Summer is upon us and three of the very best writers of beach reads, all national best-selling writers who live here in the Lowcountry, have new books out. Dorothea Benton Frank’s “Queen Bee” was published May 28; Patti Callahan Henry’s “The Favorite Daughter” came out June 4; and Mary Alice Monroe’s “The Summer Guests” hit shelves June 11.
All would make perfect additions to the tote bag as readers head to the beach or pool. This review considers Monroe’s latest offering.
In a departure from Monroe’s usual Carolina coastal setting, this story takes place mostly in the foothills of North Carolina as the characters (including some well-loved characters from previous books) are all evacuating the coast ahead of an impending hurricane. The small town of Tryon, N.C., an equestrian center for many years, is where Charles and Grace Phillips own a large horse farm and have generously offered safe haven for horses in peril along the southeast coast.
The novel was inspired by the author’s unforgettable experience in 2018 when she fled coastal Carolina due to hurricane warnings and spent several days at a friend’s farm in the Tryon area.
The evacuees, a mix of people from South Carolina and Florida, include a famous rider, a well-known breeder and former rider, her daughter, and a couple from Isle of Palms. They all know their hosts but most do not know one another.
With guests nervous about their property back home as well as the horses in harm’s way, the gracious hosts have made sure everyone is comfortably accommodated, well fed and the bar well stocked. The ensuing few days prove memorable, even life-changing for some, as the guests relax and get to know each other as they ride out the storm.
Monroe’s fans will love that Cara Rutledge and David Wyatt are included, although relegated to minor roles in this book. Family relationships, romantic entanglements, reunited old friends and a peek inside the international equestrian community will have you reading this from start to finish in record time.
Monroe’s work consistently stands out in the genre of women’s Southern fiction for the impact her writing has on conservation efforts in the Lowcountry. Her readers enjoy a story rich with engaging characters and learn a thing or two about some of the more fragile or threatened of the animal kingdom and issues facing our natural world.
This time, it is the equestrian world benefitting from the exposure to Monroe’s devoted readers, who will marvel at the incredible work, skill and dedication required to provide optimal conditions for breeding and training horses.
As one can well imagine, when you add in the threat of a natural disaster such as a major hurricane, the difficult tasks become Herculean, requiring a huge network of people, resources and expertise to relocate these gentle giants to a safe place.
Monroe lives on the Carolina coast where, during the summer, she can see (or join) turtle patrol volunteers walking the beaches in the early morning and early evening.
Glenda Harris of Bluffton is a freelance writer and editor, nature lover and aspiring novelist.