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Saturday 30 April 2016

The Last Days of Summer by Vanessa Ronan

After ten years in the Huntsville State Penitentiary, Jasper Curtis returns home to live with his sister and her two daughters. Lizzie does not know who she's letting into her home: the brother she grew up loving of the monster he became.
Teenage Katie distrusts this strange man in their home but eleven-year-old Joanne is just intrigued by her new uncle. Jasper says he's all done with trouble, but in a forgotten prairie town that knows no forgiveness, it does not take long for trouble to arrive at their door ... 

The Last Days of Summer by Vanessa Ronan is published by Penguin Ireland on 5 May 2016 and is the author's debut novel.

She hopes he's done with trouble but it trouble done with him?
Ten years to repent
Ten years to forgive

Ten days for revenge

The Last Days of Summer is told in four different points of view, over a short period of time and Vanessa Ronan's skilfully and vividly creates not just her characters, but also an almost oppressive, suffocating sense of place with her words.

Ten years ago Jasper Curtis committed a terrible crime, he's been locked away, but now he is free. His sister Lizzie adored her brother when they were growing up and reflects on her memories whilst preparing to take him in and give him a home. Yes, she knows that Jasper did an awful thing, but she hopes that during the past ten years he may have changed from the evil criminal, to the brother she loved so much. Lizzie's neighbours have long memories, nobody could ever forget what Jasper Curtis did and it's clear that there will be no welcome home party thrown by the townspeople.

Jasper Curtis is not a nice character at all. Whilst his sister Lizzie is prepared to start afresh, to look to her heart and find understanding, and maybe forgiveness, Jasper displays none of this. He's dark and deep and quite convincingly terrifying, and I'm positive that he knows it. Is it a form of self-preservation, a way to shield himself from the attacks that are inevitable? Or .... is the guy just evil?

There's a feel of Cormac McCarthy about The Last Days of Summer; that slow, sweltering feeling, exacerbated by the description of strong, shimmering heat and a sense of foreboding that never stops.

Nestled in between the characters who are full of hate and vengence, is Joanne, the youngest daughter of Lizzie and a spark of light and hope and joy. She's full of the innocence and acceptance that only youth can bring, and she's the absolute star of the story, bringing a little bit of respite from what could be a quite overpowering story at times. Joanne's older sister, Katie is full of teenage angst, wary of this unknown uncle, desperate to impress a boy, and it is her actions that provide the powerful and shocking conclusion to this story.

Vanessa Ronan's writing is almost poetic at times. Sometimes a book can be all plot, often the characters take over a story, but The Last Days of Summer is a perfect blend of a dark story with a strong plotline that leads to a furious and very convincing ending combined with perfectly drawn characters who each appear real, with flaws and vulnerabilities galore. Dealing with forgiveness, fear, family and redemption, The Last Days of Summer is a very fine debut from a very skilled author.

My thanks to the publisher, Penguin, who sent my copy for review.

Vanessa Ronan was born in Houston and in her 28 years has lived in Texas, Mexico, New York, Edinburgh, and Dublin, where she now lives with her Irish husband.
Among other things, she has been a dancer, a PA, a barmaid, a literature student, a dance teacher, and now, a writer.
Home-schooled by her literature teacher parents, Vanessa began writing as soon as she learned the alphabet.
The Last Days of Summer is her first novel.

Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @VRonan


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