Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review: A Summer in Europe

Summary: On her thirtieth birthday, Gwendolyn Reese receives an unexpected present from her widowed Aunt Bea: a grand tour of Europe in the company of Bea’s Sudoku and Mahjongg Club. The prospect isn’t entirely appealing. But when the gift she is expecting—an engagement ring from her boyfriend—doesn’t materialize, Gwen decides to go.

At first, Gwen approaches the trip as if it’s the math homework she assigns her students, diligently checking monuments off her must-see list. But amid the bougainvillea and stunning vistas of southern Italy, something changes. Gwen begins to live in the moment—skipping down stone staircases in Capri, running her fingers over a glacier in view of the Matterhorn, racing through the Louvre, and taste-testing pastries at a Marseilles cafe. Reveling in every new experience—especially her attraction to a charismatic British physics professor—Gwen discovers that the ancient wonders around her are nothing compared to the renaissance unfolding within… -- Kensington

It's that time of year when I am swamped with real life. I know I'm not alone, but lately, I feel as if I'm lucky to read for even an hour a day. And as far as concentrating on a book goes... forget about it. So I decided that I needed a book that would just "take me away." A SUMMER IN EUROPE by Marilyn Brant was definitely an ideal choice. This novel allowed me to forget about the real world, get caught up in a little romance, and escape to another country (or two or three...)

A SUMMER IN EUROPE tells the story of Gwen, an Iowan schoolteacher whose aunt gives her a month-long trip to Europe for her 30th birthday. The catch is that the tour is with her aunt and her aunt's friends who just happen to be members of a Sudoku and Mahjongg club. Gwen isn't too sure that she wants to leave for part of her summer break and spend it with the older folk; however, after her boyfriend of two years doesn't pop the question on her birthday (instead she gets a pair of earrings), she decides that a vacation might be exactly what she needs.

I enjoyed A SUMMER IN EUROPE and, without a doubt, it served as an escape read for me. I absolutely loved being transported to Europe and I felt as if I had the opportunity to live vicariously through the characters in this novel. I have only ever been to London, and that was when I was a teen, and I long to visit other parts of Europe -- especially Italy. I was thrilled that so much of this story took place in Italy and that the characters were very diligent about seeing most of the major attractions. I thought Ms. Brant did a wonderful job in bringing these attractions (both the big and small ones) to life. It is apparent to anyone who reads A SUMMER IN EUROPE that the author not only has traveled to these places, but that she holds them near and dear to her heart.

Another fun part of A SUMMER IN EUROPE were the characters. Many of the people in the story were indeed "characters;" and I was became quite fond of them (all except for Gwen's stodgy boyfriend.) I adored Gwen's aunt and her very funny friends, and I appreciated how Ms. Brant portrayed many of the elderly characters. She made them very wise, but she also made them authentic... with real feelings and desires that individuals of any age could relate to.

Of course, I think one of the reasons that I liked A SUMMER IN EUROPE so much was the character of Gwen. In fact, if I'm being entirely honest, she reminded me a bit of myself. Not so much that my life was like hers, but more like I could relate to her approach to travel. When Gwen first set out on this trip, she had a laundry list of sites that she had to see. She was more interested in checking them off then appreciating their beauty and wonder. Gwen was very organized and definitely a Type A personality, and while I could see how it affected her ability to enjoy life, I still have a feeling that I would be tempted to approach a European tour the exact same way.

Thankfully, the longer Gwen is away from Iowa and her boyfriend, the more she relaxes and allows opens herself up to new experiences. And one of those experiences just happens to be a very charming British professor named Emerson who is also on the tour. I admit that I fell a bit for Emerson's charm and I loved how their romance expanded Gwen's world. In addition, Emerson provided some humor to the story with his constant banter with his brother -- they gave new meaning to the words "sibling rivalry."

However, it was Gwen's personal growth that really made the story stand out to me. I always liked Gwen, but by the end of the novel, I loved her. Throughout the course of the story, Gwen managed to really begin to understand herself and her desires. She saw the world in a new light and I think she realized her place in it. Gwen's personal and spiritual journey were very uplifting and hopeful, and her story just made me feel happy.

A SUMMER IN EUROPE would make a fun book club pick and the possibilities for a themed book club event are endless. I am almost drooling thinking about all of the foods that could be served! There is a
reading guide included in the back of the book with thirteen thought provoking questions. Some of the themes you might choose to explore include travel, cultural differences, romance, commitment, family dynamics, aging, art, music, food, and love. There are also quite a bit of symbolism in the story from the game of Mahjongg, to String Theory, to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

A SUMMER IN EUROPE was a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. I loved getting to "visit" so many amazing European cities and "meet" some very interesting people.

Thanks to the author for providing a review copy of this novel.

13 comments:

Beth F said...

Sounds like the perfect read for this time of year. I like that Gwen grows from her experiences and that the book seems to have more going for it than just the love story.

Serena said...

i love the cover of this one and think this sounds like a great escape read. I've read one other of this author's books and really enjoyed it.

bermudaonion said...

A Summer in Europe (both the book and an actual trip like that) sound wonderful to me.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm like Gwen too, with a laundry list when I travel. I should read this just to learn how to do it better!

Beth Hoffman said...

I'd not heard of this book before your review, but I'm intrigued. Gwen sounds like a character I'd like to get to know. Plus, it's nice to have a book on hand to transport me out of the stresses of life. I'll add this to my list. Terrific review, Julie!

Kaye said...

This one sounds wonderful and I just love the cover. Glad you enjoyed it.

Jenny Girl said...

this is book that would be good for any of those crazy times during the year. I like that the author seems to write from the heart and I always like books with a cast of "characters" who are fun in their own right.
Great review Julie :)

Laura Fabiani said...

Oh, I could use an escape book like this right now. This one sounds utterly charming. I will go browse through my bookshelf. I'm in the mood for a book set in Europe.

Julie said...

She's a local author for me. I feel like I should be reading her book. :) What should I start with?

Julie P. said...

Julie,

I'd start with this one or ACCORDING TO JANE.

Mystica said...

Sounds gorgeous reading!

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I would love to read a good escape novel! This will go on my list. Gwen's adventures sound like they could be nice escape from the dreary winter months here. Thanks for reviewing it.

Meg said...

Oooh, you have my appetite all set for this one! I love traveling through my reading and jumped at a chance to read this one. Brant is a favorite author of mine -- even when flawed, her characters are always so likable. Thanks for inspiring me to move this one up on the ol' TBR!