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The Summer We Came to Life
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The four friends spent many exotic summer vacations together since becoming BFFS as children. However, this year is different as Mina died after battling cancer. Shocked though expecting her buddy's demise, Samantha retreats to Honduras; followed by her remaining friends Isabel and Kendra, and their parents to help her grieve.

Mina's journal fails to bring solace to any of the trio though the entries highlight their attempts at saving her via astrophysics. When Samantha suffers a near-death experience, she meets Mina's ghost who tries to comfort her. In a different universe, Samantha learns the relativity of perception as the eyes see what the mind allows. Bewildered, Samantha knows she must battle with her ghosts; just like her friends and their parents must do whether it is grief for the death of a loved one or survival of the Iranian revolution.

This is not an easy read as Deborah Cloyed encourages her audience to never give up the fight for life regardless whether the reader is religious or science bent. The story line feels somewhat like a scattergram, but Samantha's journey of awareness keeps the tale focused on life after death.

Harriet Klausner
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2011
The Summer We Came to Life by Deborah Cloyed explores the friendship between four young women- Samantha, Isabel, Kendra and Mina. Childhood friends, the girls take a trip each year to someplace exotic, and this year they are in Honduras. But this trip is different, because Mina is no longer with them. She lost her battle to cancer, and now the three friends are struggling to move forward without her. Each friend is at a different place in her life, and with her own unique problem she is trying to figure out. Also in Honduras with the group are Isabel and Kendra's mothers, and Mina's and Kendra's father. The adults are also trying to find their own answers in life, and to understand about the journey they've taken so far.

This wasn't a terrible book, it was well written and Cloyed takes readers on a unique journey with her characters. I struggled a bit to get into the story after Samantha drowns and goes into a different world, one where she is with Mina again. I just got lost after that plot twist, and couldn't find the same enthusiasm that I had in the beginning of the novel. The narratives are a bit all over the place- from Samantha's point of view to the parents, and it was confusing to keep jumping all over the place with that. I think Cloyed really wants readers to take away the lesson to never give up on life, to always keep fighting for yourself and what you believe, which is great. The four girls make for an interesting and creative character set, but the second half of the book just fell flat for me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2011
I enjoyed the uniqueness of this book and was pleasantly surprised to find it not to be your typical boring bunch of gals on a vacation kind of book. Instead it is a mix of what was, what is and what could be all wrapped up into an interesting little package. While the main character and narrator Sam struggles with many things in her current life, her main concern are her feeling of disconnection. Something many of us artist struggle with. As a starving artist living alone in Honduras Sam's thoughts weigh in on her current relationship with her boyfriend and whether she should relinquish control and have someone else take care of her for a change. With the fresh wounds from the death of her friend Mina still lingering in the air, Sam struggles with feelings of wanting to be alone, when her friends decide they want to drop in on her life instantly for a vacation. Mina was not just a childhood friend, but Sam's best friend. Mina was the one Sam could relate to the most when it came to their group of four, her friendship soul-mate. The story takes an unexpected twist as you find out the planning and promises of Sam and Mina to contact each other after Mina's death. I love the time spent by the friends in Honduras and the indigenous village they visit, the dancing with the elders, like two dimensions intermingling. The parents who tag along on the vacation and their mix of culture and past experiences brings this book to life. The possibility of alternate dimensions intertwined into the story was another exciting twist that I liked. Whether Sam actually has an after death experience or it was just a hallucination, the point is clear. What matters most in our lives is that we all have the gift of free will and whatever your past or your culture may be true love is the act of being there for each other through life's good times and bad without judgement.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2011
I've been sitting here for about an hour wondering how to review The Summer We Came To Life. But, right now, words seem to be failing me. I don't think I can adequately convey what this novel made me feel. Without a shadow of a doubt, The Summer We Came To Life is one of the most emotional novels I've ever read. I've read numerous novels where people die and the people left behind grieve and don't know how to move on, but The Summer We Came To Life hit me right in the solar plexus for reasons I really can't comprehend. Honest to goodness, I stayed up until 1am finishing the novel because I just couldn't let go. I couldn't put it down and parts of it made me cry like a baby. I know that I enjoyed a novel when I can't get to sleep at 1 o'clock in the morning because I can't believe I've finished a book and it refuses to let me go. When I started the book, I didn't know the journey I was going to take. It's my own fault, I dove into the novel without really knowing what it was about so everything that occurs came as a surprise to me but it surprised me in the best way possible.

I'm not entirely sure what category I'd put The Summer We Came To Life in. It's a Chick Lit novel of some sort, I suppose and probably veers more toward `Women's Fiction', as the book is more about friendship than it is about anything else. It's a novel that a lot of people will be able to understand as Sam, Kendra and Isabel find themselves wondering how to move on after their best friend Mina dies. Not only that, but the girls have their own troubles as Isabel finds herself out of work, Sam is wondering whether to accept her boyfriend's proposal and Kendra finds herself with an unexpected dilemma. For most of their life, the four girls along with Isabel and Kendra's mother go on vacations together, but after Mina's death none of them feel like it, not really, but Jesse and Lynette (Isabel and Kendra's mother) refuse to let the tradition slip, they all converge in Honduras for a holiday, bringing along Mina's father Arshan and Kendra's father Cornell. During the holiday, although there's a vacant gap where Mina is meant to be, it does indeed help them to be together.

There's quite a lot of stories we learn whilst reading the novel. Jesse tells us all about Isabel's father, Arshan tells us about his life, Cornell and Lynettte tell everyone how they overcame segregation in the 60s to be together. Sam is desperate to contact Mina in any way possible, and we see numerous diary entries from the two of them as they try to figure out a way to be able to contact each other from the other side. I think that the moral of the story is that no matter what happens, you can overcome anything. That's the message I learned whilst reading the book. The characters are as wide and diverse as you could believe, but the love they all feel for each other is immense. I found myself enraptured by the novel as we get to know the characters better. Sam drives the story, but we regularly switch narratives from first-person to third-person and somehow despite the mish-mash way the novel is written, it somehow works. I wasn't bothered by the change in which the novel was written, switching from Sam's first-person narrative to third-person and back and forth. It worked, I have no idea how, but I found it captivating.

I must admit to not really believing in the afterlife, all those theories Sam and Mina present about contacting the dead confused me, I'm not ashamed to say. However the love they have for each other, as best friends, as confidantes for so long, negated my confusion and I could understand why they were reluctant to leave each other without at least making a go of contacting each other once Mina was gone. How many people would kill to be able to talk to someone who has passed away, even if it's just to say goodbye? I know I would love to do that if it was possible. Surprisingly, for a Chick Lit novel, there is a slight paranormal/spiritual touch to the book. I'm not going to give away what happens, because it's one of the best parts of the book (for me, anyway) but it did surprise me because I enjoyed it. It was such a shock to me, but it was yet another good shock. A lot of people might not be able to grasp it and may not like it (and if you'd told me before I'd read it what was going to happen I'd have said it would have put me off the book) but it was charming. It worked.

The setting of The Summer We Came To Life is perfect, absolutely perfect. I've never read a novel set in Honduras and despite the poverty we're shown in the novel, it sounds like a magical place and I couldn't think of anywhere else Deborah Cloyed could have set the novel. The setting encapsulated the entire novel. The novel manages to pack in so much. The history of the older characters is rich and interesting, never boring, and I liked the way the older characters taught Sam and Isabel about their struggles and how the world has changed in such a short space of time. There aren't enough superlatives in the world for me to describe this novel. Just look at the ones I've already used: magical, charming, stunning, unputdownable. Just the fact it kept me up so late is all you need to know. I love my sleep but I literally couldn't wrench myself away, I couldn't make myself say `That's enough' and to turn my Kindle off. It was more `Oh, there's only x percent left, I may as well finish it'. I started the novel last night at 45% and even then I was unable to put it down. I read 55% of a novel in about two hours, which is how desperate I was to finish it. I love lots of books, that's a given. I read more books than most people ever will in their life, and I give lots of 5 star ratings, but there are some novels that should be 5 star stars, if that even makes sense. The Summer We Came To Life touched me deep down, and it's absolutely worth purchasing. I loved it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2011
Every year summer comes around and I look forward to lazy indulgent days by the pool with a good read. Well, this summer I already found a true winner! Categorized as women's fiction but so thrilled to find so much more than fluff in the pages of this amazing novel. As the main character Samantha along with her best friends Kendra and Isabel mourn the loss of their 4th, Mina, to cancer 6 months ago you journey into a profound story of friendship. But this story is also beautifully enriched with lives of their parents, pivotal moments in history such as the Iranian Revolution and Civil Rights, science, and the spiritual after life. At the age of 30, when faced with reflection about the future this book made me realize just how important my own friends are to me. HIGHLY recommend for a summer book club read!
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on August 16, 2011
Reviewed by Valerie
Review copy provided by NetGalley

A story about friendship and all the ups and downs that childhood friends share as they grow older into adulthood. Two of the girls in the group have mothers that are willing to take them somewhere each and every summer. The other two girls don't have mothers, for different reasons, and are treated like family as they also travel along with their two friends. When one of the girls gets terminally ill, she starts a journal with each of the friends to document her final days and thoughts with them personally.

Now, months later, she's gone. For Samantha, nothing in her life will ever be the same. She can't laugh without feeling guilty. Then, there's the fact that her French boyfriend proposed to her and she just couldn't say no, another reason she feels guilty. When she gets a call that the gang wants to schedule a vacation, she firmly tells them no! What could they be thinking, she wonders to herself. Yet they show up anyway - with extras.

As the vacation gets underway, you really get to know the other characters. At times, each of them is given the chance to tell their story with bits of history woven in that is relevant to how they perceive the world. Samantha, for most of the story, feels a lot of pressure to figure out how to contact her dead best friend in the "other world." She simply can't believe that it isn't possible for them to connect across space and time. As she deals with the issue of closure that accompanies grief, the story takes an unusual, yet welcome, twist.

By the end of the story, after all the trials and decisions the characters must face, you feel closure when the story ends and a very satisfying feeling that they will, indeed, be okay.

Quote: "Could Isabel not really get how abominable it would be to vacation without Mina? It wasn't the first time we'd broached the subject." Page 18
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The Summer We Came to Life by Deborah Cloyed in not what I expected when I picked it up. It is so much more. I originally thought it was a just a story about friends trying to move on after the death of their close friend, Mina. It is but it's also so much more. The first line of the book, "Birth and Death are the two occurrences in a person's life that seem to say one thing: we are not the one's calling the shots.", sets the tone for the entire novel.
The story surrounds four friends: Samantha, Isabel, Kendra and Mina. They have been best friends since childhood. They're so different from each other yet their personalities complement one another. Isabel, Samantha and Kendra are morning the loss of their friend Mina. She passed away six months ago from cancer. In the past they've taken a trip every summer but this year, without Mina, it doesn't seem worth it. However their parents take charge and they set out on not only a vacation but also set out on a journey of self discovery.
The Summer We Came to Life has great characters. Samantha has just gotten engaged, maybe. She has some tough decisions to make. She's also deeply missing Mina. We get to see Mina's character through flashbacks, memories and journal entries. She wrote each of her friends a journal with advice and encouragement for their lives. Isabel has just lost her job and she doesn't know what her next move should be. Kendra is a control freak who has her life planned out. She discovers that she's pregnant and it turns her world upside down. She has had some tough choices to make as well. Their parents: Jesse, Lynette, Cornell and Arshan come with them on their vacation. Together the parents try to impart their wisdom and life lessons on survival, courage and sacrifice.
The plot was really good. This story is told through the different characters. I really like the flashbacks. It gives you an insight to the characters. I especially like the past recollections by the parents. Jesse, Lynette, Cornell and Arshan each have something to share with the girls of their past. The hardships that they endured help the girls to understand themselves more. Another interesting theme in this novel is answering the question, "What happens after we die?" Deborah Cloyed takes a stab at this question through Mina. This was an interesting aspect to the novel because this question is timeless. It's been asked since the beginning and will be asked until the end of time. Death can be a mystery in itself.
Overall I really liked this book. I enjoyed the flashbacks and learning the histories of each character. This book will make you want to take a vacation with your best friends. This is a great summer read.
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First Sentence (from a galley - may be different in final copy): Birth and death are the two occurrences in a person's life that seem to say one thing; we are not the ones calling the shots.

Samantha and her friends have lost one of their friendship circle. Of the four friends, Mina was the one Sam felt closest to, with both of them growing up motherless with rather remote fathers. As Mina fought her battle with cancer, she kept journals specifically geared towards each of her friends: Kendra, Isabel and Samantha. The friends had a tradition of meeting once a year and spending a period of time together in a mini-adventure along with Isabel's and Kendra's mothers Jesse and Lynette. Samantha wants to beg off this year, but the moms insist, telling her that everyone is on the way to Honduras, where Samantha now lives. The twist this time is that Mina's father Arshan and Kendra's father Cornell will be joining them.

As the friends (minus Kendra, who begs off at the last minute citing work-related causes) get together, we learn about each of their lives, and more importantly, we learn about their parent's lives. Most of us don't take the time to learn our parent's stories, and in this book, their stories become one of the most interesting pieces.

Samantha is a physics grad, and she and Mina discussed the "Many Worlds" theory in their efforts to find a way to stay in contact after Mina's death. This ends up playing a (somewhat confusing) role later on in the book, in a sequence that turned a bit too mystical and murky for this particular reader.

In the end, though, I came away with a good feeling and a connection to the characters and their personal stories.
QUOTE (from a galley - may be different in final copy):

He slipped into the past like an egg sliding into water to be poached. Arshan regularly boiled himself alive for his mistakes as a husband and a father.

Book Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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on June 27, 2011
As of lately, I have been craving some good adult contemporary. Luckily enough for me, Deborah Cloyed's The Summer We Came perfectly feed to that craving with its flawed yet complex characters, well-developed storylines, and rich, detailed writing.

Everything has been different for Kendra, Isabel, and Samantha since Mina, the fourth addition to their group, lost her battle with cancer six months ago. Each girl has a different way of dealing with the death. For Kendra, it means throwing herself into her high-powered job and dodging her own personal problems. For Isabel, it also means throwing herself into her work until she loses her job. For Samantha, it means running from country to country, falling in love with a wealthy French man, and looking for answers to life in the journals Mina left her. However, everything is about to change with summer approaching. Since childhood the girls along with Kendra's and Isabel's mothers have gone on some type of exotic vacation, but this year Mina won't be there for the first time ever. Samantha asks, or more accurately begs, to abandon this year's trip, saying it would be too hard, but soon enough all three girls plus Kendra's parents, Isabel's mother, and Mina's father are in the middle of Honduras. Looking for peace and forgiveness, each person will be faced with coming to term with Mina's demise and the secrets and struggles they have kept over the years.

As I've mentioned countless times before what I love most about adult fiction is the intricate and complex characters that are often introduced. For The Summer We Came to Life, these characters were Kendra, Isabel, Samantha as well as the parental units. Each character presented was diverse, distinctive, and thoroughly likable. More importantly, their feelings over life and death were easy to relate to, especially when it came to the saying "life's consolations are love and best friends" that was always supported within the text.

The plot of this book was another high point. The setting was spectacular because of the rich detail added that often made me feel like I was right there, enjoying this exotic location right along with the characters. I also enjoyed seeing the characters share their stories throughout the book, because they often addressed common social and religion issues for example in a non-preachy and interesting way. It's easy to say I learned a thing or two within this book!

Deborah Cloyed's writing was also great for a debut author. I really enjoyed all the layers of detail she put into her characters and storylines as well as the way she seamlessly intermixed past and present invents with Mina and Samantha's journal entries.

The only aspect of this book that brought it down a notch or two was a certain event that occurred towards the end. I won't say too much about it due to the fact I don't want to spoil anything. However, I will say it took a crazy turn, one that I wasn't expecting and didn't particularly enjoy. It was just odd and seemed out of place within the rest of the events in the novel.

Even with that, The Summer We Came to Life is still a fantastic debut novel that I'm sure many will come to enjoy. All I can say now is I cannot wait to read more by Deborah!

Grade: B+
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on June 6, 2011
The Summer We Came to Life is anything but typical and girlie. Rich and enchanting, it is unconventionally intellectual and weighty . . . while still being a great beach read! It delves right into real life personal issues women face today. Should Samantha really marry her French playboy boyfriend Remy? Samantha, like us women do, turns to her best friends for help. This in turn prompts the best friends' parents to weigh in with their own love stories in detail they'd never told their daughters.

All of this soul searching centers around the recent death of Mina. When death strikes too early, loved ones naturally ask - how could this possibly be the end? The journals Mina and Samantha kept examine the possibility of multiple realities in a desperate attempt to communicate after death. This exploration of scientific theories adds a fresh perspective on coping with death and mourning.

The novel also explores social and cultural issues of the Baby Boomer's generation - power and corruption during the Panamanian Revolution, the ideological terror of the Iranian Revolution, and brutal racism during Civil Rights in the South - reminding us that history books are really only the cliff notes of millions of very personal experiences.

But for me, the greatest strength of the book is the enviable bond of Samantha and her best friends and her unlikely family. It's an interesting commentary on our times - that with single parents, broken families, and women delaying starting their own families - best friends and extended circles become our soul mates and tribes. Samantha describes her friendship with Mina as "happiness that bubbles between us like warm, oozing honey." A pretty good description of how I feel about this book!
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