A Seagull Summer by Jane Lovering


Summer by the sea – a time to spread your wings, right?

Leah has come to Dorset to collect seaweed samples for a nutrition research project. She’s trying to leave behind a disastrous family life, and is haunted by the death of her best friend, Claire, on whom she relied for advice.

Here she meets Brendon, an Australian come to search for his mysteriously-vanished-from-the-family great grandfather. Brendon has discovered a fear of British seagulls, particularly Roger, a hand-reared bird which has taken a liking to Leah. As Leah and Brendon form a summer friendship, their pasts catch up with them. But together they help each other to see beyond the narrow confines and mistakes of the past.

The Seasons by the Sea series combines laugh-out-loud humour with damaged people redeemed by love.

I was delighted to see this book and realize that I’d get to read more about the little Dorset town of Christmas Steepleton which clings to the hills that circle the bay and threatens to slide down into it if there’s a heavy rain. But I’m glad I didn’t read the blurb too closely – yes, I just saw your name and automatically requested a review copy – or refresh my memory of the cover because I think both would have led me astray. There are funny things in the book and I did chuckle but the story is much more serious than might be implied by that cartoon cover. This is not a lighthearted beach read.

Leah arrives at the dilapidated house where she’ll be staying while conducting her research into bladderwrack and its possible uses as a food source. Quiet Leah has basically spent a lifetime apologizing: for being smart, for not listening to her mother’s insistence that she forgo further schooling to stay at home and care for the family, for making a bad marriage choice, and following that with another terrible mistake.

She’s not quite sure how to respond to the outgoing Australian who pitches up at the empty house looking for a place to stay. Tass, Leah’s non binary research assistant, doesn’t have a problem with Brendon, but then they’re younger than Leah and more easygoing. When Brendon offers to take Leah out on his boat to gather samples of seaweed, a problem is uncovered. Brendon, despite being from a place that tries to kill you, is terrified of British seagulls. His various statements about their size, ferocity, and determination to stalk him provide much of the humor in the book.

Leah’s family is … odd. Dysfunctional is a kind word for her childhood and the pattern has continued through to present day. Leah’s “normal” was such that she didn’t initially realize that her soon-to-be-ex-husband was a shitty, controlling iceberg. She relied on a now deceased friend for advice on basically how to live as Leah’s own mother can barely cope with life. There will be readers who won’t be able to understand Leah and how she has trouble reading people, knowing how to socialize, and is afraid or unable to say the right things in conversation.

Leah isn’t just introverted, she’s been tested to see if she’s on the autism scale and even though she’s been told no, she still feels different from the rest of the world. Being victimized by both men she’s been in relationships with as well as, let’s be honest, her mother all her life has scarred Leah emotionally and socially. Therefore it didn’t surprise me that Leah has problems “reading” Brendon. He’s handsome, talkative, at ease in his own skin and for the last item alone Leah envies him.

Then Leah’s mother and brother unexpectedly arrive and soon she’s falling back into old patterns. Tass and Brendon look concerned for her and try to help her but as she tells Brendon, just finally spilling her past to him and having him listen, then beginning to try and understand the behaviors – hers as well as her mother’s – that have kept Leah back are not going to be overturned in a day.

I felt the first half of the book, which sets up Leah’s issues, was the best part. As an introvert myself, her behavior and thoughts are spot on.I also tend to take things as literally as she does. Seeing her struggle and despair at not being “normal” made me cry with sympathy. The second half of the book had a few incidents that seemed a bit more staged and I could sense the strings being pulled to move Leah and Brendon closer together and towards self understanding. I guessed who was behind something that was spooking Leah and wondered that she never made any attempt to discover who that person was. Brendon’s search for information about his family was also a plot point that seemed to fizzle out.

The romance is the slow burn variety but then given how unsure of herself that Leah is, nothing else would have worked for her. I was delighted that it appears that Brendon and Leah are on the same page about parenthood (neither wants it). This is almost never the case in romance books and I wanted to stand up and applaud. They are also going to keep taking things quietly and see how the relationship goes which makes perfect sense to me. Leah takes great strides in self discovery but the HFN ending is fine for me. But I did learn some new slang words: Lairy, drongo, and bonza. B