Physician Bess Codman has returned to her family’s Nantucket compound, Cliff House, for the first time in four years. Her great-grandparents built Cliff House almost a century before, but due to erosion, the once-grand home will soon fall into the sea. Though she’s purposefully avoided the island, Bess must now pack up the house and deal with her mother, a notorious town rabble-rouser, who refuses to leave.
The Book of Summer unravels the power and secrets of Cliff House as told through the voices of Ruby Packard, a bright-eyed and idealistic newlywed on the eve of WWII, the home’s definitive guestbook, and Bess herself. Bess’s grandmother always said it was a house of women, and by the very last day of the very last summer at Cliff House, Bess will understand the truth of her grandmother’s words in ways she never contemplated.
The Book of Summer by Michelle Gable explores friendships, relationships, and one family’s connection to Nantucket’s Cliff House – and its secrets.
Bess Codman has just split from her husband and she has come home to move her mother Cissy out of Cliff House, which is now on the edge of its land and will soon collapse into the sea. Bess’ mother is stubborn and difficult, and the two women spend a lot of time together over the course of the novel.
Cissy and Bess are very different characters. Bess is reasonable, relatable, and level-headed. Cissy is a bull in a china shop and a dominant personality within the town. She wants to keep Cliff House and she has no problem fighting for it.
“Beth is pissed off. She can’t even track down the woman, as Cissy is about as reliable with her phone as Palmer Bradlee. Bells calls her mother repeatedly, but the kitchen counter never picks up.”
Their relationship is not perfect, and they both grow over the course of the novel and they learn to listen to each other.
Nantucket is a really lovely setting for the book; it feels enclosed and homely, but it doesn’t feel claustrophobic.
The book alternates between past and present, and we come to meet the people who have lived in Cliff House around the time of WWII. The dual storylines help drive the book and really drew me into the separate plots. I was definitely more interested in the past than the present, as truthfully, I found Cissy a little insufferable and I found the budding romance between Bess and her ex-boyfriend quite predictable.
“Evan’s voice has always been so persuasive. Deep, powerful, as if coming from his lungs, or his heart. And those earnest brown eyes, like precious heirlooms she left behind. Bless it, Bess is falling for his old schtick.”
The Book of Summer is dialogue-driven and quite slow-paced. I have to admit I didn’t fall in love with many of the characters, but I did like reading about newlywed Ruby’s story from the time of WWII. At times she came across as naive and gullible, but she also had heart and drive. I also loved Ruby’s friend Hattie Rutter, who is bright, wild, fun and a total spark. She’s a modern woman who has no interest in settling down.
All of the characters are flawed, which does make them more relatable. At times, their thoughts and actions are questionable, and you have to remind yourself that WWII was a very different time and certain actions were not considered acceptable back then.
“The photographs were, no surprise, exactly where she’d left them. Ruby removed the stack and flicked past the ones of Hattie, two of Mother unawares, and on down the the bottom of the pile. And there they were, same as before. All those pretty boys.”
I’d recommend this to readers who love historical fiction, but also small-town settings and stories from the war.
Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
The Book of Summer
Pan Macmillan Publishers