ALL OUR SUMMERS by Holly Chamberlain; Kensington Books, 2020; 470 pages, $15.95

ALL OUR SUMMERS

Comedian George Burns once said: “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” That would accurately describe the family relationships in Holly Chamberlain’s new story except for the “loving, caring, close-knit” part.

“All Our Summers” is Chamberlain’s 20th novel, following “A Wedding on the Beach” (Kensington Books, 2019). She lives in Portland and writes about families, marriages and love affairs with fictional tales of tragedy, infidelity, betrayal, lies, rejection, mistrust and resentment — a heavy dose of destructive emotions.

This is the unhappy and brooding tale of two estranged sisters in their 60s fighting bitterly over who gets to live in the family’s ancestral home in Yorktide, Maine. Carol, the older sister, an unmarried, arrogantly wealthy New York City interior designer, and Bonnie, widowed, grieving and angry, both feel entitled to ownership of Ferndean, a beautiful old home in southern Maine. And when Carol returns to Yorktide after 40 years in NYC, the sisters’ animosity toward each other explodes into toxic vitriol that poisons everyone around them.

Bonnie at least has good reason to hate her sister. Ten years earlier, Carol abandoned her teenage daughter, sending her to be raised by Bonnie and her husband. And Bonnie spent 30 years caring for their ailing parents and Ferndean without any help from Carol. No one knows the real reason Carol left NYC and came home to Yorktide, and her excuses are hollow.

The sisters fight and argue cruelly for 300 pages, while other family members struggle with a failing marriage, a cheating spouse, teenage angst, guilt and jealousy. Chamberlain slowly reveals what’s really behind the sisters’ estrangement and conflict, and secrets emerge.

There’s no humor and little joy here, just a lot of whining and churlish behavior before the predictably tearful forgiveness.

 

LIFE LIST:  FIELD NOTES OF A MAINE BIRDWATCHER by Ken Janes; North Country Press, 2019; 120 pages, $35

LIFE LIST:  FIELD NOTES OF A MAINE BIRDWATCHER

When humorist and playwright Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) wrote “the best thing about animals is that they don’t talk much,” he wasn’t thinking about birds (they don’t really talk, but they sure do sing).

Birds are fascinating creatures, and for Kennebunk naturalist and photographer Ken Janes birds are his world. “Life List” is Janes’ first book, a collection of 171 beautiful color photographs of native, migratory, year-round and seasonal birds, accompanied by short anecdotal descriptions.

Janes has spent the past seven years studying birds, their identification, habitat and manner, and perfecting his photographic techniques, seeking out birds in all four seasons and taking thousands of pictures.  The result is this wonderful pictorial of birds both common and rare.

He divides the book into seasonal sections, noting date, weather, temperature, wind and tides. Most photos were taken in southern Maine in locations like Kennebunk Beach, the Mousam River and the Wells Reserve. Each photo’s distinctive description reveals much about these birds. For example, the Grebe actually migrates north to the Yukon, not south like many birds. Egrets were hunted to near extinction in the 19th century because one ounce of egret feathers was worth $32 in 1886, more than an ounce of gold.

In addition to the more common birds like chickadees, cardinals, juncos, nuthatches, finches and hummingbirds, Janes features numerous rarely seen birds. The brown thrasher can sing 1,000 different songs, the American kestrel (sparrowhawk) is the smallest of falcons, and the golden-crowned kinglet is one of the tiniest birds living in dense forests.

For other interesting books about birds, see “Life List; Remembering the Birds of My Years” by John Cole (Down East Books, 1997) and “The Private Lives of Garden Birds” by Calvin Simonds (Storey Books, 2002).

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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