Book review: ‘It’s Not Summer Without You’ by Jenny Han

This is the second book in a three-book series.
May contain spoilers.

Where once Belly looked forward to summer with breathless anticipation, nothing is the same this year. After the death of Susannah, her mother’s best friend and Belly’s second mother, a dark pall has been cast over the warm weather months. Susannah’s teen sons have struggled to move forward, but Conrad and Jeremiah haven’t easily dealt with the death of their mother. And now the house at Cousins Beach, the cozy place they once shared with Belly and Laurel and Steven, is empty.

As Belly spends her summer days mindlessly drifting at home with Taylor, her hometown best friend, she doesn’t expect to get a call from Jeremiah — or to learn that Conrad has gone AWOL from his freshman year of college. As Jeremiah and Belly reunite to search for him, Belly must confront the feelings she once had — for both boys.

Jenny Han’s It’s Not Summer Without You, sequel to The Summer I Turned Pretty, is the sort of lovely, atmospheric book in which I love to get lost for hours. Han’s Cousins Beach reminds me so much of my own summers sharing a beach house with my extended family, and that’s exactly why I waited to read this one on our annual vacation in the Outer Banks.

I wasn’t disappointed. Though It’s Not Summer Without You is really a quiet sort of novel, it’s impossible not to get absorbed in Belly’s world. I related to her intense feelings of first love that is tinged with grief — and that pain is only broadened by the loss of Conrad (as a boyfriend) and Susannah (completely, irrevocably — dead after battling cancer). Though Belly is so young, she has to deal with so much heartbreak. Though I wished more than anything she wouldn’t treat her own mother so poorly, I didn’t fault her for her behavior.

Not a lot happens in these books, but that’s really not a problem for me. Han wastes no words in setting her scenes, giving us flashbacks of Belly and Conrad’s doomed relationship while still staying rooted in the present. The evolution of our narrator’s feelings was very well-drawn and moving, and I felt like I’d really gotten inside Belly’s heart by the close of the story. And was I overjoyed with the resolution? Yes.

These books are about first love and family — the one we’re born into and the one we choose. Though romance is a key part of Belly’s life and the narrative arc, it’s not the sole focus of Han’s novels. The characters are dimensional, interesting and very flawed — and I could almost see a prequel to The Summer I Turned Pretty telling the story Susannah and Laurel’s friendship. Their bond, even after death, is irrevocably strong.

Han’s Summer series is almost universally beloved — and I can see why. Eloquent, heartwrenching and perfect for the summer season, It’s Not Summer Without You is another win by a talented author.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 1416995560 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

Beach reading

beach_feetFar more complicated, time-consuming and stressful than making sure I have the right clothes, shoes and sunscreen to take on vacation is deciding which books to take. My family vacations at the Outer Banks every summer — and every summer, I struggle with making sure I have the right novels to accompany me on my much-needed break!

Packing books for London last month was simple — in my “freetime,” I knew I wouldn’t really have my eyes open long enough to actually read anything. So I only brought a book, the I’d saved just for the plane ride to England: Megan McCafferty’s Charmed Thirds. And I picked up a few British books on my way home, of course, including Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone!

But this time I don’t have to worry about the heft of my suitcase and whether or not I can pull it single-handedly up and off the Tube. Oh, no — Dad and I are traveling in the SUV with plenty of space for a ridiculous amount of books! And now I have to comb my TBR stack, near collapse, for the best few to bring.

footprints“Beach reads” are, by their nature, light, breezy and often funny novels that can be read and absorbed quickly while, say, sitting out in the blazing hot sunshine with the dull roar of waves crashing behind you. I happen to think it’s a little mean to narrowly classify books as “beach reads” — often meaning they’re a little silly, not really worth thinking about — but there are some books that are just such fun, it’s easy to label them in that category.

Last summer at the beach, I carried the entire Twilight series around with me! I finished Twilight on the car ride down, began New Moon within the first few days and had a hard time setting it down the whole time I was away. Wanting to pace myself a bit, I picked up Elin Hilderbrand’s A Summer Affair at the end of the week, and I definitely enjoyed that.

And now, standing on the precipice of a fresh new vacation and a new opportunity to read like I might never read again, I think I’ve narrowed this year’s selections down . . .

Meg’s Beach Books ’09

along_for_the_rideSarah Dessen’s Along For The Ride

I rushed out on my lunch break today to grab Dessen’s latest novel, which I eagerly blogged about last Wednesday. After I carefully remove the beautiful dust jacket, that baby will be ready to sail along with me! In fact, I’m pushing it up on the top of the stack — I just have to devour that one whole. I’ll break it out as soon as we’re on the road.

Megan McCafferty’s Fourth Comings

Much like my London adventure, I’ve been saving the fourth installment in McCafferty’s awesome Jessica Darling series for another grand occasion! And I think this is finally it. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Jessica and Marcus, although reading reviews for the last two books has spoiled (a bit of) the fun for me. That’s okay, though — I have to absorb all of it myself!


Sarah Strohmeyer’s The Penny Pinchers Club

Okay, this one is cheating a little bit — because I’ve already started it! But I’m almost finished and can’t bear to leave it behind. It’s a really light, funny story about a woman who believes her husband is planning on divorcing her after she spends 20 years working her way through their savings account with her out-of-control spending — and actually a cheeky look at what we think we “need” in our society, and why. With only 40 pages to go, I’m touting it along on the sand!

Meg Cabot’s Airhead

As one of Cabot’s devout followers, I’m ashamed to say I haven’t started this series yet! I purchased the first novel in anticipation of my last trip, but ultimately decided I wouldn’t have time to read it while away. I’m eager to start!

suite_scarlettMaureen Johnson’s Suite Scarlett

Johnson is another author I thought I should have gotten to know a long time ago, but only recently read her European adventure novel 13 Little Blue Envelopes. While I felt that story was just a little too emotionally detached for my tastes, I appreciated the quality of Johnson’s writing and voice! I’m looking forward to reading this one, which seems to have been heralded all over the YA book world.

Book review: ‘Summer Blowout’ by Claire Cook

summer_blowout I’m sure it would have helped had I read Claire Cook’s Summer Blowout in the Outer Banks this summer, instead of in the cold, dank light of my living room in November. That being said, I would like to consider myself somewhat of a devoted reader — I can put aside my personal chills and sweaters long enough to be absorbed in what many would consider a “good beach read” in the fall, jumping into the world of the big, “fake” Italian Shaughnessy clan in Boston.

Recently divorced, lipstick-loving heroine Bella Shaughnessy works as a stylist and makeup artist at her father’s salon in Boston — along with her myriad of sisters, brothers, half-sisters, their children, her father’s ex-wives and . . . yes, you get the picture. It’s a huge, gregarious and complicated bunch. Bella is struggling within the new confines of her work, surrounded by family who only want to help her through a difficult time — and one sister, Sophia, who happens to leap on Bella’s ex-husband’s newfound freedom. Sophia begins to date Craig, Bella’s ex. Not very sisterly.

Honestly, I can’t really tell you what this book is “about.” Yes, it’s about Bella finding herself following the end of her 10-year marriage . . . about letting go of the past, moving on, etc. But, for me, there really wasn’t a clear and discernible plot arc. The family sort of hobbles around the salon, afraid of a new salon group opening up across the street from their waterfront property; the sisters and brother Mario attend events and do hair and makeup; Bella inherits a small, squirrely little dog named Precious; everyone attends a wedding at the end; Sophia tries to win Bella’s affections back, but she’s still seeing Craig. This is a short book — around 240 pages — but I feel like not much . . . happens. Even after Bella meets someone new and goes into business developing her own product line, I don’t feel any sort of compassion or interest in what’s going on. I feel no heat at all between Bella and the New Guy — in fact, I didn’t feel much of anything at all through this book.

But I don’t want to end on a negative note! Claire Cook is a good, breezy writer, weaving nimbly through scenes and describing the look and feel of locations well. My problems aren’t at all with her style. And there were plot points I enjoyed in Summer Blowout, such as the burgeoning relationship of Bella’s mother with a mystery man — and just who that mystery man turns out to be. I love books about family relationships and dynamics, and I’m definitely a huge fan of “women’s fiction” (or chick lit, however you want to slice it). I was amused by Precious’s adventures and Bella’s obsession with beauty products. But there was something just missing in this book — something that would have made me care. Better luck on the next Cook title, I guess. Maybe I’ll try Life’s a Beach next?

2.5 out of 5

ISBN: 1401322417 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Blog
Personal copy obtained through BookMooch