Book Review: Summer Day

**I received this book in exchange for an honest review**

When I first read the book blurb for Summer Day, I have to admit I did not think I would find the book all that interesting. Social history has never really been my cup of tea when it comes to history books and that’s true even for novels. Moreover, I did not care all that much for the time period. When it comes to British history, I usually enjoy stories set sometime between 1776-1945 and Summer Day is just outside that time range. Despite my reservations, I decided to give the book a read anyway. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed it a great deal.

When I read historical fiction, I like to feel as if I am learning something. This is more difficult with social history as it tends to be more amorphous, and I generally prefer stories that revolve around a documented event. While Summer Day doesn’t revolve around a well-known historical event, it was still a compelling read because it revolves around an interesting ethical dilemma. It would be difficult to explain that dilemma without getting into spoilers but long story short, the protagonist feels obligated to leave home following a traumatic incident. His family, and the larger community, are somewhat in the dark as to why he has left and the process by which they discover the truth gives the novel a great deal of narrative power.

In some respects, it reminded me of the old story about the blindfolded men and the elephant. By the middle of the story, the blindfolds have been lifted, and the people who “groped” the elephant are forced to confront their initial assumptions. By the end of the story, however, they are doing much more than revisiting their old assumptions: they are rushing to avert a crisis brought on, in part, by their bad assumptions. I think it makes for a great storyline and I really liked the way everything came together at the end. Additionally, I enjoyed the depiction of rural life in the mid 20th century and have to applaud the author for his research. 

Having said all that, the ending of Summer Day was a tad too abrupt in my opinion. I think the problem could be remedied easily enough, an epilogue could help provide a bit more closure, and have no major complaints otherwise. Assuming the author can craft a good epilogue, I think Summer Day may end up being remember as one of his strongest works. The book is a quick, fast-paced read and I recommend it to readers interested in ethical dilemmas, post WWII British history, and coming-of-age stories.

A Review of Strongbow’s Wife

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review*

Strongbow’s Wife is a quick, easy read. Frank Parker clearly knows the era well and the research he put into the novel is admirable. I think the story, however, is a bit too lean and would have been stronger if the pacing weren’t so breakneck. 

By and large, I think historical novels tend to revolve around romantic storylines or some type of key event. As far as romance goes, there’s not much of it in Strongbow’s Wife. Truth be told, I don’t think that’s a great loss as I have never been one much for love triangles and literary courtships can be a bit formulaic. Nonetheless, a romance angle might have been a good way to spice up the story as it lacks a big event. Technically, the story has many notable events. The decision of the king to annex Ireland, the battles to take control of Ireland, and the pacification process are all alluded to in this story. Unfortunately, they all get short shrift. Sure, they get mentioned by the protagonist but the protagonist isn’t personally involved in any of these events so they are all tangential to her own story arc. 

I suspect the reason the author did not insert Strongbow’s wife into these situations is that it would have been ahistorical for him to do so. I respect his commitment to the historical accounts, but historical fiction does leave room for imagination. Had the novel included more than just one POV, I think it may have been possible to depict some of the important events in more depth and give readers a bit more to latch on to.

To be fair, there are plenty of great historical novels that are told exclusively from one perspective. The Moor’s Account and The Kingmaker’s Daughter are good examples of this. I think the reason these novels work well from a reading standpoint deals with the narrative decisions of the author. In the Moor’s Account, Lalami uses the first-person narrative to add more depth to the protagonist’s world view and give him more agency than he is credited with in primary sources. Sure, her telling diverges from the official account given to court authorities but never in ways that are unrealistic. In some respects, the account that Lalami offers is more trustworthy than the one passed down to posterity. 

For the most part, the protagonist of Strongbow’s Wife is a mystery. Yes, she reflects on some of the changes wrought by the foreigners in Ireland, but this mostly happens in the form of a few rhetorical questions. Even death gets short shrift in the story. Characters die or disappear, but we don’t learn much about how that makes the protagonist feel. The climax of the book is the death of a character we hardly knew and lacks much-needed oomph because we lack a strong connection to that character and the protagonist.

Ultimately, Strongbow’s Wife fails for me because it’s not fleshed out enough. To be truly compelling, the story needed to either go deeper with the first-person POV or it needed to offer more POVs. Parker has created a good skeleton for a story, but it needs more heft. To be fair, readers who want a quick rundown of the colonization of Ireland will probably enjoy this read. There’s pretty much no bloat with this read and we cover a pretty large expanse of time in just a few pages. Personally, I like having something to sink my teeth into and I think the story would have been stronger had we not rushed through so many important events. Parker is a prolific writer and I suspect he will put out more work soon. If he can resist the urge to skim over the important happenings, I think his other novels will be much stronger.