The Booklight: Beach Bag BooksBetween an imagined summer romance for “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott, and an edge-of-your-seat thriller set in Duluth and Grand Rapids, you won’t lack for enjoyable reading this summer.
By: Ellen Baker, Living North
Between an imagined summer romance for “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott, and an edge-of-your-seat thriller set in Duluth and Grand Rapids, you won’t lack for enjoyable reading this summer. “The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott” is a charming debut novel by Kelly O’Connor McNees. Set largely in 1855 Walpole, New Hampshire, during the summer when Louisa May Alcott was twenty-two years old, the novel introduces us to a fiery young woman who chafes at the expectation that she will marry and settle into a domestic life. Not only is Louisa passionate about her writing (she’s already had a collection of stories published), she has spent her life watching the burden of raising children and keeping a home fall onto her
mother, while her philosopher father, Bronson, being “morally opposed to all acts of commerce,” refuses to work for pay. Even this summer, the family is dependent upon the charity of an uncle who has allowed them to use his empty house in Walpole, forcing them to leave behind their familiar stomping grounds of Boston and Concord.
McNees’s Louisa is opposed to marriage, but, to her frustration, she’s not
immune to the charms of Walpole’s young storekeeper, Joseph Singer. What
follows is an utterly charming love story, spun realistically to intertwine with known facts of Alcott’s life. Louisa and Joseph are endearing protagonists, and their friends and families – as well as the setting – are so well-drawn that the reader feels entirely immersed in their world. Whether or not you’re a fan of Alcott’s works, this story of competing passions, societal expectations, and the universal experience of first love will appeal.
For something completely different, try “The Burying Place” by Brian Freeman, the author’s fifth suspense novel featuring Duluth police detective Jonathan Stride. Freeman has been one of my favorite thriller writers since his first book came out; all his books are of the highest caliber, suspenseful and well-written with excellent psychological elements. (It’s no wonder that Freeman has been compared to Harlan Coben, and his books have been translated into 17 languages.) “The Burying Place” treats readers to more of the same. This time, a psychotic killer roams the farmlands north of Duluth, lone women his prey. The same night one is murdered, a baby goes missing from a posh lakeshore mansion near Grand Rapids. With Stride, his detective girlfriend, Serena Dial, and his longtime partner, Maggie Bei, sharing the case, twists and turns lead to one surprise after another, each with devastating consequences. Like Freeman’s previous books, this one is fabulous and a pageturner
right to the end.
Freeman’s earlier books – “Immoral,” “Stripped,” “Stalked” and “In the
Dark” – are all available in paperback and would make great beach reads. (Be warned, though, they can be graphic.)
So many books, so little time! So goes the saying, and I find that to be particularly true lately as I finish up the last touches on my second novel and look ahead to writing a third. To allow me more time to focus on my own writing, this will be my last column in Living North. I appreciate all the nice feedback I’ve heard from you over the years, and look forward to seeing you next summer, when I expect my new novel, “The Work of a Woman,” to be released. Please check my website, www.ellenbakernovels.com, for updates on that, as well as for new reading recommendations, which I’ll continue to post there on my “bookshelf.” Thank you!
Ellen Baker is the author of Keeping the House: A Novel, winner of the Great Lakes Book Award. She lives in northeastern Minnesota, where she is working on her second novel. Visit her website at www.ellenbakernovels.com.