Reading and travel are my two great loves and whenever I find the opportunity to combine them then I’m a happy soul. In recent years I’ve tried to read at least one novel set in the place I’m about to explore. So when we decided to visit the Florida Keys on a family holiday, I knew exactly which book I would choose – Vanessa Lafaye’s stunning historical debut, Summertime (A Richard and Judy BookClub Choice for 2015). A novel based on real life events, which graced my ‘to be read’ list for far too long.
Set during the 1930s on the fictional Heron Key, we’re introduced to Missy, loyal maid to the Kincaid family, who spends years of her prime waiting for her first love, Henry, to return from the battlefields of France. Trouble is brewing, as a hurricane threatens the coast, turning everything, including Missy’s life, upside-down. (Here's my full Goodreads review - Summertime Review .) Summertime is a fantastic debut, made even more special for me when I went on to read the author’s notes and discovered that the real life events on which Vanessa based her novel took place in Islamorada – the island we’d chosen to stay on the Keys.
|Islamorada Hurricane Memorial|
As we drove South on day trips, we passed a hurricane monument, which, if it weren’t for reading Summertime, I may not have given a second glance – which would’ve been a shame because I would have missed learning about perhaps the single most important event in the history of Islamorada. But because I read Summertime I understood the importance of the memorial. So we stopped and read the tragic tale of the brave WW1 veterans who, whilst working for the government, were treated shabbily by a system that chose to ignore the natural danger heading their way. Because I’d met and admired Vanessa’s fictional characters, her writing made me take time to reflect on the suffering endured
|The true story behind 'Summertime'|
HISTORY BEHIND THE NOVEL
As we journeyed on past ocean front villas butting up against water bluer than a skimming dragonfly, heading to the lively tropical port of Key West, we commented on the strange sight of a bridge half-built, or broken - we weren’t sure.
|Partially completed railway bridge (Florida Keys)|
I feel grateful to Vanessa as her time in meticulously researching the events which led to such a tragedy added so much more to my stay in Islamorada and also to my understanding of the danger of the deadly force of nature capable of destroying the breathtaking beauty of the Keys.
|The Green Turtle Inn|
It's a heart-breaking real life story, but the characters in Summertime display both courage and hope for the future. Islamorada has been rebuilt and is thriving as a popular fishing and tourist resort, once again. I'd love to return one day!
|Islamorada - July 2017|
If you’d like to see more photos of what inspired Vanessa to write Summertime, or learn a little more about a largely forgotten piece of American history, then I’ve included a link to her Pinterest page here.
So where will I travel to next? – Perhaps I should consult my bookshelf...
WHICH BOOKS HAVE ENRICHED YOUR TRAVEL EXPERIENCES?
But before you head off, please share which novels have enriched your travel experiences. (The Trip Fiction website is great for inspiration.) I’d love to hear some of your favourites…