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2018 Reading Challenge

2018 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 25 books toward her goal of 175 books.
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Book Review: If You Read ONE New Book This Year, Make it “The Summer That Melted Everything”…

I know, I know – it sounds like hyperbole or marketing or that I’m being paid or that the book was written by me or my best friend. None of those are true. What IS true is that The Summer That Melted Everything is an incredible book by an immensely talented author, and that it is a must-read for anyone who is even remotely interested in reading about childhood, philosophy, or the nature of good and evil AND for anyone who is even remotely interested in truly excellent writing…
Summer that melted everything cover
I was contacted by the author, Tiffany McDaniel, and asked if I would be interested in reviewing her book. I read the sample on Amazon and was intrigued, so agreed to receive a complimentary copy in exchange for my objective review. Merciful heavens, am I glad I did… This book was, quite simply, wonderful. I don’t often get to write absolutely gushing reviews about unsolicited review books. Don’t get me wrong – I review a lot of very good books, many of which come to my attention through the outreach of the authors themselves. True, occasionally I find myself reviewing one that is only averagely good (the truly mediocre and/or truly not good are usually weeded out before I get to the “I will write a review” stage – I have a fairly strict personal rule that I won’t review anything that I don’t enjoy reading, because I don’t have enough spare time to spend it reading things I don’t like), but that’s the exception rather than the rule. Still, it is rare that I find myself telling EVERYONE I KNOW about a review book – and that’s what I found myself doing with this one… So enough with my blathering, let me tell you why.

The description is plenty intriguing on its own. The sample text sealed the deal for me – largely based on the first sentence: “The heat came with the devil.” As you may know from previous posts, I’m a huge believer in the evaluative power of first sentences. The simple statement, coupled with the epigraph from Milton’s Paradise Lost, set questions a-twirl in my head; questions that never stopped twirling until the book closed. There is so much going on here… There is a story within a story, with shifts in time as the main character, Fielding Bliss, remembers a long-ago summer when life changed. There is a fascinating set of characters, with wildly complex interpersonal relationships both within the Bliss family and within the town of Breathed as a whole. There is the town of Breathed itself, in all of its 1980s (the timeframe of the main story) glory. There is a cacophony of dichotomies: good and evil, right and wrong, revelations and secrets, cruelty and mercy, melodrama and apathy. There are lessons learned too late and some that are never realized at all. There is the glorious innocence of childhood faith and the devastating reality of adult impotence. There are morals and lessons, carefully crafted into spun-sugar sentences that melt perfectly on the tongue without any aftertaste. And underpinning all of that is good, old-fashioned, strong and clear writing. I’ve seen comparisons to To Kill a Mockingbird – the comparisons are not over-stated. There is a gloriously intricate simplicity at work in both books, which makes them a delight to read repeatedly because there are always new insights to tease out. This will definitely be a re-read for me – already I am insanely curious to see what new discoveries lie in wait in the beginning, now that I have traveled through the whole story…

There were so many points when tears poured down my face, when I felt like my heart would break with the next sentence… This is an author who gets the importance of word choice and understands the value of sentence structure. The story unfolds in delicate layers, then suddenly – BAM! – a brutal truth smacks you over the head with a two-by-four. It hurts, but then the gorgeous language soothes the pain away – right up until the next whack. This is nuance at some of the finest quality I’ve read. Speaking of nuanced, McDaniel’s presentation of the nature of good versus evil was extraordinarily so – while remaining an entertaining story at the same time. (I am a lawyer by way of a philosophy major, so I’ve spent some time in the land of good v. evil, so know from which I speak!) It’s no small feat to dance that line, but McDaniel does it with finesse, making it look infinitely easier than I know it to be…

I have been fortunate in that I’ve been able to “speak” with the author over email on an ongoing basis; she’s as delightful as her story, and has been very gracious in her willingness to give insights into her writing and the story (and in her willingness to diligently respond to my emails, despite the pending release of the book!). I’d like to share a few, because I think you’ll find them as interesting as I did.

Q. How long did it take you to write the book?
A. I wrote The Summer that Melted Everything in a month. It was one of those Ohio summers that I just felt like I was melting into a puddle of myself on the green summer grass. And thus the title was born. I think I wrote it so quickly because the characters themselves were sweating and they were ready to let their summer be known.

Q. Were there a ton of revisions or did you know what you wanted to say all along?
A. I always start writing a new novel with two things. The title and the first line. I never outline or pre-plan, so I never really know where the story is going to go. For me, the stories I write always belong to the characters. The story, while fictional to us in our world, is very true to the characters in their own world. As far as revisions, that involved cutting out extra scenes or cutting back on the page count as it usually is the case for me and my novels.

Q. Did you know Sal would be Sal from the beginning?
A. Sal was the first character in this novel I really saw without a blur from the beginning. When I thought of who he would be, his image was so clear in my mind, I felt as if he were standing right in front of me. I knew he was going to be the one come to change everything in that town, that community, and in the lives of the Bliss family. I didn’t know from the beginning all the ways he would come to change them, but I knew he was special and capable of a great many thing.

You have GOT to check this one out. And when you do, you have GOT to tell me what you think. There are so many things I want to mention, but can’t, because to spoil this story for you would be cruel in the extreme. The journey is an incredibly powerful one – and I don’t say that lightly, because too many people throw those words around. You simply have to take my word for it. At least, until you start reading – then McDaniel’s words will more than step up and take over… The Summer that Melted Everything will be available July 26 – order your copy now!!

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