Conservation & Conversation

with Bestselling Author Mary Alice Monroe


Two women. One summer. One very special house. Two women from different generations are bound together by a beloved beach house. Cara Rutledge, 50, rents her quaint beach house on Isle of Palms to Heather Wyatt, 26, for the summer. Heather’s anxiety keeps her indoors with her caged canaries until the shorebirds-—and a man who rescues them—lure her out to the beach. As the summer progresses and Heather’s heart opens to the rhythms of the island, Cara’s life reels with sudden tragedy. When their worlds shift like the sand under their feet these two very different women come together to discover their common bonds and unique strengths.  So at summer’s end they, like the migrating shorebirds that come to the island every summer, too, can take flight.


New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe is making waves with her newest book Beach House for Rent, which was released on June 20. I’m no stranger to Mary Alice Monroe’s books, and as always, she managed to hit home both figuratively and emotionally with her new masterpiece. She brings a strong story line threaded with an important environmental concern to the “table” (or nightstand in my case), and I always finish her book knowing more, while feeling like I haven’t been schooled.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to delve into this story with the author herself. After the usual exchange of greetings, I could tell Mary Alice could barely withhold her excitement. “Have you heard? I’m over the moon! We are No. 9 on the NY Times Bestsellers List!” What an accomplishment, Beach House for Rent had only been on shelves for nine days. The story of two women’s passion has certainly snagged the hearts of readers. Let me tell you why:

A Lowcountry Crusader

I’ve read many of Mary Alice’s books, and there are two things she never fails to produce: First, there is always an animal that plays a large role alongside the main character(s), and secondly, I can’t put it down! So how do these books come to be?

Mary Alice weaves beautifully written stories of women’s struggles—family, love, loss, celebrating wins and journeys through loss—all while weaving in crucial environmental education. These lessons are ones we all need to heed to keep our beautiful Lowcountry the same. I was keenly interested in how she begins each book by carefully selecting a species to illuminate. She then delves into heavy academic research with experts in the field, followed by rolling up her sleeves and volunteering hands-on with the animals and their caregivers.conservation2

“The only way to truly get up close and personal is to work with the animals, sometimes even for years,” says Mary Alice. Her responses to these experiences are passionately conveyed through carefully written stories featuring characters who are often struggling with a parallel experience.

Mary Alice’s species focus for Beach House for Rent is shorebirds. Heather, an anxiety-ridden 26-year-old, has rented a beach house for the summer in order to study and paint the shorebirds for a big project. Throughout the book Heather has experiences that help us learn about these migrating birds, whose population has diminished by over 70 percent. For instance, in the book, a woman let’s her dog off the leash. The dog naturally begins to chase the birds, and Heather is upset by the situation and says the dog should be leashed to protect the birds. This was one of the most important lessons to convey, because when dogs chase shorebirds it exhausts them, and they need every bit of their energy to migrate properly. Mary Alice explained the other major detriment for shorebirds is the dunes, where they nest, are slowly slipping away, especially with the damage sustained from hurricanes. The less we disturb these areas the better.

One particular shorebird’s appearance in the story makes an imprint on Heather and her friends. I couldn’t wait to question Mary Alice about the bird after seeing a social media post regarding her release. I won’t give away the details, but I will tell you the bird is based on a pelican Mary Alice and her friend Mary Pringle rescued on Sullivan’s Island. Many of the pelicans are caught up in fishing lines or hooks, or can’t learn to hunt their own food. Even when rescued, many are too far gone to survive. This particular juvenile was the only survivor that year, and when released, the bird firmly decided, “No, I’ll just stay.” She’s now a resident with the Charles Towne Landing flock and aptly named Mary Alice. “It is truly an honor to have her as my namesake. She is a true diva, and I love being able to visit her whenever possible,” Mary Alice said.

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