Posts Tagged ‘Anne Rivers Siddons’

summerwindMary Alice Monroe’s The Summer Wind (Gallery Books, digital galley) is as bright and breezy as its title implies, although the three half-sisters first introduced in The Summer Girls must navigate some rough seas.  In the first book in the trilogy, middle sister Carson returned to her grandmother’s home on Sullivan’s Island, S.C. and confronted her wild child ways and drinking problem. Now it’s older sister Dora who needs help from the family; she’s getting a divorce, her beloved house is up for sale, her young son has autism and is acting out. For a woman who has prided herself on being the perfect wife and mother, it’s just too much. Carson helps with child care via wild dolphin therapy, younger sister Harper advises on a make-over, and Dora runs into an old flame while walking the island. But both their grandmother, Mamaw, and housekeeper Lucille are keeping life-changing secrets. Monroe makes the most of the picturesque lowcountry setting and writes movingly of families, children with special needs and the ongoing battle to preserve tradition and the environment as the storm clouds gather.

augustA wave of nostalgia sweeps through the pages of The Girls of August (Hachette, digital galley), the sweetly lyrical new novel of female friendship from veteran storyteller Anne Rivers Siddons. Madison, Rachel and Barbara met 20 years ago when their husbands were in med school and they continue to reminisce about the various beach houses where they vacationed every August with a fourth friend, Melinda. But then Melinda was killed in a car wreck, and her husband has remarried a sweet young thing, Baby Gaillard, who this year is hosting the annual getaway on her family’s estate on an isolated South Carolina barrier island. Madison narrates the inevitable conflicts that arise on Tiger Island as the three older women cope with Baby’s alternately winning and immature behavior, as well as their own issues. Remember the old Alan Alda movie, The Four Seasons? But at only 150 pages, the book is half as long as such previous Siddons’ novels as Outer Banks, Colony and Islands and lacks her usual depth. Still, it made me homesick for the lovingly depicted lowcountry landscape and all the times when I’ve been an August girl.

mermaidReaders first met Maddie, Avery and Nikki in Wendy Wax’s Ten Beach Road when the three women were brought together by a dilapidated beach house on Florida’s Gulf Coast. They joined up again in Ocean Beach as they restored a South Florida mansion for their own television home show, Do Over. Now, as the first season of Do Over prepares to air, the trio heads for the Florida Keys, where they plan to turn a former rock star’s rundown estate into a bed-and-breakfast, despite the recently-out-of-rehab owner’s objections. Wendy Wax does a good job in The House on Mermaid Key (Berkley, paperback ARC) of catching readers up on her varied cast, which includes now-divorced Maddie’s grown daughter and toddler grandson. There’s tension, romance, sudden loss and satisfying details of rehabbing a resort. Yes, you must suspend disbelief to buy into the wish-fufillment relationships between the women and their perfect-for-them lovers, but hey, it’s summer. Read on, dream on.

breakwaterShelley Noble’s Breakwater Bay (HarperCollins, digital galley) finds a Newport, R.I., preservationist surprised on her 30th birthday by her boyfriend failing to propose and her beloved family revealing she’s adopted. Meri’s search for identity is aided by her smart, karaoke-singing best friend, her wise grandmother, the divorced neighbor she regards as a big brother, his unhappy teenage daughter and her understanding stepfather. Everyone’s a little-too-good to be true — except for a sniping ex-wife and a snobbish Newport couple — but the whole is predictably pleasing.

Lauren Willig’s That Summer (St. Martin’s Press, hardcover review copy) moves between 2009 and 1849 tothatsummer tell two intertwined stories centered on a London house. Out of the blue, New Yorker Julia Conley’s British aunt leaves her the shabby London house in Herne Hill, where she discovers a Pre-Raphaelite painting. The subject is Imogen Grantham, locked in a loveless marriage to an older man when she meets an ambitious portrait painter. Willig has a way with historical fiction (the Pink Carnation series), but I liked the contemporary storyline, which offers more surprises.

nantucketNancy Thayer’s Nantucket Sisters (Random House, digital galley), features best friends and “summer sisters” Maggie Drew and Emily Hudson. Maggie’s hardworking  mother is a local seamstress; Emily’s is a wealthy socialite who frowns on the friendship between the two girls and Emily’s attraction to Maggie’s brother Ben. Enter handsome Wall Street trader Cameron Chadwick to complicate life and love with questions of class and money.  You may think you know where the story is headed, and you may well be right, despite the requisite twist as Thayer ties up loose ends.

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My coffee table is going to grad school. Come Saturday, it’s relocating to my cousin Georgianna’s new apartment near the University of Central Florida.

I have mixed feelings about its departure because for the last 20 years the massive, two-tier wood-and-glass structure has served as mission control. It’s been writing desk, dining table, magazine rack, book shelf and storage unit. Mostly, it’s encouraged my packrat tendencies; I’m downsizing in hopes I’ll stop hoarding.

Cleaning it out, I found several galleys I’ve been meaning to write about, as well as several more I’m still planning to read. All have been relocated to the office/library, where I can’t get to the floor-to-ceiling shelves because of the stacks cluttering the floor. At least I can shut the door so no one has to look at the mess but me.

Now to those books that had been buried before they disappear again. Michael Parker’s The Watery Part of the World (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill) is a different kind of beach book set on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The novel beautifully reimagines two time periods, its stories based on historical fact. In 1813, Theodora Burr Alston, daughter of Aaron Burr, disappeared at sea while en route by schooner from South Carolina to New York. In 1970, two elderly white women and one black man were the last residents of a small Banks barrier island.

In the novel, Theodora is cast upon the isolated island by pirates, building a new life with the help of the old hermit Whaley. “Had the wind through the sea oats promised to bring her anything she wanted, she would have asked, hours before, for chocolate, books, Chopin. Now it was nails, a couple of hinges for her door, an ax, a saw, a hammer.”

The second, parallel story focuses on Theo’s descendants, sisters Maggie and Whaley, who are looked after by Woodrow Thornton, who lost his wife to Hurricane Wilma. Loss and loneliness link both tales as Parker lyrically explores the geography of the heart and the way the past impinges on the present.

Place and past events also figure in Anne Rivers Siddons’ new novel, Burnt Mountain (Grand Central), which, sadly, isn’t one of her best. Growing up in small-town Georgia, Thayer Wentworth is at odds with her social-climbing mother, being more like her free-spirited grandmother. She finds solace as a counselor at an exclusive summer camp, falling deeply in love with Nick Abrams before heartbreak ensues.  At college at Sewanee, Thayer meets and marries Irish professor Aengus O’Neill, causing yet another rift with her mother. Still, Thayer is happy until Aengus’ interest in Celtic mythology blooms into an obsession as a storyteller at a boys’ camp on Burnt Mountain. And then Nick reappears in her life.

Siddons is very good with Thayer’s emotion-tossed narrative, but the contrived plot splinters into disarray and improbability.

Felix J. Palma makes it easy to suspend disbelief in his wildly imaginative The Map of Time (Atria Books), which blends history, mystery, fantasy, science and romance into an entertaining, genre-bending mix. Several stories intertwine in Victorian London, where many are talking about H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine as if time travel is a soon-to-be reality. (Murray’s is one agency already taking bookings).

Readers meet Andrew Harrington, an aristocrat whose beloved lady of the night’s murder has left him with a death wish until he chances on time travel as a way to thwart her killer. Meanwhille, a repressed young woman longs to travel forward a century. Wells himself eventually appears on the scene, as well as a detective who believes a weapon from the future was used in a murder.

Karl Alexander offered Wells stalking Jack the Ripper in 1979’s Time After Time, still a favorite, but Palma, a best-selling Spanish author making his U.S. debut, crafts a more complicated adventure that invigorates the debate as to whether one can — or should — tamper with time and alter history. And it’s just the first book in a trilogy.

Open Book: As noted, I received galleys/ARCs from the above books’ respective publishers. I signed up for Palma’s book as part of a web promotion announced on Shelf Awareness, my favorite daily e-mail for book professionals. Now the new Shelf Awareness for Readers is available free online twice a week, and I am insanely jealous of editor Bethanne Patrick for doing what I always wanted to do at the Sentinel. Each issue  reviews the best books publishing each week, along with author interviews, book excerpts, giveaways and links to more book stories and news. Right now they’re running a contest for new subscribers. Click on the button I’ve posted on the right side of this blog under “Elsewhere on the Web.” Good luck!

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