Right about now, in the frigid frost of  a typical Midwestern mid-winter, a nice hot beach read can come to the rescue.   Fortunately, Dorothea Benton Frank’s Lowcountry Summer fills the bill.  Previous fans will find familiar ground in this sequel to her bestselling novel, Plantation. Though Frank resides in New York, she was born and raised on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, and her knowledge of the area and it’s cultural customs certainly seem to authenticate the already colorful characters.

For some reason, I don’t know why, maybe it was all the references to the mouth-watering food they were eating , but the narrator kept reminding me of Paula Deen.  But then she’d reinvent herself when describing her laugh-out-loud love-life, and yet again when trying to deal with a drunken sister-in-law or comfort her grief-stricken brother.  So there’s more than just sass and sex  — there’s all the dynamics of complicated family relationships with some unexpected and poignant outcomes thrown in along the way.

I think the thing I enjoyed most was how she used dialog for the narrator, Caroline.  For example, Caroline might respond verbally one way (to her 19 year old son in college who’s shacking up with an older single mom) but she also lets the reader know her real thoughts, as shown here:

“But it’s nothing really.  I just go over to her place for dinner, that’s all”

Oh. My. God.  He was having sex.  My son was having sex!

“Oh, Is she a good cook?”  She had better not be a good cook.

See what I mean?  So, come to the library,  pick up a copy and than pretend you’re on vacation on a beach near Charleston.

In my quest to find all fiction books set in Savannah, Georgia and low country South Carolina, I have found Mary Kay Andrews. She is a wonderful author and these three books about Savannah are the funniest I have read. The characters are Eloise “Weezie” Foley and BeBe Loudermilk, best friends to the end.

Savannah Blues

Landing a catch like Talmadge Evans III got Eloise “Weezie” Foley a jewel of a town house in Savannah’s historic district. Divorcing Tat got her exited to the backyard carriage house, where she has launched a spite-fest with Tal’s new fiancé, the elegant Caroline DeSantos. BeBe owns a restaurant in town, and Weezie makes pies for her. An antiques picker, Weezie combs Savannah’s steamy back alleys and garage sales for treasures when she’s not dealing with her loopy relatives or her hunky ex-boyfriend. But an unauthorized sneak preview at a sale lands Weezie smack in the middle of magnolia-scented murder, mayhem . . . and more. Dirty deals simmer all around her — just as her relationship with the hottest chef in town heats up and she finds out how delicious love can be the second time around. There are not recipes in this book, but it does introduce you to Weezie and BeBe.

Savannah Breeze

In this eagerly awaited sequel to Savannah Blues, Southern belle BeBe Loudermilk loses all her worldly possessions thanks to a brief but disastrous relationship with the gorgeous Reddy, an “investment counselor” who turns out to be a con man. All that’s left is a ramshackle 1950s motor court on Tybee Island-an eccentric beach town that calls itself a drinking village with a fishing problem. Breeze Inn is a place where the very classy BeBe wouldn’t normally be caught dead but, with no alternative, she moves into the manager’s unit, vowing to make magic out of mud. With the help of Harry and BeBe’s junking friend Weezie, she soon has the motel spiffed up and attracting paying guests.Then there’s a sighting of Reddy in Fort Lauderdale, and BeBe decides to go after him. She puts together a posse, and with the irrepressible Granddaddy Loudermilk snoring in the backseat of the Buick, heads south. The plan is to carry out a sting that may be just a little bit outside the law but that, with any luck at all, will retrieve BeBe’s fortune and put the dastardly Reddy in jail where he belongs. The recipes in this book are for Breeze Inn Crabcakes and Blue Breeze Cocktail… Yummy

Blue Christmas

It’s the week before Christmas, and antiques dealer Weezie Foley is in a frenzy to garnish her shop for the Savannah historical district decorating contest, which she intends to win. Weezie is ready to shoot herself with her glue gun by the time she’s done, but the results are stunning. She’s certainly one-upped the owners of the trendy shop around the corner, but suddenly things start to go missing from her display, and there seems to be a mysterious midnight visitor to her shop. Still, Weezie has high hopes for the holiday—maybe in the form of an engagement ring from her chef boyfriend. But Daniel, always moody at the holidays, seems more distant than usual. Throw in Weezie’s decidedly odd family, a 1950s Christmas-tree pin, and even a little help from the King himself (Elvis, that is), and maybe there will be a pocketful of miracles for Weezie this Christmas Eve. The recipes in this book are for Foley Family Irish Corned Beef Dip and Red Roosters, a Christmas-y cocktail.

south of broadI couldn’t wait to read South of Broad — Pat Conroy hasn’t written a novel in 14 years  — though he did write a memoir (My Losing Season) and a cookbook.   I was also curious about the Charleston, South Carolina connection.  In Charleston, south of Broad Street (S.O.B.) is teasingly differentiated from slightly north of Broad (SNOB) in reference to the upscale residents there.  None of the reviewers seemed to catch this obvious pun.  At any rate, I do have to agree with reviewer Chris Bohjalian, who stated, “Even though I felt stage-managed by Conroy’s heavy hand, I still turned the pages with relish.”  That’s how I felt, too.  The book definitely kept my interest but there were details that irritated me.  I questioned the likelihood of all those high school sweethearts actually marrying.  I was kept worrying about his brother’s suicide until the very end.  I found some of the dialogue forced.

Still — I’d rather have you form your own opinion, so here’s a short synopsis of the plot.  The book begins in the summer of 1969, just as the main character (Leopold Bloom King — yes, named after the character in Joyce’s Ulysses) is about to enter his senior year in high school.  After a miserable childhood, marked primarily by the unexpected suicide of his golden-boy brother, Leo becomes friends with an unlikely group which includes orphans, blacks, members of the socially elite and charismatic twins, Trevor and Sheba Poe.  Fast forward twenty years — Sheba is now a famous movie star and Trevor is wasting away with AIDS.  Sheba recruits this same group — still best friends — to find Trevor in San Francisco and bring him back home to Charleston.

In my opinion, this is not Conroy’s best work, but it’s one that many will still enjoy reading.