Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Mini Reviews: Historical Beach Reads


I am soaking up the last of the summer weekends by enjoying every last beach read! I'm sharing two beach reads today that would be perfect for your long Labor Day Weekend, especially if you enjoy historical beach reads as much as me.

California Golden by Melanie Benjamin
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Publisher: Delacorte
Pub. Date: August 8, 2023
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books by Author: Mistress of the Ritz
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Southern California, 1960s: endless sunny days surfing in Malibu, followed by glittering neon nights at Whisky A-Go-Go. In an era when women are expected to be housewives, Carol Donelly is breaking the mold as a legendary female surfer struggling to compete in a male-dominated sport--and her daughters, Mindy and Ginger, bear the weight of her unconventional lifestyle. The Donnelly sisters grow up enduring their mother's absence--physically, when she's at the beach, and emotionally, the rare times she's at home. To escape questions about Carol's whereabouts--and chase their mom's elusive affection--they cut school to spend their days in the surf. From her first time on a board, Mindy shows a natural talent, but Ginger, two years younger, feels out of place in the water. As they grow up and their lives diverge, Mindy and Ginger's relationship ebbs and flows. Mindy finds herself swept up in celebrity, complete with beachside love affairs, parties at the Playboy Club, and USO tours to Vietnam. Meanwhile, Ginger--desperate for a community of her own--is tugged into the vibrant counterculture of drugs and cults. Through it all, their sense of duty to each other survives, as the girls are forever connected by the emotional damage they carry from their unorthodox childhood. A gripping, emotional story set at a time when mothers were expected to be Donna Reed, not Gidget, California Golden is an unforgettable novel about three women living in a society that was shifting as tempestuously as the breaking waves."


Carol Donnelly is an athlete in a world where people want her to be content with getting married, having kids, and raising her family. It's the very opposite of what she wants and when she does find herself married with children it doesn't go well. She doesn't take to it and often leaves her kids at school, wearing two-day-old clothes, and forgets all responsibility by going to the beach. Carol's real love is the ocean and she is good at many sports, but she stands out in surfing. Her eldest daughter, Mindy, as she grows up shows great promise with surfing, too, whereas Ginger, the youngest daughter, isn't a natural and everything is a bit harder for her. As the years go by, the girls suffer from fear of abandonment as their mother is never really there for them and things only get worse when Mindy outshines her mother at a surf content. Eventually, Mindy ends up in the beach movies of the 60s and becomes a minor celebrity, and Ginger takes a much darker path. The Donnelly girls go their separate ways, but as the years go by, they find they need each other, especially when things get tough. Melanie Benjamin brings to life the surf culture of the 60s very well in California Golden. Fans of Gidget will thoroughly enjoy this tale that also has some similarities to Daisy Jones and the Six as well as Malibu Rising.

Gidget makes surf culture seem pretty tame, but we know the 60s weren't like that. Benjamin portrays the dark side of the counterculture with drugs as well as domestic violence, the war in Vietnam, and more. It follows the stories of the Donnelly women and how each deal with their own issues as society pressures them to be something they aren't. Mindy and Carol especially faced a lot of sexism when dealing with athletic women or women in sports as that wasn't the norm for the time. Benjamin covers a lot in
California Golden, but I think it works and makes the women's story worth it as it is based on many real-life female surfers. If you like the 60s time period, (both the good and bad) then California Golden is a good fit for you.

Our Place on the Island by Erika Montgomery
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: June 13, 2023
Publisher: Griffin
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: A Summer to Remember
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars  

Goodreads says, "For decades, the Campbell women have reunited at the family’s rambling seaside cottage known as Beech House to celebrate life’s many occasions. But this year, they will be called back to Martha's Vineyard for a celebration of a different their beloved matriarch Cora is getting remarried. And all the town gossips are calling him the one who got away, years ago… For renowned chef Mickey Campbell, this wedding isn’t just a welcome excuse to return to the place she first learned to cook at her grandmother’s side. It’s also a chance to regroup while she figures out a way to tell her smoldering head chef boyfriend that she’s mismanaged their restaurant into the red. Mickey’s mother, Hedy, is still mourning the passing of her adored father three years earlier, and she isn’t sure she’s ready to welcome a new man into the fold―and she’s not certain her own thorny relationship with her mother will weather the storm of her upcoming marriage. But everyone knows a woman’s heart holds more than meets the eye. For Cora, drawing her daughter and granddaughter back to Beech House isn’t just about a ceremony, but a chance to reveal a history she has kept close to her heart for decades. As the days leading up to the wedding unfold, secrets of Cora’s past come to light-- a secret that will cause three generations of Campbell women to question marriage, motherhood, and ultimately learn to savor the delicious joy of following your own heart."


Cora Campbell is a fish out of water in 1948 as a newly married woman on Martha's Vineyard. She grew up in a blue-collar community, worked as a waitress, and has nothing in common with the people that live on the island. They are rude and judgy, and she isn't comfortable with their behavior. Her husband, while sweet, is often gone for business, and is, essentially, one of them. He desperately wants her to fit in and leave her past behind her. Cora worked at her uncle's restaurant and is an expert cook, so when her husband renovates their beach house, she is excited to revamp the kitchen. Enter contractor Max Dempsey, who attends to Cora's needs and understands her like no one else. They form a bond as he builds the kitchen of her dreams. Fast forward to 1999, and Cora's husband is dead and she is remarrying none other than Max Dempsey at their family home on Martha's Vineyard. Her daughter, Hedy, isn't quite sure how she feels about this, and her granddaughter, Mickey, is coming along for the wedding but is hiding secrets of her own. Erika Montgomery's Our Place on the Island captures the story of three generations of women, and family secrets; it's a sweet summer romance.

Our Place on the Island is a dual timeline story taking place in 1999 and 1948. I really enjoyed how Montgomery tied the story together slowly and readers could see what happened in the future with Cora and Max, but I enjoyed the journey to get there. I think Montgomery developed the 1948 timeline very well; in fact, I gravitated to that timeline a bit more than the other. Also, Montgomery brought to life Martha's Vineyard nicely - the beautiful beach, the expansive homes, the country club, the parties, etc. I felt like I was there! I think
Our Place on the Island would be a perfect book to curl up with Labor Day Weekend, especially if you love a charming romance as well as a story about families.


Have you read California Golden or Our Place on the Island? Are these books on your TBR list? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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