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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Understated Magical Thinking
This is a whimsical coming of age story of three siblings growing up on a far northern Scottish Island. They've just lost their diplomatist father in a horrible accident (or was it suicide?) and their mother has emotionally checked out of their lives. The two oldest Georgie, 17 and Alba, 14 are negotiating puberty with more or less success but the girls' 9 year old...
Published on June 1, 2011 by Cynthia

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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pollen's Latest Book - A Fun Summer Read
Bella Pollen's newest book, The Summer of the Bear, was my first introduction to Pollen's work. Set in 1980, Letty Fleming and her children are moving to a Scottish island after the death of Letty's husband, an embassy worker who died accidentally.

When questions about her husband's work come up, it is difficult for the family to continue to defend the man they...
Published on June 30, 2011 by Tina Says


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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Understated Magical Thinking, June 1, 2011
This is a whimsical coming of age story of three siblings growing up on a far northern Scottish Island. They've just lost their diplomatist father in a horrible accident (or was it suicide?) and their mother has emotionally checked out of their lives. The two oldest Georgie, 17 and Alba, 14 are negotiating puberty with more or less success but the girls' 9 year old brother Jamie is floundering but then he's always been on the odd. He can't accept that his much loved dad is gone forever and becomes convinced that he has returned in the guise of a grizzly bear that's been lost on their island having slipped away from his wrestling bear owner. This honors the beliefs of the local fishermen who legend has it can return to life as seagulls. Mom's drinking becomes worse as she sits up nights rereading her husband's apparent suicide note and rehashing their life together searching for truth and some meaning. The kids are left alone to raise themselves and one another. There is a non-cloying sweetness to this book. It's filled with nostalgia (it's set in the 1970's), the Hebrides island a remote but beautiful place and there's the magical thinking of childhood that never quite tips over into the fantastical. Finally there's optimism and love that leads to honesty and a remerging and renewing within this family. Another juicy tidbit are the snippets of the father's diplomatic work concerning the cold war as it played out in Germany in the decades post World War II.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mystery/comedy/family saga and more ... too much more, June 11, 2011
By 
The Summer of the Bear tries to be many things at once: a mystery (involving possible espionage), a family saga, a children's adventure, a comedy, at least two love stories, a bit of a political/environmental story, and maybe a fantasy (the last could also be read as a story of spirituality). It succeeds at some of those ambitions more than others.

Bella Pollen's novel tells an odd but (mostly) charming story that focuses on young Jamie Fleming and his family. Jamie's father, Nicky Fleming, is a diplomat. When Nicky dies in Bonn after falling from the embassy's roof, he is widely believed to have committed suicide. Jamie's mother, Letty, doesn't quite have the heart to tell Jamie, substituting "he's gone" and "he's not coming back" for the stark language of death. Mildly irritated that his father won't be taking him to the circus to see the performing bear, Jamie becomes convinced that his father is away on a secret mission worthy of James Bond. Jamie's spoken belief that his father is a spy is unfortunately misunderstood; rumors are already afoot that Nicky was actually working for East Germany against the interests of the UK. The rumors stem from a partially written letter to Letty -- found crumpled on Nicky's desk after his death -- that mentions a secret he's been keeping from her. Embassy officials view the letter as a confessional suicide note. At some point Letty starts to wonder whether her husband's death was neither accidental nor a suicide, while at the same time fighting doubts about whether the man she loved did (as some additional evidence suggests) engage in an act of treason.

Nicky's death forces the family to return home to the Outer Hebrides. At about the same time, a bear arrives on the island, escapes from its owner, and takes up residence in a cave. The bear shares its thoughts with the reader (it's quite the philosopher) and has an almost telepathic connection to Jamie. There is also an apparent connection between the bear (which we're told has "a half human heart") and the deceased Nicky -- at least Jamie, having heard tales of reincarnation from the islanders, would like to believe there is.

The bear storyline required more suspension of disbelief than I could muster; I think the book would have been better off without it. The novel works best as comedy. Much of the story is wryly amusing and one scene (involving an incident that caused Nicky's kids to be banned from the embassy) caused me to burst into sustained laughter. I was taken by the island's colorful characters and by Jamie, who has a knack for inventing wild explanations for things he doesn't understand that, in their own way, make a silly kind of sense.

The story also works well as an exploration of a family dynamic following the death of a husband and father. The relationship between the siblings rings true. Each kid reacts to Nicky's death in a different, credible, well-defined way. Letty's two daughters are simultaneously endearing and maddening; that also rings true, as does their resentment of their mother's detachment after their father's death. Finally, the story does a reasonably sound job of building suspense as the characters edge closer to learning the truth about Nicky's actions. The conclusion of that storyline is quite satisfying. The ending of the parallel story involving Jamie and the bear was too over-the-top for my taste, although I'll concede that it was well done. While the result is a mixed review, on balance I recommend the novel because more elements work than fail, and even the elements that didn't thrill me were skillfully executed.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pollen's Latest Book - A Fun Summer Read, June 30, 2011
Bella Pollen's newest book, The Summer of the Bear, was my first introduction to Pollen's work. Set in 1980, Letty Fleming and her children are moving to a Scottish island after the death of Letty's husband, an embassy worker who died accidentally.

When questions about her husband's work come up, it is difficult for the family to continue to defend the man they thought they knew. Especially struggling is Jamie, Letty's young son, who refuses to believe his father is dead. Now in his new home, Jamie has decided that a bear that is on the loose is really his father, and Jamie looks for this bear wherever he goes. His older sisters, Georgie and Alba are struggling in their own way as is their mother.

I enjoyed the storyline of this novel, and also the Scottish setting, a locale I rarely read of in books. While this is not a mystery, there is a bit of suspense and the unknown as Letty and Tom, her husband's good friend, try to understand Nicky's death that came so unexpectedly. Georgie, the oldest daughter may be able to shed some light on things, as she and her father took a trip to East Berlin shortly before his death. Georgie is worried that what she reveals may implicate her father in something, so tries to keep what she knows to herself.

While I am normally not someone who enjoys any narration by animals, there are brief chapters narrated by the bear in this story. And, despite the fact that I don't much believe that Nicky became the bear- like Jamie believed- I could almost hear Nicky's voice in those chapters, and it seemed entirely believable.

The Summer of the Bear will make a nice summer read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Touching Family Story, November 24, 2011
By 
Sandra Kirkland (High Point, North Carolina United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Nicky and Letty have it all. Young, in love with a great marriage and three beautiful children, they are posted in Bonn with Nicky's diplomatic career and rumored to be in the running for the Ambassador's job in Rome. Then tragedy strikes. Nicky falls from a roof on the Embassy and is killed. Letty, her world destroyed, takes the children back to the island in the Outer Hebrides where they spend every summer to try to put their world back together and figure out how to go on without Nicky.

Nothing seems to be working. Georgie, the oldest girl, tries to fill in mothering her younger siblings as Letty is barely coping. But Georgie is ready for University and starting to discover men. Alba, the middle child, has developed a cruel streak that she takes out on everyone, especially her little brother, Jamie. Jamie, the only boy and eight years old, is more lost than the others. No one has told him his father is dead; just that he is "lost". Jamie obsesses about finding him and about a circus bear that has escaped and is loose somewhere on the island. He is an unsophisticated, innocent child who just wants to make everything right again.

Bella Pollen has created a magical book about families coming together and building their lives on the treasure they have in each other. The book is told through alternating views of each character, allowing the reader to slowly piece together the puzzle of what happened in Bonn and how to move on in their lives. The people and culture of the little-known Outer Hebrides Islands is lovingly portrayed. This book is recommended for all readers.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Families and Lies, November 6, 2011
Transitioning smoothly between the present and past and among the lives of the main characters, Bella Pollen recounts a heart-rending tale of loyalty, loss, and the hurt and hope that comes with being a part of a family. Leticia Fleming is stunned by the death of her husband, a diplomat in Bonn during the Cold War, and the ensuing rumors and accusations that he was a traitor and his death a suicide. Betrayed by those nearest her, she flees with her young family to an isolated island in the Scottish Outer Hebrides'. On the island, surrounded by stark and bleak surroundings and by people sheltered from the modern world and entrenched in old beliefs and values, she and her young children are forced to confront their loss and grapple to uncover the truth behind it. They tear each other apart in their individual struggles and with the secrets they keep, creating tiny rifts in the family that only intensify the pain that each faces. As they work through their grief, Letty and her two daughters Georgie and Alba become slowly convinced of their husband and fathers' guilt. Jamie, the youngest son who suffers with communication and physical ability, is the only one of the four who remains convinced of his fathers' loyalty and his continued presence in their lives. Jamie's father promised him that he would return and Jamie refuses to forget that promise. As he settles into the island, he slowly comes to believe that his father has taken the form of an escaped grizzly bear that is loose somewhere along the coastline and he sets about to find the bear and see his father once more. In his search, and in the retelling of each characters' memories and experiences on the island, the truth of his father's death is slowly revealed and the family is ultimately able to find peace and healing, though they must experience tragedy first.

This book is touching in many ways, revealing so well the importance of family and the ease with which it can be destroyed. Pollen takes the smallest details of each characters' life and retells them with sensitivity and understanding. Each story is captivating, revealing how simple it is to lie not only to others but to ourselves as well, and how damaging those lies can be. The suspense she creates surrounding the father's death, the identity of the bear and the ultimate fate of the family is subtle and draws you on swiftly through the book to a satisfying conclusion. The small details of the island and its inhabitants (including the renegade bear) add a charming quality to the book that rounds it out well. In all, a superb book that is sure to leave an impression.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Secrets and Lies, September 14, 2010
This review is from: The Summer of the Bear (Hardcover)
This is a beautiful little book, deceptively simple, yet filled with delightful turns of phrase and dialogue that has a capacity to get underneath all the characters and reveal their lives and emotions in all their complexity. The Fleming family's lives have been made that much more complicated by the death of the father, Nicky, a diplomat stationed in Bonn during the late seventies, while the Cold War is still raging (or intensifying, or freezing, or whatever a Cold War does). His death is considered a suicide and it raises questions about the nature of his activities, particularly one suspicious trip to Berlin with his daughter.

Finding it difficult to deal with the suspicions and insinuations, the family retreat to their residence in the Outer Hebrides, but they find that life isn't simplified by living in a small isolated community. The three children all have problems of their own growing-up, the girls Georgie and Alba reaching a certain difficult age, trying to find their place in the world and establish their own personalities. It's more complicated for Jaimie, the youngest boy, who has learning difficulties and may be autistic. None of them have processed the news of their father's death, least of all Jaimie, who believes that his father is lost but could have returned in the form of an escaped bear that is loose on the island.

Bella Pollen's writing and evocation of each of the characters and the big-little dramas of their lives is spellbinding, capturing the internal struggle within each of them, their actions and reactions, the secrets and the lies that each of them use as little self-deceptions in their daily lives to shore-up the illusions they need to keep going. The fostering of illusions applies as much to the big scale subject of the Cold War as much as it does the Flemings, and even the lives of the other minor characters on the island, and the author brings these all together with remarkable ease and a great deal of charm. It's so good that the depiction of the daily lives of the family is delightful on its own, and it really doesn't need the mystery and intrigue of the spy games to keep it engaging for the reader. Most people will want a resolution however, and the author provides one that should satisfy while retaining the delightful magical ambiguity of the presence of the bear, but it does feel a little too quickly and easily arrived at. Nonetheless, The Summer of the Bear is a wonderful, charming and entertaining book that should hold the reader in its considerable thrall and likely remain with them for some time afterwards.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Summer of the Bear, May 1, 2012
When a diplomat dies in sinister circumstances his widow instinctively escapes to her spiritual home in the Outer Hebrides, along with her confused and reluctant children. As each tries in their own way to come to terms with what has happened, the family seems to be unravelling, but an escaped bear, government development proposals and the support of a distinctive island community provide the clues which allow the family to uncover the truth.

Drawing on her clear love of the Highlands and familiarity with its communities, Bella Pollen has taken the unlikeliest of ingredients, woven them on an island hand loom, and produced a fey blend of mystery, international intrigue and Hebridean magic which is at once gripping and enchanting. That some of the strangest elements of the story are drawn from actual events only increases the sense of wonder.

Impossible to categorise, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book which leaves the reader curiously enriched. The Summer of the Bear: A Novel
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical, mysterious, July 13, 2011
By 
Elisabeth Davis (North Carolina, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Summer of the Bear is a mystery, a novel of magic realism, a coming of age story, and so much more. Nicky, the father, has died suddenly and his family withdraws to their special place in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Having been there, I must say the author captured the harshness and elegance of the islands very well: the machair, the waves, the wind, the sense of mystery. Layered on this description is a tale of grief played out differently in each family member from the youngest child to the widow. Some reviewers have discussed the bear in the novel (an escaped grizzly) as being unnecessary, but I feel it lends a magical element -- perhaps the bear is just in Jamie's mind, perhaps not, but it is a brilliant use of an unusual character to further the action. This book is a perfect summer read.

Elisabeth Davis, author/illustrator of Harley, The Throwaway Puppy
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning!!,, May 19, 2012
Crime fiction being my usual reading genre. Athors, Lee Child, Robert Crais, Dennis Lehane. Therefore I approached THE SUMMER OF THE BEAR, with a certain reservation. Would it live up to the `suspense thriller`, as blurbed on the back cover. ? In fact, it does. Very much so. I found the story gripping, and full of suspense and became concerned for each one of the family. Sharing with them, their deep sense of loss. And their struggle of acceptance.

Nicky Fleming; Father of the children. Was working as a British Diplomat during the Cold War. Supposedly fell from the top of a building, the verdict is given of suicide. With a rumour that he had betrayed his country.
Letty Fleming; takes the children to -re-gain their lives -to this remote Scottish Island. But she is tormented by what has occurred, and has to try and establish the truth concerning her dead Husband.
Georgie Fleming; the eldest of the children. She alone, could know the secret of what happened and why, concering her Father, Nicky.
Alba Fleming; resents that her Father is no longer there for her. She is angry, bewildered and rebellious.
Jamie Fleming, the youngest; His mind works in a strange and sometimes wonderful way. He is convinced, that his Father would not just leave them. For whatever reason, even death. And that he will one day be back.
The story culminates in one of the most exciting, often harrowing, and heart-wrenching endings, I have read for a long time. I loved it.
(Ah, and there is the bear.)
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book to Spend Time With, June 29, 2011
By 
T. Dotts (Pottstown, PA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The Fleming family retreats to a family cottage in the Outer Hebrides following the death of Nick Fleming in 1980s West Germany. Accusations of treason and a suicide note from the diplomat lead his wife to question how well she knew her husband while her two daughters struggle to define themselves and her young son leaves clues for his "lost" father to find the family. As the Flemings arrive on the island, a tamed bear escapes from his owner and hides out in a sea cave. A strange connection forms between bear and boy as Bella Pollen weaves a sleepy sort of magic in The Summer of the Bear.

The novel moves at a well measured pace: slow but designed to capture readers. Pollen creates a world to spend time in. When she brings the main plot threads together, it's with a feeling of moving the characters along to whatever waits for them after the last page is turned.

Pollen's chapters alternate perspectives among the Fleming family. Letty pieces together evidence of Nick's treason while shutting herself away from her children. Georgia, the older daughter, accompanied her father on a trip to East Berlin and knows something about the secrets he was keeping. Alba, the middle child, uses anger to keep her feelings at bay. Jamie is the special one; his mind doesn't work the way it should and it takes him a long while to understand his father isn't lost, but dead.

The characters could be written easily as stereotypes. The two daughters struggle to emerge as fully realized characters, with only Georgia achieving that successfully. Letty and Jamie, however, are very real. Jamie's mental disabilities - which are never categorized clearly - could have made him too precious, but Pollen grounds his differences in having Jamie just be a child, fighting with his sister and looking for proof that his bear is real.

Jamie and his father were supposed to go to the circus on the day Nick died. Among the attractions was a bear act, and when Jamie sees a truck advertising a performing bear on the family's trip to the island, he decides the bear will help him find his father.

The bear feels a connection to Jamie as well, and Pollen checks in with the bear in short chapters that may be too anthropomorphic for some readers but can be explained by the bear's time with humans. Pollen stops short of delivering magic realism, but doesn't offer explanations for everything either.

The Summer of the Bear has some flaws. The answers to Nick's treasonous behaviors seem like an afterthought as the novel increases tension about Jamie and the bear. What Nick may or may not have done gives the other characters something else to do. An environmental MacGuffin near the end of the novel provides an excuse for Letty to leave the family cottage and not much else.

But the flaws are minor or, at least, don't negate the engaging story Pollen tells. The Summer of the Bear is a novel to relish and to mourn when the last page is read.
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The Summer of the Bear: A Novel
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