Saturday, 31 January 2015

Review: Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye

Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye

Published: January 2015
Genre: Historical fiction, 
Stars: ***** and more if I could

The Blurb

Horrifying and beautiful, Summertime is a fictionalised account of one of the most devastating natural disasters in US history.

Florida Keys, 1935. Hurricane Season.

Tens of thousands of black and white men scarred by their experiences of war in Europe return home to find themselves abandoned to destitution by the US government.

The tiny, segregated community of Heron Key is suddenly overwhelmed by broken, disturbed men with new ideas about racial equality and nothing left to lose.

Tensions flare when a black veteran is accused of committing the most heinous crime of all against a white resident’s wife.

And not far off the strongest and most intense hurricane America has ever witnessed is gaining force.

For fans of The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird, this is the story of the greatest tragedy you've never heard of.

My Thoughts

I was very lucky to receive a set of Summertime books from Orion for the reading group that I run at work. One of the things that really drew me to Summertime was the cover - I love it! Just that touch of a storm approaching and the children sitting on the beach - a picture postcard with perhaps a little bit of darkness to it. I am also a sucker for books set in Florida as it is one of my favourite places to visit although I have not made it as far south as the Keys yet.

Some of you may have also seen a post from a couple of weeks ago where I announced that Summertime was my book of 2014. When you consider that I read just over 150 books last year then I think you will realise just how good I think this book is. It's actually taken me a few weeks to be able to sit & write this review as on finishing Summertime I was left totally stunned unable to put into words my feelings & thoughts about the book. It is one of those books that even having read it a few weeks has really left it's mark on me & I know that others in my reading group felt the same.

I've tried to remember the last time I was so captivated and consumed by a book and it's hard to come up with something perhaps it really was over 20 years ago when I read To Kill A Mocking Bird for my GCSEs. Summertime opens on Heron Key, Florida in 1935 and right from those very few pages Lafaye has you totally hooked, pulling you in & gripping you just like the jaws of that alligator from the opening chapter. The story centres around three very different communities - a group of WW1 veterans let down by their government and forced to camp on Heron Key whilst they work on a government works project. Then we have the black community and the white community that they work for as maids, nannys, handymen, so before the veterans even arrived on Heron Key there was already racial tension and divide bubbling away.

Every 4th of July the islanders have a beach BBQ. Both communities coming together yet still divided with the whites on their side of the beach & the blacks on theirs. This year though the townspeople are joined by the veterans & tensions look set to overflow as some look to settle old scores & new arguements take centre stage. The evening ends with a white women being attacked & left for dead and all eyes looking to the veterans community for the culprit.

Meanwhile off the coast of the Atlantic, a storm is brewing threatening to bear down on Heron Key and ultimately change the residents lives forever. Who will left standing and who won't? 

This book was a pure adrenaline rush, a highly addictive read that I couldn't put down. Lafaye had me absorbed from start to finish and a lot of that is down to knowing that the story is actually a fictional account of a huge hurricane that really did hit the Keys in the 1930s. This adds so much to the suspense and tension that the author builds - at first slowly but as the storm hits the pace picks up.

Summertime is well plotted and well researched. I didn't know anything about the WW1 veterans and the march on Washington, I was given a really fascinating insight into a subject I now need to go and find out more about. I love books that teach me something about history and make me need to go learn more. The other wonderful thing about this book were the character, some you loved & some you despised but there were none I loved more than Missy. Missy works for the Kincaid's taking care of their baby son Nathan and is one of the central characters in the story.

This book really did have everything - a community divided, racial tension, morals, relationship troubles on so many fronts, a little bit of politics,history, class differences, a wonderful location, fantastic characters and so much more. We have the storm brewing out at sea but there really has been a storm brewing for a very long time amongst the locals and it all comes to a head the night of the beach BBQ. Summertime left me totally breathless and I came to the end feeling I had done battle with Mother Nature herself.

An incredible debut that is so well written you feel as that you are there on Heron Key living right through the hurricane. Lafaye picked me up & swept me along like the storm with her beautiful writing and brilliant character development-an outstanding storyteller. I am very much looking forward to seeing where Vanessa Lafaye takes me with her second book.

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