Archive for the ‘Cape Cod’ Category

Crow was set adrift in a small skiff when she was only hours old. Osh, a hermitic man, finds her and takes her into his isolated hut in the Elizabeth Islands near Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts and raises her as his daughter with the help of local resident, Miss Maggie and a cat called Mouse.

Osh made his way north from his southern home because things were getting bad, leaving whatever family he had. Over time, he tries to forget his past. However, Crow’s past is unknown and as she grows she wants to know where she came from, especially whether she came from nearby Penikese Island, a former leper colony. The townspeople assume that was her heritage and keep their distance although Crow has shown no sign of the disease.

Lauren Wolk, author of the Newbery Award winning Wolf Hollow, has written an adventurous coming of age, “family isn’t necessarily biological” story that keeps readers attention from the first page, which starts “I’ll never know for sure when I was born. Not exactly.”

In telling Crow’s story in Beyond the Bright Sea, Wolk weaves in some of the history and folklore surrounding Penikese  and other of the Elizabeth Islands, especially rumors of buried treasure. However, it is the stories of Crow, Osh and Maggie and their relationships that make Beyond the Bright Sea a beautiful book. Taking place in the 1920s, readers also get a flavor of life in the remote islands and also in ‘bustling New Bedford’, only miles away geographically but light years away in life style.

Beyond the Bright Sea is a heartwarming story. Even if you’re not much of a middle grade reader (which I’m not), it is worth reading. An excellent book.


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I’m a sucker for memoirs about selling old, family owned Cape Cod homes since I love the island that much. That’s why I loved The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt. He evoked the charm, the family, the sadness when his family sold their summer home. I hope To the New Owners by Madeleine Blais would evoke the same emotions, but alas, it did not.


Instead, Ms. Blais, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, described life on Martha’s Vineyard, the growth of the Vineyard from a whaling town to a summer destination for the elite, and then, to some extent, life with her family.

To the New Neighbors is not a love story about a somewhat ramshackle summer home, lived in for fifty years by her in-laws’ family, that the author is sure will be knocked down and replaced by a McMansion. It is more a psychological study of the island, the residents’ desire for privacy, the way the island makes summer guests forget the rest of the world (until a president or two decide to vacation there), the ramifications of a breach of that privacy, etc. She touches on the life of year-round residents facing many of the same issues found on the mainland.  She name drops quite a bit.

Ms. Blais is an award winning journalist and To the New Neighbors comes across more as a newspaper article than a memoir. If you are looking for a more poignant story, The Big House will be more your speed.

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Anything by Ellen Wittlinger and anything taking place in Cape Cod is worth at least a glance. So, of course, Local Girl Swept Away was on my reading list.

Lorna is the ring leader. She leads and her court (Finn, Lucas and Jackie) follow. She needs their adulation. They need her spontaneity and lust for life. So it wasn’t uncommon for the foursome to go out on the rocks at the edge of Provincetown in the driving rain, Lorna, as surefooted as can be, speeding ahead of the others. However, they stood motionless when all of the sudden Lorna disappeared and moments later they saw her white jacket drifting in the water, floating away from them.

Lucas, the poorest swimmer of the group, dove in but the tide pushed him back to shore. Finn, Lorna’s boyfriend, stood motionless, as did Jackie.

Local Girl Swept Away tackles many things, foremost the remaining trio’s attempts to live life without Lorna to guide them and goad them. A huge part of their lives was lost.

Entering their senior year in high school, college applications loom. Jackie, the daughter of a fisherman, wants to go to art school, an impractical career for a ‘poor’ girl. Finn whose parents are wealthy, faces the opposite opposition, wanting to become a fisherman rather than attend college.

The foursome are all interesting characters and a few others are thrown in as well. Having been to Provincetown, Wittlinger’s description of the town and its residents, both permanent and seasonal, brings back great memories. Herring  Cove Beach and Race Point (which she doesn’t mention) are two favorites. As Wittlinger says in her author’s note, “[Provincetown] is a three-mile long hodgepodge of a town where variety is the spice and diversity is the norm. There is no place like it.” It is the perfect place to people watch.

My first Ellen Wittlinger book was Razzle and then I was hooked. Blind Faith is one of my favorites although they all are great reads. I hihgly recommend Local Girl Swept Away.


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NestNest by Esther Ehrlich is another one of my “Cape Cod” books. It’s a sad book, uplifting but sad overall. Naomi (aka Chirp because she loves to bird watch) is eleven years old and her mother, Hannah, has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Hannah has not taken the news well and has gone into a deep depression, so deep that Chirp’s psychiatrist father has her committed. Taking place in 1972 when electroshock therapy was a common treatment for depression, Hannah undergoes this therapy. Chirp’s older sister, Rachel, is repelled by the thought of what her father is forcing on her mother and uses every opportunity to act out against him. Unfortunately, Chirp is caught in the crossfire.

Chirp’s next door neighbor, Joey, is an odd duck. It is implied that he gets beaten up at home. The two form an unlikely friendship, both going through hard times, somewhat lost in the world.

Each has a secret place to go when they need to be alone, shoot off some steam, contemplate their lives. Chirp’s is a spot under a tree where she can take out her binocs and bird watch. Joey’s is a glass house where he can throw stones and break glass.

The complications in their lives come to the point where they can no longer cope. They decide to run away…to Boston and the swan boats in Boston Commons, because Chirp has happy memories of going  there with her dancer mother. As you might expect, though, an eleven year old’s memories may not jive with current reality.

Nest is Ehrlich’s first novel. She paints a realistic picture of a home torn apart by illness. Children are helpless and sometimes don’t understand the actions taken by adults. The stigma of having a parent in the ‘nuthouse’ (Ehrlich’s word, not mine) can wreak untold havoc on a child…thus their need to keep it a secret. The quiet friendship between Chirp and Joey, two kids realizing the other is going through tough times, is heartwarming. The Cape Cod backdrop plays a minor role in the story. Nest is a story worth reading and Esther Ehrlich is an author worth watching.

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ReturningToShoreReturning to Shore by Corinne Demas may be the sleeper book of the year, except I’m not sure if it’s the sleeper for adults or teens. While Clare’s mother, Vera, is on her honeymoon with Tertiary (Clare’s name for Vera’s third husband), Clare is sent to spend three weeks with her father, Richard, in Cape Cod. However, Clare hasn’t seen and has barely heard from him since she was three years old.

As you can imagine, Clare is dreading the visit and wishes that she could spend the three weeks either with her Aunt Eva or Peter, Vera’s second husband and a man Clare considers her father. However, it is not to be.

Since Eva doesn’t drive over bridges, Richard meets them at a service center just before the bridge onto the Cape where Eva drops Clare and heads to Maine. It is an awkward meeting for all concerned and the drive to the remote island on which Richard lives is quiet.

The first problem Clare faces is what to call Richard: Dad, Rich, Richard? What we do know is that Richard has made enough money through an internet startup that he need not work. He spends his time studying endangered turtles.

It is over the course of the following three weeks, as they start studying the turtles together,  that Clare and Richard learn about each other.

I said in the beginning that I’m not sure if Returning to Shore is a sleeper book for adults or teens. While there are many teens who have minimal contact with a parent and vice versa, I’m not sure if a teen will relate to the situation. They would certainly relate to Clare as a person. (I may be wrong on this and would love to hear other opinions.) However, I think the many fathers out there who have reconnected to their children after years of estrangement will relate wholeheartedly to Richard.

As a father who is in constant touch with my daughters, I found the story to be heart warming. I loved everything about it. It’s short (196 pages) and a fast read (one day) but it is filled with love of a parent for a child, a child for a parent and that special bond, especially between a father and a daughter.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this will be included on my 2014 Top Ten list and highly recommend Returning to Shore as your next feel-good, put a smile on my face book. As Ms. Demas spends summers on Cape Cod, I will be looking for her books at Where the Sidewalk Ends in Chatham come next July.


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How many authors do you know who can follow the rain from downtown New York to uptown on a dark, stormy night and, Fatherhoodwith each passing street, describe the sinister deeds being done? Or, have a newspaper man see a lone, forgotten, beaten boxer on the back seat of an uptown bus and learn the truth about his downward spiral? Or, on his death bed, have an aged father tell his son the truth about their estrangement?

Thomas H. Cook is known for his mysteries, my favorite (and the one that started my obsession with his writing) being The Chatham School Affair. What a marvelous book! And, every year when in Chatham, MA on Cape Cod I ask the local booksellers for a recommended local author. Unfortunately, it seems I’ve run through anyone of interest. (I’m not into cozy mysteries or sea stories, somewhat limiting my interest in the wonderful local authors who live on the Cape.) So, when I saw Fatherhood and Other Stories by Mr. Cook at Where the Sidewalk Ends, how could I pass it up? (By the way, Where the Sidewalk Ends is a must stop for any book lover on the Cape.)

There are few authors who are so able to create an atmosphere and put you right in the center. I was on that bus when Jack Burke sat down next to Irish Vinnie Teague, the Shameful Shamrock, known in the sports world for his blatant throwing of a fight. A contender before the fight; a nothing after it. I was in the thunderstorm, following it uptown, seeing the dastardly deeds being done, the rain blurring the visions.

The 11 stories in this volume run the gamut from suicide to father/son relations, to beating the odds to boxing to loneliness. I guess the best way to summarize the tone of Fatherhood and Other Stories comes from the story of Veronica, working in the Mysterious Bookstore on Christmas Eve. In the solitude of the store at that late hour, she reads and ponders the sentence “We live in the echo of our pain.” In the stories in Fatherhood we live in the echo of our pain. I’m guessing that once you taste Thomas H. Cook’s writing, you’ll become obsessed as well.

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EndOfThePointSusan mentioned that she likes reading the inscriptions at the beginning of books and that made me take particular note of the inscription in Elizabeth Graver’s latest novel, The End of the Point. “When I began to tell you children about the different ways in which plants sent their young out into the world, I had no idea that I should take so much time and cover so many pages with the subject.” This is a quote from Mrs. William Starr Dana, author of the children’s book Plants and Their Children (more about this book later), and purportedly the great grandmother in Graver’s story. The quote, however, summarizes, in part, what Ms. Graver’s book is all about…sending our children out into the world.

It is also about ‘home’. The End of the Point is the secondBigHouse family saga set in Cape Cod that I’ve read recently, the first being The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt, the former being fiction and the latter non-fiction.

The End of the Point describes the Porter clan who summer in Ashaunt, MA, near Buzzards Bay. It is in four parts, each narrated by a different person:  1942 narrated by Bea, the Scottish nanny to the Porter’s youngest daughter, Janie; 1947-1961 narrated by Helen, Janie’s older sister; 1970 narrated by Charlie, Helen’s son, named after her brother who died during WW II and 1999, told in the third person. Bea describes how the second World War intruded on the serene life of Cape Cod and her life in particular…the opportunities taken and possibly the regrets for those not taken. Helen, always the strong willed daughter recounts her life, her struggles to achieve in a man’s world and how her treatment of Charlie may have been part of his struggle to find himself, although the 1970s were certainly an era in which many college students were ‘lost’. In the last segment, Helen, Janie and their other sister, Dossy, are in their later years, one suffering from cancer, one from mental instability.

In all of their worlds of turmoil, though, the one place that seemed to bring peace and calmness is Ashaunt, the Big House (funny, in both books, the main house was called the Big House). Even amidst the hubbub of growing and extended families, Ashaunt was the refuge from troubles, its natural beauty (even in the face of land sales and new home construction) and sense of home easing the mind.

Graver has provided stories of some very strong women: Bea, in her quiet way, has her strong sense of duty to the Porter children, at times to the detriment of her own life; Helen, the wild child has the drive to succeed in academia’s male world; Gaga (Helen’s mother) runs her family while her husband is wheelchair bound for most of his later life and Janie, seemingly the sanest of all Porter girls makes a strong life for herself, her husband and six children. Even Charlie, a lost boy since his early teens, ‘finds himself’ in the end. Each character could very well be the focus of a novel, each has a story to tell, especially Bea and Helen.

I know the strong feeling of wanting to provide a ‘home’ for our children, a place that they can seek refuge and comfort, regroup and go back out into the world rejuvenated. The Big House(s) described in these books and the families that occupied those houses gave their children their sense of well-being and being home. I’m suggesting you read both books, The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver and The Big House by George Howe Colt.

Now I said I’d mention Plants and Their Children by Mrs. William Starr Dana (aka Frances Theodora Parsons).Plants and their Children

Frances Theodora Parsons was an American botanist and author active in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was an active supporter of the Republican Party as well as the Progressive Party. She was also an advocate of women’s suffrage. Frances started taking walks in the countryside after the death of her first husband (William Starr Dana). These strolls inspired her most important and popular book, How to Know the Wildflowers (1893), the first field guide to North American wildflowers. It was something of a sensation, the first printing selling out in five days. The work went through several editions in Parsons’s lifetime and has remained in print into the 21st century. Plants and Their Children, written in 1896 was named one of the 50 best children’s books of its time and was suggested for reading to young children in the classroom. The inscription at the opening of The End of the Point (I only gave you a snippet of it) interested me so I did a little (very little) research and after reading that Plants and Their Children was named one of the 50 best children’s books of its time, I was compelled to buy it. I’ll let you know how it is.

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BigHouseI am a loner, an introvert by nature.  I think I have always been that way. Even as a teenager, I preferred reading a book in the backyard rather than going out to “play with your friends” as my mother would often badger. Yet as a twenty-something accounting intern, listening to my supervisor tell about all the different foods his Italian family served on Thanksgiving to the many relatives that congregated for that holiday, I was jealous.

So, part of what attracted me to The Big House by George Howe Colt was the fact that, in part, it was the story of his far flung, old money Boston Brahmin family. The other thing was the fact that the Big House was situated on Cape Cod, not in Chatham where I take a week’s vacation every year, but in Buzzard’s Bay, where George’s ancestors used to ‘summer’, not merely for the week.

I wonder periodically how the descendants of the self-made men of the late 1800s and early 1900s are faring as those fortunes are divided and subdivided, generation after generation. So it was with Colt’s family; the original Atkinson fortune has been divided so many times that none of his generation could afford the upkeep on the one hundred year old, 11 bedroom, 6,000 sq. ft. summer home that has no indoor showers, no heat, outdated electrical wiring, etc. It is with the thought of an impending sale of the house that Colt visits, one last time.

Colt talks of his family history, of the outward appearances of closeness offsetting the inner conflicts going on within his extended family. He describes his ancestors who envisioned the Big House and all the workmen hired to build it. Readers are educated into the Brahmin mindset and get drawn in to his family. oOw wonderful would it be to have three or four generations congregating for the summer!How great would it be to have bunches of cousins that you can play with all day! Readers are saddened, though, as various family members exhibit psychological problems or are afflicted with those ailments common to most senior citizens.

Colt talks about what the Big House meant to various generations: a chance for unity, for family gatherings, a haven against the workaday world. Readers understand, at least I think they do, the need to keep the Big House in the family and the extent to which the Colts go to obtain that end, primarily renting it out in the summer. The house I rent for my measly week in Cape Cod was built in the mid-1800s and has wide plank floors that dip and rise at various points. It has low ceilings, steep staircases and doors with latches, no knobs…just like the Big House. Every year I say to myself that I would do anything to make sure this house would stay in my family, if I was lucky enough to own it. It is a legacy. It is history. Colt describes the Big House in such loving terms, it is clear what the house means to him.

The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home is a biography of a house and a family. It elegantly describes how I feel about Cape Cod, about owning a house that attracts family and leaving it for future generations, about the large family I don’t have but sometimes wish I did. The Big House surprisingly aroused a lot of emotions in me.  I hope it does the same for you.

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