May 27, 2015

BEACH TOWN by Mary Kay Andrews

(There are no Spoilers in this review)
Greer Hennessey is a location scout/location manager for a movie studio in Los Angeles so she's used to living out of a suitcase and being on the go. It actually works for her life right now since she recently lost her mother to cancer, and her only other family is her grandmother who lives in a nursing home.  She hasn't been in a relationship since she caught her studio lawyer boyfriend, Sawyer, cheating on her almost two years ago. 

Right now she's in the process of finding the perfect 'old Florida' coastal town to film a new blockbuster featuring a super-star rapper turned actor as its lead character. The possibility of this film being a major hit depends a lot on Greer finding the perfect location. Greer thinks she's found it in Cypress Key, Florida. It rests lazily on the West coast south of the Panhandle with the waters of the Gulf of Mexico lapping at its shoreline.  As Greer prepares for the cast and crew to arrive she starts the ground work with the small community renting the necessary buildings for filming, finding housing for the stars and producer and obtaining the permits needed to get the project started. Eb Thibadeaux is the mayor of Cypress Key and to say the he and Greer get off on the wrong foot is an understatement but she can't afford to alienate the one person who has the power to make her job go smoothly or block her at every turn. He's not only the mayor, he's the city engineer and part owner of the motel she's just leased for the next several weeks where the crew will be staying, including herself. 

As if she doesn't have enough going on, her long, lost father, whom she hasn't seen in thirty years is trying to connect with her. Apparently her mother and father had mended some fences before Lise died and in her last days had been pushing Greer to give him a chance and at least get to know him a little. Lise had obviously given Clint her contact information because now he was calling and texting almost daily. As luck would have it, Clint was living in Florida, only an hour or so from Cypress Key.  Though Greer feels an obligation to her mother to go see him, she isn't counting on anything else. She doesn't need or want him in her life after all these years. Besides, she's too busy with work to have time for this. Her number one priority is to get this movie made. 

MY THOUGHTS:

Oh my! I don't know where to start!  I guess I should start by saying I am a long-time fan of Mary Kay Andrews' books. Granted, there have been some that I love more than others but BEACH TOWN is proof that MKA is at the top of her game! There are so many things I loved about this book

The first and most obvious is the location. Previously Savannah has been the backdrop for most of her novels, but this is her second book, the first being LADIES NIGHT, that takes place in Florida. The thing that makes this book special to me is that it basically takes place in my back yard. These are my stomping grounds and it warmed my heart being able to relate and form actual pictures in my mind of these places that I know. It gave the story an authenticity that can't be fabricated. I could be wrong, but I believe Andrews' fictional Cypress Key is actually patterned after Cedar Key, a quaint little town I've been to many times and is less than an hour from my house in Ocala. With all the familiarity of the surroundings it created a feeling of endearment for this reader. 

I'll be honest, I'm not a big movie buff anymore and I didn't know if I would really get into a storyline about movie-making but I quickly put those worries aside.  The wonderful characters are what drove this story and getting to know Greer and how she handled her job responsibilities made for an interesting read and it helped that I really liked her. The secondary characters were all so genuine and real that nothing seemed forced. MKA is known for her original and quirky characters and she came up with some good ones for BEACH TOWN. 

Though there are a few different stories being told here, they all fit together and compliment the main story line, which is Greer and her personal and professional life. Even though this is a stand-alone novel, I could definitely see a sequel considering all the great characters and avenues that could be explored. I would love to see Greer and the gang again sometime down the road. 

One thing that did surprise me a bit though, was how long the book was. At 445 pages, it seems her books are getting bigger and bigger. That said, I didn't experience any lulls in the story that you might expect from a book that big. 

So, now you know I really loved this book, but I want to be clear.  This is not a spine-tingling page turner with surprises at every turn.  What it is, though, is a completely engrossing, well developed story that was genuine and totally satisfying. I'd call it contemporary, Southern womens fiction. It was everything I've come to expect and love from Mary Kay Andrews.  BEACH TOWN is a fun, quick read that is sure to be on the list of top summer reads this season. Her Southern charm, along with great stories and believable characters win out every time.  

Disclaimer: I received an advance digital galley copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Author: Mary Kay Andrews
Publisher: St. Martins Press
Published: May 19, 2015
Length: 445 pp
Source: St. Martins Press via NetGalley

May 21, 2015

Throwback Thursday: May 2008

In May of 2008 I was beginning to feel more comfortable in becoming a book blogger/reviewer and I was feeling more at ease expressing my opinions. Writing my thoughts and points of view down for the world to see was a huge step in coming out of my shell and not being so reserved with my thoughts. Previously, I tended to not speak out as much and let others do it for me. I never realized until I started thinking about this post but this blog has had a big impact on me in that regard.

The books that I reviewed in May of my first blogging year were all very different from each other. There was a mix of non-fiction, historical Southern fiction and contemporary fiction.  When I was writing my review for Joan Didion's THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING I remember being uneasy about it because I really didn't like the book. I know many people loved that book, but I just didn't. It was the first time that I felt such a strong negative opinion.  Nervously, I posted my thoughts and . . . the world didn't end. Everyone has an opinion and that is the beauty of these book blogs so many of us dedicate so much of ourselves to. We don't all have to have the same opinion or like the same books. There is no right answer.

I also read and reviewed Sue Monk Kidd's THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES. I immediately fell in love with that book and wondered why it took me so long to read it. But the book that really stood out was THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN by Garth Stein. There was a lot of hype about this book and when I read it I totally got why. This book touched my heart, made me smile and made me cry. A friend recently mentioned to me that she was thinking about reading this book over her summer break and I instantly got a warm feeling all over. That's what this book does. What made it extra special was that after posting my review I received a very sweet email from Garth Stein thanking me for sharing my thoughts. That was the first time I'd been contacted by an author directly and it was a great feeling.



This is only my second Throwback Thursday post here on the blog and I gotta tell you, I'm liking it a lot. Taking the time each month to reminisce about my first year of blogging and where it all started has been eye-opening and insightful. I hope you enjoy it as well. Thanks for stopping by. I'll be back with another Throwback Thursday post next month.

May 19, 2015

It's Release Day for BEACH TOWN by Mary Kay Andrews!



I've been a big fan of Mary Kay Andrews since SAVANNAH BLUES came out in 2002. Her wit and genuine Southern charm that she weaves into her unique stories are what keeps me coming back book after book. 

BEACH TOWN, her new release is centered around Greer, a movie location scout from Los Angeles, and the setting for the book is a small Florida town on the west coast of Florida called Cypress Key. I have a strong inclination that this fictitious little beach town may be patterned after Cedar Key, a real town that I have visited many times and is only about forty-five minutes from my home in Ocala.  As I'm reading the book, I'm imaging my memories of Cedar Key and it's making the book even more real and special for me. I know there really is a place like Ms. Andrews' Cypress Key and it is just how she describes. 

I only received my copy of BEACH TOWN late last week, so I'm still reading, but will finish up later in the week and I'll have my thoughts ready to be posted shortly thereafter. I know it's early but from what I've read so far, I believe it will be THE beach read of the summer! It already has me anxious for a short road trip to the Gulf. 

Congratulations to Mary Kay Andrews on  another winner! 

May 17, 2015

The Sunday Salon: A Small But Meaningful Milestone

Though I don't post every Sunday in the Salon, I wanted to today for a couple of reasons. One, to update readers on what I've been reading and want to read,  and hopefully get some feedback or opinions. Secondly, I wanted to announce a (small) milestone concerning my blog's Facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Southern-Girl-Reads/295150096094)

I'll get right to the exciting news first. Several years ago I created a Facebook page for Southern Girl Reads and right away the number of Likes began to rise. Then it kind of plateaued at around 80 and stayed there for a looooong time. Granted, I ran kind of hot and cold with it so I understood the inactivity. But then, about three or four months ago, I started posting to it more and I also began posting more regularly to The Sunday Salon page on FB.and interacting more with other Saloners.  Suddenly, the number of  Like's started moving again! To my surprise and amazement, I have now passed the 500 mark and still counting! With each week I've seen the numbers climb substantially and, in turn, I've seen the readership of my blog increase as well. Though I wish the comments would also grow, at least I do know my blog is being read and that makes me happy. I know that the other members of The Sunday Salon are greatly responsible and I just want to say Thank You! Thank you for recognizing Southern Girl Reads and for clicking that 'Like' button so that others can see what you like. It may seem like a little thing, but I take this to heart and really appreciate the it! Sometimes a spark comes from something little but means so much. That little Like button has given me a spark, and in a way, has re-energized me! So, again, to all of you who have contributed to my 500+ Likes, THANK YOU!

Now, on to what I've been reading lately. I have always been a fan of Mary Kay Andrews' books and have read all of them but last week I noticed one had slippedpast me. LADIES NIGHT came out two years ago but I had lost track of it.  I knew she had a new novel, BEACH TOWN, coming out this month but unfortunately hadn't received a review copy like I had previously. So I sat down the other day to start reading LADIES NIGHT, feeling like a teenage girl that didn't get invited to the cool girl's slumber party.  Well, I am not exaggerating when I tell you that within MINUTES of me starting LADIES NIGHT, I got an email from MKA's publicist wanting to know where to send my copy of BEACH TOWN! You can't tell me someone somewhere wasn't feeling my angst! So, now, I'm reading BEACH TOWN and loving it! It's the little things in life that make me smile and I was definitely smiling that day!  MKA's books are a breeze to read and her sharp wit and Southern locales, great characters and interesting storylines are what keep me coming back. I won't have my review ready for Tuesday's release, but later in the week for sure. I think this is going to be THE beach read of the summer season!

Lucy Clarke has a new book, THE BLUE, coming out later this summer and I've hoping to get a  copy of that one soon. I've been a fan of hers since SWIMMING AT NIGHT., which was her debut novel in March of 2013  She's become an author I always look forward to reading with all of the twists and turns, deep emotional connections and exotic locales.


TINY LITTLE THING by Beatriz Williams has caught my eye and since I've never read any of her books, I'm intrigued.   A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara is one that I'm leaning towards listening to since it's such a big book (700+ pages) and that's the type of book I enjoy in audio form. I started THE GOLDFINCH last year and about a quarter of the way through, I set it aside. So I'm planning to finish it this summer.

Tonight on television is the series finale of MAD MEN, a show I love and will miss greatly. Though I don't want it to end, I think it's probably best for the show rather than to compromising the quality of the stories just to keep it going. I will miss the handsome Don Draper even though he infuriates me so! It's bittersweet but I'll be glued to the TV tonight at ten o'clock.

As for today, I'll be reading early on, then later going to my friend's house to play cards and wish her step- father a Happy 91st Birthday! He's recently moved in with them and I've grown quite fond of him over the years and, I swear, he's going to outlive us all! Hope you all enjoy your Sunday and thanks for stopping by!

May 11, 2015

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (Unabridged Audio Version)

Since its release a few years ago, I've heard so many great things about this book but when a few people compared the main character, Don Tillman, to Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory my interest soared and since I'm a big fan of that show, I knew I couldn't put off reading it any longer.

THE ROSIE PROJECT is a charming, funny story about a highly intelligent, very regimented, genetics professor with Aspergers who has come up with what he thinks is the best way to find himself a partner for life. The Wife Project basically consist of a detailed questionnaire that will provide him with all the facts about the prospective mate without having to waste time in actually getting to know them. His plan may look good on paper, but then he meets Rosie.  Wires are crossed and Don thinks she is one of the applicants, though he quickly sees that she is totally wrong for The Wife Project.  Rosie is actually in need of his genetics knowledge to help find her biological father.  Despite their opposite personalities, the two become friends and work together to locate Rosie's father. Along the way, Don opens himself up to things he's never considered and lets loose of his regimented schedule and begins to enjoy life's unexpected joys. 

My Thoughts on the Story:

This is such a fun book and I flew through it.  I instantly fell for Don Tillman. His logical thinking about every situation is charming and he's funny without even trying to be. That said, I do, however, think that being in a relationship with him would be trying at times. The ROSIE PROJECT is a breath of fresh air that had me smiling throughout. Along with Don, I loved Rosie. She knew exactly the kind of guy Don was yet that's what she liked about him.  She encouraged him to try new things and she enjoyed his quirkiness and that made her a very likable character.

This is not a complicated story, just a sweet story about a complex man venturing into unknown territory and being open to what may happen. It had an innocence that I loved and made it endearing. 

My Thoughts on the Audio Version:

I'm really glad I chose the audio version of this book and I thought the narrator, Dan O'Grady, did a wonderful job of portraying Don. I do listen to more audios than I ever have these days but I'm very selective as to which ones I choose. This was a great decision and I thoroughly enjoyed it.. For much of the book, I was outside raking leaves, which if you'd ever seen my yard, can be a bit of an overwhelming task, but listening to THE ROSIE PROJECT gave me something else to focus on while I worked and the time flew! I found myself laughing out loud and then looking around to make sure none of my neighbors saw or heard me. It was a fun treat and I recommend it highly.

THE ROSIE PROJECT was a wildly successful literary phenomenon for Simon & Schuster and the word is that a screenplay is being written for a feature film version.  According to IMDb, it is still in the development stage, so no word on any of the specifics. I'll definitely be looking forward to that.  It should be great fun!

THE ROSIE PROJECT (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Graeme Simsion
Narrated by: Dan O'Grady
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: 10/1/2013
Length: 7 hrs 32 mins 

May 5, 2015

At the Corner of King Street by Mary Ellen Taylor

It's been seven years since Addie Shire left Alexandria and her small, messed up family.  At the time she didn't know where she was going but she knew she was leaving behind a life she didn't want any part of anymore. She ended up two hours away near the Shenandoah River Valley working on a vineyard.  She'd started out in the fields but soon realized her skills were more suited to office work. Now, she's running the business end of the vineyard and in a relationship with Scott, the owner.  They have a happy, fulfilling life in the country and Addie loves the stability of it all. But her happiness is threatened when her Aunt Grace shows up ready to blow up her comfortable life if she doesn't come back to Alexandria right away to deal with a family crisis. The name of the crisis is Janet, Addie's bi-polar older sister, who'd run off seven years ago.

Since Addie had kept her past, and her family, a secret from Scott, she couldn't let Grace be the one to fill him in. She agreed to go back, but only for a week, fix the problem, and get back to the vineyard.

Addie never wanted Scott to find out that her family was cursed.  The curse affected the women of the Shire family for years and though Addie, herself, wasn't afflicted, her mother and sister were. Addie was always the one to steady the ship but she was not willing to give up the life she'd found with Scott to save her sister again only to have her take off and leave Addie to handle everything. But family ties are strong so Addie did what was expected of her and went to the rescue. What she thought would be a few weeks of straightening things out turned out to be so much, much more.  Addie had her hands full but she had a plan: Do what needs to be done and get back to Scott before he comes looking for her and finds out about her cursed family.

My Thoughts:

I'll come right out with it: This book was a very pleasant surprise for me. It has all the things I love in a book. It had family secrets, mystery, complicated relationships and a ton of history. Alexandria is a wonderful city for this story to take place. The city is a character of its own and I really enjoyed it. Before each chapter was a brief flashback to the mid-1700's when the Shire ancestors first arrived in America from Scotland. It was where the notion of the Shire family curse began. Because these flashbacks were very short, it didn't take anything away from the main story, it only added to it. I thought it was well done.

I really enjoyed the story very much and in fact, whenever I had to stop reading (to eat, sleep or bathe), I couldn't wait to get back to it.  And I must say, Mary Ellen Taylor's writing is lovely. It has a lyrical quality to it that I loved. The premise was believable and I was totally involved right from the start.  This story will definitely pull at your heartstrings as it did mine. The history aspect was very appealing to me and those were some of my favorite parts. The characters were well developed and likable, for the most part. I really enjoyed quirky family friend, Margaret and her friendship with Addie.

This is the first book in what will be the Alexandria Series and I think it got off to a great start. It is very good contemporary womens fiction.  I'm looking forward to what will come next in book two. A few of the characters, including Margaret, were crossovers from Taylor's UNION STREET BAKERY series.  I have not read the two books in that series, but I would like to.

If you enjoy Southern Fiction and a good story with deep family history with an air of mystery and even some black magic thrown in, you should definitely read AT THE CORNER OF KING STREET. It was exactly the type of book I was looking for and I'm really glad I chose to read it.

**Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review to publish here on my blog.

AT THE CORNER OF KING STREET
Author: Mary Ellen Taylor @METBooks
Publisher: Berkley
Sold By: Penguin Group
Published: May 5, 2015
Length: 362 pp

Apr 23, 2015

Throwback Thursday: My First Year Revisited

In trying to come up with some new ideas for the blog, I thought it might be fun to go back to 2008, my first year of blogging, to see what I was reading back then. Though I started my blog in January of that year, it wasn't until April that I really started focusing primarily on books. It was the best path I've ever taken. So lets take a look back and see what was on my nightstand in April of 2008.

Reading these old reviews now shows me how my writing in these posts has changed over time. I was so green back then! But hey, you have to be able to laugh at yourself sometimes, right?! I posted three book reviews that month and judging by my choices, (these were not review copies), it is clear that I had eclectic taste from the start.  The three reviews were from three different genres. Two were novels, one non-fiction. One of the novels was Southern Chick-Lit, the other was darker fiction, which I still love reading. Give me dark and haunting any day and I'm happy!

I'm not at all surprised that one of my first reviews was from Mary Kay Andrews, a writer I adore! DEEP DISH, a new book of hers at the time, had just come out and I gobbled it up immediately.  Her breezy prose and wit along with the quirky, southern charm of her characters was what drew me to her from her first book, SAVANNAH BLUES.  It was fun going back and reading that review again.



THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold was a difficult one to get through, but that's not to say I didn't love the book. The subject matter was disturbing but I do enjoy going to that darker side as well.  A few years after reading this book, I did watch the movie and I must say, I thought it was fantastic. Very true to the book and the cast was awesome! Rarely do I ever enjoy the movie as well as the book, but this was the exception for me.



The non-fiction book I reviewed that month contained a subject matter that, at that time, had not made it into main-stream, but now dominates our news media outlets daily. The book is INFIDEL by Ayaan Kirsi Ali. After seeing her in an interview on CNN, I was completely impressed by what she had been through, both as a Muslim child growing up in Somalia and as an adult living in refugee camps and later as a member of Dutch Parliament, living with the threat of being murdered because of her outspoken views against the Muslim religion. It was a fascinating read and one I will never forget.



Do you ever go back to see where you were in years past and what types of books had your attention back then? Once each month I'll be revisiting posts from my first year of blogging and sharing them with you. I hope you'll enjoy my trip down memory lane as much as I think I will. Thanks for stopping by!