Book Reviews

Book Review: Lady Sunshine, by Amy Mason Doan

Lady Sunshine,

by Amy Mason Doan

Publication: Graydon House; July 29, 2021



For Jackie Pierce, everything changed the summer of 1979, when she spent three months of infinite freedom at her bohemian uncle’s sprawling estate on the California coast. As musicians, artists, and free spirits gathered at The Sandcastle for the season in pursuit of inspiration and communal living, Jackie and her cousin Willa fell into a fast friendship, testing their limits along the rocky beach and in the wild woods… until the summer abruptly ended in tragedy, and Willa silently slipped away into the night.

Twenty years later, Jackie unexpectedly inherits The Sandcastle and returns to the iconic estate for a short visit to ready it for sale. But she reluctantly extends her stay when she learns that, before her death, her estranged aunt had promised an up-and-coming producer he could record a tribute album to her late uncle at the property’s studio. As her musical guests bring the place to life again with their sun-drenched beach days and late-night bonfires, Jackie begins to notice startling parallels to that summer long ago. And when a piece of the past resurfaces and sparks new questions about Willa’s disappearance, Jackie must discover if the dark secret she’s kept ever since is even the truth at all.

*My Review*

Lady Sunshine is the first time I have read by Amy Mason Doan and my first thought is, beautiful! The novel takes place during two different time periods, 1979 and 1999. It begins in 1999 when Jackie returns to her uncle’s compound/estate to pack everything up and put it on the market. The reader soon travels back and forth between the time Jackie first visited as 17-18 years old, meeting her cousin Willa, and now that Jackie is an adult and everything has been left solely to her. During both time periods, various artists and musicians show up, relationships are built, and mysteries are solved. 

Jackie’s character was so interesting because she seemed to grow and change more in the summer of 1979 with Willa than she did between 1979 and 1999. Her character blossomed and matured while at The Sandcastle all while discovering simple (and at times child-like) pleasures like finding sea glass or staring at the stars. The beauty and innocence of Jackie and Willa’s friendship were that they were acutely aware of the differences in their lives and interests, yet they embraced it and used those differences to discover new things about themselves. Their bond was so strong and so natural, it made me stop and reflect how long it’s been since I had such a friendship, I have some wonderful friendships, but I think that wild and free connection that Jackie and Willa formed is something that is born out of youth. 

During the 1999 time period, Jackie is struggling with packing up everyone’s belongings, getting to know new people, constantly putting off returning to her old life, and a little bit busy developing a crush on someone new. But the major driving force of this novel is the mystery that builds and builds. What was her aunt and uncle’s relationship really like? What happened to her uncle that final night? What happened to Willa? Where is Jackie’s diary and what is in it that is so bad?

You will certainly encounter as many questions as I did while reading, and this brings me to my only criticism of the novel – the pacing. I am someone that reads very quickly, usually only taking a few hours to read a book of this length. I have been at this one for days. I truly enjoyed the novel but I do feel that things could have been wrapped up in a tighter package. The author does such an amazing job with her imagery and scene development, but after finishing, I was left wondering if every single detail thrown into this novel was completely necessary. 

Last but not least, I have to mention something that truly pulled me into this story, and that was the mention of legendary music promoter Bill Graham, who died in a helicopter crash in October of 1991. About a week after his death, a huge concert was thrown together in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, when I just happened to be visiting with family. That day is one of my favorite memories of my life. I saw The Grateful Dead, Santana, John Fogerty, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and so many more. Needless to say, the entire time I was reading Lady Sunshine, I was thinking back to that carefree day in Golden Gate Park and was so easily able to relate to the characters of this novel. 

Anyone that’s up for some nostalgia and a novel full of friendship and love of music, this is your next read. 

*Thanks to NetGalley and Graydon House for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Purchase Lady Sunshine on Amazon!


3 thoughts on “Book Review: Lady Sunshine, by Amy Mason Doan”

  1. Despite some problems with the pacing, this sounds really good. Everything about it ticks all the right boxes for me. I may have to request this one from NetGalley.
    And what an amazing memory you have about Golden Gate Park!

    Liked by 1 person

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