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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 September 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on 11 April 2017
Really enjoyed this book, looking forward to reading more from this author.
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on 10 October 2014
Another excellent book by this author.
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on 13 September 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
When the bear escaped in Scotland, it was being filmed for a Kleenex ad being made by the agency that employed me. Panic all round. I'd forgotten all about him. And here he is, featured in a rather beautiful novel.
Some novels hurl you straight into the action with an explosion. Other cover a lot of ground before they really kick off, and The Summer of the Bear is one of the second. I'd almost given up. Don't give up. It's a tense spy story, a story of love, loss and more love, how we cope when our worlds are broken up by death, then broken a bit more, then smashed to pieces, until we're just hanging on for the next minute hoping that it might be an improvement on the last. It's times like those when your mind might play tricks with you. The characters are real, even the most unusual and eccentric ones. The bear is definitely real, but it's down to us to decide how much of him is imaginary, created by an exhausted, confused young mind.
The writing is gentle, which is one of the reasons that the critical points which Bella Pollen makes are so shocking; they creep up on us and smack us unexpectedly. Do read it, even if you don't remember the bear.
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on 15 July 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I enjoyed every minute of this finely crafted novel. It's well constructed and beautifully written. After Nicky Fleming's mysterious and sudden death, Letty and their three children, Georgie, Alba and Jamie escape to the remote and windswept Outer Hebrides to come to terms with the bewildering loss of their father and husband. Nicky Fleming worked as a diplomat in Bonn, West Germany in 1980 at a time when the suspicions and threats of the Cold Wall are still very much in evidence. We return to Bonn many times throughout the novel to learn the secrets which Nicky has kept from his family and which caused his death.

The characters are all well-drawn and sympathetic: Letty as she struggles with grief and confusion about her husband's death, Georgie on the cusp of adulthood, Alba's cruelties and anger and Jamie's naive and magical way of thinking and seeing the world.

Meanwhile a tame bear has escaped from his wrestler owner and is loose on the island and weaves its way into the story in a magical and fascinating way.

As Nicky Fleming's secrets come to the surface the family, with help from a perfect cast of islanders, must come to terms with their grief and their new life.

I was hooked from the very first page of this novel and Pollen builds the drama nicely until it reaches a poignant and emotional climax. The scenery of the Hebridean islands is beautifully imagined and each character is finely drawn and individual. It's the perfect summer read.
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Author Bella Pollen was holidaying in the Outer Hebrides in 1980 when a grizzly bear escaped from it's owners and spent 24 days roaming the tiny island of Benbecula. The grizzly never reverted to the wild and when it was eventually captured it had lost almost half of it's body weight. The story captured the attention of the world's media and Bella Pollen and her siblings spent an exciting summer hoping to be the ones who caught the bear. This story has remained with Pollen ever since and is the basis of this novel.

'The Summer of the Bear' tells the story of Letty and her three children who have just moved back to the windswept Scottish island after the death of Nicky - Letty's husband, the children's father and formally a British Diplomat and adored by his family. At the same time a bear has escaped from it's owner and is living somewhere on the island. The family are struggling to come to terms with Nicky's death which has been shrouded in secrecy. The death has been kept entirely from Jamie, the youngest and only boy - he struggles to understand where his Dada is, when is he coming back? Jamie soon convinces himself that the escaped bear is, in fact, his father.

With a really engaging plot, well thought out and well written and some superb characterisation, this book is not really about the missing bear or about the family, but more about communication and how the lack of communication and keeping things from each other can really have a terrible impact on people and families. At times the struggles of the family are really heartbreaking. The children trying to come to terms with a whole new life, a new home and no Dada and Letty struggling to put on a brave face whilst wondering just how Nicky died. Although very sad at times, there is also some wonderful humour. The islanders are so witty and funny, each islander has their own idea about the bear, some think it is the devil!

Gentle, absorbing, witty yet sad and with a hint of magic, this really is a very good read.
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VINE VOICEon 25 June 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a gentle, easy book to read with just enough suspense to keep you turning the pages. The development of characters is excellent and the story believable enough. Set mostly in the Outer Hebrides there are flashbacks to the diplomatic life in Bonn and East Berlin in the early 1980's, just before the end of the Cold War. Nicky, the husband dies in mysterious circumstancse but Letitia, his wife, refuses to believe it was suicide. Fleeing to the Outer Hebrides, her refuge and home, after leaving the diplomatic life in Bonn, she and her three children struggle to come to terms with life without husband and father.
And then there is the mysterious bear who flees his chains and swims to safety on the same, small island. Mysteriously tied to the life of this family the bear is present, in the background, without ever interfering and with none but the youngest, Jamie, believing the bear can be found. Teenage angst abounds with the seventeen and fourteen year old daughters. A good exploration of the effect of grief on children and the lies that adults tell that never work. A very pleasurable reading experience. Highly recommended for the holidays, especially on the beach.
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I loved this book. From the blurb it sounded as though it might be a bit quirky, but really it wasn't and what it turned into was a life-affirming story of a family coping with the loss of a husband/father.

I thought the way the author brought the real life story of the bear being lost on the island and wove a whole story around it was very clever.

This book has nice short chapters, which always make a story move quicker for me. It really exceeded my expectations and I found it a very satisfying read. I enjoyed the short bits about diplomatic life and I particularly liked the parts about life on the island, Excellent read and highly recommended.
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on 5 September 2011
What a wonderful read! In ` The Summer of The Bear', Bella Pollen makes use of authentic setting to develop a gripping plot, embracing thriller elements, shivers of The Cold War, family grief and teenage angst. Only someone with real knowledge of North Uist, its moods and elements could have captured the essence of the island so effectively, only someone who has lived in our community and been a part of it, could portray the characters so accurately and sensitively. Neighbours and friends in this corner of the island come to life through the pages of this novel! My one regret is that my lifelong friend, Rody, rabbit-catcher, purveyor of second hand furniture and spinner of ghostly tales is no longer alive to enjoy this mixture of fantasy and realism. He would have been so proud to be included in this tale of the bear. The parting reference to The Ministry of Defence suppressing a report on contamination at the rocket range in South Uist leaves us with much food for thought.

Annabella Barnett (nee MacKenzie) North Uist , Outer Hebrides
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VINE VOICEon 8 July 2010
This is a gentle book, the pace starts quite slowly and doesn't really pick up until the last quarter of the novel. That's not to say it doesn't have its charms though, the development of the characters is excellent, the easy way the story unfolds is strangely hypnotic and there is just enough intrigue to keep you reading on and frequently I found myself saying, 'just one more chapter...'

The story concerns a family who have somewhat slipped from grace from within British diplomatic circles, following the mysterious death of father/husband Nicky Fleming in Bonn. After initially fleeing to London, they subsequently find themselves on a remote Scotish island where they have ties. The setting is wonderfully described, with a suitably bizarre yet believable selection of locals, which give frequently amusing distractions.

The mother in our story, Letty, is still shell-shocked by the suspected suicide of her husband and what that may mean, her oldest daughter Georgie is getting glimpses of an adult life away from her cloying family, second daughter and middle child Alba is very angry with the world and in particular with her younger brother, Jamie, who is struggling with the relaity of the loss of his father and the ways of the world in general.

The flashbacks to Germany gradually tell our story and reveal what really occured and using the setting of 1980's cold war Europe is suitably claustrophobic. Then there is the whole angle in this book of the bear... Whether purely symbolic or supernatural is open to interpretation, but this aspect of this story is what elevates it above the usual tales of family strife and adversity over hardship. Not my usual kind of reading, but I did get a lot from this book, so would hapilly recommend.
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