20 Books of Summer: Books 1-3

by Sunita

It’s almost July and I’ve only finished three of my 20 books. Ack! Oh well, better than zero I suppose. One was for the Romance TBR Challenge and two others were on my list.

A Month in the Country by JL Carr.

So many people have raved about this book, including Barb and Liz, that I was sure I’d love it, and when I found a gently used copy in my local used bookstore I snapped it up. It has sat on my shelf for quite a while, though, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to dive it. It is a short book, more of a novella, and it was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1980.

I don’t know why I expected this to be a relatively spare, unemotional book because it’s quite the opposite. The language is lush and the reader is immediately enmeshed in the atmosphere of a Yorkshire village just after WW1. The narrator, Tom Birkin, is a veteran who has come to this village to uncover a mural buried under coats of whitewash in a village church. He is separated from his wife, suffering the aftereffects of battle, and generally at a not-great place. As he works on the mural he slowly makes connections with villagers and with another veteran who is working there and comes to a more peaceful place. The novel has been described as elegant and poetic, and it is that.

It took me a while for the book to work its magic on me, perhaps because I was (for no good reason) expecting a different style. I didn’t warm immediately to Tom himself, but when he started to interact with the villagers and become part of the community, it came to life. There are some sad scenes and some quite funny scenes (e.g. when Tom substitutes for Mr. Ellerbeck at a church meeting). Overall, though, it felt like a book written in mid-century, not the late 1970s. Reading Carr’s biography it is clear he was an unusual person, so that might account for the tone. Anyway, it was excellent, even if I appreciated it more than was captivated by it. I imagine if I read it a second time I will start raving about it too, though.

One Summer in Paris by Sarah Morgan

This is Morgan’s latest release in her series of women’s fiction novels (I mean series as in genre; this is a standalone story). I know that a lot of romance friends have been disappointed that Morgan isn’t writing genre romance anymore, and all of her WF books haven’t worked for me, but I liked this one a lot. It is the least romance-y of them all in some ways, although it does have a sweet romance between a college-aged couple.

Grace Porter, wife and mother in suburban Connecticut, is preparing to send her beloved daughter off to college and also celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband David by spending a month is Paris. But David wants a divorce, not a romantic vacation, and Grace is devastated. When he asks for the vacation to share with his 20-something girlfriend, Grace rebels and goes to Paris by herself. There she meets Audrey, an 18-year-old who is escaping her own fraught family life. Grace and Audrey are very different and nearly three decades apart in age, but they find that they have complementary strengths and weaknesses and form a strong bond. Meanwhile, Grace’s daughter tours Europe with a friend, David contemplates what he’s done, and Grace’s grandmother Mimi, who left Paris for the USA in the mid-20thC, keeps an eye on everyone from her senior living facility back in Connecticut.

It’s clear from the reviews on Goodreads that a lot of readers absolutely hated the ending, and I can understand that. I thought it made a lot of sense for the characters, and while I found the ending to be too neat in the way it tied up every single loose thread, I also think that this is one of Morgan’s most balanced WF novels. There is the middle-aged woman who finds herself and sorts out her life in a relatively believable way (teenage love Philippe notwithstanding), so you can see where she’s going to be for her next couple of decades. There is a very nice teenage romance which unfolds in a way that seems realistic to this Old Person who spends a lot of time around college kids. I’ve always found Morgan’s young characters to be well drawn and realistic, and I liked Audrey a lot. There are the traumatic family backstories which shape Grace and Audrey’s characters, which are also a Morgan hallmark. I could use less of this (non-traumatic pasts create similar personalities, in my experience), but I take it as a common and almost expected device in fiction. So overall, I really enjoyed this one and it left me thinking about the characters after I finished reading. The Paris setting is wonderful too.

My third book was Lady Polly by Nicola Cornick, an older Harlequin Historical that is very much in the tradition of the late, lamented Signet Regency line. I liked it a lot, mostly but not entirely for the hero and the setting. If you like the old Signet trads, give Cornick’s early HHs a try.

I read this romance for SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge and reviewed it here.