The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach (aka The Last Embrace) by Pam Jenoff

chelsea beach

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Summer 1941

Sixteen-year-old Adelia Monteforte begins the summer of 1941 aboard a crowded ship bound for America and the shelter it promises, utterly alone yet free of Fascist Italy, which is no longer safe for a young Jewish girl. Despite never wanting to venture too near the ocean again, Addie is whisked away to the seaside by her well-meaning aunt and uncle, where slowly she begins to adapt to her new life. That summer, she basks in the noisy affection of the boisterous Irish-Catholic clan next door. Though she adores all the Connally boys—sweet Robbie, moody Liam, studious Jack—it’s Charlie she pines for: the eldest, the golden boy. But all hopes for a future together are throttled by the creep of war and a tragedy that hits much closer to home.

Needing to distance herself from grief and the prospect of greater pain, Addie flees—first to Washington and then London, where the bombs still scream by night—and finds a position at a prestigious newspaper. More so, she finds a purpose. A voice. And perhaps even a chance to redeem lost time, lost family—and lost love. But the past, never far behind, nips at her heels, demanding to be reckoned. And in a final, fateful choice, Addie discovers that the way home may be a path she never suspected.

Publisher and Release Date: MIRA, August 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Italy, US and England 1941
Genre: Historical Fiction with romantic elements
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Maggi

With her customary wonderful flowing prose, Pam Jenoff has brilliantly depicted the suffering and heartbreak of families during wartime and brings that era to life. As a vulnerable Jewish teenager sent from Italy by her parents when anti-Semitism begins to threaten people’s lives, Addie grows up unsure of herself and of her place in the world. Her aunt and uncle are forced to take her in, and while kind, are rather remote. Out of loneliness, Addie connects with the big family of boys in the next door beach house.

The relationship between Addie and the eldest, Charlie is slow, messy and unpredictable, but then relationships often are. The threat of death hanging over people during the war caused them to behave differently, while Addie and Charlie suffered from a tragedy which tore the family apart. It seemed weak for Addie not to fight for what she’d always wanted, but in retrospect, it took courage to walk away from something she knew would never be right. That becomes clear when she grasps at happiness where she never expected to find it.

I found this a powerful, moving story of loss and redemption. The scenes in London in wartime are gripping, and tug at the heartstrings. I enjoyed this novel and would recommend it, although potential readers might bear in mind that it is historical fiction rather than historical romance, so there is no HEA.

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