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bittersweetScholarship girls aren’t meant to slumber beside the scions of America because doing so whets insatiable appetites.

Move this book to the top of my Summer Reading list. Miranda Beverly-Whittemore (hereinafter, MBW) has written the book you want to take to the beach.

I don’t want to give anything away, but when you drop a 17-year-old virgin named Mabel into a world where people have first names like Birch, Banning, Indo and Galway, you know things are going to go downhill, right?  Here’s the gist of it:

Generations of Winslows have summered at Winloch, their family compound on a lake deep in the Adirondacks.  Winloch is comprised of a dozen or so “cottages” with names like Queen Anne’s Lace, Trillium, and Bittersweet.  It’s like the Kennedy Compound on steroids.  Very rich people doing very sketchy things.

Genevra “Ev” Winslow invites her college roommate, Mabel, to spend the summer in what looks like paradise.  Rolling lawns, pine scented forests, perfectly-sized flat rocks on which to sun at the lake’s edge, a Van Gogh in the main house, and a woman named Masha in the kitchen of the Dining Hall who will make you whatever you want, whenever you want it.  MBW’s lush descriptions bring Winloch to life, and you will feel like you are in the thick of it.

Before long Mabel has been embarrassed by a handsome stranger peering through her bedroom window, implored by Ev’s eccentric aunt to solve a great mystery, and begun to wonder why so many doors have outsized bolt locks on them.  Is it really because of the bears??  And who was that handsome stranger??

MBW calls the book a literary beach read, and she’s right.  There is a juicy story that will pull you in quickly and keep you up late.  Her writing is clear and often beautiful.  It’s not easy to develop a dozen or so principal characters without confusing the reader, but she does it perfectly.  I can get creeped out really fast with an overwrought sex scene, but she writes great ones.  Sometimes a little raw, but that was perfect for this tale.  And, in one case she actually managed to develop a character this way.  Impressive!

The Attentive Reader Will Note: at its heart, this is absolutely a modern-day Gothic novel.  The heroine is caught in a dangerous, remote place and deprived of allies.  Or is she?  Bad people exert power over a weak woman.  Or is she weak?  Sex is everywhere.  Secrets pile upon secrets. People die. Things go bump in the night. There are many dogs, which I contend is crucial to any Gothic worth its salt. Most importantly, there is a bunch of NO! Don’t open that door!  Don’t go back!  Run!  Run! moments.

I had no way of knowing what was waiting inside, but, even today, I contend I could feel it as I stepped into its vapor; the air around us turned cold and sad.

You’ll love it!