Last Summer is a competently written, juicy page turner with a big problem – its mystery is non-mysterious.
Ella Skye is a gorgeous, Barbara Walters-style lifestyle journalist who jet-sets with the rich and famous. When she meets Damien Russell, they fall quickly in love, marry and it seems like a fairytale. But their joy quickly shatters when one day she wakens in the hospital and is informed she had a miscarriage thanks to a car crash – and cannot recall her pregnancy, nor the crash itself. In fact, she remembers that Damien never even wanted children at all, a decision reached and carried over from his crappy previous marriage, which leaves her utterly confused about his devastation at this loss. She can recall everything that happened the evening she was t-boned into a light pole – but has mentally blocked out her pregnancy in every single way, to the point of envisioning her midsection as one big blur.
Unsure of how to mourn the son she can’t remember, Ella begins to experience little flashes of sense memories – that she and Damien argued before she got into the car. That there was some reason for the tension between them. Most importantly, that something slightly sinister is happening and Damien is holding back some crucial facts.
Trying to distract herself with work, Ella learns she’s been is requested by celebrity adventurer Nathan Donovan to accompany him on a trek around the world for an article; a man she interviewed the previous summer but also cannot recall. Donovan is trying to recover from the death of his nine-year-old child and the fact that his wife deserted him in the aftermath; it turns out that he called Ella in to reconcile their unfinished business, and her total amnesia when it comes to their past shocks him. Ella is insistent that they complete the article regardless, and soon they embark on the journey together. Ella is completely confused as to how and why Nathan seems to know so much about her. How can he help her untangle the complicated strands of her dark past and her unclear present?
Last Summer is one hell of a ride with a heroine who’s easy to relate to and a glossy romantic mystery that holds the reader’s attention. It’s sort of a glossy pop romance with thriller elements that kick into a fevered pace in the last third and keep the reader guessing. By the time the last quarter comes around, we’re in full romantic suspense territory, and there’s a final twist that pulls everything together – but the problem is that twist is predictable from very early on in the book.
Ella is a heroine to believe in and root for. She’s survived a lot of things – the ugliness of her childhood friend’s suicide, and the fact that Ella was the witness to the final argument between her parents prior to their deaths. The two men in her lives are realistically sympathetic and have heartbreaking issues – and slightly sociopathic sides. In between the counter sex and the dramatic twists there’s a message about why sometimes forgetting can be a positive.
But it’s hard to go much higher with my grade thanks to the predictability of the main plot. You can probably guess from the back cover copy where the bigger portion of the story is heading, and while the twists and double-twists that happen in the last hundred pages disguise the final details, the main refrain is the same. The book has problems maintaining its level of suspense, with big moments of surprising tension working themselves out in the space of paragraphs.
Which is too bad, because the pulpy ride here is a lot of fun. If you’re willing to put up with some predictability, then you might have a little more fun with Last Summer than I did.
(Content note: This book features explicit miscarriage recovery, child rape and sexual slavery, on-page explicitly depicted suicide, child death, and murder.)
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier