Publication date: May 2022
Category: Historical Mystery, Women’s Domestic Life Fiction, Historical Thrillers
Review, short version: Two skunks for two of the three lead characters.
Review, long version:
The authors of The Lost Summers of Newport are Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White.
These are three authors I’d given up reading, but when they joined forces to write The Glass Ocean in 2018, I read it. Not because they’d written it, but because the setting intrigued me – the Lusitania, a British luxury ocean liner that was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine in 1915 during the first World War.
I thought The Glass Ocean was good, so when Lost Summers came out, I wanted to read that as well.
The setting is the fictitious Sprague mansion in Newport, RI. In its heyday – the Gilded Age (1870s-1900s) – the seaside town of Newport was THE place for the richer-than-rich to spend their summers: Vanderbilts, Astors and the like. They built summer “cottages” like these:
And the rich gathered to revel in their conspicuous consumption, and delight in excluding those who didn’t measure up.
The premise of Lost Summers is three interlinked stories about three women in three different centuries:
June 1899: Ellen Daniels, who arrives at the Sprague mansion to give singing lessons to Maybelle Sprague. Ellen – not her real name – has no family or friends to help her, and she’s on the run from someone who wants to kill her.
July 1957: Lucia “Lucky” Sprague is married to Stuyvesant Sprague, scion of her Sprague stepfamily. Lucky is Maybelle’s granddaughter – or is she?
September 2019: Andie Figuero is an architectural historian, television producer and host of a home renovation show, on site at the crumbling Sprague mansion to do a show about the makeover of three of its major rooms. Which Andie is hoping will save her show, her career, and her family.
The book’s chapters rotate among the three women’s stories, and I have to give the authors kudos for mastering the art of a cliffhanger ending to almost every chapter. They’ve nailed it. This kept me reading, even Andie’s chapters, and I didn’t care much for her.
Andie – the 2019 character – has a six-year-old, Petey, whom she treats more like an accessory that she only sometimes remembers. On page 10 Andie gets a call from Petey’s school, reminding her that today is her turn to provide snacks for his class, but…
Not long after, Andie brings Petey to the Sprague mansion because she can’t find a babysitter. Only…Petey wanders off because Andie forgets to watch him.
Petey is found and eventually Andie takes him home, driving a car that has bald tires, something she keeps forgetting to replace. Her phone dies because she forgot to recharge it and forgot where she left the charger.
On the other hand, I liked Ellen, the 1899 character. She’s scared for her life, but still strong and brave and resourceful. Her plan is to hide out at the Sprague mansion, give Maybelle singing lessons, regroup, and figure out her next step. Ellen is a survivor and she’s smart, and you can’t help but root for her.
Then there’s Lucky in 1957, best described as a socialite, married to Stuy, best described as an alcoholic. Lucky will also appear in Andie’s chapters – Lucky, by now around 90, still lives at the Sprague mansion. But the rooms Lucky occupies, and Lucky herself, are off-limits to Andie and her film crew. Or are they?
People mysteriously disappear near the mansion, things mysteriously disappear in the mansion…
And Lost Summers mysteriously appeared on the June 5 New York Times best seller list…
And by the next week, it, too, had disappeared.
Perhaps, considering everything…
That’s probably not so mysterious.