“Under a Summer Sky” by Melody Carlson
Book: “Under a Summer Sky: A Savannah Romance” by Melody Carlson
Series: Follow Your Heart #3
Published by Fleming H. Revell Company
Genres: Christian Fiction, Contemporary Romance
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Source: Revell Books (received for free in exchange for an honest review)
High school art teacher Nicole Anderson is looking forward to a relaxing summer in Savannah, house-sitting and managing an art gallery for a family friend. The house is luxurious in a way that only old money could make it, and the gallery promises interesting days in a gorgeous setting. Yet it isn’t long before her ideal summer turns into more than she bargained for: a snooty gallery employee who’s determined to force her out, a displaced adolescent roosting in the attic, and two of Nicole’s close childhood friends—who also happen to be brothers—vying for her attention.
With a backdrop of a beautiful historical city, incredible architecture, and even an alleged ghost or two, combined with the opportunity for romance…anything can happen!
Bestselling and award-winning author Melody Carlson invites readers to spend the summer surrounded by beauty and tantalizing possibilities for the future.
I don’t know where to begin.
The blurb is enticing, right? Except much of it is a lie: she’s not talked to these “close” childhood friends for at least fifteen years, for starters. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’ll first start with the writing/overall aspect of the book:
The entire story is external.
“Story Genius” wasn’t the best, most resourceful book, but it made some good points, one being: a plot driven by external conflict feels impersonal. When all conflict is external, you don’t get to know the characters involved. In this case, Nicole, the main character and protagonist, dealt with others’ internal conflict, but not much of her own. Issues arose, but not much of her background or why she personally handled something in a particular way was provided to me, the reader—these kinds of things are important!
It’s like if I, a blogger, ran a personal lifestyle blog, but instead of talking about the whys of my own life ever, I only told people about the things that happened in my life—who cares about how something made me feel or what I thought about an event at all: the external plot, what happened outside, is more important than what happens inside (thoughts, feelings, pain, happiness, etc.) in this scenario.
That’s what happened in the book. I don’t know anything about Nicole, other than how she’s, according to Carlson, not always judging people by their external appearances, even though she constantly did the opposite (how ironic); supposedly in love [spoiler], despite her spending the entire first 280 pages of the story like a boy-crazy middle-schooler who’d just discovered boys don’t have cooties and contemplating her thoughts over each brother—regardless of each being taken, or thought to be taken, technically speaking; and a highly-opinionated pushover who thinks of nothing more than breeding, how her relationship with one brother’s teenager daughter (who adopted Nicole as her aunt) is borderline inappropriate, how she’s the manager of an art gallery but everyone else around her is better nevertheless, and boys.
I don’t know any of her favorites, aside from her passion for art; I don’t know her relationship with her religion—went to church, apparently, but not once over the summer. All I know is, in a matter of mere weeks and no more than a month, she managed to fall for one of the brothers and ghost the other because he made her uncomfortable.
Characters and character development
Nicole has her qualities—I mean, probably: I don’t know her that well. We’d probz not be friends, because people who are not all butterflies and rainbows, and who don’t show all their cards upon a first impression, are not her cup of tea—non-blatantly religious people being portrayed as super snooty needs to stop, especially since it’s typically the other way around. I don’t care if her coworker’s a borderline gold-digger.
Since she lacks agency, the plot is not driven by Nicole—Nicole drives the plot—which results in, despite great potential, a weakling of an almost-30ish-year-old who likely grew up thinking Disney classics were based on true stories, right down to The Little Mermaid (never mind the truth behind the tale), who can’t stand up for herself (oh, boo-hoo: she was bullied, but believes everyone can be her friend, all the while being more judgmental than Westboro Baptist and thinking herself a goody-two-shoes), or stop thinking with her vagina for more than two seconds.
The men—brothers Ryan and Alex—aren’t perfect, either, in terms of agency: Nicole admires Ryan’s oblivion (kind of creepy, girl); the latter continuously picks on his younger bro and throws tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Both bros are, uh, 30 and older—privileged, but taught to make lives for themselves and not ride on their parents’ coattails.
…and yet, despite Alex being a raging misogynist, Nicole does things for him.
Where even is the falling?
The best part of well-written romance fiction is the falling—well, when I’m not soaking up the chase. Reading should lead to the ability to put oneself in at least one character’s shoes—preferably a main one’s, but due to lack of diverse representation, things don’t always work out that way—and feel and think what the character’s feeling and thinking. It’s an experience—it’s why we’re naturally drawn to stories.
When we’re not part of the story, however, we’re a stranger—alienated by the author. I might as well have been a third, or even fifth, wheel—but not the cool kind who snaps shots that’ll be funny later when the final couple is getting married, and I’m still the third or fifth wheel.
The only conclusion I could come to regarding this is the primary issue with the writing, despite everything else it lacked: telling not showing.
The writing is the worst.
It’s hard to read, and not in the good way—you know, when you learn new vocabulary words because the writing is that advanced, or new ways to structure your sentences because it’s that diverse.
The diction is atrocious. The book is written like the dialogue: the way one may speak. *face palm* I had to pray just to get through this book—”God, please help me to finish this book so I can write my review and be done with it, because this is worse than The 100.”
It’s #basic. Exhibit A:
Nicole thanked her as well. As she was driving back to town, she hoped she hadn’t made a mistake offering to go with Camille to other galleries. But somehow she didn’t think Vivian would mind. Especially considering that within just a few days, Camille had purchased four original pieces.
She barely nodded as her plate of fish and chips was set down. For some reason she felt more like an outsider than before. Or maybe she was just homesick. Whatever the case, she just didn’t feel too chatty as they ate. Fortunately, no one seemed to notice, and the conversation moved along quite nicely without her. It was actually somewhat refreshing to see the brothers getting along so well. She’d been concerned that Alex hadn’t wanted his younger brother along.
Ignoring her incessant protruding into other’s business and matters, this is what I take issue with most:
- Telling, not showing: Sure, sometimes you’ve gotta tell to avoid doing annoying things, like spending two pages of what something looks like (…thanks, Carlson). But more often than not, there are better ways to paint pictures than to tell us every specific available.
- Lack of diversity in writing: There are never any em dashes or semicolons—two useful forms of punctuation, the latter often misused the most, which help create voice and attitude in writing. If you can’t tell already, I’m a zealot for them. Exhibits A and B could too easily be edited into better, fewer sentences—a method which could’ve saved some space, too. Due to the lack of diverse writing, there’s a lot of redundancy the overall story would do better without—such space and time could’ve been put to better use. (Woah, I just used “space” and “time” in the same sentence, and I wasn’t even referring to science!)
- Overused “that” when utterly redundant and lack of “that” when necessary: God, help me—no, seriously. You don’t need to use “that” all. the. freaking. time. Using it too much leads to wasted time and gross misuse of ink. OMIT THEM. Using them when unnecessary makes your writing weak and gross and cringe-worthy and over-saturated, and can we please just stop using it already?
- Overusing -ly words: To each their own, but there comes a time when it’s too much—like when an -ly (let’s call ’em “ill-eee” and “ill-eez” ’cause they sound cute that way) word is visible once every two-to-three lines, save for dialogue.
I was going to award 3/5 stars, but felt such to be too generous, so I dropped it down. The cover is nice, the blurb is misleading, and you know how I feel about the story overall. I write different reviews on Goodreads, so for Under a Summer Sky, I wrote about why books like this—Christian fiction featuring women—do more harm than good.
Under a Summer Sky also lacked diverse characters—no one belonging to a different race, having a disability, and/or identifying as any of the LGBT+ members (which isn’t shocking, though it’s not like they’re nonexistent in Christian fiction, which makes it disappointing).