her time setting the bucolic scene, while family secrets, grudges and lies simmer in the background. But when all four women end up together, watch out for the fireworks.

Sullivan has a deft hand with memorable set pieces, from Alice’s searing memories to Ann-Marie’s inevitable meltdown. The Kellehers are a family in love with their own mythology, and mothers, daughters and daughter-in-law all confront the ways in which it has shaped their lives as women for better or worse.

At 400 pages, Maine is one of those summer books that you sink into for the duration and finish with a sigh of satisfaction. Dorothea Benton Frank’s Folly Beach is as frothy as its name, a happy holiday of a novel that may set you to humming “Summertime.”

Cate Cooper belts out the tune from the bathtub of the “Porgy House,” the tiny old cottage on Folly where playwrights Dorothy and Dubose Heyward lived in 1934 while collaborating with George Gershwin on what would become “Porgy and Bess.” Like other native Charlestonians, Cate knows it was adapted from Heyward’s play about the city’s Gullah culture, but now she’s more curious about the house’s former residents, leading players in the Charleston Renaissance of the 1920s.

Cate needs something to think about other than her present predicament. She’s gone from riches to rags practically overnight because of her scheming husband’s recent suicide. Rather than move in with her sister Patty, living nearby in New Jersey, Cate retreats to the safe haven of Folly, where her Aunt Daisy raised both girls with the help of her partner Etta. Daisy, whose health issues have increased with age, asks for Cate’s help with her rental house business and installs her in the Porgy House.

This is a familiar plot for Frank’s fans — a woman at mid-life finding herself at a crossroads and turning to her Lowcountry South Carolina roots. Cate is not exactly a merry widow, but she’s happy to be single again when a handsome history professor obligingly appears on the scene. John Risley encourages her research on the Heywards, especially Harvard-educated Dorothy, and Cate decides to wite a play about the playwright.

It’s Cate’s one-woman show about Dorothy that intersperses her own chatty narration and which separates the novel from Frank’s previous best-sellers. The play-within-the-book explores talented Dorothy’s life and her  devotion to her husband, with plenty of period touches and literary name-dropping to lend authenticity.

Cate’s story of family, love and pecan pie, on the other hand, is a Karo-syrupy fairy tale heavy on happy endings. Still, who doesn’t want dessert on vacation?  “Summertime.  . .”

Open Book: I read the digital galley of J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine (Knopf) via NetGalley, and a review copy of Dorothea Benton Frank’s Folly Beach (William Morrow). I first met Dottie about 10 years ago, and we keep in touch via e-mail, Facebook, mutual friends and her sister Lynn on Edisto Beach.

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