(Review) The Remnants of Summer by Dawn Newton

Publisher and Publication Date: Apprentice House Press. May 1, 2021.
Genre: Fiction.
Pages: 294.
Format: NetGalley e-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from NetGalley and Mind Buck Media. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of coming of age and family stories.
Rating: Okay.

For more information about the book: Apprentice House Press-Remnants of Summer.

Amazon link

Author Goodreads Page without a bio, but it does list her books.


Southeast Michigan.
Iris Merchant is a young teenage girl (14) in the summer of 1973. She has an older sister named Liz. She has a younger brother named Scott. Scott is 11. Iris and Scott are at Michigan beach enjoying a sunny day. When Iris wakes up from a brief nap while sunbathing she realizes Scott is not nearby. She assumes he went swimming and everything will be okay. She leaves the lake and walks home alone. Everything is not okay. Later, the family will find out Scott drowned in the lake. Iris blames herself; and, Liz blames Iris. The rest of the summer passes in a blur. The school year moves along at a slow pace. Another summer approaches with the realization a year has gone by without Scott.

The Remnants of Summer is part coming of age story and part family grief.

My Thoughts:

In 1973 I was 9. I actually have grown to love stories that have a time period of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Remnants of Summer is not a story that I am transported back in time because of the clothes or music references. There is mention of Watergate and President Nixon’s resignation.

The story is told from the narrator who is Iris. Iris is a young person who is not rebellious. She doesn’t act out after the death of her brother which is rare. Often there is an acting out after a traumatic crisis. On the other hand, she appears to me to be numb. This transcribes to paper. A numb feeling throughout the story.

Grief is the number one theme in The Remnants of Summer but grief is not processed. There is no mention of counseling. There is not a church family or neighbors who reach out to the family. There is no outside help for any of them. I don’t think counseling would have been considered for this era-not like today. Books and literature about grieving was about non-existent. However, there were counselors at school. And, there were pastors who counseled with families. Pastors and priests can at least pray and listen to the grieving family. None of these options are presented in the story. For me, this is sadly lacking. There is no resolve in the story. This theme hangs there and only grows larger.

The Remnants of Summer is slow. A slow and sad year in the life of the family-with the focus on Iris. While the grief is fresh, she is going through adolescence, peer pressure, abuse, school, a changing body, drama with friends, an older sister who is at enmity, parents who are going through their own problems, and an additional element in the story that impacts the community. This last example is not used as a big part of the story but more as a backdrop.

Over-all the story feels lacking.

Lastly, I feel this story is better suited for young adults.

Themes in the story: death, grieving, courage, innocence, fear, and guilt.

(Review) The Orphan of Salt Winds by Elizabeth Brooks

Publisher and Publication Date: Tin House Books. 2019.
Genre: Fiction. Coming of age story.
Pages: 293.
Format: E-book.
Source: Kindle e-book purchase.
Audience: Readers of coming of age stories.
Rating: Very good.

Link @ Amazon

The story has 2 time periods, 1939 and 2015. The setting is England.

Virginia Wrathmell is 10. She is adopted by Clem and Lorna. They live in a rural area near a marsh. Their home is called Salt Winds. Clem studies birds. He writes wildlife books. Clem is a stable and kindhearted man. Lorna is irresponsible, high maintenance, and preoccupied. Their marriage and the tension in the home is palpable. A neighbor, Max Deering, is at Salt Winds too often. Meanwhile, a German fighter plane crashes near the marsh. The pilot is missing. Clem sets off at night to search for where the plane crashed.

Virginia has returned to Salt Winds as an older woman. She has not forgotten the events of 1939. They have impacted the rest of her life. This part of the story is about memories and making peace.

My Thoughts:
It’s difficult when my favorite character is written off in the beginning of the story. I dislike this. While reading I wondered if I could hang on to the last page or end it all together.
Clem is a character that’s depth is hidden by his quiet and calm nature. He is intelligent. He is a solid, all-around good guy. He is a person that can be friends with anyone. He is the anchor in the family.
Lorna is unlikable. I picture her in my mind as a person either staring off in a dreamy like state or staring at herself in the mirror. She is so uncomfortable as a mother that I am uncomfortable too.
Max Deering is a person no one should take their eyes away from. He is not trustworthy.
Virginia is 10 but going on 30. She takes on the roll as a parent. She’s resilient and strong-willed.
The Orphan of Salt Winds is a character driven story that takes on internal conflicts. The plot is shaped because of the choices and conflicts of the characters.

The mood of the story is one of things unsaid or unspoken. There is a haunting feeling. A feeling of doom.

Themes in the story are jealousy, ambition, love, loyalty, betrayal, and obsession.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the story because it’s well-written and memorable. It’s a great fire-side-winterish story.

(Review) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Perennial Modern Classic. First published in 1943. My paperback copy-2005.
Genre: Classic literature. Coming of age story. Comfort read. Women and literature.
Pages: 493.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of classic literature.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link

Have you read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? I’ve read it 3 or 4 times. I’ve read the story at different ages. It’s interesting how I learn something new each time.

Have you seen the film? It’s wonderful! The film stars: Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, Cliff Robertson, James Dunn, and Peggy Ann Garner (Francine).

Francine (Francie) Nolan and her family live in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The year is 1912. Francine is 11. She has a younger brother named Neeley. Their mother is a janitress in 3 tenement houses including the one they reside. Their father is a singing waiter.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a coming of age story and a historical fiction story about life in Brooklyn, NY. And, it is a close-up view of a family in crisis because of poverty and alcoholism.
The story begins during the summer of 1912, but backs up to tell the story of her parents. In addition, other family history is given. For example, how the family came to America.

My Thoughts:
When I first began reading the story I thought it was being told in the 3rd person viewpoint narration. This means the narrator is the author. Pronouns are often used: she, he, and they. Betty Smith has the ability of describing a panoramic picture of scenes and people. But, I noticed a deeper level of the characters are shown. For example: “Francie didn’t notice that he said my last home instead of our last home.” Page 121. “The panic came on her again and she ran all the way home.” Page 15. Then, I realized the story is told in the omniscient narration. This means I’m told what the character is thinking and feeling. I’m brought closer to the characters because I develop a feeling for them.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a story with adult themes. It is a story with imperfect characters. It is a story with hard life circumstances. It is a story without simple answers and happy endings. It is a believable story because of these reasons.
Some examples of themes: alcoholism, poverty, starvation, abuse, courage, hope, compassion, death, loneliness, shame, prejudice, discrimination, marriage, and parenting.
The pacing is a leisure but steady pace. I relaxed in the story like falling into a fluffy feather bed.
Despite the hardship of Francie’s life, there are tender moments where I saw security, unity, and love in their family.
I saw a transformation in how Francie viewed people. By the age of 12, she began to see life through a different lens.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my top 5 favorite books. It’s a story I fell in love with and have stayed in love-no matter my age. It is a comfort story. It is memorable and endearing.

Memorable Quotes:

“It was a good thing that she got herself into this other school. It showed her that there were other worlds beside the world she had been born into and that these other worlds were not unattainable.” Page 174.

“Only it didn’t seem good to Francie. She began to understand that her life might seem revolting to some educated people. She wondered, when she got educated, whether she’d be ashamed of handsome papa who had been so lighthearted, kind and understanding; ashamed of brave and truthful Mama who was so proud of her own mother, even though Grandma couldn’t read or write; ashamed of Neeley who was such a good honest boy? No! No! If being educated would make her ashamed of what she was, then she wanted none of it.” Page 323.

“Christmas was a charmed life in Brooklyn…You have to be a child to know how wonderful is a store window filled with dolls and sleds and other toys. And this wonder came free to Francie. It was nearly as good as actually having the toys to be permitted to look at them through the glass window.” Page 198.

Betty Smith (1896-1972)

(Review) The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Publisher and Publication Date: St. Martin’s Press. 2018. Paperback edition 2019.
Genre: Historical fiction. Women and literature.
Pages: 576.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: This book covers a large audience of possible readers. For example: women and literature, domestic violence, family saga, and coming of age story.
Rating: Very good.

Amazon link

Kristin Hannah’s Goodreads page

This is the third book I’ve read by Kristin Hannah. The other two books are The Nightingale and The Winter Garden.

“Some fears you carried alone.” Page 138.

In the summary of the book you’ll read at Goodreads or Amazon it mentions the father, Ernt Allbright, is a Vietnam War veteran. It fails to mention he had been a POW for several years. This is a significant point. In the 1960s and 1970s, there wasn’t a mental health care system for veterans (not really.) The knowledge of how to help veterans, support groups, counseling, books, and medications came later. Ernt had a serious mental health disorder, it was not going to clear up like getting over the flu. He was not a person who could be reasoned with or led to rational thinking. His brain was…..what is the right word? His brain was still in that state of survival mode and anticipating threats. His wife looked to him to make rational, logical decisions, but he was not capable. He desperately needed help. Further, his wife Cora kept reflecting back on who Ernt was before the war. Ernt is not that person anymore. Yet, Cora clings to the thought of who he used to be and the hope of who he can be again. This is tragic and heartbreaking.
I feel that I can speak freely about this, because my son has PTSD from combat in Iraq. He is not able to work. He cannot make certain decisions. Most days he cannot sleep. Most days he cannot handle being around people other than his family and close friends. He takes medicine. He sees a doctor. But the David that was is gone. I’m thankful he is home and able to be with family. However, David has a hard time with life post war.
Sharing about my family is not meant to be a political statement. It is meant to share a glimpse of my family’s experience with PTSD and the after-effects of war.
Back to The Great Alone.
The only child of this sad couple is Leni. When the story begins it is 1974, and Leni is thirteen. Later the story jumps to 1978, and then the mid 1980s.
After Ernt lost his job in Washington state, the family moves to Alaska. They live in a small community of independent, resilient, hard working people.
The Allbright family learns to prep during the summer months for the lengthy grueling winters. The community helps them. They literally take the family under their wing.
Leni doesn’t fully understand the complexities of her family until later.
Leni wants a connection to someone her age.
Meanwhile, Ernt’s mental health condition deteriorates.

My Thoughts:
The Great Alone is an epic story.
It’s a story to get lost amongst the series of sad events that swirl and pile up like a huge snow drift.
From the beginning, I felt the story wasn’t going to end well. But, I wanted to know what would happen to Cora and Leni.
It’s a story with several themes and ideas running through it. All of them are heavy. Too heavy, because it left me drained.
Some of the themes are sacrifice, love, loss, vengeance, loyalty, intimacy, transformation, discouragement, disappointment, regret, loneliness, and isolation.
Some of the major ideas in the story: coming of age, war veteran, mental health disorder, living in the Alaskan wilderness, young love, codependency, domestic violence, and addiction.
Just when I thought the story was going to wrap up with the characters another chapter began in their lives.
Cora and Leni are extremely close. Their relationship alone was an idea that could’ve carried the story.
Overall I’m glad I read The Great Alone. However, it is a heavy story to digest considering the ongoing events of 2020.

(Review) Playground Zero by Sarah Relyea

Publisher and Publication Date: She Writes Press. June 9, 2020.
Genre: Fiction. Historical Fiction.
Pages: 416.
Source: I received a complementary ARC paperback copy from Stephanie Barko, Literary Publicist, I was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers who are interested in the late 1960s Berkeley, California. Readers of coming of age stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link
Barnes and Noble link
IndieBound link

Link at She Writes Press for more information about the book.

Link for the book excerpt: Playground Zero.

The manuscript was semi-finalist for the Black Lawrence Press 2018 Big Moose Prize

Author Bio:
Sarah Relyea is the author of Playground Zero, a coming-of-age story set in Berkeley in the late 1960s. Sarah left the Berkeley counterculture at age thirteen and processed its effects as a teenager in suburban Los Angeles. She would soon swap California’s psychedelic scene to study English literature at Harvard.

Sarah has long addressed questions of identity in her writing, including in her book of literary criticism, Outsider Citizens: The Remaking of Postwar Identity in Wright, Beauvoir, and Baldwin.

With her PhD in English and American literature from The Graduate Center, CUNY, Sarah has taught American literature and writing at universities in New York and Taiwan. She remains bicoastal, living in Brooklyn and spending time on the Left Coast.

Website for Sarah Relyea
Goodreads author page

1968. It’s the season of siren songs and loosened bonds—as well as war, campaign slogans, and assassination. When the Raysons’ family leaves the East Coast for the gathering anarchy of Berkeley, twelve-year-old Alice embraces the moment in a hippie paradise that’s fast becoming a cultural ground zero. As her family and school fade away in a tear gas fog, the 1960s counterculture brings ambiguous freedom. Guided only by a child’s-eye view in a tumultuous era, Alice could become another casualty—or she could come through to her new family, her developing life. But first, she must find her way in a world where the street signs hang backward and there’s a bootleg candy called Orange Sunshine.

My Thoughts:
My memories of the 1960s is helped in great part, because my four older siblings were teenagers during this era. I am 10-15 years younger than them.
I have especially strong memories of the music. Each sibling had their own music they cherished. For example, my eldest sister JoAnn loved the music from the early 1960s. She never liked the hard rock sound that the other’s loved. Frances loved the Beatles. James loved Led Zeppelin and The Doors. Bobby loved Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
Only my sister Frances during her college years (1970-1973) took part in demonstrations in regard to the Vietnam war and women’s rights.
One last memory I’ll share. When my sister Frances came home to visit from college, she and dad had heated discussions about their different perspectives on current events. I’m a little girl at this time, but I remember being entertained and a bit impressed with how Frances held her own against dad.

Now, Playground Zero.
This is a book that gives much to review about, because it has strong conflicts and themes. Plus, the story creates conversation and opinion.

*What I like about the story is the third-person point of view. The story is told from the third person narrative (he, she, they.) The focus is on the different members of the Raysons’ family. The parents are Tom and Marian. Their children are Curt and Alice. Other characters are included, but this story is about the Raysons. Reading a third-person narrative, I was able to take a seat and watch the story unfold. In this way of telling the story, Playground Zero doesn’t tell or teach me to have an opinion other than the one in my mind. I can read the story and let it unfold, then create my own feeling and judgment.

*I like reading a story that’s out of my normal type read. This broadens my mind at the least. Whether I will end up enjoying the book is another thing.

*The Raysons’ family is an example of parents and children who are not connecting. Each person is focused on something other than each other. Each of them want to connect with something or someone whether it’s another person or an event that will fill what’s absent from their lives. In other words, each of the family members are searching for something that will bring meaning, stability, and intimacy. At times, the kids are looking to a parent for direction and guidance. They are looking for a stable and secure home, because the outside world is a scary place. Instead, the kids get zero help in the home. Is it possible that’s why the title is Playground Zero?
Connection and intimacy are themes and conflicts running through the story.

*When Alice and Curt start school in Berkeley, California, school integration has begun. This is new for them. It’s not new to have relationships with people of the African American race. It is new for African American and white children to be in the classroom together. Alice wants to be a friend no matter the person’s race. However, her good intentions are not matched with other students who are comfortable and accepting. This is an additional conflict in her life. She has a hard time finding a connection whether it’s at home, in school, or in the neighborhood.
Curt is a physical person. He’s athletic. It helps that boys regardless of race play sports together.

*The way the two races of kids treat one another was interesting. I saw a curiosity, but an unwillingness and inability to know how to integrate with one another. This is another conflict in the story.

*One of the things I had trouble with in the book is Alice is ten (and she’s twelve at the end) when the story begins. The story follows the family for a year. Her person seems older-a teenager and not a kid of ten. I had a difficult time believing that Alice is ten. If she’d been thirteen when the story began, then I’d state this story had a believable quality.

*I enjoyed the east coast versus west coast differences. The family began in Washington D.C. and relocated across the country to Berkeley, California.

*I laughed at the adults in the story who complain about people who judge others when they too judge.

*Tom and Marian have strong ideas of what they want their kids to experience. However, being strong stable parents is not one of those ideas.

*I experienced through Alice’s eyes the demonstrations, riots, and the chaos that transpired.

*The story doesn’t focus much on Curt. I wanted to hear more about his life.

*Lastly, there is a closure for the family. A big change comes and the kids are thrust to a new place. Alice has experienced big changes in the year at Berkeley, California. Her person grew in age one year, but in experience probably 30 years. Of course, I’d like to know the rest of her story!

*Final thoughts:
This is not a story that is a feel good story. It is a book that is revealing about people and moments in history. There were times when I was infuriated at the parents. I felt deep sadness for Alice. It is a book I’ll not forget. This is the last point and the main point that led me to give this book an excellent rating: it is memorable!