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Friday, August 19, 2011

Summer in the South by Cathy Holton (Book Review)

Title: Summer in the South
Author: Cathy Holton
Publisher: Ballantine


About the book: After a personal tragedy, Chicago writer Ava Dabrowski quits her job to spend the summer in Woodburn, Tennessee, at the invitation of her old college friend Will Fraser and his two great-aunts, Josephine and Fanny Woodburn.  Her charming hosts offer Ava a chance to relax at their idyllic ancestral estate, Woodburn Hall, while working on her first novel.


But Woodburn is anything but quiet: Ancient feuds lurk just beneath its placid surface, and modern-day rivalries emerge as Ava finds herself caught between the competing attentions of Will and his black-sheep cousin Jake.  Fascinated by the family's impressive history -- their imposing house filled with treasures, and their mingling with literary lions Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner -- Ava stumbles onto rumors about the darker side of the Woodburns' lore.  Putting aside her planned novel, she turns her creative attentions to the eccentric and tragic clan, a family with more skeletons (and ghosts) in their closets than anyone could possibly imagine.  As Ava struggles to write the true story of the Woodburns, she finds herself tangled in the tragic history of a mysterious Southern family show secrets mirror her own.

My thoughts: Ava and Will have been friends for many years.  He has been inviting her to visit his home since they got out of college. One day he catches her during a crisis and she accepts his invitation to come South and stay with his aunts to work on her novel. She arrives in Woodburn and it is like entering another world.  People are friendly and unhurried.  Everybody knows everybody's history, and you have to read between the lines of what they say to get to what they really mean.

Ava is definitely different.  She doesn't dress like the women in the South.  She is very direct with what she says.  But the biggest difference is that she really doesn't know anything about her family outside of her mother.  They traveled a lot when Ava was a child and never really settled down.  Her mother told her that her father died when she was ten.  I think this is the reason that she becomes so enthralled with the Woodburn family.  Their history goes back for generations and the aunts, Josephine and Fanny have kept a lot of it right in the house where she is staying.  There are journals and photographs, and they just ignite the writer in her. 

Somewhere along the way she meets Jake.  He is from the "bad" side of the Woodburn family.  He looks a lot like Will, but with dark hair and dark eyes.  Where she has never really felt an attraction to Will, she feels an attraction to Jake.  Jake is also more willing to talk about some of the tragedies in the family's past than Will and his aunts.

All of the talk about the family and the mysteries gave this book a very Gothic feel to me.  I kept expecting some dark magic to surface to make Ava become posessed with one of the spirits/souls of the older generation.  I know, nothing like this happens!  There are just times when the spirits seem to come alive in the story. 

You learn about what really happened in the past through flashbacks.  Meanwhile, as Ava is trying to discover what really happened in the past, she finds herself in between Will and Jake and the bad history that they share - which neither is very forthcoming about.

I enjoyed this book except for one thing.  Ava had sleep paralysis throughout - something she had had as a child.  I am not quite sure what to make of those scenes or what we were supposed to take away from them.   I do see the possibility for completely new books based on some of the characters from this one though.

~I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for my review.~

About the author: Cathy Holton, the author of Beach Trip, Revenge of the Kudzu Debutantes, and the Secret Lives of the Kudzu Debutantes, was born in Lakeland, Florida, and grew up in college towns in the South and the Midwest.  She attended Oklahoma State University and Michigan State University where she studied creative writing.  She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband and their three children.

You can find her at her blog The Surly Wench Journal or her Facebook page for Summer in the South.

Summer in the South: A Novel by Cathy Holton
Publisher/Publication Date: Ballantine Books, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-345-50601-6
340 pages

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