In The Summer of Lost and Found (Beach House Series #7) by Mary Alice Monroe, twenty-something Linnea Palmer has been temporarily laid off from her job at the South Carolina Aquarium because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Yes, you read that right. The first wave of pandemic-era novels has arrived!) Linnea’s aunt, series’ pillar Cara Rutledge, offers Linnea her vacant beach house for the summer. But things get complicated quickly.
Across the street in the house on Ocean Boulevard (read my review of On Ocean Boulevard), Cara’s husband David is showing signs of being sick with the coronavirus, so Linnea takes in Cara’s immuno-compromised daughter Hope. (And in a sweet, but uncharacteristically thoughtless move, Cara purchases a puppy to keep Hope entertained—apparently never considering the fact that Linnea now has to care for a little girl and a puppy. But who doesn’t love a puppy in a story? And “Luna” is a real puppy with her own Instagram hashtag.) When Linnea’s coworker Anna needs a place to stay, Linnea offers her a room in the beach house, too.
Meanwhile, Linnea’s ex-boyfriend John is quarantining next door even as her current boyfriend Gordon heads back to town. And then the glitzy Pandora shows up. Sensing Linnea’s uncertainty about her relationship with Gordon, Pandora makes the most of the situation. You can imagine how interesting things get when Linnea’s brother Cooper moves into the beach house, too. (Whew. At times it felt like I was watching an episode of the NBC television series Friends.)
I wasn’t about to miss out on a favorite author’s newest release, but I was disappointed at how widely The Summer of Lost and Found deviates from the style of the previous books in the series.
For one thing, there was very little focus on a trait I love about Monroe, which is her ability to educate readers about wildlife while telling an entertaining story. Early in The Summer of Lost and Found, readers find out that loggerhead sea turtles are building nests on the beach, and at the end of the book, readers are present when a nest hatches. But during the long summer between, the young people living in the beach house are so wrapped up in their own lives they don’t seem to realize that nature is being mostly unaffected by the pandemic. Here and there a passing comment is made about climate change, or about the danger of plastics accumulating in our oceans, or how to tell the difference between the sound a bullfrog makes and the sound an alligator makes. But the role of nature plays a much smaller role than it has in previous Beach House books.
And at the risk of sounding like a complainer … Our dear old friend Florence, who has always lived next door to Cara’s beach house and has been a mainstay throughout the series, is now experiencing dementia. The Summer of Lost and Found hits a few key notes about how Florence’s dementia is affecting her and her loved ones, and at the end of the book, readers experience a few beautiful moments with Florence. Maybe it’s just me, but I really, really would have loved to be included in more of dear Florence’s final act.
Now, on to what to love about this special book! True to form, Mary Alice Monroe has crafted a beautiful story about the complexities of relationships between women. In The Summer of Lost and Found, Monroe also does a lovely job of dropping readers into the lives of the younger generation as they navigate an unprecedented situation. And here’s something fun: The newly released “Beach House Blend” by Charleston Coffee Roasters is mentioned in this story. And fans of Harper Lee will appreciate a few nods to the book To Kill A Mockingbird.
A bit of language is scattered throughout. And, I have to admit, I wasn’t ready to read a pandemic-era novel. Sometimes the story felt like it was hitting a little too close to home. In the Acknowledgements section, Mary Alice Monroe addresses this:
Every book I write is a journey. Yet the writing of The Summer of Lost and Found was, like the year 2020 it was written in, an experience like no other … I wrote this novel in real time—and what a roller-coaster journey it has been! … What I wanted to say in April was different in July and changed again in November. Rewrite followed rewrite. I pulled my hair out, cursed the characters, the story, swore I would never do this again. It was a long, arduous process. By the year’s end … my story was told.
Yes, The Summer of Lost and Found is worth reading, for a lot of reasons! It can easily be read as a standalone novel, but if you’re intrigued by the series, start here to read my review of Beach House For Rent (#4).
Reader, are you ready for a pandemic-era novel?
Here with you,