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Posts Tagged ‘South Carolina’

Beatriz Williams Cocoa Beach (William Morrow, digital galley) has sun, sand, mangroves and mosquitoes, as well as mystery and romance. And it’s appropriately steamy — no AC in 1922, which is when Virginia Fitzwilliam arrives in Cocoa with her toddler daughter to inherit her estranged husband’s estate and shipping business. She met British Army surgeon Simon while an ambulance driver in World War I France, and the narrative toggles between the two timelines: Even as Virginia motors to Miami Beach with her sister-in-law, her backstory is played out in New York, France and Cornwall. (Readers of Williams’ A Certain Age will recognize Virginia as the sister of that book’s heroine, Sophie Fortescue). Not one to play the little widow, Virginia is soon asking about Simon’s death in a fire at his seaside villa and poking into his business affairs, much to the dismay of his enigmatic brother Samuel. Everybody, even Virginia, has secrets in this exotic Prohibition Era setting, where fortunes are made by rum-runners, and rogues are more than ready to sell swampland to unwary dreamers.

If you can’t buy happiness, perhaps you can rent it? Artist Heather Wyatt is hoping she can at least find some peace at Primrose, a quaint cottage on South Carolina’s Isle of Palms, while she carries out a commission to paint shorebirds for a series of postage stamps. Perhaps the solitude will cure her crippling social anxiety. But when cottage owner Cara Rutledge suffers a terrible loss, she wants to return to Primrose, and shy Heather winds up sharing space with an unwanted roommate.  And then there’s the handsome guy building a new deck on the cottage. In Beach House for Rent (Gallery Books, digital galley), Mary Alice Monroe returns to a favorite setting and familiar theme: Primrose as a safe haven where the wonders of nature help heal troubled souls. Although it’s one in an occasional series, the book is a pleasing stand-alone that begs to be read beach-side, where you can hear the gulls and watch the pelicans and sandpipers.

The Whitaker family mansion in seaside Connecticut was a once-famous artists’ colony, and Issy loved growing up there with her grandparents. But her family is a hot mess, and in Shelley Noble’s The Beach at Painter’s Cove (William Morrow, digital galley), she’s left to pick up the pieces when her selfish sister Viv drops off her three kids  with ailing grandmother Leo and disappears. Eccentric Aunt Fae can’t be counted on, and Issy’s mother, film actress Jillian, is off in Europe with her latest lover. Noble heaps cascading troubles on the Whitakers like sand in a bucket. Issy discovers Leo’s bank account has been emptied, bills are outstanding, and the house and its contents are in danger of being sold. A penniless Jillian arrives on the scene to contribute to the chaos. Leo is apparently losing her mind, living largely in the past, which also haunts Fae. The plot follows a predictable path, but the Whitakers, especially insecure and imaginative 12-year-old Steph, win you over, and you really hope they’ll win the day.

With its picturesque Cornwall setting, gentle good humor and a cast of engaging characters, many of them in the autumn of their years, Marcia Willett’s new novel Indian Summer (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley) reminds me of a Rosamunde Pilcher favorite, Winter Solstice. Famous actor and director Sir Mungo Springer loves his country retreat, part of the family farm run by his brother Archie and his wife Camilla. When his old friend Kit visits, she brings with her memories of good times shared and of other old pals, including a troubled actress. One of the book’s running jokes is the presence of an aspiring novelist, who spies on the locals and concludes they’re a dull bunch. Little does he realize that a young Army wife is on the brink of a dangerous affair, that two old men once buried a body in the orchard, that Kit is contemplating a second chance with her long-ago lover Jake, and that Mungo will do most anything to keep safe his family and friends. I’m getting this one for my mom.

My mom and cousins also will be happy to hear about Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry Bonfire (Henery Press, digital galley), the sixth in the lighthearted series featuring P.I. Liz Talbot, who tied the knot with her partner Nate Andrews in Lowcountry Bordello. Their client Tammy Sue Lyerly, after receiving proof that her mechanic husband Zeke was cheating on her, sets fire to his favorite possessions in his favorite car. She claims she had no idea Zeke’s body was in the trunk. Liz and Nate are about the only ones on the little South Carolina island of Stella Maris who believe her. Determined to prove Tammy’s innocence, they start digging into Zeke’s colorful and mysterious past, which supposedly included stints as a DEA agent and a NASCAR driver. Seems trouble may have started at a bonfire on the beach back in the spring, although the mystery is almost overshadowed by all the lowcountry talk, atmosphere and food. Fine with me. I want to move in with Liz, Nate and their golden retriever Rhett.

Speaking of food — always a good idea, IMHO — fans of Mary Kay Andrews’ best-selling beach books (Savannah Blues, Deep Dish, Beach Town) and the Callahan Garrity mysteries she originally penned as Kathy Hogan Trocheck (Heart Trouble, Homemade Sin) know her characters eat well and that she sometimes tosses in recipes for food mentioned in the stories. For example, you can find the recipe for Beyond the Grave Chicken Salad in Little Bitty Lies and now in The Beach House Cookbook (St. Martin’s Press, review copy), which is what she wrote for  this summer instead of a new novel. It’s a treat, full of themed meal plans and recipes, plus anecdotes and pictures from Ebb Tide, her Tybee Island beach house. I need to note that Kathy is a longtime friend and a fabulous cook, and I can personally vouch for the chicken salad, the lemon cream cheese poundcake, the pimento cheese made with Duke’s and other goodies. Shrimp and grits. Crab cakes. Peach and berry cobbler. Trust me, the woman can start with a bag of Fritos and whip up a casserole, an appetizer or a gooey dessert.  Beach-alicious!

 

 

 

 

 

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speculationFortune-tellers and floods, mermaids and mysteries, a traveling carnival and a tumble-down house threatening to fall into the sea. Erika Swyler packs all these and more into her first novel The Book of Speculation (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), which both fascinates and frustrates with its alternating narratives. In the present, reference librarian Simon Watson lives in the family house slowly sliding into the Long Island Sound where his mother — a circus mermaid — curiously drowned when he and his sister Enola were children. Simon looked after Enola while their grief-stricken father withered away, but six years ago, she ran off with their mother’s tarot cards and no plans to ever return. But then Simon receives a mysterious, water-damaged old book in the mail, and Enola calls to say she’ll be home in July. Simon is alarmed because the book — the logbook of a traveling carnival — shows generations of the women in his family all drowning on July 24th.   In the past storyline, a mute boy known as Amos is adopted by carnival owner, apprenticed to a Russian fortune-teller and is captivated by Evangeline, who may be a mermaid and is possibly a murderess. That the two storylines will eventually converge is a foregone conclusion, but the “how” makes for the suspense. Still, the novel’s rickety underpinnings sag under the weight of so many coincidences, romances and misfortunes that its magic begins to wane. The Book of Speculation ends up being both too much and too little. But I did like the horseshoe crabs.

dayshiftReaders of Charlaine Harris’s Midnight Crossing know that strangers to the dusty Texas town of Midnight are not nearly as strange as its residents. Phone psychic Manfredo Bernardo learned that when he moved to Midnight and discovered his neighbors included a witch, a shape-shifter, a couple of angels and a vampire. Still, things have taken a turn for the really strange in Harris’ follow-up, the entertaining Day Shift (Penguin Berkley, review copy). For starters, Manfredo is suspected of murder after one of his clients drops dead, and then the Reverend, who tends the little church and adjacent pet cemetery, takes in a young boy who grows taller — really taller — every day. Beautiful Olivia Channing is keeping all kinds of secrets while her vampire gentleman friend Lemuel is away. But what’s really weird is that a mysterious corporation is supposedly turning the abandoned Midnight Hotel into a luxury resort but also has relocated some indigent Las Vegas seniors to the premises. And just to keep things interesting, Harris brings in a couple of characters from her Sookie Stackhouse series as strange events come to a head under a full moon. Some mysteries are resolved, but others only deepen. A third book, please?

boneyardIslands have a certain magic, some more than others.  In author Susan M. Boyer’s mind, the fictional South Carolina island of Stella Maris is located a hop, skip, a couple of bridges and a ferry ride from Charleston. The picturesque beach community is also home base for PI Liz Talbot, although her hunky partner Nate wants her to move upstate in Lowcountry Boneyard (Henery Press, digital galley). As readers of the previous two books in this perky series know, Liz has a secret tie to the island in the shape of a ghostly guardian angel, her late best friend, Colleen, who conveniently pops up to warn of danger or gather clues in the spirit world. This time, Liz is searching for missing Charleston heiress Kent Heyward whom the police consider a rich-girl runaway. After meeting Kent’s family — including her stern father, matriarch Abigail and creepy twin uncles — Liz thinks Kent may have had good reason to leave town, but Kent’s chef boyfriend Matt and her BFF Ansley assure her otherwise. Dangerous surprises await when Liz goes poking around in a local cemetery and digging up family secrets in the lowcountry and upstate, but Colleen can’t come to the rescue if Liz is too far away from Stella Maris. Not to give anything away, but the fourth book in the series is due in the fall.

mysteriousElizabeth George, best known for her Inspector Thomas Lynley series, has a high old time with The Mysterious Disappearance of the Reluctant Book Fairy (Mysterious Press/Open Road, digital galley), her contribution to the Press short story series Bibliomysteries. At just under 50 pages, it’s a tale easily consumed in one sitting, true escapist reading a la Jasper Fforde. Janet Shore, the sickly youngest child in a boisterous Washington state family, perfects the art of escaping into a book at an early age. Literally. “Given a heart rending scene of emotion (Mary Ingalls going blind!), a thrilling adventure in a frightening cave (Tom, Huck, and Injun Joe!), a battle with pirates (Peter Pan and Captain Hook!), and our Janet was actually able to transport herself into the scene itself. And not as a passive observer, mind you, but rather as a full participant in the story.” Janet first entertains herself and classmates with book traveling, but gives it up when she grows older and has her heart broken. Then her best childhood friend Monie conspires to get Janet — now Annapurna — a job at the local library, where the overbearing Mildred Bantry sees a way to make money by setting up a book tourism company, Epic!, with Annapurna as chief tour guide. George has a lot of fun with this conceit, as will readers who can only imagine the joys of escaping into the pages of a favorite book or Greek myth. As for Annapurna/Janet’s choice of the perfect pages in which to get lost, let me just say that I’ll happily join her some gaudy night.

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lovesickCrimes of the heart. Sins of the flesh. The four novellas collected in James Driggers’ evocative Lovesick (Kensington, review copy) are linked by the fictional  South Carolina town of Morris, located somewhere near Florence, an hour or so north of Myrtle Beach, and firmly in the territory of Southern Gothic. Sure, it’s the land of Faulkner, O’Conner and Crews, as well as a host of younger writers. Driggers is right at home.

“Butcher, the Baker,” set in the 1930s, features a black ex-con whose extraordinary baking talents have society ladies passing off his treats as their own. When war widow Virginia Yeager offers to give him credit for a cake, Butcher proposes they secretly partner to enter the Mystic White Flour baking contest in Atlanta. Wearing a big white hat and armed with Butcher’s recipe for Angel Biscuits, Virginia makes quite an impression on the racist company owner, but another competitor’s threat to expose her leads to blood and betrayal. “The Brambles,” set in the 1950s, puts a dark and unexpected spin on Arsenic and Old Lace as two middle-aged sisters marry for money and murder. “Sandra and the Snake Handlers” focuses on a recent widow whose obsession with a television evangelist has tragic consequences. Then there’s the contemporary tabloid tale, “M.R. Vale,” in which a gay florist confesses how he wound up in motel room with a dead body and a brutish mechanic. Driggers’ small-town South of secret scandals, stained-glass windows and judgmental neighbors proves both familiar and strange.

sewingTupelo Honey Lee, the appealing narrator of Darlyn Finch Kuhn’s first novel Sewing Holes (Twisted Road, review copy), is the first to admit she’s not as sweet as her name. Honey can’t help but say what she thinks, and her forthrightness can get her into trouble. But candor is a gift for a storyteller like Honey as she recounts her eventful coming-of-age in 1970s Jacksonville, where the South of bait shops and home-ec classes is giving way to suburbs and the wider world.

Honey’s heroines are Joan of Arc and Lois Lane as she copes with a troubled and troublesome family. Her chronically ill father and her unhappy mother are often at odds; her older brother becomes a war resister; her good-for-nothing uncle can’t support her young cousins, one of whom shares Honey’s room and her mother’s attention. As Honey’s growing-up years are marked by love and loss, faith and forgiveness, a bookish, burdened girl becomes a thoughtful, compassionate woman. You can picture her telling you these stories over a glass of sweet tea on the porch, stitching one memory to another.

sunshineThe nameless narrator of M.O. Walsh’s lush first novel, My Sunshine Away (Penguin, library hardcover) looks back to the pivotal summer of 1989 when he was a gawky 14-year-old enjoying a free-range childhood of bikes and backyards in sultry Baton Rouge. He secretly spies on neighbor Lindy Simpson, a pretty 15-year-old track star, and casts himself as the hero in her life instead of the dorky pal. Then Lindy is sexually assaulted, and her unknown assailant escapes into  the evening shadows. The narrator is one of several initial suspects and, as weeks go by with no arrest, he becomes determined to solve the crime and win Lindy’s heart. That his efforts go awry and cause pain to those he loves causes an aching regret that follows him into adulthood. A family tragedy also complicates his memories, and the wish to exorcise the ghosts results in a novel with the feel of a memoir.

“I imagine that many children in South Louisiana have stories similar to this one, and when they grow up, they move out into the world and tell them.”

Perhaps, but one doubts that those coming-of-age stories so effectively mix mystery and memory.

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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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monroeI think everyone and her sister wrote a beach book this summer. Here are four more for the Fourth.
The title characters in Mary Alice Monroe’s warm-hearted The Summer Girls (Gallery Books, digital galley) are three half-sisters named after their failed novelist father’s favorite Southern writers: Eudora, Carson and Harper. One’s in South Carolina, one in California, one in New York, but their paternal grandmother Marietta Muir asks them all to her 80th birthday weekend at the ancestral summer home on Sullivan’s Island, S.C. Once the three women, who spent time as girls together at Sea Breeze, return for an awkward reunion, Marietta springs her grand plan: Spend the summer with her and renew family ties. Dora, in the middle of a divorce and totally focused on her autistic son, declines, as does Harper, wrapped up in her NY job as her imperious mother’s assistant. But middle sister Carson, at loose ends after losing her TV production job, welcomes the invitation. She’s right at home swimming in the ocean and making friends with a wild dolphin and a good-looking marine researcher.
This is the first book in a trilogy, and once Monroe supplies the backstory, the focus is mostly on complicated Carson, who soon finds herself at a crossroads with her family and the future. Presumably, Dora and Harper will get their day in the sun in future books. A subplot focused on protecting dolphins from humans’ good intentions adds depth to the familiar story of sisters finding their way home.
sweetsaltA picturesque island off the coast of Maine provides the setting for Barbara Delinsky’s new novel of friendship and romance, Sweet Salt Air (St.Martin’s Press, paperback ARC). Philadelphia food blogger Nicole and successful travel writer Charlotte reunite on Quinnipeague Island 10 years after Nicole’s wedding to surgeon Julian. Now Nicole has a cookbook contract and wants Charlotte as a co-author. Turns out Julian’s at home coping with a secret diagnosis of MS. Turns out Charlotte has a secret that could help Julian but endanger her friendship with Nicole. Nicole unburdens herself to Charlotte, who in turn, confides in island bad boy Leo, who harbors a secret of his own.
Everyone wrestles with her/his emotions and desires while feasting on fried clams, fresh salad greens, herb bread, blueberry cobbler and other island delicacies. Yum. Appetizing and satisfying.
stargazeyBack to lowcountry South Carolina for barbecue and hushpuppies and Shelley Nobles’ Stargazey Point (Morrow, digital galley), a fictional coastal town between Georgetown and Myrtle Beach that’s still recovering from a long-ago hurricane and barely making it through the tourist season. Chicago documentary filmmaker Abbie Sinclair retreats to Stargazey to stay with a friend’s elderly relatives at their once-grand home and wins the three Crispin siblings’ hearts. But a local architect, who is restoring an old carousel, is suspicious of Abbie, sure she’s another real estate agent intent on wresting the Crispin homestead for development. Then Abbie’s work at the community center with neglected children and her help on an oral history project begin to change his mind.
It’s a sweetly predictable story, but too many stereotypes abound, including a badly behaved ex-girlfriend, an elderly Gullah woman dabbling in voodoo, and a faded belle throwing a hissy fit at the very idea of selling the family silver to pay back taxes.
100summersNostalgia drifts on the sea air in Beatriz Williams’ period beach book A Hundred Summers (Putnam, digital galley), set largely in the uppercrust Rhode Island community of Seaview in 1938, with flashbacks beginning in 1931. That’s when Whartonesque-named socialite Lily Dane fell hard for college football star Nick Greenwald, and he for her. Seven years later, though, single Lily is at Seaview with her kid sister, aunt and mother, while Nick is improbably married to Lily’s one-time best pal Budgie Byrne.
What star-crossing doomed Lily and Nick’s love? Lily reveals all — eventually — as her account of the past is juxtaposed with the dramatic events of 1938, including the great hurricane that struck New England. Expect storm-tossed seas and emotions.

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On the way to my cousin Rachel’s wedding this past Saturday, I typed the destination — Island House, Johns Island SC — into my iPhone GPS just for kicks. It was a good thing we knew where we were going, because the phone started directing us to the Johns Island Church of Prayer, which is also off River Road but past Maybank Highway. Even though I hadn’t been on the curving two-lane in years, I knew our turn-off was to the left a ways before Maybank, marked by a giant propeller at the entrance of a boatyard. The lowcountry landscape in the late afternoon sun was both strange and achingly familiar, the way places in the heart are after a long absence. Big trees and hanging moss gave way to a wide expanse of green lawn and a field of wildflowers on the banks of the Stono River, where the wind ruffled the water and snapped the top flaps of the white wedding tent. We had arrived where we were supposed to be.

I had something of the same feeling on reading three recent Southern novels. They differ in story, setting and style, but all have the definite sense of place and people that are recognizably Southern, and thus “known.” With The Cove (HarperCollins, paperback ARC), Ron Rash returns to the backwoods of the North Carolina mountains, this time during World War I. Laurel Shelton lives with her injured war veteran brother, “waiting for her life to begin.” Then she finds love with the stranger known as Walter, a mute who plays a silver flute, but their possible future is threatened by local Army recruiter Chauncey, whose xenophobia plays into the local community’s superstitions and fears. The result is a haunting, sorrowful ballad, true mountain music.

The Southern Gothic trappings are more overt in Wiley Cash’s debut, A Land More Kind Than Home (Morrow, paperback galley), which explores love and violence, faith and redemption after a mute boy dies during a “healing” service at a local church. The three narrators — the dead boy’s younger brother Jess; sympathetic sheriff Clem Barefield; elderly church member and midwife Adelaide — have distinct voices and perspectives. But the most compelling — and repellent — character remains Pastor Carson Chambliss, a scarred ex-con who stirs his congregation to a frenzy by speaking in tongues and handling snakes.

Cash writes lyric lean, while Marly Youmans writes lyric lush in A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (Mercer University Press; digital galley). It’s a picaresque journey through the Great Depression as the aptly-named Pip Tatnall leaves a Georgia farm after the murder of his brother Otto. His thirst for knowledge of the wider world leads him to ride the rails, and Youmans details his adventures in a series of poetically rendered set pieces.

My favorite may be 12-year-old Pip’s sojourn at Roseville, a minature metropolis of junk where Pip finds a makeshift family of lovable eccentrics who encourage his dreams.  “This was a place worth staying in, he decided. Both of the old people were lunatics and might be fetched and locked away in the looney bin at Milledgeville any day now, but there was no harm in them, or Bill and Clemmie. It seemed to him that Georgia and probably the whole country had its share of the  squirrelly, and maybe this part no more than most. . .perhaps madness was essential.”

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Sorry I’ve been away so long. The last week or so I’ve been happily hibernating from the heat, eating lemonade bars and getting lost in books.  I motored through Maine and then went south to Folly Beach. Destination reading, so to speak. (I also solved quite a few mysteries along the way, but that’s a future post).

J. Courtney Sullivan wrote about four women in 2009’s Commencement, rotating perspectives as a quartet of recent Smith College graduates told of their coming of age in the new millenium. In Maine, the four women who tell the story are all members of the Irish-Catholic Kelleher clan of Boston.

Matriarch Alice, 83, and her late husband Daniel built a cottage on the Maine coast where the family has summered for 60 years. All the generations once piled in together on top of one another, but since Daniel’s death a decade ago, the children have divided up the months they’ll spend with their mother. An elderly beauty with a critical tongue, Alice has increasingly turned to alcohol and the church to assauge the guilt she has carried for years.

Eldest daughter Kathleen, 58, is estranged from her difficult mother, having remade herself in her 40s after a painful divorce. She quit drinking and used the money her father left her to move to California with her laid-back boyfriend Arlo, with whom she runs a successful worm farm. She worries about her daughter Maggie, a 32-year-old free-lance writer living in New York who continues to make mistakes with men.

Sister-in-law Ann-Marie is closer than any of them to Alice, and when it appears that Maggie’s plans to spend June in Maine have been cut short, Ann-Marie efficiently rearranges her own life, including babysitting her young grandchildren, and ships her latest dollhouse project to the cottage. That Maggie, hiding a surprise pregnancy, is still in residence hardly disconcerts her. She’s obsessed with perfecting her miniature furnishings while harboring romantic notions about a neighbor.

Sullivan takes her time setting the bucolic scene, while family secrets, grudges and lies simmer in the background. But when all four women end up together, watch out for the fireworks.

Sullivan has a deft hand with memorable set pieces, from Alice’s searing memories to Ann-Marie’s inevitable meltdown. The Kellehers are a family in love with their own mythology, and mothers, daughters and daughter-in-law all confront the ways in which it has shaped their lives as women for better or worse.

At 400 pages, Maine is one of those summer books that you sink into for the duration and finish with a sigh of satisfaction. Dorothea Benton Frank’s Folly Beach is as frothy as its name, a happy holiday of a novel that may set you to humming “Summertime.”

Cate Cooper belts out the tune from the bathtub of the “Porgy House,” the tiny old cottage on Folly where playwrights Dorothy and Dubose Heyward lived in 1934 while collaborating with George Gershwin on what would become “Porgy and Bess.” Like other native Charlestonians, Cate knows it was adapted from Heyward’s play about the city’s Gullah culture, but now she’s more curious about the house’s former residents, leading players in the Charleston Renaissance of the 1920s.

Cate needs something to think about other than her present predicament. She’s gone from riches to rags practically overnight because of her scheming husband’s recent suicide. Rather than move in with her sister Patty, living nearby in New Jersey, Cate retreats to the safe haven of Folly, where her Aunt Daisy raised both girls with the help of her partner Etta. Daisy, whose health issues have increased with age, asks for Cate’s help with her rental house business and installs her in the Porgy House.

This is a familiar plot for Frank’s fans — a woman at mid-life finding herself at a crossroads and turning to her Lowcountry South Carolina roots. Cate is not exactly a merry widow, but she’s happy to be single again when a handsome history professor obligingly appears on the scene. John Risley encourages her research on the Heywards, especially Harvard-educated Dorothy, and Cate decides to wite a play about the playwright.

It’s Cate’s one-woman show about Dorothy that intersperses her own chatty narration and which separates the novel from Frank’s previous best-sellers. The play-within-the-book explores talented Dorothy’s life and her  devotion to her husband, with plenty of period touches and literary name-dropping to lend authenticity.

Cate’s story of family, love and pecan pie, on the other hand, is a Karo-syrupy fairy tale heavy on happy endings. Still, who doesn’t want dessert on vacation?  “Summertime.  . .”

Open Book: I read the digital galley of J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine (Knopf) via NetGalley, and a review copy of Dorothea Benton Frank’s Folly Beach (William Morrow). I first met Dottie about 10 years ago, and we keep in touch via e-mail, Facebook, mutual friends and her sister Lynn on Edisto Beach.

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