Summery Reads from Holly Hopkins, Sarah McCoy, Phil Stamper and Edith Wharton

Every season, I try to choose a few books that feel appropriate for their settings or titles. A few of these I’ve already mentioned briefly, as part of my heat wave reading suggestions. Much as I love autumn, the end of summer tends to coincide with gloomy musings for me. However, it’s farewell to August with four reasonably cheerful books: a poetry collection about England then and now, city and country; an escapist novel set on the Caribbean island of Mustique in the 1970s; the story of four gay friends going their separate ways for a high school summer of adventure; and a less-tragic-than-expected American classic.

The English Summer by Holly Hopkins (2022)

Colour, geology and history are major sources of imagery in this debut full-length collection. Churches and cemeteries, museums and manor houses, versus hospitals and rental flats: this is the stuff of a country that has swapped its illustrious past for the dismal reality of the everyday. The collection closes with “England, Where Did You Go?” which ends, “should I get out in search of you, … / I’d be left wandering down dual carriageways, / looking across bean fields and filthy ditches.” Hopkins imagines a government that decides to address climate change by assigning weekly community service hours – nearly twice as many for women, who always bear the greater burden for domestic work.

It’s mostly alliteration, repetition, and internal or slant rhymes here. I particularly liked the pair “Rows of Differently Coloured Houses,” which contrasts bright seaside facades with the “Lakes of postwar pebbledash / grey on grey on grey on grey” seen from a Megabus, and “Stratigraphy,” about the archaeologist’s work. Not many standouts otherwise, but it was still worth a try. (New purchase – the publisher, Penned in the Margins, lured me with a sale)

Mustique Island by Sarah McCoy (2022)

Mustique is a private island in the St. Vincent archipelago that became a playground of the rich and famous in the 1970s, with Princess Margaret and Mick Jagger regular visitors. In McCoy’s novel – inspired by real events and people, and featuring cameos from the aforementioned celebrities as well as the island’s owners at the time, the baron Colin Tennant and his wife, Lady Anne Glenconner (who, I was amused to spot at the library the other day, has written her own fictional tribute to the island, Murder on Mustique) – Willy May, a Texan with a small fortune at her disposal thanks to her divorce from an English brewing magnate, sails in on a private boat and decides to build her own villa on Mustique. She’s uncomfortable with the way locals, who only have service jobs, are sometimes paraded out for colonial displays of pomp. Her two young adult daughters, Hilly and Joanne, later join her. The one has been a model in Paris, where she became addicted to amphetamines.

Love is on the cards for all three main female characters, but there’s heartache along the way as well. Closer to women’s fiction than I generally choose, this was a frothy indulgence that was fun to read but could be shorter and needn’t have tried so hard to make serious points about motherhood and to evoke the time period, e.g., with a list of what’s on the radio. I have also reviewed McCoy’s Marilla of Green Gables. (Offered by publicist via NetGalley)

Golden Boys by Phil Stamper (2022)

Four gay high schoolers in small-town Ohio look forward to a summer of separate travels for jobs and internships and hope their friendships will stay the course. We have Gabriel, a nature lover off to volunteer for a Boston save-the-trees non-profit; Sal, his friend with benefits, who dreams of bypassing college for a career in politics so interns at his local senator’s office in Washington, DC; Reese, headed to Paris for a fashion design course; and Heath, escaping his parents’ divorce and moving chaos to stay with an aunt and cousin in Florida and work at their beach café. With alternating first-person passages from all four characters, plus transcriptions of their conversation threads, this moves quickly.

Reese has been secretly infatuated with Heath for ages, but three of the four will consider new dating opportunities this summer (the fourth just becomes a workaholic). Secondary characters are pansexual and nonbinary – it’s a whole new world from when I was in high school! Initially, I found the inner monologues too one-note, but I think Stamper’s aim was to recreate the teenage struggle for self-confidence and individuality and has captured that life stage’s inherent anxiety. I also would have trimmed the preparatory stuff; nearly 100 pages before the first of them leaves Ohio is a bit much. This YA novel was a sweet, fun page turner and the perfect replacement to the Heartstopper series as my summer crush. However, I don’t think I was taken enough with the characters to read next year’s projected sequel. (Public library)

 

Summer by Edith Wharton (1917)

Charity Royall was born into poverty but brought down the mountain and adopted by a kindly couple into respectable North Dormer society. Mrs. Royall has died before the action starts, but as a young woman Charity still lives with Lawyer Royall, her guardian, and works at the library. When a stranger, Mr. Harney, arrives in their New England town to survey the local architecture, it’s clear right away that he’ll be a romantic prospect for her. “She had always thought of love as something confused and furtive, and he made it as bright and open as the summer air.” However, shame over her lowly origins – she is so snobbish every time she comes into contact with someone from the mountain – continues to plague her.

Although Harney returns her affections and they set up a little love nest in an abandoned house in the woods, uncertainty lingers as to whether he’ll consider marriage to Charity beneath him. This skirts Tess of the d’Urbervilles territory but doesn’t turn nearly as tragic as Ethan Frome (apparently, Wharton called this a favourite among her works, and referred to it as “the Hot Ethan”). Charity isn’t as vain as another Hardy heroine, Bathsheba Everdene; she’s an endearing blend of innocent and worldly, and her realistic reaction to what fate seems to decree feels like about the best one can expect for her time. Melodrama aside, I truly enjoyed the descriptions of a quintessential American summer with picnics and Fourth of July fireworks. Ethan fan or not, you should definitely read this one. (University library)

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18 responses

  1. I’d really like to read the Wharton!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wonder why it isn’t better known from her oeuvre. I preferred it to her society novels.

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  2. I got turned down for Golden Boys on NetGalley so need to look out for it still! I like autumn: a time of change and renewal (thanks to so much time spent around academia and at a library supplier where we did all the journal renewals in the autumn) and this year have a project to move husband’s office upstairs and reclaim the ground floor of the house …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve always liked autumn for back-to-school and my birthday, as well as general cosiness. If we can be bothered, there would be plenty of DIY projects to see us through the season!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I only learned of the existence of Mustique through watching The Crown on Netflix. Not sold on this book, though we do have the Glenconner mystery at my library and I’ve been tempted by it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had never heard of Mustique before the publicist e-mailed me about this book. I wonder what Glenconner’s writing would be like! From the library shelves I know Sarah Ferguson has also written novels.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hmm, I thought I had read Summer, but this doesn’t sound at all familiar. I’ll have to put it on my list. Disappointing about the Mustique novels, which sound like fun, but chick lit is not my thing, either.

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    1. I wonder if you’d like Anne Glenconner’s book — I know you’re a big mystery reader.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. To understand Mustique you must understand Lord Glenconner–Nicholas Courtney’s book is one good source, here is a link to my post on Lady Glenconner’s autobiography. https://hopewellslibraryoflife.wordpress.com/2020/04/27/review-lady-in-wating-my-extraordinary-life-in-the-shadow-of-the-crown-by-anne-glenconner/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the Glenconners play a major role in the novel as well.

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  6. Ah, Golden Boys sounds fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it was! I liked your description of the YA that works for you these days. I wonder how you’d find this in comparison to Heartstopper.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I thought the Holly Hopkins had my name on it, but you seem underwhelmed. Maybe go straight for the Wharton, whose work is something I need to read more of.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Poetry is so subjective, it’s often hard to say what works for one person and not another. You can download a sample of the collection here to see how you like her style: https://www.pennedinthemargins.co.uk/index.php/2022/06/the-english-summer/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks. I’ll take a look later.

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  8. I’m glad you liked Summer, a favourite of mine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s not quite at the level of Ethan Frome, but definitely deserves to be read and better known!

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