Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Review: Boardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger

As the days get hotter and you start to pack your beach bag, you'll want to find appropriate reading and what better to read than a book with a beach on the cover, set in Santa Cruz, California and its boardwalk? Meredith Jaeger's newest novel, Boardwalk Summer, is that book and good for women's fiction fans looking for an easy and quick read while parked on the sand with the sun on their faces.

When Violet Harcourt is crowned Miss California in 1940, she's certain she's on her way to the Hollywood career she's dreamed of forever. There's just one problem. Violet is married to a wealthy and connected but abusive husband who will never agree to her pursuing her dreams. Of course, just being married disqualifies her from the pageant but she's willing to lie for a chance at being discovered. Until her husband Charles finds out, that is.

In 2007, Marisol Cruz is a single mother, living at home with her parents, and waiting tables, having given up her dreams of graduate school after a drunken one night stand at the end of college resulted in a pregnancy. Four year old Lily is the love of Mari's life and while she mourns the loss of the life she thought she'd be leading, she adores her little girl. Mari has always loved history and when she has the chance, in addition to her waitress position, she takes on a part time job with the local museum in the run up to the area's Centennial Celebration. While staffing the museum's booth on the boardwalk, she learns of plans to tear down the old gazebo and replace it with expensive condos. She's outraged and determined to find a way to save the place that her grandparents once danced. In the course of her research, Mari learns more about her grandfather, a Mexican immigrant who was once a stunt diver on the boardwalk and his unexpected friendship with Violet Harcourt.

The novel has a dual narrative structure, jumping back and forth between Violet in 1940 and Mari in 2007. As Violet runs away to Hollywood and encounters the soul destroying, seedy underbelly of the movie business, Violet is in a race against time to save the gazebo even as she is captivated by this talented beauty queen who died so young, researching Violet's life in between her research into the history of the gazebo. Violet narrates her own story line in first person while Mari's story is told in third person. This serves to make the abuse Violet suffers at her husband's hands and the terrible situations she finds herself in in Hollywood that much more visceral. Both characters are drawn as strong women, determined to make a life for themselves: Mari as a single mother who, while she might have temporarily lost her way, eventually finds her way back to her love of history and the preservation of the past, and Violet in escaping a controlling husband who might just kill her if she doesn't break away forever. The connection between the two women, through Mari's grandfather, is well done and resists the obvious although there is another enormous coincidence that does stretch credibility later on in the story. There are parts of the story where plot lines are raised and then dropped, such as when Mari thinks she should look into the unexpected charitable donation the late Charles Harcourt made during WWII and his sudden Quakerism. The story behind this is explained in Violet's narration so Mari never goes back to it, despite the fact that it is the reader, rather than her character who discovers the truth about it. Also, Mari's grant project concerning the gazebo is only mentioned very superficially but the idea behind it (its importance to the marginalized Latinx and working class community), had it been elaborated on even slightly, would have added some nice depth to the story. There are hard, discussion worthy topics here, spousal abuse, casual racism, chasing dreams, sexual politics, and single parenthood but they are handled lightly. The book reads quickly and although it isn't hard to guess most of the plot twists, readers will race through the pages to confirm that they are in fact right, to find out the end to Violet's story, and to see how Mari's life is changing. Definitely a book for summer beach blanket reading.

For more information about Meredith Jaeger and the book, check out her webpage, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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