“Lost Summers of Newport” is the fourth book written by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White. In this book, the authors share three stories told through three main characters from three eras tied together by a haunted Gilded Age Newport mansion in severe disrepair, Sprague Hall.
The authors pull it off well.
Historically the Newport mansions, or “cottages” as they were first referred to by their owners, enjoyed their best years in the 1890s. In the early half of the 1900s, income tax and the Great Depression led to lack of income, and consequently house decay and loss through lack of maintenance and abandonment. The Preservation Society of Newport County was founded in the mid-1900s to save the architectural heritage of Newport, especially on Bellevue Avenue. This historic reality forms the backdrop for the stories shared in “Lost Summers of Newport.”
The 2019 main character, Andie, hired to produce a reality TV show about restoring parts of Sprague Hall, becomes the proverbial glue tying together the Sprague family saga dating back to 1957 and 1899. It is mainly through Andie that three separate stories become one.
Early on, conditions are placed on the restoration of Sprague Hall. The crew of the makeover team can’t connect with the grandmother, does not have access to the third floor, and must stay away from the boathouse. Throughout the book, the reader is in search of why. The answer doesn’t become clear until nearly the end, which creating great suspense.
Although Andie seems to be one who makes the development of the overall story work, she does not seem to be the strongest and most engaging character. That honor goes to Lucky, from the 1950s.
Lucky grew up in Italy and returned to Newport with her grandmother after Mussolini came to power. She is trapped in an unhappy marriage to an alcoholic Adonis, who is nothing more than a rich playboy. His demise (or is it his disappearance?) eventually sets Lucky free.
The third main character, Ellen, from the late 1890s, has been hired to give singing lessons to a Sprague heiress whose brother has purchased Sprague Hall and hopes to marry off the heiress to an Italian prince. Will there be a fairy tale ending? The answer is in the eye of the reader.
There is no lack of secondary characters in the book. In fact, at times, it seems there may be too many. Most are interesting and well-developed. And some are strong enough to raise an intense feeling of love, hate, and anger in the reader. Some also play major roles in the intrigue, secrets, murder, lies and scandals that permeate the book.
“Lost Summers of Newport” is a fast-paced set of stories that iscarefully interwoven. Whether or not the reader is familiar with the area, Newport comes to life through the vivid descriptions shared by all three authors.
There are a few famous names that seem thrown in for effect. For example, President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, who were in fact denizens of Newport for many summers, are mentioned briefly in relation to attendance at the Tiffany Ball in 1957. Also in attendance at the ball was Mrs. Sheldon Whitehouse, herself from a family that has lived in Newport for many years, who was selected to wear the Tiffany “canary diamond” at the event. But brief mention of these individuals in the context of a glamorous gala does tell of the days when Newport society took on a life of its own. And sometimes it still does.
While the book starts slowly, it becomes suspenseful quickly. Gorgeous homes, strong women, fortunes made and lost, grand parties, and clandestine and forbidden affairs abound. And the plots and their twists and turns from three eras, provided in alternating chapters, come together well in the end.
And what can be said of the title of the book? With the book spanning 120 years, perhaps what was “lost” were the tales of intrigue during those years that were finally “found” by the end of the novel.
Overall, this 3-in-1 book is hard to put down and a fun summer and beach read. A comment on the back cover of the book aptly describes it as a “sensational tale of drama, espionage, and passion on the high seas. Three brilliantly twisty plots plus a trio of hardheaded, unpredictable heroines add up to one immensely satisfying read.”
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