Posts Tagged ‘Mary Kay Andrews’

ladiesnightYes, spring was late most places, but Florida is already prepping for a long, hot summer, as my pal Mike reminded me. Could I recommend some books for those seeking escape from the heat and humidity? You betcha. Here’s my TBR summer list, or at least the beginning of it.

Ladies’ Night, by Mary Kay Andrews (St. Martin’s Press; June). After driving her cheating husband’s sports car into the pool, a Florida lifestyle blogger moves in with her widowed mom who owns a rundown beach bar. Court-mandated divorce therapy sessions soon evolve into “ladies’ night’ at The Sandbox. Andrews’ 2012 hit, Spring Fever, just pubbed in paperback.

badmonkeyBad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf; June). The king of comic crime (Skinny Dip, Lucky You, Stormy Weather) returns with the tale of a former South Florida cop who is drawn into a murder investigation involving his ex-lover, real-estate speculators, a kinky coroner, a voodoo queen, a frozen arm and the eponymous monkey. 

Heart of Palm, by Laura Lee Smith (Grove/Atlantic; April). I reviewed this first novel a couple weeks ago (“Family Matters.”). To recap, the past and future collide when the quirky Bravo clan of a sleepy North Florida town must decide whether to sell the family homestead to real-estate developers.

boardstiffBoard Stiff, by Elaine Viets (NAL; May). South Florida sleuth Helen Hawthorne works “dead-end jobs” to keep off the grid. Murder Unleashed found her at a dog grooming parlor, while she was a yacht crew member in Final Sail. In the 12th in the cozy crime series, Helen and her new P.I. husband are on the trail of “the Paddleboard Killer.”

The Blood of Heaven, by Kent Wascom (Grove/Atlantic; May).  In this early 19th-century frontier epic, a preacher’s son runs off to Spanish-held West Florida before joining up with other radicals in New Orleans, where Aaron Burr wants to create a new country.

gatsbygirlsThis summer’s classic re-read appears to be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, what with the new movie coming out in May. The renewed interest in Fitzgerald extends to his Southern belle wife, Zelda Sayre, the subject of two new novels.  Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler (St. Martin’s Press) was published in late March, and Call Me Zelda (NAL) by Erika Robuck, who wrote Hemingway’s Girl, comes out in May. So does Gatsby Girls (BroadLit), a collection of eight Fitzgerald short stories inspired by Zelda and which originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post.

Open Book: I have digital galleys of most of the above, and I’ll be buying copies of the books by Andrews and Viets, who are friends.

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Mary Kay Andrews’ new novel is called Spring Fever, but it’s really the perfect summer beach book, a fizzy concoction of family and friendship, first love and second chances.

The Bayless family is the royalty of rural Passcoe, N.C., owners of a hometown bottling company that makes the popular cherry soda Quixie. Annajane Hudgens is shirttail kin — best friends since childhood with Bayless daughter Pokey, she has worked at Quixie bottler since high school and was a favorite of company owner Glenn Bayless. She also was briefly married to Mason, Pokey’s eldest brother.

But Annajane is about to put all things Bayless in her rearview mirror. In five days, she’s leaving for a new job in Atlanta close to her fiance, bluegrass musician Shane Drummond. First, though, she’s going to watch her ex marry the lovely Celia Wakefield, a Passcoe  newcomer who has wiggled her way into Quixie management and Mason’s heart.  Annajane’s former mother-in-law, frosty Miss Sallie, may be frowning at the presence of the first wife at the second wedding, but Annajane’s just fine sitting next to pregnant Pokey because Annajane is so over Mason. Or not.

When a family emergency interrupts the wedding, Annajane has time to reconsider her feelings for Mason, recalling their history together from the time he rescued her dressed as a Quixie Pixie. Of course there are serious obstacles to any re-romance — her new love Shane, for one, and the charming Bayless child Sophie, for another. Then there’s seemingly perfect Celia, only her recent behavior at Quixie raises suspicions as to her true agenda regarding the Bayless family’s fortunes.

Annajane is another of Andrews’ smart-but-insecure heroines confounded by matters of the heart. Time for her to put on her big-girl panties, trade in the flip-flops for killer heels, take a swig of Quixie, and go after what she really wants.

Open Book: I am way partial to Spring Fever (St. Martin’s, ARC), MKA being a longtime friend of  Caroline Cousins. Also when I was going to UNC-Chapel Hill, my suitemate Katrinia kept a case of Cheerwine under her bed. The North Carolina cherry soda was our mixer of choice. Cheers!

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Every year, I gather up my favorite holiday books for rereading: Lee Smith’s The Christmas Letters, Mary Kay Andrews’  Blue Christmas (e-book on sale this week for $1.99), Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ Certain Poor Shepherds and Barbara Robinson’s Best Christmas Pageant Ever. They make me laugh or cry, sometimes both, and they’re nifty stocking stuffers.

This year, I discovered Sheila Roberts’  lighthearted The Nine Lives of Christmas (St. Martins Press), attracted by the orange cat on the cover who bears a striking resemblance to my Giant Peach.

Ambrose, the cover cat, fears his brief  ninth life is about to come to a dead end in the jaws of a nasty dog. Hanging on to the bare branches of a tree for dear life, he strikes a bargain with his creator. If someone will please save him, he’ll  devote the rest of his life to helping the rescuer.

Enter firefighter Zach, who does his best to keep the scruffy stray out of his house, and, when that doesn’t work, vows to find Ambrose’s former owner. But Ambrose has other plans for Zach. The commitment-phobic hunk just thinks he’s happy in a casual relationship with the lovely Pet Palace heiress. But she hates cats, unlike pretty, shy Merilee, who volunteers at the animal shelter and works at Pet Palace, at least until Cruella DeVille takes notice. It’s a cat fight that can only end in Merrilee’s tears.

Ok, pretty standard plot. But Roberts spins an amusing story before the fur falls from the erstwhile lovers’ eyes. Zach has real issues with family, especially his mother, who left his father when he was a kid. Now remarried with two more kids, she wants to be part of Zach’s life again.

Merrilee has a great family, but she feels like the dowdy runner-up to her two glamorous, successful sisters. And when she can’t convince her Scrooge of a landlord to let her keep her cat any longer, she’s really in a pickle. 

Fortunately, Ambrose has wiles aplenty, learned from his eight previous lives. Not the he couldn’t use a little Christmas miracle as well.

Ahh. Here’s to happy endings, smart cats and holiday fluff.

Open Book: I bought the digital copy of The Nine Lives of Christmas after first downloading a sample to my new Nook Tablet. (Note to publishers, samples should include actual pages of the story and not just an overview and blurbs. Are you listening, Random House?!)

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Chill out with your favorite cool beverage and a new novel. It’s summer, and hey, readers wanna  have fun.

So do the three women in Mary Kay  Andrews’ breezy Summer Rental, who used to channel Cyndi Lauper’s peppy anthem as Catholic schoolgirls in the 1980s. Now Ellis, Julia and Dorie have planned a reunion on  North Carolina’s Outer Banks, spending a few weeks relaxing in a rambling old  beach house.

But the likable trio arrives at Ebbtide towing extra emotional baggage. Career-woman Ellis has just lost her job in corporate banking and realizes she’s left with “a life as dull and colorless as the sand beneath  her toes.’’

Julia, a fashion model who lives  in London with a photographer, also is wondering what’s next, career-wise and relationship-wise. At least she  hasn’t been blindsided by a cheating husband like schoolteacher Dorie, who  impulsively invites a stranger to be a fourth housemate. Madison (not her real  name) is on the run from something or someone.

Andrews adds a grouchy landlord who only communicates by  e-mail and a good-looking single guy in the garage apartment. The mix makes for a sweet, refreshing cocktail of a tale – with a twist, of course, and an  unexpected punch when Madison’s past catches up with her.

Fans know that Andrews, who grew up in St. Pete, honed her skills with plot and pacing as mystery novelist Kathy Hogan Trocheck.  With such previous beach book hits as Savannah Blues, Hissy Fit and The Fixer-Upper, she’s not planning on  a return to crime. But e-reader owners can now find digital editions online of Lickety-Split and Crash Course, her capers featuring Florida senior sleuth Truman Kicklighter.  They’re replete with  Sunshine State color and characters. And Kicklighter is a kick.

Reading Claire Cook’s Best Staged Plans is like catching up with an old friend. You may not have talked in months, but you pick up right where you left off with what’s new and what’s next now you’re at mid-life.

This time, it’s Sandy Sullivan, a cheery Boston home stager with an early-retiree husband, a newly-wed daughter in Atlanta, and a slacker son in the basement of the renovated house she’s prepping for sale, even though she’s still wondering what’s her “postmom” mission in life.  She loves her tennis-playing husband — such a good guy — but she and Greg seem to be stuck in comfortable routines.

“Ah, the things you never thought to ask before you commited to a lifetime with another person. Will you get up with me to watch the sunrise, or will you snore the morning away? Will you write me poetry or take the easy way out with a Hallmark card for every occasion? Will you get the house ready to put on the market when I ask you to? Can you dance?”

Best Staged Plans begins slowly, as Sandy channels HGTV, obsesses over reading glasses, mourns past pets and family rituals. But the pace picks up when gal-pal Denise’s boyfriend Josh offers her a job staging a boutique hotel in Atlanta. Sandy’s Southern sojourn finds her getting to know her new son-in-law, meeting a homeless woman, and helping Denise deal with her bad boyfriend. It all helps her put her life in perspective as she picks out paint chips — you can’t go wrong with Benjamin Moore’s Million-Dollar Red.

Cook (Must Love Dogs, Seven Year Switch) spices her light-hearted tale with tips on home decorating and gourmet meal assembly.  At one point, Sandy notes that “the thing about staging is that you have to stay open to surprises, because they often turned out to be better the things you planned.” Good advice whether you’re making over a room or your life.

Open Book: This is my blog, and I can write about my friends’ books if I want to. St. Martin’s Press sent me an ARC of Mary Kay Andrews’ Summer Rental, and Hyperion Voice sent me a review copy of Claire Cook’s Best-Staged Plans. You girls have a blast on your book tours. I’ll just continue getting the popcorn off the ceiling and hum “Wanna Have Fun.”

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As noted in a previous post, BookExpo America — the annual publishing/bookselling convention-marathon-extravaganza — is in NYC this week. I’m not there, but thanks to social networking (this blog, FB, Twitter), I have a pretty good idea what’s happening, and I’m not totally exhausted with sore feet and sensory overload.

Armchair BEA was set up especially for bloggers who can’t make it to the Big Apple, and we’re checking in from all over the U.S., Canada, UK, Australia.

When I started blogging about books in January 2010, I found myself part of a huge global community of readers and writers. I had gone out on disability from the Orlando Sentinel in 2005 after 20 years as book critic, and while I was out of the loop, publishing, bookselling and reviewing underwent dramatic changes. As print outlets dried up and/or died, many journalists turned to the Internet to communicate about books and other arts and entertainment topics that had become marginalized in print.

In the blogosphere, we found ourselves in the company of librarians, teachers, authors, publishers, booksellers and enthusiastic readers. My to-do list includes compiling a more comprehensive blog roll of the varied blogs I read on a fairly regular basis, including Ti’s Book Chatter, Sandy’s You’ve Gotta Read This (both of whom have been faithful, encouraging readers of this blog since the beginning), and so many others I’ve discovered.

When I’m not reading books, I’m reading about books at Shelf Awareness and Galley Cat and media web sites, such as the Guardian UK, Washington Post, Minneapolis Star Tribune, New Yorker, NPR. Everywhere there are links to more sites and e-newsletters, many of them aimed at special interests. I just discovered Alice Marvels for teen fiction. Many authors blog on their own at their site’s — my pal Mary Kay Andrews — or in small groups, such as Jungle Red, Lipstick Chronicles, the Naked Dead.

Most publishers now have digital marketing specialists and offer amazing blogs and newsletters. Check out Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Macmillan, John F. Blair, Random House, Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins,  Melville House, you name it. Sometimes, there are contests and giveaways on publishers Facebook pages. (Thank you, Avon Books for the classic romance paperbacks!)

Oh, and there are great sites for book clubs, and great bookstore sites, such as Powell’s and SIBA (southeastern Independent Booksellers Alliance). Do you know about the social network group, Goodreads? I need to update my list of books read and add new friends.

Reading and writing used to be my job. Now it’s a hobby. I loved BEA, and its predecessor, ABA, because it was the one time of year when I actually saw people with whom I talked to on the phone or had e-mail conversations. I had the chance to interview some of my favorite writers. We talked about their books and other authors’ books. How cool to discover that the late, great David Halberstam shared my enthusiasm for Alan Furst’s historical novels? To have my picture taken with Neil Gaiman. To chat with Alice Munro at a party and sit next to Russell Banks at lunch. To catch up with Laura Lippman and listen to Richard Ford read. To hear Pat Conroy and Kate DiCamillo wow audiences with heartfelt speeches. To rock out to the Rock Bottom Remainders, whose members included Stephen King, Dave Barry and Amy Tan. At the 2003 BEA in LA, I assumed my Caroline Cousins identity to sign copies of Fiddle Dee Death at the Blair booth.

Whoa. That was then. I was younger and healthier. This is now, and well, I need a nap. Thank you, Armchair BEA for offering a comfortable way to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones.

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Love is in the air — and in town — as the Romance Writers of America hit Orlando for their annual conference Wednesday through Saturday at Walt Disney World’s Swan and Dolphin. Best-selling authors will be rubbing shoulders with novices, agents, editors and industry insiders in what is truly one of publishing’s grand affairs, a literal lovefest of programs, panels, parties and promotion. 

If you, as readers, are feeling a bit left out, don’t be. One of the things I love about RWA is their annual Readers for Life Literacy Autographing event, where 500-plus authors sign books for fans with proceeds going to literacy charities, like our own Adult Literacy League. The event itself  is free, but RWA asks that you buy the books there if you can. If you want to bring one or two (no more, please) of your own books to have them signed, that’s fine, but then consider making a donation to the literacy campaign, which has raised more than $600,000 over the last 20 years. Makes sense and cents!

This year’s session runs from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Pacific Exhibit Hall at the Dolphin (follow signs for Epcot resorts after entering Disney property). There’s a long, long list of the participating authors at www.rwanational.org, as well as a map that highlights where the Big Names in the biz will be. Y’know, like Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Meg Cabot, Linda Howard, etc., etc. Others are seated A-Z, and there are Big Names in the mix there too, like South Florida’s Heather Graham and Central Florida’s Kresley Cole, plus Eloisa James, Deanna Raybourn, Kat Martin, Karen White and my chick-lit pal Mary Kay Andrews. I know I’m leaving out loads of names, but I actually own books by those particular authors.

I’m not a rabid romance reader, although I grew up on Emilie Loring, Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer, but I like chick-lit and romantic suspense, Regencys, vampires, ghosts. Oh, what the heck. Obviously, I read romance. I love a good love story. In fact, I think I’ll go read one now. How’s that for a happy ending?

Open Book: I bought a copy of Meg Cabot’s Insatiable (HarperCollins), downloaded a digital copy of Heather Graham’s Ghost Night (Harlequin/Mira) through NetGalley, and have a signed ARC of Mary Kay Andrews’ Hissy Fit (HarperCollins) and her other books. She’s a friend! (The first link published for RWA didn’t work; sorry, now updated).

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Hollywood calls them rom-coms, as in romantic comedies. Publishers label them chick-lit. I’ve always thought of them as beach books, even if I’m reading them in winter. They make me think of sun and porches and peaches and girl-talk. But now it really is summer, and I’ve been downing them like pink lemonade.

Jill Murray, the likeable heroine of Claire Cooke’s latest breeze of a book, Seven-Year Switch, is holding it together as a single mom, although her cottage’s porch railing is falling off. Husband Seth ran away and joined the Peace Corps seven years, leaving her with three-year-old Anastasia and no money. So she teaches around-the-world cooking classes at a community college and answers phones for a travel agency specializing in girlfriend getaways. Jill may cook exotic food and talk of faraway places, even be a culture coach for a cute guy who wants to open a bike-rental business in Japan, but she’s always there for her 10-year-old daughter. Suddenly, so is Seth. Or so he says.

Cook (Must Love Dogs, Life’s a Beach) covers a lot of emotional territory, plus a trip to Costa Rica, in less than 250 pages. And the ending, with a black zebra tarantula as Cupid, seems rushed. But this is pop fiction with the fizz of female empowerment. Jill is flawed and funny; that she doesn’t get her neighbor Cynthia’s sense of humor is a hoot in itself, as is her attempt to mold herself with Spanx. You’ll want her for a pal.

Also Dempsey Jo Killebrew of Mary Kay Andrews’ The Fixer-Upper, now out in paperback. That Dempsey, a young Washington lobbyist, is so clueless at book’s beginnings about her boss kicking her under the bus of a political scandal, makes you want to root for her more. The girl is in a mess. So, too, is Birdsong, the pink ancestral mansion in small-town Georgia, which her father suggests she help renovate and flip.  He provides the dilapidated house — including a cranky old cousin of a tenant — and then it’s up to Dempsey. But it’s going to take more than elbow grease, paint and power tools to fix things when a pitbull reporter and the Feds show up asking questions about Dempsey’s last job. Happily, there’s this good-looking young lawyer in town, not that Dempsey needs a guy to rescue her when she finds her inner steel magnolia.  

The Fixer-Upper is one of my favorites of Andrews’ Southern charmers, right up there with the hilarious and exhilarating Hissy Fit, and the one that jump-started it all,  Savannah Blues.

Katie Fforde is a like a British Mary Kay Andrews. Several of her light-hearted books, including Stately Pursuits and Saving Grace, involve young women and old houses. Wedding Season, the newest one published this side of the Atlantic, offers three appealing heroines: cynical wedding planning Sarah, and her two best pals, unassuming dress designer Elsa, and Bron, who can do hair and cakes with aplomb. You might think it would be their celebrity client, referred by handsome photographer Hugo, who would play the princess bride, but it’s Sarah’s sister, getting married on the same day, who keeps putting up the obstacles to true love. Not my favorite Fforde but worth a spin.

Ann Brashares, of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, reaches out to an adult audience with My Name is Memory, in which boy meets girl over and over again through time, but she doesn’t always remember him. Romance and reincarnation aren’t really my thing, but Brashares’ characters — Daniel and Sophia/Constance/Lucy — have more than their share of adventures. For a more conventional boy-meets-girl (and her sister) beach book, check out Brashares’ The Last Summer (of You and Me).  

Open Book: I’ve met Claire Cook, and she’s a Facebook friend and FOB (friend of blog). Her publisher sent me a copy of Seven-Year-Switch (voice/Hyperion). I knew Mary Kay Andrews when she was still Kathy Hogan Trocheck, and she’s a longtime friend and mentor, being Caroline Cousins’ mystery mom, as well as FOB. She sent me an advance reading copy of The Fixer-Upper (Harper) last year. I’ve never met Katie Fforde, but I’ve bought most of her books, including Wedding Season (St. Martin’s Press), over the internet in their British editions because I can get them a year earlier. Ann Brashares’ publisher sent me an ARC of My Name is Memory (Riverhead/Penguin), after I requested it in a web promotion. I bought my hardcover copy of The Last Summer (of You and Me), and would whoever I lent it to, please return.

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