By Ekta R. Garg
October 19, 2012
Rated: Borrow it
A young woman receives a mysterious gift: her mother, who separated from her father several years earlier, has sent her a scrapbook from Hungary. The woman is discomfited; she stopped speaking to her mother years earlier during her annual summer vacation after a revelation that shook her sense of self, and this unexpected package dredges up memories she has worked to keep hidden. With the arrival of the scrapbook, however, her mother inadvertently forces her to relive her past. Author Emylia Hall offers readers this premise in her debut novel The Book of Summers from Mira publishing, a Harlequin imprint.
Beth Lowe enjoys her work in a London art gallery, seeing it as an extension of her well-ordered life. She has strived to keep everything in her life simple, minus any complications or unanticipated events. Until her father calls from his home in the suburbs and asks whether he can visit.
Beth knows in her heart of hearts that her father doesn’t do this; in their family they don’t just pop in for a visit. Visits come after days of planning and meticulous calculations. In her family, Beth says as she narrates the story in first person, they don’t “seize the day.” And when her father appears, he confirms her worst fears: he hasn’t come for a casual visit. A package arrived at his home, he tells Beth. From her mother. And he has brought it with him so she can open it.
Her father’s arrival and announcement shock Beth, so much so that she asks him to go back home. He does, leaving the package in Beth’s hands, and when she musters the courage to open it she finds a scrapbook called “The Book of Summers” made by her mother, Marika. Marika, it seems, has carefully collected photos and mementos of Beth’s summer vacations in Hungary. Despite her initial reluctance, Beth opens the scrapbook and begins to relive her past.
Beth had always known from a young age that her parents were polar opposites, but this realization comes to the fore when turns nine and the family takes a summer vacation to Marika’s native Hungary. During that trip Marika decides she misses Hungary too much and cannot return to England with Beth and her father. Heavy hearted, father and daughter go back home and try to redefine their family. But Beth deeply misses Marika, and when her father sees this he buys her a ticket to Hungary the following summer for a week-long vacation. That vacation becomes the first in a string of seven summers Beth spends in Hungary.
By the time she turns 16 Beth decides she misses Marika too much; before her summer vacation that year she decides she will ask Marika if she can move to Hungary too. In addition to Marika and her charming live-in boyfriend, Zoltan, Beth wants to stay with Tamas, the boy she met on her very first summer vacation in Hungary and with whom she has now become romantically involved. But that summer of her sixteenth birthday turns out as anything but ideal, and when Beth receives the shock of her life she leaves Hungary immediately with a resolution never to return.
As Beth leafs through “The Book of Summers” that Marika has created for her, though, she realizes Marika has forced her to return to Hungary in her memories at least.
Author Hall’s novel includes some lovely prose; her British upbringing insures that, although the first several pages of the book feel a little rough. It takes some time for Hall to settle into the rhythm of her story, but once she does some parts will make readers nod in appreciation.
Owing to her own summer vacations spent in Hungary, Hall does complete justice to the country in her descriptions. Her narrative about the food and the landscape provide an easy transport for readers to that part of Eastern Europe. If they’re looking for colorful turns of phrase, readers will not feel disappointed.
The weaknesses in the plot come in the descriptions of the summer vacations, however. Beth has spent seven summers in Hungary, and Hall describes each trip. By the end of the third trip, readers might experience some fatigue. Hall is obviously building toward something; it’s just a matter of finding out what. But readers will need to sit tight through four more summers to get there, no small task.
Hall handles the climax without conviction. The reason for Beth’s impulsive decision to leave might make readers scratch their heads; yes, it’s a shocking piece of news, but one can see almost instantly the redeeming qualities of it. A less stable protagonist might have had more cause to react the way Beth does; as it is, Hall provides Beth with a life that has a fair amount of steadiness. She gets along well with her father, does well in school, doesn’t really get into any trouble—Hall provides no outside parameters to incite Beth’s reaction, other than what she finds out during her last summer vacation.
Owing to its publisher, The Book of Summers might appeal to fans of romance and has garnered positive reviews as such. In terms of its construction, however, it could have done with stronger inciting incidents and a better-built climax. But the Hungarian countryside definitely sounds lovely, and readers might want to read The Book of Summers for that alone.
What the ratings mean:
Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection. It’s definitely worth it!
Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.
Bypass it–Free time is precious. Don’t spend it on this book!