Summer in the South

Copyright 2011 by Cathy Holton, Summer in the South was published by Ballantine Books. The inside front book jacket blurb promises “…an intriguing and mysterious tale of dark deeds and family secrets in a small southern town.”

After confiding to Will, an old college friend about personal upsets, such as her mother’s recent death, Ava accepts his offer to spend the summer with his great-aunts. Ava quits her job in Chicago and heads for Woodburn, Tennessee with intentions to write the next great American novel.

A dark deed and family secret is hinted at in this novel’s prologue which lead me to believe the story would be about uncovering what really happened in 1931. I give Holton credit for trying to create a story filled with the type of suspense that keeps lovers of mystery novels reading. By page 93, I returned to the jacket cover to learn why I had checked the book out of the library. I trudged on another thirty some pages, still wondering “Where is this story going? What is it about?”. It was a struggle to finish reading the novel, at which time I decided if I could use one word to describe the book it would be: clumsy.

Mind you, I admire people who have the imagination to create a story, discipline to write a book and drive to find a publisher ~ it is not something I could do ~ yet it seemed this effort was amateurish. Author seemed to repeat herself as if she thought readers would forget she already provided information. An example would be telling readers Ava and Will were traveling “on the very streets Ava had driven just a day before”, then later on the same page reminding us that they were “following the same route Ava had taken earlier”.

When a character, Jake tells Ava he majored in Art History in college, we read:

“I knew it. She wondered what he would be like as a lover.

I am guessing the missing end quotation mark was a typo, yet it confused me not making much sense as it was written. Was the she who “knew it” the same “I” who equated college major with sexual performance, one and the same person?

On the plus side, Ava has a quick wit adding humor to the tale. Her mother and Frazer are interesting, delightful characters. Without the prologue I would think italicized chapters sprinkled throughout the book were excerpts from Ava’s novel. The book ends up where it started, in 1931 and could be considered a surprise ending. Despite being a hard novel to read, the characters were lovable, the plot interesting and I would give Summer in the South a three star rating.

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