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 GIRLS OF AUGUST, BY ANNE RIVERS SIDDONS

 

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The women had all met years before, in Nashville, and they had all married doctors: Teddy, Hugh, Mac, and Oliver. Their first August getaway had cemented their bonds, despite the fact that the first divorce among them took Teddy’s wife Cornelia shortly thereafter. They didn’t miss her, but they did love her summer house.

Teddy’s next wife, Melinda, was a favorite friend who was lost too soon in a terrible accident. After her death, and despite fifteen years of getaways, the August escapes ended. For a while.

Now, after three years, they are trying again. They escape to Tiger Island, Teddy’s summer house on the South Carolina coast, which he shares with his new “child bride,” LucyAnne, whom everyone calls Baby, and they try to form a new bond.

But Baby is hard to love, with her childish prattle and her propensity for stripping down and wandering in the ocean, stark naked. Could she be stupid, or is there more to her than her surface would suggest?

The Girls of August was an enjoyable read, mostly because of the three older women, Rachel, Barbara, and our first person narrator, Madison (Maddy). Rachel’s biting wit, mostly directed toward Baby and her antics, and Barbara’s mysterious silences and excessive drinking…made me want to get to know them a bit more. I wanted to understand what was going on with them. And our narrator, Maddy, was someone who seemed compassionate, and like a friend anyone would want. And then there was Baby, who surprised me in the end, even though I still didn’t like her.

Some of their adventures made me long for a retreat like that one, but unexpected events bring the two-week getaway to a crashing end, jolting me a little.   My Rating:  ratings worms 4-cropped

REVIEW: THE PEACH KEEPER, BY SARAH ADDISON ALLEN

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In the small North Carolina town called Walls of Water, the history between the Jacksons and the Osgoods was long…and somewhat competitive.

The Jacksons had once been rich and lived in the old Blue Ridge Madam, until their money was gone. And the Osgoods took their place as the town leaders, wealthy and proud.

In contemporary Walls of Water, the descendants of the original families, Willa Jackson and Paxton Osgood, are not friends. In high school, Willa was the Joker and Paxton the Good Girl, too perfect for words. Colin, Paxton’s twin, has always had an attraction for Willa, but has not acted on it. And Paxton has a yen for Sebastian, the mysterious man who has his own secrets.

There is going to be a celebration in the newly restored Blue Ridge Madam—a gala that will celebrate the charitable history of the Women’s Society Club—and Paxton is reaching out to Willa. Their grandmothers, Agatha and Georgie, are to be honored, since they were in the original society. And once were dear friends.

As events unfold, secrets are unearthed—literally—and soon the connections between the families begin to change and grow. What will happen to join the women in friendship? How will the secrets from the past change the future for the town and for the families?

In a lovely and lyrical style, The Peach Keeper: A Novel was a romantic journey into the past and the future, reminding us that long-standing connections can be healed. I enjoyed the characters, the setting, and the slightly ghostly aura that framed the old home. Family secrets are the stuff of good drama. Five stars.

***