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Book cover of The Summer House by Santa MontefioreReviewed by Colleen Turner

When Lord Frampton dies in a skiing accident he leaves behind a family fighting through a myriad of complicated emotions. Everyone’s lives are further turned upside down when a young woman named Phaedra shows up at the funeral claiming to be his illegitimate daughter. They discover in the Lord’s will that Phaedra has been left a large sum of money and the priceless Frampton sapphires. As the family gets to know Phaedra they find a kindness and clarity that somehow begins to heal each of them and in turn brings them all together again, making them a family like they haven’t been in years. But one family member is not as ready to believe Phaedra’s story and is determined to expose her as a fraud out to take advantage of a rich family’s grief. Further complicating the situation is the growing attraction between Phaedra and Lord Frampton’s eldest son, David. With all this swirling around them, will any of them be able to heal and move on from tragedy to be happy once again?

The Summer House perfectly captures the various ways in which this upper class family handles their grief at losing its patriarch as well as the innumerable emotions they go through when Phaedra presents herself, many of which surprised me. Antoinette’s acceptance of her would-be step daughter and her deep need to have Phaedra in her life as a way of staying close to her husband were something I never expected and were really touching, especially as Phaedra had never really had a family of her own. David and Phaedra’s palpable attraction was a little disturbing at first given the situation, but it was dealt with carefully and never pushed itself too far over into the icky zone, especially as further information was discovered along the way. The characters are a delightful, mixed bag of eccentricities, and just about every trait you would expect is represented: the kind, accepting mother; the pushy, opinionated, and old-fashioned grandmother who has a little sliver of mischievousness she tries unsuccessfully to keep hidden from the others; the selfish and domineering sister-in-law; the charming, quirky yet flawed sons of the family who each have their own crosses to bear; the unflinchingly protective spinster sister; and the outsider who comes in trying to find a place amongst this intimidating family while hiding secrets she can never reveal. Between the wonderful characters and the descriptive, captivating setting in the English countryside I was thoroughly swept away into the Frampton’s world.

On the downside, the secrets the characters are trying to hide – mainly Phaedra but a few other tinier secrets of the others – were not hard to figure out. About halfway through I pretty much understood where it was going and had to just enjoy the story as it continued to its inevitable conclusion. Maybe because of this, or as an issue all its own, much of the story felt repetitive: Phaedra and David thinking of each other and their growing feelings over and over; Antoinette worrying about how, if, and when she will get over her husband; Roberta, David’s sister-in-law, continually finding fault in Phaedra and stating she just doesn’t trust her. It felt like some of this repetition could have been edited out and the story would have flowed better.

The Summer House is a feel-good, light sort of romance and family drama that wraps up nice and neat by the end. While some heavy themes such as death and betrayal are central to the storyline they don’t bog the reader down but instead are used as catalysts for the characters’ growth and progress out of the darkness their lives fall into. There’s a warm thread of acceptance and forgiveness weaving through the sadness that lightens the whole story. While this isn’t necessarily realistic given the situations they find themselves in it made for a satisfying book to lose myself in for a few days, and I find myself a little sad to leave the characters behind.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Simon and Schuster. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.