REVIEW: SLIGHTLY SOUTH OF SIMPLE, BY KRISTY WOODSON HARVEY

 

I am always eager to dive into a good book about family, especially one with Southern charm to add the topping on my day.

When Ansley Murphy moved her family to Peachtree Bluff, Georgia, due to financial losses discovered after her husband’s death, she made an independent life for herself and turned her love of interior decorating into a successful design business.

Slightly South of Simple shows the reader each of the well-developed characters through alternating narratives, but we primarily see them through the perspectives of Ansley and her oldest daughter Caroline. For a variety of reasons, all three sisters descend upon their mother’s house at the same time.

Pregnant with her second child, Caroline is devastated by her husband’s affair with a supermodel. She and their daughter Vivi take off for Peachtree Bluff, to heal and figure out what to do next. Caroline has some issues besides the advanced pregnancy and her separation from her cheating husband. We learn more about Caroline, as the story takes us from the present to the past and back. We feel Caroline’s present predicament, but are also gifted with a glimpse of the time back in college when she first met and fell in love with James Beaumont, whom she married only nine months later.

The other sisters are not as front and center in the story, but we do see them through the eyes of Ansley and Caroline. Emerson, an actress, seems to be overly absorbed in being extremely thin. What could be driving this behavior?

Sloane, the middle sister, is trying hard to support her military husband who is deployed more often than he is home, while raising their two sons on her own.

Ansley reconnects with her first love, Jack, just before her daughters all join her at the old home she inherited from her grandmother. Renovating that home helped her launch her business, and now she is fixing up Jack’s old boat.

I was intrigued by what had happened between Ansley and Jack all those years ago. He was her first love, but what had ultimately driven them apart? And what other secrets might they be holding onto? There were hints along the way about those secrets, and I knew that if they came out, nothing would ever be the same. A dilemma for Ansley, but moving forward might require the revelations that had kept them mired in the past. A fascinating peek into a family full of quirky charm and a propensity for telling it like it is with a dash of Southern gentility, I could not stop turning the pages until the very end. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE SUMMER WIND, BY MARY ALICE MONROE

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Their final summer at Sea Breeze on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, continues, with some new challenges for the three half-sisters.

 
Mamaw (Marietta Muir) is firm in her support, albeit still planning to sell the summer estate.

 
Dora is in the midst of settling the divorce issues and helping little Nate with his grief over the dolphin’s injuries earlier in the summer.  A health crisis causes big changes in how she faces her life.

 
Carson is instrumental in helping her nephew heal, by taking him to Florida to the treatment center where children and injured dolphins heal together.  But her own unexpected life change leads to moments of facing her fears.

 
Harper plants a garden and deals with her own issues.  Secretly she writes on her computer, but shares nothing with the girls or her grandmother.

 
Like the summer winds that come along toward the end of the story, with a big storm that resembles their own challenges, the three women will move a little closer to their own resolutions.

 
I enjoyed The Summer Wind and reconnecting with the characters.  The support and advice of Mamaw and their old maid Lillian felt like the kind of true strength offered by a close family.  I also loved how the author painted a picture of the lowcountry, making me feel as if I were right there with them.  The story concluded without an “end” to the conflicts and challenges, but a feeling of moving in that direction.  There were sad moments, but also a stronger bond between the women.  I am looking forward to the final book in the trilogy.  4.5 stars.

REVIEW: RAINY DAY SISTERS, BY KATE HEWITT

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Fiona Bagshaw had not a maternal bone in her body, and for most of their lives, her two daughters have lived apart: Juliet in England and Lucy in Boston. Fiona has become a rather famous artist and relishes that world.

But after a humiliating experience because of her mother, Lucy has fled to Cumbria in the Lake District, and to the small village of Hartley-by-the-Sea. Home to Juliet, who owns a Bed and Breakfast.

Juliet had invited her and even arranged for a short-term job for Lucy in the primary school.

Juliet is somewhat abrasive, while Lucy is friendly, open, and wears her heart on her sleeve.

Immersing myself in the world of Rainy Day Sisters was a cozy and delightful experience. I felt like I was a part of their world, and loved discovering why the sisters (half-sisters, as Juliet often pointed out) had been separated, and what would need to happen before they connected completely.

I rooted for each of the sisters as they struggled to overcome the rejections their mother had handed out, and I hoped, for their sake, that Fiona would somehow make amends and help them heal. But could that even happen at this late date? And even if Fiona made overtures, would the sisters accept them? Would Juliet and Lucy find romance, despite their history?

I loved this book and recommend it for all who enjoy family stories, especially families fraught with dysfunction. 4.5 stars.