It’s a real pleasure today to share my review of A Seagull Summer by Jane Lovering: published on 6th August by Farrago, this is the second book in the Seasons by the Sea series, and is now available for kindle and in paperback. The copy I read was my own, pre-ordered for delivery to my kindle on publication day.
I so look forward to a new book from Jane – she’s long been one of my very favourite authors. If you pop her name into my “search” box, you’ll find reviews galore of her earlier books, including the first book in this series, Christmas Secrets by the Sea. I’m sure you’ll already know that she’s now a multiple RNA awards nominee and prize winner, so there are clearly many others who enjoy her writing as much as I always do.
I had the pleasure of spending some time in Jane’s company back in early 2019 at an event in Harrogate Library organised by Yorkshire Author Promotions (you’ll find my post about the event here): she was writing this book at the time, and I was thoroughly intrigued by what she told me about seaweed and seagulls (yes, ok, I know I need to get out more!). So this book really was a “must read” for me – and I most definitely wasn’t disappointed.
Summer by the sea – a time to spread your wings, right?
Leah has come to Dorset to collect seaweed samples for a nutrition research project. She’s trying to leave behind a disastrous family life, and is haunted by the death of her best friend, Claire, on whom she relied for advice.
Here she meets Brendon, an Australian come to search for his mysteriously-vanished-from-the-family great grandfather. Brendon has discovered a fear of British seagulls, particularly Roger, a hand-reared bird which has taken a liking to Leah. As Leah and Brendon form a summer friendship, their pasts catch up with them. But together they help each other to see beyond the narrow confines and mistakes of the past.
The Seasons by the Sea series combines laugh-out-loud humour with damaged people redeemed by love.
It was so lovely to be back in Christmas Steepleton – but I must say at outset that there’s absolutely no need to have read the first book in the series to experience the author’s wonderful sense of place. It was rather nice though to have those moments of recognition – The Boys of Christmas was set in the same location too – with some lovely small nods to the characters I’d so enjoyed. But Leah isn’t staying in the village itself – she’s staying in a dilapidated cottage up on the cliffs (the setting and the house itself just wonderfully described) where there’s only running water if you pump it up – and that’s rather difficult on your own.
Do you know, I’ve seen reviews where people have said they didn’t take to Leah and found her difficult to identify with – it perhaps says more about me than about her, but I really liked her from the very beginning. Some people have baggage – Leah really has an entire luggage trolley. She’s socially awkward at the best of times, at her best immersed in her work as a seaweed scientist. But she’s been damaged over the years by her difficult family, further hurt by her dysfunctional and now-ended marriage, she can’t stop her inclination for over-thinking everything, and she’s also struggling with grief (and a good bit of guilt) after the death of her close friend Claire.
The sudden appearance of happy-go-lucky Aussie Brendon in his fluorescent shorts isn’t what she wants at all – but, unable to refuse him the use of her shed (did I mention she also has an inability to refuse anyone anything?), he might just turn out to be just what she needs. And if not, he does have a boat (of sorts) to help her collect her seaweed samples.
The book isn’t just a double-hander – there’s a great and gloriously eccentric supporting cast too, the arrival of some more welcome than others. And Leah also has an assistant – Tass, who might only be a minor character but I liked them very much. Did you notice the use of “them”? Rather bravely I thought, the author has made Tass gender-fluid, using gender-neutral pronouns throughout. I will admit that I’m not sure it entirely worked – I just thought it sometimes made the writing (and the reading) a tad awkward, but all kudos to the author for giving it a try.
And I really must mention Roger, mustn’t I? He’s a seagull – hand-reared, a bit over-friendly, fixing you with his eye, knocking on the window, liable to steal your food out of your hand (with a particular liking for fruit cake). And Brendon has a real fear and phobia of British seagulls – things aren’t going to go well, are they? But what a wonderful character he is…!
The pace of the book is quite steady to start with – a lot of well-crafted dialogue, lots of humour (of course), a bit of introspection, a slowly developing relationship, a growing mystery about the anonymous emails appearing on Leah’s laptop. But the pace picks up quite considerably in the last quarter with some really well written drama – and it also produces my favourite line in the whole book, “It’s a fucking seagull, not Lassie”. But now I’ve said that – it had me collapsed with laughter – perhaps it does work rather better in context.
I could quote lines I loved until the cows come home – one reason I’ve always loved the author’s writing so much is that she can have you in tears of laughter one moment, and the next moment you realise you have a lump in your throat and the tears are there for an entirely different reason. Her writing just sparkles – wonderfully clever descriptions, such realistic exchanges, small details that surprise and bring real joy, a deft touch with all the emotional content. Self-discovery and capacity for change, finding love where you least expect to find it… this book really does have a bit of everything, and I really enjoyed it.
And having waited a while for a new book from Jane, I’m about to read another! The Country Escape will be published by Boldwood Books on 1st September – and yes, I’m delighted to report that we’ll be back in Christmas Steepleton again. Join me on 4th September for my stop on the blog tour arranged by Rachel’s Random Resources.
About the author
Jane Lovering was, presumably, born, although everyone concerned denies all knowledge. However there is evidence that her early years were spent in Devon (she can still talk like a pirate under the right conditions) and of her subsequent removal to Yorkshire under a sack and sedation.
She now lives in North Yorkshire, where she writes romantic comedies and labours under the tragic misapprehension that men are queueing up for her. Owing to a terrible outbreak of insanity she is the minder of an enormous ginger cat called Arthur and a training-averse terrier; she is also the owner of five practically grown-up children, and she has to spend considerable amounts of time in a darkened room as a result (of the animals, not the kids).
Jane’s likes include marshmallows, the smell of cucumbers and the understairs cupboard, words beginning with B, and Doctor Who. She writes with her laptop balanced on her knees whilst lying on her bed, and her children were brought up to believe that real food has a high carbon content. And a kind of amorphous shape. Not unlike Jane herself, come to think of it.
She had some hobbies once, but she can’t remember what they were. Ask her to show you how many marshmallows she can fit in her mouth at once, though, that might give you a clue.