Sunday 16 April 2017

Strawberry Summer, Melissa Brayden

On the drive back to my house, I blared the radio and smiled at this new development in my once boring and uneventful life. Courtney Carrington had come to town.
Margaret Beringer didn’t have an easy adolescence. She hated her name, was less than popular in school, and was always cast aside as a “farm kid.” However, with the arrival of Courtney Carrington, Margaret’s youth sparked into color. Courtney was smart, beautiful, and put together—everything Margaret wasn’t. Who would have imagined that they’d fit together so perfectly?

But first loves can scar.

Margaret hasn’t seen Courtney in years and that’s for the best. But when Courtney loses her father and returns to Tanner Peak to take control of the family store, Margaret comes face-to-face with her past and the woman she’s tried desperately to forget. The fact that Courtney has grown up more beautiful than ever certainly doesn’t help matters.

* * * * *
5 / 5

Perfect. This novel had absolutely everything I wanted and then some on top of that. It made me cry at least twice. Strawberry Summer was my first venture into Melissa Brayden's work and now I'm off to go get my hands on some more (I'm thinking First Position). This book has some well-loved tropes, two sparkling female leads and a host of loveable background characters, and more than its fair share of emotional moments. Strawberry Summer is a heartwarming and heartbreaking lesbian novel that is bound to be an absolute hit.

Margaret "Maggie" Beringer is dawdling through life. She lives on a strawberry farm with her beloved older brother Clay, her father, and her erotica-writing mother, who form a loving family unit. But Maggie's only real friend is her cousin Berta, until Courtney Carrington, heiress to a department store chain and life rife with family misfortune, sashays into her life (or, more accurately, into Maggie's history presentation on Abraham Lincoln). And nothing was ever the same again. 

I liked living dangerously. Well, in small, controllable scenarios quite close to my own backyard

Margaret is a wanderer. She loves the family farm and the town of Tanners Peak, but she isn't sure what she wants from life. There's a responsibility to the farm, but is that what she wants to do forever? She knows what is safe, where her comfort zone is and Maggie does not want to leave, not until someone makes her. Margaret is family and community driven but is unfortunately lacking in friends at the beginning. As she grows older she blossoms into a lovely young, confident woman with an array of intelligent, loveable friends - Berta, Melanie, Travis. Of the two girls, Margaret was my favourite.

Courtney, I was finding, was the type of girl who leapt at life and went after what she wanted

Courtney is a city girl. She's driven, passionate, and knows what she wants - to take over the family department business - and she's known it since she was a child. She also has lots of business attire that Maggie finds very attractive. Courtney loves and when she loves, she loves passionately, but because of this she's always looking for signs of commitment. What happens, then, when it looks like the life of the person you love isn't going to be compatible with yours? 

The smile was gone and so was the girl I loved. I was drowning and I didn't know how to get air. 

Importantly, Strawberry Summer is not a book about being gay. Yes, it is a lesbian romance, but it isn't about coming out, dealing with bullying, or learning to accept that you aren't straight. If you are looking for that kind of book, you aren't going to find it here. Maggie is confident in her sexuality and her family approves of her relationship; Courtney is bisexual and proud of it, and I'm fairly sure there's never a negative comment made about their relationship. Which makes a lovely change from a lot of books I've read - most of the books is excellent chemistry and warm, fuzzy feelings. Strawberry Summer is pure romance with a healthy dash of investigation into growing up and learning what you want from life and yourself. 

My heart is telling me to go with her to Chicago, to fight for her once and for all, the way I should have done all those years ago. But it's like my feet are stuck in this town.

It also spans a rather large timeframe - ten years, I think. We open with the scene described in the blurb - Maggie meets Courtney again and she definitely is not pleased. This interaction plays on your mind as we jump backwards in time to when the two young women met and fell in love. From there on out, the time flow is linear with tragedy and heartbreak ever looming in the distance. I actually really enjoyed this, watching the progression of Maggie and Courtney as the grow up and get older. The problems you face at sixteen are different to those at twenty, and Brayden managed to encompass this very well. 

Strawberry Summer doesn't pull any punches. The chemistry is very well developed and feels real, the trials the cast are put through are realistic and the scenes are poignant, but most of all the ending is emotionally satisfying. If you want a sophisticated, beautiful, and long-spanning romance, I highly recommend this!

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC.

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