Margaret Beringer is shy and awkward, trying to draw as little attention to herself as possible at school when Courtney Carrington blows into her life and takes an interest in her. Courtney doesn’t care that she’s in a family of strawberry farmers or that her only friend is her cousin Bertha. For those few short weeks before Courtney and her mother move across the country, she makes Maggie’s life sparkle.
When Courtney returns to Tanner Peak the following summer to work at her father’s department store, she and Maggie strike up a relationship that quickly runs deep and beautiful. They keep things going by long distance during the year while they’re in college, and each summer Courtney returns to town, until circumstance intervenes and Courtney leaves Maggie alone and brokenhearted.
The last thing Margaret expects five years later is to see Courtney back in Tanner Peak. Memories and feelings long shoved down start to resurface, despite Margaret’s determination to ignore them. And while the spark is still there, so are the scars. Can she let the past go and give her first love a second chance?
Strawberry Summer is told in the first person from Margaret’s perspective, which means we get to know her best and see everyone else through her eyes. I loved that we could see her growing up as the book moves from one summer to the next, her perspective changing as she does. When we first meet Margaret, she’s isolated, afraid of being noticed by the other kids in school, even though she has a warm, supportive family and a best friend in Bertha. Meeting Courtney lets her get to know some of the other students and open up enough to eventually become friends with some of the least likely of her classmates. As she gets older, she becomes more confident and sure of herself, and even though she closes off quite a lot thanks to her breakup with Courtney and the reasons that led to it, she eventually becomes a happier, lovely person who knows exactly what her priorities are.
We only ever get to know Courtney through what she says and how Maggie perceives her actions, and at every stage of their relationship, she’s electric. When she first comes to Tanner Creek, she doesn’t care about who’s a cool kid and who’s an outcast, she just knows who she wants to spend time with. As she gets older, she’s driven by the goal to someday run her father’s department store empire, and yet she still has space in her life that’s just for Maggie. She doesn’t say a lot about her life in the time they spend apart, but the little she does say is poignant and tugged at me. And while I may have liked Courtney when she and Maggie were together in high school and college, I adored her as an adult. She still has her drive, she has her own scars, and she’s brave as hell. Definitely a woman worthy of her happy ending.
There are some fantastic side characters in Strawberry Summer, but the standout for me is probably Maggie’s mother. How could I not love her? She’s a popular romance author! Okay, fine. I loved Maggie’s whole family. They’re quirky and sweet and are wonderfully supportive as she comes out and ventures into her first relationship. Bertha is also lovely and Travis and Melanie turn out to be pleasant surprises, given how we first meet them (and I hope Melanie gets a book!).
The Writing Style
In my review of First Position I said Melissa Brayden had surprised me by dropping a lot of the elements I’d come to expect in her writing and I couldn’t wait to see what she had in store for us next. To say it was worth the wait is a huge understatement because Strawberry Summer feels like a turning point in her writing. I saw some of it in First Position, but the sheer maturity of her writing struck me with this book. There was more depth to the characters, the plotting was tight, and the first person narration just worked for me in a way that it usually doesn’t. I hesitate to say that it doesn’t feel like a Melissa Brayden novel, because I actually think she’s shown us that she’s writing at a whole new level now and I love, love, love it.
Something I found particularly impressive, and I hinted at this above, is how the writing changes as Maggie grows up. When she’s in highschool, it feels like a young adult story. When she’s in college, it feels like a new adult story. When they’re adults and Courtney comes back to town, it feels like a contemporary romance. And yet, it feels like one, coherent story and never, ever feels disjointed. HOW DID SHE DO THAT?!?!
Oh, lord, everything. Just everything. It all worked and worked well.
And look, you all know how much I love Kiss the Girl. Between the review I wrote for it and the podcast where I embarrassed myself by hitting peak fangirl, I couldn’t deny it if I tried. And yet… and I can’t believe I’m saying this… I love Strawberry Summer even more. That’s right. I said it. Strawberry Summer has dethroned Kiss the Girl as my favourite book by Melissa Brayden. It’s sexy, it’s sweet, it’s angsty, it has aaaamazing dialogue, and it owned my soul the whole time I read it and in the days that have passed since I finished it.
Sheena will only let me provide one excerpt, and I highlighted SO MANY for this book.
Strawberry Summer will suck you in, rip out your heart, and put all the pieces back together by the end, maybe even a little better than they were before. Its unusual structure and storytelling alone are worth the price of admission, but it’s the romance that will keep you thinking about it long after you’ve finished. I adored Strawberry Summer and predict it be one of my favourite books in all of 2017.
Excerpt from Strawberry Summer by Melissa Brayden
“Why would you do that?” she asked, whirling on me once we were alone.
“You told Travis to kiss me. I mean, you told him to. Why would you do that?”
I held up a hand. “Whoa. I didn’t say those particular words.”
“But you made him think I was into it. That I was into him.”
I shook my head in exasperation. “Aren’t you?”
“No. I’m not, actually.”
“Okay then, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have encouraged him. But you guys were pretty cozy next to the fire, so—”
She pressed her lips to mine and I froze. All at once a warm rush of amazing came over me and I responded, returning her kiss. Surrendering beneath it. Courtney slid her hands around my waist and pulled me closer as our lips moved in slow tandem. I’d been kissed exactly once in my life, by Edwin Elderman in a game of Spin the Bottle at my church youth camp, but it had been nothing like this. I wasn’t even sure it had been the same activity. Because kissing Courtney was warm and satisfying and addictive and exciting and it made my skin shiver in the most wonderful way. The proximity came with that intoxicating scent of vanilla and I was gone, lost in a blurry haze of fabulous. It only lasted for a few seconds, but they were probably the best few seconds of my time on Earth thus far. As Courtney pulled back, ending the kiss, she kept her lips very close to mine. “Get it now?” she said quietly.
I nodded, as I wasn’t sure what words to pick.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781626398672
- Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Melissa Brayden Online
Note: I received a free review copy of Strawberry Summer by Melissa Brayden. No money was exchanged for this review. I will always review books as honestly as possible and on occasion I refuse to review books.