Thursday, June 2, 2011

Book Review: Summer in the South by Cathy Holton

"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’ legacy. 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 whose secrets mirror her own."

 As I read Summer in the South, I felt as though I was reading two different stories that were barely connected.  One -- the Woodburns' past --was intriguing and had me racing through the book to find out their secrets --  and the other -- Ava's past and present - was tiresome and made me want to put the book down. Quite honestly, I did not connect with Ava at all and felt as though she got in the way of the real story, which involved the skeletons in the Woodburns' closets.  Yes, I admit that part of my disinterest in Ava was that she is a Yankee who doesn't understand the ways of the "Old South," but that's not entirely it.  Ava's story is one that has been done too many times (girl dragged around a migrant mother; girl turns into woman with issues) and nothing really tied her story to the story of the Woodburns.  Ava's character is never really fleshed out, and despite a set up of a romance between Will and her, nothing ever happens.  In fact, Will eventually becomes someone in the background, a character who is mentioned as being in the room, but whose interactions are never shown until he's needed to do something for the plot. As for the romance between Ava and Jake, it doesn't create much of a spark either.

Other characters in the present are bought in for a plot point and then dropped without any explanation.  Only the Woodburns who are seen in both the flashbacks and in the present, seem to have a purpose in the world in which the novel is set that is not just to move the plot along. Other characters pop up for a plot point and then are forgotten until they pop up again for another plot point.  Too many loose ends are left this way.

I know, it sounds like I don't like the book. That's true just for all the parts involving Ava.  I thoroughly enjoyed the story involving the Woodburns' history. Even though their story may be a familiar one, it is still interesting and different enough to keep the reader from guessing the twist ending.   Had the author focused on the Wooodburns and left Ava alone, I'd probably be singing its praises. As it is...meh.

If you’re interested in reading other reviews of Summer in the South, you can find them here at Goodreads.  Or, if you’re interesting in purchasing the book or reading reviews of Amazon customers, you can buy the hardcover here and the ebook here.

Pssst....I received an ARC (advanced readers copy) of Summer in the South in a giveaway at Goodreads. This opinions expressed in this post are 100% mine. 

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