The Light in Summer by Mary McNear

Billy Harper is a single mother and the head librarian in the town of Butternut Lake. Merely trying to survive the onset of her son’s adolescence, Billy frequently copes by talking to her labrador, Murphy, on the back porch, with a glass of wine and a Jane Austen novel. Her son Luke has never met his father, but now that Billy’s father has passed away, Luke becomes curious and wants Billy to contact a man she hasn’t spoken to since before Luke was born. Meanwhile, Luke has been hanging out with a high school dropout and another rebellious teen, which landed him a visit to the local police station. Billy has to leave from a wedding to pick him up, with a ride from the new arrival in town, Cal, a former architect who rode in from Seattle in a Porsche. The Light in Summer: A Butternut Lake Novel is a humorous foray into summer love and second chances.

Similar Recommended Readings

Other books by Mary McNear include the rest of the Butternut Series, beginning with Up at Butternut Lake, Moonlight on Butternut Lake, Butternut Summer, Butternut Lake The Night Before Christmas, and The Space Between Sisters.

Books recommended within this book included Jane Austen books such as Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, the Harry Potter series (read to Luke), Jodi Picoult novels, Wuthering Heights, Little Women, Little House books, Betsy-Tacy books, The Chronicles of Narnia, and A Wrinkle in Time.

Other romantic stories similar to this one are the Sarah Addison Allen novels, particularly Lost Lake, about a group of lakeside cabins where several people find their heart’s desires and healing, and Garden Spells, about a woman on the run from an abusive ex-husband with her daughter, who returns to her childhood home and eccentric family, and her family name.

Barefoot Bay: Divine Connection by Amy Lyon also features a character like Wesley who has a fishing boat/paddleboard/bait shop business by the ocean. That main character is a handsome, single young landlord to a place where a pretty young woman has just started an essential oils shop to help her start over from a broken life and some difficult relationships. This novel is filled with beautiful descriptions to make you crave the salty air of the Keys.

Another woman who delighted in recommending books to people and having one in stock for every person in need in a small town in Scotland without a library is the heroine of The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan. Nina rescued most of her books from the new city’s digital library from where she was fired and delights in pairing them with eccentric people in a town who need her books as much as she needs them to purchase them out of her beautifully decorated, refurbished van/bookstore.

The Recipe

When Billy was in desperate need of her father’s advice on raising a child alone, “He found bread, peanut butter, and marshmallow fluff” and made them each a fluffernutter sandwich with a glass of milk and spoke in silence many things.

Peanut Butter Cupcake with Marshmallow Fluff and PB Swirled Frosting



  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) salted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract, divided into two halves
  • 1/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp milk, divided
  • 1/2 cup plus 3-4 tbsp creamy peanut butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup marshmallow fluff
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 12-36 mini marshmallows, for garnish


  1. In the bowl of a mixer on medium-low speed, combine half a stick (¼ cup) salted butter at room temperature with the granulated sugar. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix butter and sugar to combine, about 2 minutes, then add eggs, one at a time, and half the flour mixture, very slowly. Then add the ¼ cup milk and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract, followed by the rest of the flour. When those are fully combined, add in the ½ cup peanut butter. Scoop into a paper-lined cupcake tin and bake at 350° for 18-20 minutes.
  2. To make the frosting, combine one stick (½ cup) salted butter with one cup of the powdered sugar, the marshmallow fluff, and the remaining half teaspoon of vanilla extract on low speed. Slowly add in the rest of the powdered sugar, half a cup at a time, waiting until each part is mixed in before adding more. Before adding the final cup of sugar, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk.
  3. To make a frosting swirl, I fitted the piping bag with a large round tip, and put extra peanut butter in the piping bag first down one side only, about 2 tablespoons’ worth, then filled the bag the rest of the way (¾ full) with the marshmallow cream frosting. Then I piped as usual, swirling from the outside up in a counter-clockwise motion. Garnish with miniature marshmallows if desired.


Discussion Questions

  1. “I swear this air is like…breathable Ambien or something” Cal spoke of Butternut Lake. What makes the air in the mountains smell so much better than in the city? Did this also represent the stressful life he’d left behind, and that eh felt more relaxed at Butternut?
  2. Why did Billy, unlike most Jane Austen lovers, not have a favorite of her novels? What did she like to do with them in the evenings, and why did she so often return to that particular author?
  3. Why did Billy so often speak to Murphy, and reply for him, as if he were human? She also decided he would be a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants kind of guy who drank beer straight from a can. How was this different from her drink of choice and her personality?
  4. Why were the best parts of Billy’s job as a librarian to order new books and to recommend books to patrons?
  5. Why did Billy have a hard time understanding marriage, especially why her father would wear the sweaters her mother made, even though he found them uncomfortable and ugly? What does marriage have to do with sacrifice and compromise? Was Billy already doing some of those things for Luke?
  6. Why did the young girl Mara, who had come in for seven books, fear being without a book? Is there a name for this fear? Why do people like her and Billy take so many on trips or vacations? Do you know anyone else like that?
  7. Why did Billy’s father tell her that “it was a fool’s errand to imagine a past that hadn’t taken place” when she talked about not raising Luke in a traditional family? Was he a wise man? Was his advice one of the things she missed most about him?
  8. Jane Austen said in Sense and Sensibility that “seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days ar more than enough for others.” Why did Billy feel that seven days were more than enough for her and Cal?
  9. Wesley was “comfortable in his own skin and that made him comfortable to be with.” Why had she always felt that way about him? Did Luke?
  10. Why did Billy give away her box set to Mara for free? How did that show how much she’d changed since the start of the novel?

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