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A Song for Summer

September 4, 2009

A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson
published by St. Martin’s Press January 1, 1998

Ellen is a conundrum to her mother and two doting aunts. Passionate suffragettes and civil rights activists, they have spent their lives helping turn the conventional role of women on its head. Yet Ellen passes up the chance to pursue higher education, and she loves to cook, clean, and nurture people.

Her passion for cooking and nurturing leads her to a position as housemother at an eccentric Austrian boarding school. The local villagers warn her away from the Hallendorf School — a “devilish” place where atheism prevails, children run wild, and their eccentric professors insist that everyone swim in the nude. Nonjudgmental and passionate about what she does, Ellen sets to work cleaning, making excellent meals, and looking after her flock of neglected children from wealthy families.

Ellen meets many interesting characters at Hallendorf School, including Tamara, an Englishwoman who has reinvented herself as a Russian ballerina, Hermine, the mother of Andromeda, the “self regulating baby,” who never uses diapers, and the mysterious and resourceful Marek, who has a secret mission. Along the way, Ellen helps a Jewish refugee escape from Germany, finds romance, and eventually returns to England to provide loved ones a safe haven during the war.

A Song for Summer is a fun novel with several plot twists. The author uses gentle humor, with light shades of Jane Austen, and takes you to the Austrian countryside, pre-World War II Vienna, and London during German bombings. It also explores the world of classical music, which adds another delightful dimension.

I enjoyed the cast of likeable, eccentric characters and the gentle humor, and I loved the scenic views of the Austrian countryside, glimpses of European culture, and bits of world history. However I found myself wishing that I had gotten to know the characters a bit better. My relationships with them felt superficial.

I recommend this book to historical fiction lovers and readers of light romance.

Many thanks to my friend Jen B. for recommending this book. Read another review at The Compulsive Reader.

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