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Posts Tagged ‘Mary Kay Andrews’

weekendersBeyonce hasn’t cornered the market on lemonade. Riley Nolan Griggs of Mary Kay Andrews’ new beach-ready novel The Weekenders (St. Martin’s Press, paperback ARC) is batting at lemons as soon as she sets foot on the ferry for North Carolina’s Belle Isle. Her soon-to-be ex-husband Wendell has missed the boat again and isn’t answering his texts. This Memorial Day weekend was when they were going to tell their 12-year-old daughter Maggy that they’re divorcing, maybe break the news to Riley’s formidable mother Evelyn, who dotes on the son-in-law who now runs the family real estate business. Then, right in front of everybody — Riley’s best friend Parrish, her little brother Billy, the gossipy neighbor known as Belle Isle Barbie, old flame Nate — a process server shoves an envelope in Riley’s hands. And more lemons await — a foreclosed house, family secrets, financial scandal, hurricane warnings. And murder! Really.

Andrews packs The Weekenders with all the requisite romance, drama and breezy wit readers want, but she also includes some heavy-duty stuff they might not expect. But before she began writing under the Andrews pseudonym, Kathy Hogan Trocheck wrote the Callahan Garrity series of mystery novels, and she knows how to balance dark times with lighter moments and hopeful hearts. Her well-drawn characters help, especially former TV reporter Riley, dealing with a cheating husband, a manipulative daughter and screwball relatives (talking about you, Aunt Roo), all the while trying to remain true to herself and her dreams. A highlight is her stint as the host of an online video show where she has to wear clothes provided by sponsor Floozy and interview hucksters promoting breast augmentations and colon cleanses. But Riley discovers she’s adept at turning lemons into lemonade, maybe mixing it with some limoncello for added oomph. Just what you want for the beach. Tart and sweet.

summerdays“Summer loving had me a blast…” The whole time I was reading the stories in the stellar anthology Summer Days and Summer Nights (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), I kept singing under my breath the song from Grease. You know: “Summer sun, something’s begun/ But oh, oh, these summer nights.” Editor Stephanie Perkins has gathered contemporary love stories by a dozen authors with YA cred, and their tales range from realistic to fantastic, funny to serious while capturing the ups and downs of first love.

The teens in these stories find love and romance at summer camp, summer school, a mountain park, a spooky carnival and a haunted resort. Nina LaCour’s “The End of Love,” has narrator Flora re-meeting the girl of her dreams while coping with her parents’ divorce. In  Jennifer E. Smith’s “A Thousand Ways This Could All Go Wrong,” a day-camp counselor’s crush helps her understand an autistic boy. Francesca Lia Block strikes a wistful note in “Sick Pleasures,” while Libba Bray goes full-out zombie war in “Last Stand at the Cinegor.” Lest you think that’s weird, check out Leigh Bardugo’s lyrical fairy tale mash-up of mermaids and monsters, and revel in the darkly comic magic of Cassandra Clare’s “Brand New Attraction.” My favorite is the final tale, Lev Grossman’s “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things,” in which two teens are caught up in a time loop, repeating the events of August 4 every day a la Groundhog Day, apparently forever until the reason reveals itself.  “Summer days, drifting away. . ”

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beachtownSun, sand, salt air. All of Mary Kay Andrews’ beach-worthy novels — from Savannah Blues to Summer Rental — have a sure sense of place. But setting is absolutely essential in Beach Town (St. Martin’s Press, advance review copy) because location scout/manager Greer Hennessey needs a picture-perfect coastal hideaway for a bullying Hollywood director’s next big film. No planned communities or condo high-rises need apply, which pretty much rules out Florida’s panhandle. Then Greer finds Cypress Key, the beach town time forgot after the toxic paper plant left town. It has the requisite beach and palm trees, as well as a shabby fishing pier, an aging motel and crumbling casino/dance hall. Greer figures the locals will love having a movie crew in town, but she hasn’t counted on Cypress Key’s mayor and jack-of-all trades Eben Thibadeaux, who wants to revitalize his hometown without exploiting it.

The sparks between Greer and Eben and the ensuing fireworks when the production hits town could be entertainment enough, but Andrews turns Beach Town into a summer blockbuster with a colorful supporting cast and complications galore. Greer’s long-estranged dad, a former Hollywood stunt driver, now lives in Florida. Eben’s rebellious teenage niece is enamored with movies and with this film’s star, a spoiled bad-boy rapper right out of rehab. A local heiress could be friend or foe, depending on how much money is involved. Add in paparazzi, palmetto bugs and portable potties, and you’ve got a hot mess that Andrews sorts out with her usual flair. Beach Town is a whole lot of fun with a side of serious. Bring it on.

summersendSeeing that Mary Alice Monroe’s The Summer’s End (Gallery, digital galley) is the concluding volume of her Lowcountry Summer trilogy about three half-sisters, a little catching up is in order.  In the first book, The Summer Girls, middle sister Carson returned to her grandmother’s home on Sullivan’s Island, S.C., and confronted her wild-child ways and drinking problem. In the second, The Summer Wind, older sister Dora needed the family as she coped with divorce and her autistic son. But both her grandmother, Mamaw, and housekeeper Lucille were keeping life-changing secrets revealed at book’s end.

Now in the third entry, younger sister Harper moves to the forefront as she tries to write a novel and separate herself from her controlling mother. A former Marine with PTSD  captures her heart, but the fate of the family home, Sea Breeze, hangs in the balance and all three sisters face decisions about their respective futures. Monroe’s environmental subplots about wild dolphins, a depressed shrimping industry and the threat posed by development give the books substance, but her characters give them heart. The verbal duel between feisty Mamaw and Harper’s snobbish English grandmother is an entertaining battle between two strong women who want the same thing — family happiness.

guestcottageSophie Anderson and Trevor Black meet cute in Nancy Thayer’s The Guest Cottage (Ballantine, digital galley) when both single parents accidentally rent the same beach house on picturesque Nantucket Island. Still, what follows is as much about family as romance. Sensible Sophie, blindsided by her architect husband’s request for divorce so he can marry a younger colleague, is more worried about her kids — Lacey, 10, and Jonah, 15 — than the demise of her marriage. She isn’t looking for a fling with a younger man like Trevor, the widower father of 3-year-old Leo, who misses his actress mom. It’s really for the kids’ sake that Sophie and Trevor decide to share the conveniently large cottage, and after some initial missteps, the arrangement proves comfortable and comforting. As for the grown-ups’ mutual attraction, it’s tested by romantic opportunities with other interesting parties and some thoughtless behavior. Sure, it’s all as predictable as the tides and light as a beach ball, but hey, it is summer.

 

 

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noraIs the Honeycutt mansion haunted? The summer people who bought the old mountain place and decided to stay for Christmas are beginning to think so. Their fake pink Christmas tree decorated with sea shell and flamingo ornaments keeps keeling over when no one’s around. Best ask neighbor Nora Bonesteel for help. After all, the old woman has the “sight” — she can foretell deaths and commune with ghosts.

Sharyn McCrumb’s holiday novella Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past (Abingdon Press, digital galley), takes place in the same East Tennessee town of her popular Ballad series and brings back several familiar characters. While Nora remembers long-ago holidays — and one young soldier in particular — Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and Deputy Joe LeDonne are driving up the mountain on Christmas Eve. They have to arrest an elderly man charged with the hit-and-run of a politician’s car. Still, a winter storm is coming, and the man won’t leave his wife alone in a cabin with no firewood and a broken window.

McCrumb’s gently humorous tale is replete with nostalgia. Nora vividly remembers simpler times gone by, when people were poorer but rich with friends, family and traditions.

hollyroadSheila Roberts has a knack for warm-hearted holiday tales that are sweet without being sappy. I’m especially fond of The Nine Lives of Christmas, which was made into a Hallmark movie this year. There’s a lot of wishin’ and hopin’ going on in picturesque Icicle Falls, the setting for The Lodge on Holly Road (Harlequin, digital galley).

Single mom Missy Monroe brings her two children to the lodge hoping to give them the kind of traditional Christmas she never had, although she knows she can’t fulfill their wishes for a dog and a grandmother. Enter Santa Claus, sort of — Brook Claussen kidnaps her widowed father, James, from his department store Santa job, hoping that a visit to the lodge will cure his grumpy blues. But she didn’t count on Olivia Wallace, the pretty widow who runs the place with her grown son, Eric. Brook thinks Olivia has designs on her dad, and she’s not wrong. But insufferable Eric scolds her for interfering. Among the other guests are a good-guy accountant who plans to propose to his snooty girlfriend, two old friends with opposite natures, a couple of bored teenagers and a prodigal son. What could possibly go wrong?

Roberts gets everything right in this romance — and even includes a recipe for Olivia’s gumdrop cookies.

jerusalemI always like to reread several holiday books from Christmases past. One year it might be Lee Smith’s The Christmas Letters, or Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, or Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ Certain Poor Shepherds. Last year it was Mary Kay Andrews’ Blue Christmas, in preparation for its sequel, Christmas Bliss. This year, I reached back 30 years to Martha Grimes’ mystery Jerusalem Inn, with Richard Jury and Melrose Plant investigating a sudden death in wintry northern England. The atmosphere’s a bit melancholy and a whole lot mysterious, and it’s one of my favorites in the Jury series. I’m a longtime admirer of the Scotland Yard detective with the devastating smile, still single after all these years.

Sweet dreams and happy holidays.

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savedateYou would think that the world of a wedding florist would be all hearts and flowers, sweetness and light. Think again. In Mary Kay Andrews’ new beach-worthy tale Save the Date (HarperCollins, paperback ARC), heroine Cara Kryzik faces a bunch of thorny problems. Her distant military father, the Colonel, is threatening to call in the loan she used to get her business Bloom established in downtown Savannah. He doesn’t understand that Cara, who divorced her cheating hubby a year ago, has had some unexpected expenses, like a broken cooler that ruins a wedding’s worth of flowers and a busted AC that the cranky landlord won’t fix. A couple of planned society weddings will pay the bills, if they aren’t derailed by a controlling MOB (mother of the bride) or a silver-tongued rival florist trying to ruin her reputation. But why is her best pal and assistant Bert so cranky all of a sudden? Cara feels besieged on all fronts, especially after handsome contractor Jack Finnerty dognaps her beloved pooch Poppy, mistaking her for the lookalike goldendoodle left to him by his ex.

But Andrews’ heroines aren’t ones to wilt in the face of adversity, and Cara’s no exception. She’s good at her job and with people (minus the occasional man), and she’s determined to grow her business, even it means staying up all night perfecting a bouquet or raiding her garden for just the right greenery. And so what if she’s an Army brat who lacks a Southern accent? No one’s going to put Cara in a corner, at least not for long.

Readers may well predict that Cara is headed for a happy ending — and a likely happy ever-after with Jack — but it’s her amusingly bumpy journey that will have them flipping pages. Highlights include a side trip to isolated Cumberland Island to talk a runaway bride down from a tree, the challenge to design an industrial-chic Goth wedding, a satisying show-down with her conniving competitor, and a plot to bamboozle Jack’s harpy of an ex.

Save the Date is one of my favorite MKA books, along with Spring Break, Hissy Fit and the Savannah series, but I am admittedly biased. Mary Kay Andrews, aka Kathy Trocheck, is a longtime friend and supporter of Caroline Cousins. It also happens that Cousin Meg is a wedding florist, both in the CC books and real life, which is how come I know a stargazer lily from lily of the valley and how to green in a centerpiece and wire a boutonniere in an emergency.

vacationersThe Posts are not the Griswolds, whose madcap misadventures are chronicled in the National Lampoon vacation movies. The Posts are much more believable, and so is their two-week summer trip to Mallorca in Emma Straub’s diverting The Vacationers (Penguin, purchased e-book). Still, there are enough misunderstandings, miscommunications and mishaps among family and friends to make this a pleasing comedy of manners, similar to the novels of Elinor Lipman and Jennifer Close.

Franny and Jim are supposed to be celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary, but Jim recently lost his job as a magazine editor due to an indiscretion that may yet cost him his marriage. Franny, a travel and food writer, hasn’t decided yet, as she confides in her old friend Charles, visiting with his husband Lawrence. Also on the trip are eldest son Bobby, a Miami real estate agent, and his older girfriend, Carmen, a personal trainer. Daughter Sylvia is getting ready to go off to college and senses the tension between her parents, but what she really wants to do in Mallorca is lose her virginity. Her sexy Spanish tutor holds promise.

And so, during meals around the table, dips in the pool, outings to the beach and games of Scrabble, the likeable characters reveal themselves to readers and one another. Carmen surprises Franny with her willingness to help with meals. Bobby disconcerts his sister when he takes her to a nightclub after a fight with Carmen. Lawrence tries not be jealous of the attention Charles showers on Franny as he anxiously awaits an e-mail from New York. Jim is so jealous of Franny flirting with a retired tennis pro that he enlists the help of a British cyclist to follow her. Sylvia thinks everyone is lame, except for her tutor, whose good looks outweigh his taste in music.

All of the characters are well-observed, but my heart goes out to Sylvia, who is working her way through the Brontes. “She’d read all of Jane Austen that year — Austen was good, but when you told people you liked Pride and Prejudice, they expected you to be all sunshine and wedding veils, and Sylvia preferred the rainy moors. The Brontes weren’t afraid to let someone die of consumption, which Sylvia respected.”

 

 

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blissOne of my favorite holiday-themed tales is my friend Mary Kay Andrews’ Blue Christmas, which is warm, sweet and funny, complete with a hilarious turkey-carving disaster. So I blissfully gobbled up Christmas Bliss (St. Martin’s, purchased e-book), which is the diverting follow-up, featuring more of Weezie and Bebe’s excellent adventures. It’s the week before Christmas and Weezie is prepping for her small Christmas Eve wedding to Daniel, Savannah’s hottest chef. Except Daniel’s showing off his culinary expertise to the sultry owner of a chi-chi restaurant in Manhattan. Meanwhile, bestie Bebe is happily and heavily pregnant, juggling her job on Tybee, renovations on a new house, and worries about her charter-boat captain beau Harry’s career. As Weezie hops on a plane for a surprise trip to New York, Bebe is left with mischievous mutt Jethro and the burning secret that she is still married to her snake of an ex-husband. All sorts of complications ensue — including Weezie losing both her coat and shoes in separate big-city mishaps, and Bebe enduring a baby shower — but Andrews neatly wraps up the intersecting storylines into a package that’s merry and bright.

starryDebbie Macomber’s Starry Night (Random House, digital galley) is about as improbable as me shedding pounds over the holidays, but at least it’s a no-cal treat. Chicago reporter Carrie Slayton hopes to trade the society beat for hard news with an exclusive interview with best-selling wilderness author Finn Dalton. Only the reclusive Finn never gives interviews, not even when Carrie eventually tracks him to Alaska and hires a bush pilot to drop her off  at Finn’s isolated cabin with a snowstorm howling at her heels. Forced together in close quarters, the odd couple find some common ground, but their mutual attraction isn’t great enough to overcome Finn’s issues with love-’em-and-leave-’em women like his mom and his ex. Carrie returns to Chicago without her scoop or Finn — until he comes looking for her. Awwww. 

fourthA snowstorm also plays Cupid in Susan Mallery’s Christmas on 4th Street (Harlequin, digital gallery), another winning entry in her Fool Gold’s series of contemporary romances. It’s only slightly more realistic than Starry Night, but Mallery’s fans are used to almost-magical events in the small California town. Putting tragedy behind her, Noelle Perkins forsakes her law career to open the Christmas Attic shop on 4th Street. She’s brimming with holiday cheer, unlike Army surgeon Gabriel Boylan, coming off a hard tour overseas to visit his brother. Gabriel is undecided about his next move, although his exacting drill sergeant dad expects him to continue in the military. Lovely Noelle has him considering his options, but their romance craters until the aforementioned storm and an ensuing avalanche intervene. Sweet.

flynnKatie Flynn’s A Christmas to Remember (Random House Adult Trade, digital galley) is one of several books by popular British authors to be released globally as e-books. Flynn’s warm-hearted tale is a bit soapy and predictable, covering seven years after World War II as young Tess Williams grows up in Liverpool, where food is still rationed and times are hard. Living with her grandmother Edie above a hat shop, bright Tess makes friends with widower tobacconist Albert Payne, tangles with mean girl Marilyn, is torn between the affections of farmer boy Jonty and city boy Snowy, and wonders whether to go to university or get a job. An accident and then a stray cat set her on an unexpected path. All’s well that ends well with another memorable holiday. More for fans of East Enders than Downton Abbey, although I like both.

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ladiesnight“To live well yourself is the best revenge.” Grace Stanton, the heroine of Mary Kay Andrews’ beach-alicious new novel Ladies Night (St. Martin’s Press, review copy), certainly has the living well down pat: She writes a popular lifestyle blog from her posh Florida home. But the revenge thing? After she catches her husband Ben with her naked young assistant (and it’s exactly what it looks like), she drives his precious Audi convertible into the pool. The “he had it coming defense” doesn’t go over well with Judge Stackpole, who orders her into “divorce therapy.” Meanwhile, Ben has taken custody of the house, the blog, the bank accounts (and the skanky assistant), and Grace has to move in with her mom above the family bar, The Sandbox, on Anna Maria Island.

Trading betrayal stories with the other wronged spouses in her therapy group actually proves a good thing once their strange counselor-divorce coach goes AWOL, and the four women and one man move to The Sandbox for drinks and strategy sessions. Even as Ben tries to ruin Grace’s online reputation with readers and sponsors, she starts the true Grace blog, chronicling her efforts to restore a cracker cottage. She rescues a little dog and falls for the divorced father of a little boy. Still, obstacles to living well abound, including Judge Stackpole, who seems to delight in sticking it to Grace and the other group members. Mmm. Time to turn some tables.

Ladies’ Night is funny, smart and hopeful. Just add lemonade, or maybe your favorite adult beverage. Cheers!

timebetweenI was little worried when I first heard that Karen White, who often writes about Charleston, S.C., was setting her new book, The Time Between (NAL, digital galley) on Edisto Island, my family’s home turf. It’s kind of like when they replaced the old drawbridge to the island, making it easier for tourists to find us. We used to be a secret.

Happily, White gets most of island life right, although locals don’t spell out the full names of Edisto spots in casual conversation, like Island Video and Ice Cream. Nor am I fully convinced that sisters Eleanor and Eve spent their childhood on Edisto as the daughters of a local shrimper. That was before the accident that left beauty queen contestant Eve in a wheelchair. Eleanor, once an aspiring concert pianist, feels guilty about Eve, as well as for her attraction to Glen, Eve’s high school sweetheart husband. She gets a chance for redemption when her investment banker boss Finn Beaufain asks her to help care for his elderly aunt Helena, who has lived on Edisto since she and her sister escaped from Hungary in 1944. Eleanor is soon trekking back and forth between the big house on Edisto and the shabby home she shares with her careworn mother, Eve and Glen in North Charleston.

The set-up is ripe for old secrets, family conflicts, new dreams. Did I mention that too-good-to-be-true Finn is the handsome divorced father of a little girl overcoming a grave illness? Or that enigmatic Helena’s sister died in mysterious circumstances? Eleanor narrates most of the involving story, with occasional chapters from Helena and Eve’s perspectives. Eve’s thoughts aren’t really needed, but every story should have a character as tart-tongued and strong-willed as Helena. And Edisto, of course, makes a picturesque and perfect setting, IMHO.

Open Books: Readers of this blog know that Mary Kay Andrews is a longtime pal of Caroline Cousins. I hope to actually meet Karen White at a booksigning later this month. And this is just the beginning of posts on the wave of summer fiction, including new books from Dorothea Benton Frank, Claire Cook and Mary Alice Monroe. I’m writing about them a few at a time from beach at Edisto. 

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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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