In an attempt to hold onto summer for as long as possible, I’ve been walking along the waterfront recently. While none of these parks are close enough for my daily constitutional, they are more scenic options when I want to add a few extra steps to my exercise routine or work off some calories from the fall baking. Plus a change of scenery is always good, never more so this pandemic year.
Our first park was designated in honor of Canada’s centennial year, 1967, and occupies prime real estate along the bay – a handy venue for all those nearby condo owners.
Strangely, on this beautiful late Friday afternoon there are few people around.
Just a few seagulls preening for a photo-op. The flower beds in the park grounds have been sadly neglected this year due to the cancellation of most maintenance services, but the urns are still pretty.
This Diva let me get real close…
until she got annoyed (see Wordless Wednesday) and flew away.
There’s a fountain where you can stand in the mist and get cooled off.
And a cute garden bench/sculpture for the little ones.
If you follow the long boardwalk all the way around, there’s a boat ramp and a small marina on the other side of the bay, with an over-priced outdoor restaurant where I had one of the worst meals ever and never went back, despite the scenic view.
There’s a tour boat which offers lunch and sunset cruises up and down the river, although not this year.
Let’s hop over to the Beach Park now. While it may be unusual to have a beachfront park in the middle of a city, a few forward-thinking city founders, aided by a very generous donation from a rich benefactor back in the Great Depression, ensured that beach access would be available to all, not just those lucky enough to own a house with their own private beach. Of course at the time of the purchase, the park was at the edge of city development. In addition to the 3000 foot stretch of sandy beach, there’s a hundred acres of trees with walking trails, a children’s animal park and a small inland pond perfect for winter hockey. (We may return here later this fall for a leaf-peeping tour.)
This is a picture of the beach in the 1950’s before the parking lot was paved. Sadly there has been so much erosion from high lake levels in the past few years, they may have to un-pave the parking lot to salvage some of the sand.
I was upset to see that half of my favorite birch tree had collapsed onto the ground, it’s roots uplifted by the pounding waves.
There’s so little beach left at this end of the park that they’ve installed a new row of arbor stone to try and prevent any further erosion.
The groynes are all under water now, but the sailboats were out, and so were the kayaks.
In my younger years, many a summer weekend would be spent under a beach umbrella with a book and a cooler of snacks and beverages.
Let’s go further up the lake to a place I blogged about a few weeks ago in On The Waterfront. While the dance pavilion may be long gone, you can sit in the gazebo or on a park bench and admire the view.
We picnicked in this park every summer Sunday when I was a kid, but the beach is washed away now and the waterfront shored up by expensive arbor rock.
The road in front of it is so narrow, that I wonder how long it will be before it’s closed and people won’t have access to their property. The waves were so wild during the winter storms last year they were lapping at the porch of my favorite house.
Switching venues now to the park where the river meets the lake.
The darker blue water denotes the deeper shipping channel used by the Lakers – the big freight boats.
This area is lined with park benches where you can watch boats heading out into the lake. It’s always a popular spot because of the refreshing lake breezes even on the hottest summer day, plus the chip trucks and ice cream parlors nearby.
Let’s follow these tubers downriver to the marina. (Note: tubing is a dangerous sport due to the swift current here but people do it anyway.)
This larger marina has berths for sailboats during the season. If I was ever fortunate enough to own a waterfront condo I wouldn’t want one with three floors though, even if I could tie my boat up out front.
I wonder if the condo owners ever worry about the high water levels, which is even more of a problem downriver. So let’s visit our last park downriver – unfortunately it was an overcast day.
There are small strips of parkland here and there along the river road, with lots of ancient willow trees lining the banks.
In some places the water level is so high the grass around the tree trunks is swampy, and it’s only a matter of time until they are washed away too. Many of the docks are almost level with the water now, surely a worry for the homeowners.
My mother enjoys going for a Sunday drive along the river and looking at all the big houses, but we hardly ever see anyone sitting outside. I wonder if people who have waterfront property really appreciate it?
I’ve always felt a sense of calm being by the water, probably the legacy of two sets of water-dwelling ancestors. I could sit for hours with a coffee and just enjoy the view. Unfortunately the only park close enough for me to visit on a regular basis, is overrun by a gazillion Canadian geese, year round. The constant aggravation of having to watch where you step and/or clean your shoes is not worth the trip, although I did visit last March to take a picture of the two resident mute swans. They need to relocate some of the population and train the rest of them to migrate south like good little geese should.
I hope you have enjoyed this waterfront tour as we say goodbye to summer for another year.
Last fall I attended a museum exhibit called On The Waterfront, where they displayed a number of old photos and postcards of the waterfront from days gone by. I thought I might share a few of these, for those interested in history and vintage memorabilia.
In this postcard, we see swimmers enjoying the beach in Grand Bend in the 1920’s. One hundred years later, it remains a popular beach resort, but my how bathing suits have changed, although these may have seemed daring in the flapper era.
Imagine paying five cents for a dance – if you ran out of money, you were done for the night and maybe went for a moonlight stroll instead!
Many of the waterfront amusements then involved dance halls or pavilions which attracted people for the nighttime entertainment, as much as the beaches did during the day.
My great-grandmother lived across the river from this resort and dance pavilion. One of my father’s earliest memories was of hearing the music floating across the water while being babysat – with the probability of a cookie and a reassurance that his parents were not too far away. Built in the the early 19th century, it hosted parties coming down river on steamships to attend the dances and stay at the hotels and cottages. Long torn down, it is now the site of a private clubhouse with a beautiful wood floor which would make a perfect dance floor.
Before there were bridges and motorcars, you, and your horse and carriage, could also hop on the ferry to get to the party.
Fast forward to the Big Band era…
When my parents were dating in the late 1940’s, they attended the Big Band dances at this venue on the shores of Lake Huron. Opened in 1946, it had an outdoor dance floor, as dancing under the stars was very popular back then. It attracted big name bands such as Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, Louis Armstrong, and Glen Miller who played to crowds of up to 3,000 on weekends. My mother recalls going for a hamburger and a Coke at a nearby diner after the dance – hamburgers were 25 cents, a sum they could barely afford.
Moonlight Serenade – by Glen Miller and his Orchestra
By the 1950’s as musical tastes shifted, it attracted the likes of rock and roll’s Bill Haley and the popular crooner Pat Boone. I’m certain my parents did not attend this crowded Pat Boone concert, as I was born a few days later.
By the 1960’s when we used to picnic in the park there on summer Sundays, there was nothing left of it but some broken cement from the dance floor and a few crumbling walls. Now, it’s a tennis court, with a historical plaque marking the site, although a few years ago they held The Simply White Dinner (link) there, and dancing under the stars resumed for one enchanted evening.
When we see pictures of young people congregating on the beach this summer, partying and having fun in the midst of a pandemic, it seems crazy, but youth is ever optimistic. Although, looking back at these old photos, it does seem a much more romantic time. Perhaps music and moonlight never go out of date.
August has always been the most depressing of months to me. Summer is already half over and the threat of cold weather looms in the distance, heralded by chirping crickets, cooler nights, and heavy morning dew. Those hours of evening lightness are no more – it’s dark at 8 pm, a warning of much worse to come. A bit melodramatic maybe, but hey, it’s Canada, we live for summer here.
It starts with the clouds. You may wake up to a flawless blue sky, but soon those big puffy August clouds come rolling in, spoiling a perfectly nice beach day.
Oh, they’re pretty in a way – it’s best to look at things from Both Sides Now. (Musical interlude – Joni Mitchell wrote this song on an airplane looking down at the clouds, although it was first made famous by Judy Collins. I find the lyrics gloomy, but then it’s become such a strange world, I really don’t know life at all….)
Then you start to see the odd tree branch dipped in paint. There’s a big maple tree on the main street which always starts to turn in early August.
Then there are the back to school ads, a perfect dilemma this pandemic year, although some kids may be looking be looking forward to returning and seeing their friends. Classes don’t resume here until Sept 8 after the Labor Day holiday weekend.
While the stores may beckon with fall clothes, I really can’t justify shopping for anything but essentials when there’s nowhere to wear it, but just being in a store for some hands-off browsing cheered me up immensely.
It hasn’t been the best of summers, with my health issues in May/June (my favorite time of year), the hot humid weather, July’s multiple catch-up appointments and the isolating pandemic solitude. The normal distractions which might bring joy – street festivals, summer theatre, concerts – have all been cancelled.
Plus, August is my birthday month, which is depressing enough, as I’m wondering how I ever got to be that age?
Yes, that age. (BTW, Paul McCartney wrote that song when he was just 16, but it was not recorded until the 1966 Sgt. Pepper’s album, the year his father turned 64. The lyrics reflect his view of old age – gardening, grandchildren, an annual vacation on the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear….but even that is out this year.)
I remember my father when he turned 65, saying he wished he was 16 again and looking at him and thinking, you’ve got to be kidding, they’re paying you to stay home! Yes, it’s nice to be retired and collecting the old age pension but it also means you’re old! While I wouldn’t want to be 16 again (too much angst), my stress-filled 30’s are looking pretty good, and someday I may look back and wish to be my current age. I know I should be grateful to be still alive, relatively healthy and COVID-free, when so many are not. (End of whining).
Although it may feel like summer has slipped away without much in the way of enjoyment, there are still a few weeks to relish the rest of the season. Here are a few things to love about this time of year.
A trip to the Farmer’s Market is always fruitful….
Plums, peaches and nectarines.
The glads for sale are a riot of color but the pinks are still my favorite.
It’s melon season.
And tomato season.
And cherry pie season.
And let’s not forget corn on the cob, slathered with butter for those lucky folks who can eat it.
The new ice cream place is doing a booming business, although they don’t have gelato. Does anyone really need all those weird exotic flavors when chocolate reigns supreme?
Note these are mostly food related, but it’s mostly healthy food and food can be enormously cheering! You can walk off the ice cream and cherry pie with a stroll On The Waterfront. (see future blog)
and watch the boats go by.
Having the beach to yourself on an August day can be a reflective type of solitude,
with only the annoying screech of seagulls to interrupt your thoughts.
You can go beach-combing and gather enough shells,
to make a souvenir of summer!
PS. WordPress congratulations me on my third anniversary of blogging (once a week, Wed/Thursdays, 154 posts, 84 new followers give or take a few persistent vitamin sales people). This was posted in the classic editor but I’m wondering why the photo captions are no longer centered? And why I can’t shrink photos? And where is the word count so I don’t ramble on? I couldn’t post video either? It seems like some of the basic functions are gone. Onward and upward to the dreaded block editor, eventually, but for now I’m enjoying these last days of summer.
Wordless Wednesday – let your (photo)s tell your story. Summer storm over the lake.
(Photos not mine – they belong to a friend who rented a cottage, but are too good not to share.)
There’s nothing as delightful as a summer breeze. It’s especially welcome after a long hot and humid spell, when the wind suddenly swings to the north dropping the temperature by over ten degrees.
My childhood bedroom faced south and I have memories of waking up on a June morning to a cool breeze, blowing the white curtains into the room like billowing ghosts. I still like the sight of gauzy curtains dancing in an open window.
Yes, back in the days before A/C, we used to sleep with the windows open all summer. The upstairs bedrooms in our old farmhouse would get pretty hot in the dog days of August, but I don’t remember it being brutally hot all summer like it is now. I put the A/C on the third week of May, and except for a few cooler days in June when I could open the windows and air out the house, it will stay on until late September.
On July 1, Canada Day, what’s more symbolic of patriotism than a flag snapping in the wind, beside a maple tree.
The sight of sheets flapping in the breeze is a lovely thing, with the added bonus of that wonderful fresh-air sun-drenched smell when you drift off to sleep.
While I may get refreshing north breezes on my back deck, I have to move under the shade trees if the winds are from the south – a perfect spot for dining alfresco. (table photo from Pinterest but see The Corona Diaries next week for my latest scavenger find)
Add in some poetry:
And some music: (The lyrics of this oldie but goodie paint a perfect picture – “Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom. July is dressed up and playing her tune”)
And you have the ingredients for a perfect summer day. As Henry James proclaimed, “Summer afternoon, summer afternoon, to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
A swing or hammock gently swaying in the breeze can lull you to sleep while you’re reading.
A cool breeze on a hot day at the beach makes for awesome waves.
And what’s a sail without a good stiff south wind.
I was surprised they held the annual sailboat race this year, although there weren’t as many entries. The music and food festivals were all cancelled, but spectators could still line the shore and watch the parade of boats go by.
Finally, there’s nothing like sitting on the deck with a cold one when the heat of the day is over and an evening breeze descends to cool everything off.
Wherever you are, may the rest of your summer be a breeze!
Lyrics: “Summer Breeze” 1972 Seals and Croft
In the evening on a Friday night
A little light a-shinin’ through the window
Lets me know everything’s all right
Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowin’ though the jasmine in my mind
See the paper layin’ on the sidewalk
A little music from the house next door
So I walk on up to the doorstep
Through the screen and across the floor
Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind
Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom
July is dressed up and playing her tune
And I come home from a hard day’s work
And you’re waitin’ there
Not a care in the world
See the smile awaitin’ in the kitchen
Through cookin’ and the plates for two
Feel the arms that reach out to hold me
In the evening when the day is through
Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
It’s time for my annual non-travel blog in which I warn of the hazards of travel and extol the virtues of staying home. I feel it is my civic duty to make those of us stuck at home feel better, so I started this tradition last February with a post comparing today’s airport hassles with The Golden Age of Travel. While it’s nice to escape to someplace tropical when the Hollywood version of winter has deteriorated into dirty snowbanks and salt stained boots – sand, sea and sun await only those who choose wisely!
In this photo, you may see a picturesque cottage on the lovely shores of Bermuda, an island softly kissed by warm trade winds. It’s set high on a bluff – there’s a pink sand beach below with clear turquoise waters. Note the striking contrast between the coral and the blue of the pool and sky. It looks nice, very nice – everything you would expect Bermuda to be.
While I see a drafty old cottage with no hot water, banging shutters and howling winds, set on a steep cliff straight out of a Daphne Du Maurier novel.
This picture was taken the morning we left Bermuda – the only day of sun and warm temperatures the whole five days. You never want to go to Bermuda in February – believe me. It’s not tourist season. While I knew Bermuda was not as far south as the Caribbean, the travel agent was definitely an optimist. She assured us the average temperature would be 70ish – golfing weather, but it was really why-didn’t-I-pack-warmer-clothes weather.
And you certainly never want to arrive late on a Friday, when the proprietress hands you the key to your pretty little cottage and promptly disappears until Monday. There was no front desk and no restaurant, and it didn’t take long to realize there was no hot water either. There didn’t even appear to be a hot water tank. We left a message at the booking office. (This was in the days before people were instantly available).
I’m not that fussy when it comes to winter vacations – give me a pool to sit beside and read my books, and a couple of shore and sea excursions and I’m happy. Otherwise, pick an island, preferably one not too close to the equator as my hair can’t handle too much humidity. When you live in Canada, you don’t care where you go, it’s just winter you want to get away from.
We decided to check out the pool but it was hardly pool weather. As it hovered around 50 F all week the only pool sitting was the huddled-in-layers kind.
There was a slightly warmer reading nook up near the Adirondack chairs sheltered a bit from the blustery breeze.
There was no restaurant onsite, but the cottage had a kitchenette, so we treked a mile or two or five down the road, mopeds whizzing by, to a variety store, where we bought the worlds most expensive peanut butter and some white bread, plus coffee, tea and milk for breakfast…and I think there might have been a bottle or two of wine…Merlot most likely as it goes best with stormy weather. (This was back in the days when I was able to drink a little).
The main thoroughfare was like the Indy 500. Dare step off the curb and you’d get crammed by a moped going the wrong way, but then I’m one of those people who can’t tell right from left. We decided we weren’t brave enough to rent mopeds so we took taxis or the bus when our cash ran low and we were down to coins.
Most of the restaurants were closed, but we hailed a cab and found a pub for supper. The taxi driver informed us it wasn’t tourist season and many of the inhabitants were off-island this time of year. Really – is that why there’s nobody around? We had a nice meal, including a wonderfully rich English Trifle, which started my love affair with this dessert, and a very smooth sherry afterwards, (Bermuda is a British island), and thus fortified returned to the cottage immensely cheered – only to find it still had no hot water and there was no return message.
As I’m one of those people who can’t go to bed without having a hot bath first, I decided to channel my inner Laura Ingalls and set about boiling water on the stove, (being a British island, there was a proper teapot and tea kettle), just like my pioneer ancestors – thus providing me with about three inches of tepid water, enough to wash the travel grime off, but not enough to soothe my cramps. Luckily, when I travel I bring a whole pharmacy with me, so Motrin to the rescue.
When we woke the next morning it was still overcast. Turning on the radio, the weather forecast was for more of the same. After that came the lost pet report, where listeners could call in and report their lost dogs and cats. We got into the habit of listening to the Lost Pet Petrol every morning while drinking our coffee. It was in many ways a charming island.
Scrounging up enough cash for taxis was a challenge as there wasn’t an exchange place open anywhere and the banks were all closed on the weekend. Bermuda – one of the banking capitals of the world – go figure. (Yes, once upon a time there was no such thing as an ATM machine). The streets of the main town were pretty but deserted on the weekend.
The shopping was pricey and rather staid. I recall there being a Marks and Spencer-like department store downtown, where I bought a soft mohair afghan in bright pink as a souvenir – which came in handy as the cottage was chilly at night, (blame the British again for the lack of central heating or rather any heating). It also made a cozy pool cover-up.
The wind howled up on the cliffs – so loud I couldn’t sleep. There was a shutter banging loose somewhere. It was the perfect murder mystery setting, rich with Rebecca-like atmosphere. (In fact I think I might put it in my book someday).
On Monday when the owner returned, she switched on the hot water, the tank was hidden in a separate building – hallelujah! Never underestimate the rejuvenating power of a hot bubble bath. But the weather continued gloomy, (did I mention it was a British island).
We managed to find a restaurant open each night. One evening when it was raining, I wore socks with my sandals, a fashion faux pas, but I figured no one would notice – and they didn’t as we were the only ones there. It was like dining in your own private restaurant. I tried duck a la orange for the first time, not something I would ordinarily order – but with perfectly crispy skin it wasn’t half bad. Cherries Jubilee and Bananas Flambe for dessert – popular choices for high end dining back then.
We took a flat bottomed boat out to the ocean for lack of anything better to do, and watched them feed the hungry fish.
It was either that or some Indiana Jones cave expedition, complete with stalactites and damp claustrophobic caverns.
Where is the underground cave entrance……
We walked the beaches a lot….and talked a lot….solving all the worlds problems and our own, scheming and dreaming in the manner of younger souls.
The sky was pretty in a menacing kind of way (and no it was not hurricane season).
On Wednesday, our last morning I was so overjoyed to see clear blue sky and so annoyed about going back to work with the same pale face that I sat out in the Adirondack chair reading my book and soaking up the sun, sans sunscreen.
It was only for an hour or so before we had to leave for the airport, but I had on jeans with a cute white cotton top with a scoop neck and I didn’t want to get it dirty with greasy lotion. The warmth of the sun felt absolutely glorious after five cool and overcast days.
On the way to the airport the taxi driver commented how nice it was, 80 degrees and the same forecast for the rest of the week. Really – thanks for sharing. The plane was delayed by a few hours. By the time we disembarked in Toronto, my skin was starting to hurt and by the next day it was as crispy as that duck skin, so red it almost blistered, all from an hour in the sun. Stupid, I know.
Now I’m content to stay home. However, it wasn’t all terrible – despite the inclement weather, I didn’t come back with a cold the way I normally do, just a souvenir sunburn, and some bad dreams of Manderley.
(1500 words – next week will make up for it.)
PS. Book of the Day: Amazingly I found a classic copy of Rebecca, complete with pretty ribbon, at the January used book sale, a book I have not seen since high school, which begs to be re-read.
PS. Quote of the Day: “There’s nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” (Jane Austen) Especially true when winter winds are howling – pass the merlot.
PS. We might have missed a few things – which way to the Bermuda Triangle?
Song of the Day: Gordon Lightfoot – Triangle.
PS. Have you had any vacation experiences which turned out disappointing?
When something is not fun, the colloquial expression, “It was no day at the beach” comes to mind. Similar to “it was no picnic” or “not exactly a walk in the park” it denotes a situation which may be difficult to deal with – which is exactly what I discovered the first time I went to the beach this summer.
I had not been earlier because of the kitchen reno and the hot/humid/rainy weather. Although I can’t sit in the sun anymore I try and go at least a couple of times a year to take pictures and spend a relaxing afternoon with a book, but as it’s some distance for me, there never seemed to be a good day to pack up the beach stuff. We’re lucky we have beautiful beaches here and very blue water, but the truth is we don’t take advantage of them as often as we should.
Finally one day when I was running errands in town, (there always seems to be time for errands), I took a detour – as it was such a nice sunny bright-blue-sky- with-a-breeze day, it was a shame to waste it. I thought I would sit in the car and enjoy a coffee and snack and watch the sailboats for awhile.
What the heck happened to the beach?
It seemed to have disappeared. My usual spot, with the tree I usually sat under, consisted of a mere few feet of shoreline.
As the waterline was almost up to it’s roots, my beach blanket would have been swamped.
Before, you could walk out past the end of the groyne and still be in waist high water.
Now, the groynes were buried under water and considerably shorter.
At least half of the stretch of sand was missing, although it was better at the other end.
There is still a strip of sand in front of the parking lot, where they have placed boulders to prevent people from driving on the beach, but the beach down below has eroded considerably.
They have made some effort the past few years to protect the remaining sand by growing dune grass, but it was still a shock to see how much had washed away.
The lake levels are about a foot higher than they normally are and beaches all along the Great Lakes basin have experienced erosion and flooding this year. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the state of our beach, as driving down river earlier in the summer I noticed the same thing with the river level. Some of the boat ramps were closed because the river water had come up over the breakwall and flooded the parking lots.
And some docks were under or near level with the water. If I had expensive river or lakefront property I would be worried – another foot and the dock will just disappear.
The five interconnected Great Lakes make up the largest body of fresh water in the world. Although they say their water levels rise and fall in a cyclic fashion according to the prevailing weather patterns, I have never seen the water so high here. About ten years ago we were coping with the opposite – low levels exposing beaches and shipwrecks offshore which had never been seen before. It seems it has become a world of weather extremes. Although most of the problems with high levels and flooding in the Great Lakes can be attributed to the excessive rainfall this year, it does make you worry about global warming and the polar ice caps melting. Here’s a link to an article from The Weather Channel with more information on potential causes.
No matter what you may think about climate change, this sad sight, coupled with our brutally cold winters of late, and our prolonged rainy springs and hot humid summers, with all the torrential downpours and violent storms everywhere – it does make you wonder – are we ruining our planet?
If things continue beaches may become a thing of the past, a relic portrayed in paintings and photographs.
And life-guarding will become an obsolete occupation.
Perhaps it is not too late to take action?
Postscript: The Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation has been advertising for “Coast Watchers”. These community volunteers help the Goderich-based centre monitor conditions along the Lake Huron shoreline and collect scientific data for a long term monitoring program. Last year they had 130 applicants, whose job it is to monitor a specific stretch of coast line once a week, from May to October, and record data such as wave height, temperature and wind speed. Another general observation group monitors for algae bloom, significant garbage wash-ups or spills, and rare birds or a species at risk. The Goderich-based centre was formed two decades ago with the goals of protecting and restoring Lake Huron’s coastal environment and promoting a healthy coastal ecosystem. It’s volunteer Coast Watchers Citizen Science Monitoring Program has been running for approximately 15 years. Training sessions are held every April.
Sounds like a great idea. Why be a weather watcher, when you could be a coastal watcher!
Postscript: Have you noticed any signs of climate change in your corner of the world?
What makes a great beach book – any book with summer in the title. Here’s my summer reading list (four read, two to go), and although only two of my selections qualify with respect to the title, they are all beach-worthy in one way or another.
First place, as always, goes to Elin Hilderbrand’s annual summer release, Summer of 69.
Publisher’s Blurb: Follow New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand back in time and join a Nantucket family as they experience the drama, intrigue, and upheaval of a 1960s summer. Welcome to the most tumultuous summer of the twentieth century. It’s 1969, and for the Levin family, the times they are a-changing. Every year the children have looked forward to spending the summer at their grandmother’s historic home in downtown Nantucket. But like so much else in America, nothing is the same: Blair, the oldest sister, is marooned in Boston, pregnant with twins and unable to travel. Middle sister Kirby, caught up in the thrilling vortex of civil rights protests and determined to be independent, takes a summer job on Martha’s Vineyard. Only-son Tiger is an infantry soldier, recently deployed to Vietnam. Thirteen-year-old Jessie suddenly feels like an only child, marooned in the house with her out-of-touch grandmother and her worried mother, each of them hiding a troubling secret. As the summer heats up, Ted Kennedy sinks a car in Chappaquiddick, man flies to the moon, and Jessie and her family experience their own dramatic upheavals along with the rest of the country. In her first “historical novel,” rich with the details of an era that shaped both a country and an island thirty miles out to sea, Elin Hilderbrand once again proves her title as queen of the summer novel.
Why I liked it: Her usual fare, but anyone who lived through the summer of 1969 (sorry millennials), will find this book especially appealing. I was the same age as Jesse the youngest of the siblings, so I could really relate to the story line, the fashions and the music. I especially liked how she incorporated songs of the era as chapter titles.
“For What It’s Worth” I think we had better songs back then. I’d like to “Get Back” to that year on “A Magic Carpet Ride” as “Those Were the Days” my friend. I was a “Young Girl” in ’69, a year when “Everybody’s Talking” about “Fly Me To The Moon”, that distant orb in the sky which was “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. It was the “Time of the Season” for love and as we were “Born to be Wild” we were full of “Midnight Confessions”. We didn’t need “Help” from “Mother’s Little Helper” or “White Rabbits” or have the “Summertime Blues” as it was a time of peace and hope. For all it’s protests it was also a time of optimistic change, as politically “Everyday People” who had “Heard It Through The Grapevine” (as opposed to CNN or Fox), did not have “Suspicious Minds” and could look at issues “From Both Sides Now”. Perhaps, “Someday We’ll Be Together” again, hopefully “More Today than Yesterday.” Whew – I got them all in! (How many do you remember?)
Instead of flying to the moon, let’s fly to Paris – One Summer in Paris – by Sarah Morgan
Publishers Blurb: To celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Grace has planned the surprise of a lifetime for her husband—a romantic getaway to Paris. But she never expected he’d have a surprise of his own: he wants a divorce. Reeling from the shock but refusing to be broken, a devastated Grace makes the bold decision to go to Paris alone. Audrey, a young woman from London, has left behind a heartache of her own when she arrives in Paris. A job in a bookshop is her ticket to freedom, but with no money and no knowledge of the French language, suddenly a summer spent wandering the cobbled streets alone seems much more likely…until she meets Grace, and everything changes. Grace can’t believe how daring Audrey is. Audrey can’t believe how cautious newly single Grace is. Living in neighboring apartments above the bookshop, this unlikely pair offer each other just what they’ve both been missing. They came to Paris to find themselves, but finding this unbreakable friendship might be the best thing that’s ever happened to them…
Why I liked it: I’m not a big fan of romance fiction, but was attracted by the title and the book jacket. I’ve never been to Paris, the story line sounded promising and it had a bookstore in it. Basically this book was pure fluff, albeit readable fluff. I don’t think I’ll be reading anything more by this author, as she is traditionally a romance writer and it was a bit too predictable for me. Plus there was actually very little about Paris or the bookstore in it, which just goes to show how we can get sucked in by marketing. (I swear if I ever write my murder mystery I’m going to call it Murder at the Paris Bookshop even though it’s set in another country – guaranteed sales – but perhaps that title has already been taken?)
Did I mention I’m a sucker for any title with a bookstore in it, so No. 3 is The Bookstore on the Corner – by Jenny Colgan.
Publishers Blurb: Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more. Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling. From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.
Why I liked it: I haven’t read it yet, but with a bookstore, how could it fail? (I’m reserving judgement, see above). (Edited to add: Two chapters in and I’m loving this book – the main character, the humorous style of writing, the Scottish locale, it’s simply charming, and there are actual books in it!) (Note after finishing: I’m quite disappointed – two thirds of the way through this book turned into a Hallmark movie. It was all down hill after the scene with Mr. Darcy wearing a kilt and carrying an injured lamb…..well those were actually two separate scenes but you get the drift….really I m much too old for this romance stuff. Where is Jane Austen when you need her!)
It’s summer concert season. Let’s go back in time again, this time to the 70’s. Based loosely on the rock group Fleetwood Mac, Daisy Jones and the Six – by Taylor Jenkins Reid was a selection of Reese Witherspoon’s book club. I can already see the movie being made….now who will play the lead singers?
Publisher’s Blurb: Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.
Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things. Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road. Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend. The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.
Why I liked it: Despite it’s great reviews I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book. It wasn’t a subject matter that interested me, as I attended a Catholic high school and my recollection of the 70’s was not exactly sex, drugs and rock and roll. But I ended up loving it – and it’s definitely one of the most memorable books I’ve read this year. Basically it’s a love story, but not your typical one. I even liked the unique interview format a la Rolling Stone, which surprisingly readable. The book is pure fiction but the characters seemed so real that several younger reviewers on Goodreads believed it was a memoir about a real band. Someone really needs to set those lyrics at the end to music.
Enough of the retro, here’s a psychological thriller to keep you in suspense during those nights when it’s too hot to sleep – The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Publishers Blurb: Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word. Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London. Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him….
Why I liked it: I don’t usually like first person narratives, especially by male protagonists, but this was very well done and overall an excellent book for a first time novelist. Never even saw the ending coming – I am in awe of the brilliance.
And lastly, because even the best of summers have to come to an end and real life resumes, a family drama – After the End – by Clare MacIntosh.
Publisher’s Blurb: Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. They’re best friends, lovers—unshakable. But then their son gets sick and the doctors put the question of his survival into their hands. For the first time, Max and Pip can’t agree. They each want a different future for their son. What if they could have both? A gripping and propulsive exploration of love, marriage, parenthood, and the road not taken, After the End brings one unforgettable family from unimaginable loss to a surprising, satisfying, and redemptive ending and the life they are fated to find.
Why I liked it: I haven’t read this one yet either. I’m saving it for August, but it sounds like a departure from her usual crime suspense novels (I Let You Go, I See You). We shall see….
There – a little something for everyone under the sun – Happy Reading!
PS. What are you reading this summer?
With only a few weeks of summer left there’s still time to get some good beach reads in and often the best time for beach reading is September when the crowds have gone back to school and work. Here’s my annual list with links to my Goodreads reviews plus a link to last summer’s Beach Blanket books, (a bonus if you are a library patron like me is there won’t be a waiting list for last years).
My number one favorite award of this year goes to The Perfect Couple – by Elin Hilderbrand……set on Nantucket it was the perfect beach book…..so engrossing you never want it to end and you won’t even notice the waves sweeping that dead body out to sea.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Perfect Beach Read. Her best book yet, the usual island fare with the added twist of a murder mystery. After a dead body is found floating in the water the morning of a fancy wedding all the guests and family members are suspects. Intricately plotted, the characters and descriptions are so real you will feel like you just spent a week on Nantucket. If you take this book to the beach you will not look up once it is so engrossing…..I could hardly put it down. I hope she does more murder mysteries…..looking forward to her new winter series.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A thought provoking novel about late-in-life marriages, complete with spoiled millennials, an attractive but penniless suitor, and a divorced people-pleasing protagonist who attempts to keep everyone happy but herself. It’s an intriguing premise, and like the title, a totally unsuitable match. If the book had ended any other way I might have been tempted to boycott all her future books. Fortunately, although love is blind, with age comes wisdom. I used to be a big fan of Joanna Trollope but have found her books lately to be a bit of a struggle, I couldn’t even read The Soldier’s Wife, but this restores her to what she does best, a nice Jane Austen-like drama about the tangle of family relationships.
Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery? Mary Higgins Clarke never disappoints. Can be read in one sunny afternoon.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Not as suspenseful as her usual, I guessed who did it and why about a third of the way through, but it was still a good read from the Queen of Mystery. She is still churning them out at age 91 but lately I have been preferring her Under Suspicion (fall) series with Alafair Burke.
For a more in depth psychological thriller, Clare MacIntosh is a good choice. While I enjoyed her spring release LET ME LIE it wasn’t as good as I SEE YOU, which I read last October and which had me deleting all the personal pictures on my social media accounts.
I See You by Clare Mackintosh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A murder mystery thriller perfect for reading on Halloween night in those lulls between handing out the candy…..ok maybe not such a good idea. Guaranteed to have you double checking all the locks before you go to bed, and I personally ended up deleting all personal pictures from social media. I liked the fact that the characters were flawed, which made the ending so much more delicious – a real treat.
You’re at a cottage and it’s raining so you browse the bookshelves for gems other people might have left behind. SLEEPING MURDER, Agatha Christie’s last book written in 1976, is the reason why they call her the original Queen of Mystery. (80 books, over 1 billion sold). Miss Marple may be a bit dated and the descriptions tame by today’s standards, but it’s still a masterful plot. While I had never read much AG, other than Murder on the Orient Express where I already knew the ending, this kept me enthralled on a rainy afternoon and I finished it the next day at the beach in brilliant sunshine.
These are all by female writers, so here’s one for the guys. A thought-provoking read about the origins of the universe and the future of artificial intelligence. Dan Brown always tells a good story – book contains the usual steady stream of chase scenes where Professor Langdon is on the run from the bad guys and accompanied by a beautiful much younger woman. Dream on Dan.
Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A good read – Professor Langdon is back, the usual cloak and dagger, church versus science, fast paced suspenseful affair. But why does he always seem to be running from danger, in every chapter, usually with an attractive much younger female? I guess it makes for good movie rights. The book got off to a great start, but then kind of sagged in the middle, but I had guessed the ending by then. The plot line was simpler than some of his other books, but I learned some interesting facts about artificial intelligence and the big bang theory – see title.
A Canadian find and locale. The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol (plural – not be be confused with similar titled books). I can’t remember how I stumbled upon this book, but it was mesmerizing. A five star read. Good for a trip to a cabin in the northern wilderness.
The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In her acknowledgements, this first time author thanks her writing group for encouraging her to take the giant leap to send her work out there. I’m so glad she didn’t keep the manuscript in her sock drawer because this is a marvelous book, by far the best novel I have read in awhile. Somewhat reminiscent of The Light Between Oceans, but with an Ontario locale as the lighthouse island is set in northern Lake Superior. The author who lives in Thunder Bay, grew up sailing in the area, and has done extensive research to keep the story authentic for the time period – it is set in the 1930-40’s. It is a beautifully crafted book, wonderfully plotted, well written, good characterization, with a perfectly satisfying ending. Why doesn’t something like this win the Giller prize? The author also thanks a ninety-four year old light-keeper’s wife who said wistfully after reading the book that she felt like she was back on the island. That was how I felt too – totally immersed in this other world, and really like the author acknowledged, there is no greater compliment than that for a writer.
So put your toes in the sand, open a cold drink and start reading. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen.