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The Summer Guests by Mary Alice Monroe


Review by Nancy Brannon

If you like soap operas and barn drama, you will probably like Mary Alice Monroe’s latest book, The Summer Guests. It’s definitely light summer reading with an equestrian flair.

The background theme for the novel is a hurricane evacuation from Florida horse country and the South Carolina coast. Hurricane Noelle is bearing down on the coast and horse folks are working fervently to evacuate their horses, dogs, and themselves to safer ground in the North Carolina mountains – Tryon to be specific. The theme is reminiscent of the Hurricane Florence in the Atlantic bearing down on the World Equestrian Games last September. Monroe said, “I live on a barrier island in South Carolina, so I’ve experienced the stress of evacuating many times.”

Eventually, a select number of people and their horses (and dogs) arrive at Grace and Charlie Phillips’ Freehold Farm, where Grace’s gracious hospitality and accommodations are the epitome of luxurious upscale facilities, and where any horse person/reader would love to stay. Guests include the Phillips’ daughter Moira and her rescue dogs, famed equestrian Javier Angel de la Cruz, makeup artist Hannah McLain, horse breeder and dressage trainer Gerda Klug and her daughter Elise, and island resident Cara Rutledge. Angel is a famed Grand Prix jumper, the youngest rider to win the World Cup, headed, hopefully, to the Olympics. Gerda is a somewhat stereotypical German dressage maven who has aspirations for her daughter to go to the Olympics in Dressage.

Two main equine characters are: Whirlwind, a nine-year-old Trakehner stallion/Olympic Dressage prospect who gets along much more seamlessly with Karl, his trainer than with Elise. Butterhead is a Palomino mare Grand Prix jumper who, now, can’t jump more than 1.50m anymore, but still has plenty of heart and life.

Monroe describes it as “sort of ‘The Big Chill’ with horses. All of the people who are coming up to the horse farm are equestrians. A couple of people are involved in dressage; a couple of people are jumpers. Primarily it’s about a connection between human beings and horses.”

Throughout the time spent at Freehold Farm, relationships between people change, as do relationships between horses and people, as every character has their own problems to deal with.

Monroe writes about the places she knows, as she owns a home in Tryon and enjoys visiting the Isle of Palms and the Charleston, South Carolina area, both of which are scenes in the novel. Monroe is also a devoted “turtle lady” at Isle of Palms, so she includes two elderly “turtle ladies” as characters in this novel.

Monroe said, “I hope to show through the novel that the equestrian world is not just for wealthy people. I think that’s an image that needs to be torn down.” But the novel focuses on just that: the wealthy people. Who else would have $2 million to spend on a horse in a spur-of-the-moment (pun intended) purchase?

Read more about Mary Alice Monroe at her website: The book is published by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.

Allen, Wade. 2019. “Author Mary Alice Monroe introduces readers to Tryon, North Carolina.” April 20.
Monroe, Mary Alice. 2019. “Kicking Off My Summer Book Tour in Tryon, NC.” May 7. 
Monroe, Mary Alice. 2019. “Cover Reveal and Short Excerpt of New Novel, ‘The Summer Guests.’”
March 21.

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