Category Archives: Beach Books

Real Lives of Year-Rounders on Nantucket: Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand

cover image of SummerlandYes, I know, Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand came out LAST summer, and I’ve just gotten around to reading it. I’m even later to the Elin Hilderbrand party than that, because this Massachusetts author had already hit the New York Times bestseller list twice (with The Island and Silver Girl) before Summerland, her eleventh novel, and Summerland is the first one I’ve read to see what all the fuss is about.

Now I know. Elin Hilderbrand is the American answer to Penny Vincenzi. We don’t need to resort to reading about drinking tea and wearing wellies with the English middle and upper middle classes anymore! We’ve got our own comfort reads we can sink into right here. With the added bonus that Elin Hilderbrand’s books’ Nantucket settings make her books perfect for reading while sunk into a beach chair with an American summertime drink close at hand. (Think Nantucket Cocktail.)

In Summerland, tragedy hits the island of Nantucket when a rising senior – the beautiful, talented and beloved Penny Alastair – drives a speeding car full of teens over an embankment after an unsanctioned party on the beach the night of high school graduation. Penny is killed instantly and her twin brother, Hobson – a handsome, gifted athlete, and all-around nice guy – is seriously injured. The two other teens in the car – Demeter, who has the almost empty bottle of Jim Beam in her bag and Jake, Penny’s longtime boyfriend – are physically unhurt, but mentally traumatized.

Summerland is about the responses to this tragic accident from different points of view – the teens themselves and their families and friends – as well as the response of the islanders as a whole. Nantucket isn’t just a summertime playground for the rich and famous, the author points out; this story is about real people. Granted, they are mostly all attractive and tanned and successful, but as this story shows, that doesn’t make them immune to tragedy.

Here’s a excerpt taken from near the beginning of the book, where we get the first-person plural point of view of the year-round inhabitants of Nantucket, who take a special hometown pride in the standout talents of Penny and Hobson Alastair, twin children of the widowed Zoe, a beautiful and talented chef with a house on the water.

There was a bittersweet element to June 16, graduation day, and as we walked off the field at the end of the ceremony, some of us said we would never forget this one in particular, either because the weather had been so spectacular or because Patrick Loom’s speech had been so poignant.
It was true that we would always remember graduation that year, but not for these reasons. We would remember graduation that year because it was that night, the night of June 16, that Penelope Alastair was killed.
What? the world cried out in disbelief. The world wanted the Nantucket that resided in its imagination: the one with the icy gin and tonic resting on the porch railing, the sails billowing in the wind, the ripe tomatoes nestled in the back of the farm truck. The world did not want to picture a seventeen-year-old girl dead, but the world needed to know what we knew; Nantucket was a real place.
Where tragic things sometimes happened.

If you are a Penny Vincenzi fan, you should definitely try Elin Hilderbrand’s books (and vice versa). Also, if you like books by Jacquelyn Mitchard, Elizabeth Berg, Anita Shreve, Liane Moriarty, or other writers of “women’s fiction” who tell a good and heartbreaking story including sharp observations of the way people behave during a crisis, moments of humor throughout, difficult problems that get at least partially resolved (or “sorted” if you’re reading Penny Vincenzi), and a hopeful and uplifting ending.

Read a 2012 interview with Elin Hilderbrand at BermudaOnion’s Weblog.

Hilderbrand, Elin
Little, Brown, 2012
388 pp.
$26.99 U.S./$29.99 CAN

Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the public library.

Other (more timely) opinions on Summerland (all very good):
Beth Fish Reads
A Bookish Libraria
Under My Apple Tree


Beach Books and Summer Reading

>Beach books should be easy to put down on the blanket but absorbing enough to get right back into when you pick it up again. Also, they should NOT be depressing. 
Vogue blogger Megan O’Grady recommends the season’s hottest new beach books here. Her list includes The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek and The Same River Twice by Ted Moone. One of my own favorite authors for beach chair reading is Penny Vincenzi. Her most recent novel is The Best of Times
In its list of 10 Unforgettable Beach Reads, Reader’s Digest recommends older titles that might be found on the library shelf instead of the holds list. Most – such as Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret? and Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed – look like they’ll appeal more to women, but guys might try Gutted: Down to the Studs in My House, My Marriage, My Entire Life by Lawrence LaRose, which Reader’s Digest describes as the “touching, honest, and often hilarious true story of one couple’s struggle to build their dream home and dream life together.”
Summer reading lists tend to be more substantial than beach book recommendations — assuming that readers have more time to devote to reading in the summer and want to tackle some big titles, maybe some of the books that everyone’s been talking about, like Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
For a Latina take on summer reading, check out some of the suggestions from Latina Magazine in its list of Top 10 Latina Summer Beach Reads. Isabel Allende’s new historical novel about Haiti’s slave rebellion, Island Beneath the Sea, shows up here, as well as on other lists.
NPR has compiled a list of summer reads, Best Of The Bestsellers: Wisdom Of The Crowds, from the purchase habits of NPR listeners. For more, check out NPR’s Audience Picks: 100 Best Beach Books Ever from last summer’s public radio listeners’ recommendations.
Another list that’s heavy on the literary, light on fluff, is Oprah’s 2010 Summer Reading List. It includes The Passage by Justin Cronin, which has been getting a lot of buzz in a lot of places, including on BookPage‘s The Book Case blog, as this year’s big summer book. (Literally. It’s 766 pages long.)
Whether at the beach, in the backyard, or sitting inside with the air conditioner, we hope you have lots of time for reading and visiting the library this summer.