All through December I'm talking about some of the best books that I've read this year, and today's offering is...
In Her Court by Tamsen Parker
Newly minted professor Evangeline “Van” Thompson’s academic dreams have turned into nightmares. She can’t wait to escape the pressure cooker of the university to spend the summer at Camp Firefly Falls with her bestie, Nate.
Unfortunately, Nate breaks his leg halfway through the season, and his little sister Willa fills in for him as resident tennis instructor. Van has fond memories of the blonde moppet, but when Willa shows up at camp, she’s not so little anymore. She’s grown into a bombshell and a menace on the tennis court—why do those skirts have to be so short, anyway?
Willa Carter has had a crush on Van Thompson since the third grade but Van’s always been more interested in hanging out with Willa’s older brother. Not much seems to have changed—Van’s managing the camp’s web presence while Willa rocks her tennis whites.
I've never been to summer camp, but if it's anything like Dirty Dancing promised, I'd sign up like a shot! So I really like the premise of the Camp Firefly Falls series; set in a "connected series of 'escape from real life' stories [in] a fictional sleep away camp for grownups", the interlinked novels are written by a talented group of authors.
But it was Tamsen Parker's In Her Court which completely stole my heart this year.
In Her Court plays on the brother's best friend trope, with Willa falling for her brother's best friend Van, and Van attempting to fight the attraction she has for her best friend's little sister.
Having a sleep away camp is a device similar to the Arden Forest in Shakespeare's As You Like It; because it's detached from real life, it allows the characters to explore avenues that they'd usually avoid and anything becomes possible. I also think that it works really well to allow characters to reflect on their lives outside the camp and this is explored particularly well by Parker.
Van is struggling with the pressures of being an academic, and so this break can't come soon enough for her, but when she realises that Willa's interested in a career in academia as well, she can't help but conflate her own experiences with Willa's.
As well as highlighting the stresses of an academic life (something that I'm becoming more and more aware of personally - even as a PhD student), the narrative underscores the importance of valuing female subjectivity. Every person's interaction or experience of any given moment or career is different but equally valid.
I feel that this feeds in really nicely to what I'm researching at the moment: the idea of the female self and the romance heroine. The differing approaches of both Van and Willa towards academia and their careers highlighted for me the importance of recognising and embracing female difference. Utterly gorgeous writing.
Tamsen Parker is a stay-at-home mom by day, USA Today bestselling erotic romance writer by naptime. She lives with her family outside of Boston, where she tweets too much, sleeps too little and is always in the middle of a book. Aside from good food, sweet rieslings and gin cocktails, she has a fondness for monograms and subway maps. She should really start drinking coffee.
For more information about Tamsen, check out her website and blog, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.