The Secret to Southern Charm by Kristy Woodson Harvey

The Secret to Southern Charm by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Pub. Date: April 3, 2018
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Gallery Books!)
Summary: After finding out her military husband is missing in action, middle sister Sloane’s world crumbles as her worst nightmare comes true. She can barely climb out of bed, much less summon the strength to be the parent her children deserve.

Her mother, Ansley, provides a much-needed respite as she puts her personal life on hold to help Sloane and her grandchildren wade through their new grief-stricken lives. But between caring for her own aging mother, her daughters, and her grandchildren, Ansley’s private worry is that secrets from her past will come to light.

But when Sloane’s sisters, Caroline and Emerson, remind Sloane that no matter what, she promised her husband she would carry on for their young sons, Sloane finds the support and courage she needs to chase her biggest dreams—and face her deepest fears. Taking a cue from her middle daughter, Ansley takes her own leap of faith and realizes that, after all this time, she might finally be able to have it all.
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction

It’s supposed to be Spring here in Pittsburgh, but we had snow yesterday, so who knows. That said, I’ve been in a summery, fluffy mood lately when it comes to my reading, and when I was approached about reviewing The Secret to Southern Charm, it sounded right up my alley and I couldn’t wait to dive right in!

Sloane recently received the devastating news that her husband has gone missing in the Middle East. Back at her childhood home where she’s surrounded by her sisters, her mother, and grandmother, Sloane falls into a deep depression, staying in bed for nearly a month, unable to do so much as shower (let alone care for her two sons), and during those rare hours she is awake, she watches and rewatches home movies just to see her husband again.

Her family rallies around her, stepping in to care for her boys while they deal with battles of their own. As Sloane slowly finds the strength to return to the land of the living, Sloane’s mother Ansley wonders if she can summon up her own courage to finally go after what she wants – and has been fighting off for years.

The Secret to Southern Charm is the second installment in Harvey’s Peachtree Bluff series (the first being Slightly South of Simple), and although the summary of the first seems to set up this one perfectly, I never felt like I was missing out on anything by not having read it. Southern Charm is set immediately (?) after the first book ends – I believe it’s at the end of the first book that Sloane learns her husband is MIA – and the story jumps right into gear from the first page.

As the story alternates between Sloane’s and Ansley’s voices, I realized that all the woman in this novel sound exactly the same. From Sloane in her early 30s to 83-year-old Grammy, I honestly couldn’t tell the women apart. The only one who had her own unique voice was 26-year-old youngest sister Emerson, and that was mostly because she was kind of snotty and bratty, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

Despite that minor annoyance, I found myself really enjoying this novel. It seems a bit long for a summery, beach read, clocking in around 400 pages, but I found myself desperate to walk the streets of this little town, take in all the cute shops (including Ansley’s – she’s a decorator), sail on the boats. While the length might not be poolside-friendly, the setting certainly was and I was thoroughly roped in!

Another thing I noticed – and here’s where it gets spoilery – every single woman was dealing with a huge tragedy or some sort of problem. Sloane’s, obviously, is the news of her husband. Older sister Caroline was recently cheated on while she was pregnant and her husband spends this book attempting to redeem himself. Younger sister Emerson is having some sort of health issue and it’s clear the next book will focus on her: the final pages end with Ansley mistakenly coming across an email from Emerson’s doctor asking to schedule an appointment where they can discuss her results. Grammy out of the blue announces she had brain cancer and later passes away. Ansley’s husband was killed on 9/11 and she learned that, instead of receiving a nice windfall from him, she inherited major debt. She’s also coming to terms with her feelings for her high school sweetheart, the man who fathered Caroline and Sloane (the girls grew up thinking their biological father was some unknown donor). Yeah. It’s a lot to pack into a single book.

The Secret to Southern Charm might be a quick read, but it’s still a long read..perhaps a teensy bit TOO long for a beach read? There’s seriously a lot going on within its pages with drama and tragedy in spades. Despite the overwhelming sadness of events, I never felt that this was a sad read, instead it was surprisingly joyful and uplifting! I will admit that I don’t feel any need to go back and read the first book, as what took place in the first was not only still going on in this one, but there was a nice amount of recapping. The one thing here that bothered me the most was that each woman – and there’s a 50+ year age gap between two of them) had the same voice, had there not been any signifiers I honestly would not have known who was speaking. That said, I was absolutely charmed by the setting.


weekly wrap-up 4/16

• Another Monday wrap-up #sorrynotsorry We spent the entire day yesterday at the Children’s Museum (fun fact: it was voted the 5th best children’s museum in the nation!). It was my first time and I nearly got in as a child haha! Sometimes it pays to be tiny. It was such a cool place (I shared some of the displays in my stories on instagram). If you’re in Pittsburgh or are planning a trip, I HIGHLY recommend checking it out (the exhibits page – so fun!) By far, my favorite displays were the Mr. Rogers Land of Make Believe puppets. We walked up a flight of stairs and my mom and I looked at each other and started pointing, there they were. King Friday, Daniel Tiger, Henrietta Pussycat, they were all there!! Even creepy Lady Elaine (I did not take a picture of her). One thing that completely took me by surprise was when I turned a corner and right there in front of me was an actual Mr. Rogers sweater!

• These 18th century dog beds are just the right amount of fancy for my pups ha

• In last week’s wrap-up I shared a photo of something neat my library does: on your receipt it lists how much money you saved by borrowing from the library. Lately I feel like ALL I’ve been reading have been library books. In fact, out of the last 10 books I’ve read, 7 have been library grabs and my current read is one too. whoops.

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? The Beloveds by Maureen Lindley was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, with its Gothic vibe, English estate, and comparisons to Daphne du Maurier. …unfortunately, this one was a MAJOR letdown. The main character is in her 40s and spends the entire book whining about how her younger sister was their mother’s favorite. I couldn’t have been more excited to read about her plan to take back the house she felt should have been her birthright, but what I got much a boring look into the mind of a psychopath who will stop at nothing (drowning kittens, running over the neighbors with her car, poisoning her brother-in-law) to make her sister’s life miserable.

I also shared a new edition of recently added which features four upcoming titles I can’t wait to read!

Thief of Corinth by Tessa Afshar
First century Corinth? Tell me more! A woman flees her oppressive grandfather and discovers a devastating secret about her father that led to the fall of his marriage with her mother: her father is an infamous thief. Determined to keep him safe, Ariadne risks everything to become his apprentice. I have never heard of this book or this author, but I’m intrigued. Thank you, Tyndale!


recently added.

On average, people speak around 16,000 words a day. In Vox, women have been almost totally silenced: now only permitted a vocabulary of a mere 100 words. With the language goes their ability to hold jobs, soon girls are no longer taught to read and write. Dr. Jean McClellan refuses to accept this new America and makes the ultimate decision for herself, her daughter, for every woman silenced: she will reclaim her voice.

UM YES DOES THIS SOUND AMAZING OR WHAT! Completely horrifying, but so good. (Also, I’m going to say I speak way less than 16,000 words a day!)

Five months into dating her man bunned, actor-bro boyfriend, the last thing Nikole expects is a big screen proposal at a baseball game (he can’t even spell her name right!) With her refusal comes a massive blow-up, not just from the disappointed fans in the stadium, but Nik’s social media once the video goes viral. Carlos was at that game, even helped Nik flee from the camera crews, but Nik knows this handsome LA doctor can’t possibly be looking for anything serious.

This is the follow-up to the wildly popular The Wedding Date and, not only sounds excellent, but also comes out a few days before my birthday!

Okay so Cora might be utterly lacking in the social-life department, but her dog walking business is thriving and as far as Cora is concerned, the only man she needs is her rescue Pit. Everything changes with a new client, drop dead gorgeous Charlie. Unfortunately, Charlie’s taken. Thankfully Cora has sweet, adorable, geeky Eli, always there to listen to Cora’s problems. As things take an interesting turn with Charlie, however, Cora’s floored to discover there just might be something there with Eli as well.

Oh, puppies. If you put a dog in a book there’s a 100% chance I will read it and love it. This one goes a step further by featuring a rescue Pittie (just like my sweet girl ♥)! I am so there for the love triangle and the auditions for the dog-training television show (I’m positive – pawsitive?? – high jinks will ensue).

When Lady Katherine’s father is arrested for illegally practicing Catholicism, it’s a bad enough blow, but then she learns he also happened to be mixed up in a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I. With nothing to lose, Katherine does what any doting daughter would do: she disguises herself as a boy and heads to London to kill the queen herself. Katherine sees her chance with Shakespeare’s newest play…what she doesn’t know is that the play is also a ploy to expose rebels and insurrectionists. The mastermind behind it all is one of Elizabeth’s spies – and he and Katherine find themselves playing the lead opposite the other.

Oh this sounds delightful! ..Or as delightful as assassination can be. I’m not the biggest Shakespeare fan, but you know I can’t pass up a good historical and this YA sounds fun.


The Beloveds by Maureen Lindley

The Beloveds by Maureen Lindley
Pub. Date: April 3, 2018
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Gallery Books!)
Summary: Oh, to be a Beloved—one of those lucky people for whom nothing ever goes wrong. Everything falls into their laps without effort: happiness, beauty, good fortune, allure.

Betty Stash is not a Beloved—but her little sister, the delightful Gloria, is. She’s the one with the golden curls and sunny disposition and captivating smile, the one whose best friend used to be Betty’s, the one whose husband should have been Betty’s. And then, to everyone’s surprise, Gloria inherits the family manse—a vast, gorgeous pile of ancient stone, imposing timbers, and lush gardens—that was never meant to be hers.

Losing what Betty considers her rightful inheritance is the final indignity. As she single-mindedly pursues her plan to see the estate returned to her in all its glory, her determined and increasingly unhinged behavior—aided by poisonous mushrooms, talking walls, and a phantom dog—escalates to the point of no return.
Genre: Gothic, Fiction

In life, there are those who seem to have it all: good looks, charm, effortless style. The Fates smiled down on them from day one, any grade school test was easily aced, promotions are practically hand-delivered. To be a Beloved is to shine, to possess an uncanny ability to waltz through life unscathed. Elizabeth’s little sister, Gloria, epitomizes what it is to be a Beloved, from her golden ringlets as a child, to the way Elizabeth’s own boyfriend fell madly in love with Gloria at first sight. The one thing Elizabeth had going for her was her status as eldest child. She knew from the start that, when it came time for their ancestral home to fall to the next in line, Pipits would be hers and hers alone.

Unfortunately for Elizabeth, their mother had other ideas in mind and instead left the estate to Gloria and her doting husband Henry – it was as though their mother knew their family was growing. It wasn’t enough for Gloria to steal Elizabeth’s best friend Alice, Elizabeth’s sweetheart Henry. Now Gloria has Pipits (a house that she could never fully appreciate, unlike Elizabeth) and a baby on the way (a child who will be sure to be a Beloved too). Enraged, Elizabeth makes a silent vow then and there to avenge House, to take what’s rightfully hers – no matter what.

When I first heard of The Beloveds, I was ecstatic. It sounded like a book written just for me, from its Gothic vibe to a house at center stage. The moment my request was approved, I dove in, setting aside everything else to give this novel my undivided attention. …Sadly I don’t have many good things to say about this one.

I’m all for unlikable characters, even unlikable narrators, but Elizabeth was so thoroughly disturbed and jealous without a single redeemable quality. In the opening pages it’s mentioned how Elizabeth threw a kitten into a river, drowned the poor thing, all because it was Gloria’s pet. It’s all downhill from there. She’s married to a much older man in London where they run an art gallery together – yet she doesn’t love him, doesn’t even care about him. She decides to poison Henry with wild mushrooms. She spirals into alcoholism, loses her license to a drunk driving incident, takes up shoplifting, tries to get her neighbors evicted (and ultimately murders them). She even goes so far as to decide to kill herself and burn Pipits to the ground: if Elizabeth can’t have the house, no one can. (Although the house is destroyed, Henry’s pottery workshop was spared by mere inches; once as Beloved, always a Beloved.)

This woman in her 40s instead comes across as a child, forever jealous because her younger sister was the favorite and spends the rest of her life trying to make Gloria’s miserable. Because dialogue is few and far between, Elizabeth’s decent into madness is truly felt and experienced by the reader. She takes to seeing ceiling cracks that turn out to not exist, there’s a phantom dog who shows up at her house and starts following Elizabeth on her walks, she’s convinced Pipits speaks to her.

The Beloveds quickly went from an intriguing premise that held such potential to a novel that became a chore to read. By the end it felt as though the book itself was bored: suddenly there are timeskips, a month here, a few years there. All the while Elizabeth pouts over losing Pipits (even though she received jewelry, her mother’s surprising sizable fortune, more money plus an apartment in her divorce, and another home when Alice passes away).

The one thing The Beloveds had going for it was its atmosphere. There was a deliciously vintage, old-timey feel to the storytelling and I was convinced the book was set in the early/mid part of the 1900s. Imagine my surprise when packages from Amazon show up on Elizabeth’s doorstep!

The Beloveds was a novel I had such high hopes for and, disappointingly, my expectations were never met. As much as I love character explorations, Elizabeth’s nasty, whiny attitude completely turned me off from any enjoyment. This is an adult in her 40s who still harbors a grudge against her younger sister for being the favorite when they were children. She thinks nothing of lying, stealing, even murdering in her attempt to get back at Gloria. I wanted so much from this one and I’m left with the idea of what could have been.


weekly wrap-up 4/8

• I don’t know if all libraries do this, but mine includes how much you saved by borrowing books! That $66 was only one hardback and two graphic novels, eek.

• The snow is back. I’m over it. Earlier this week I shared a summer throwback that has me longing for warm weather.

• 2018 is shaping up to be the year of disappointing reads! Just like the terrible White Houses, another book on my Must Read list turned out to be a dud. I’ll be going into greater detail in my review, but The Beloveds was NOT the Gothic, sinister tale I was looking forward to. Instead, it’s a 40-year-old woman’s descent into madness as she whines for 300+ pages about how she wasn’t the favorite child. Yawn.

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? Olivia Kiernan’s debut Too Close to Breathe was an extremely dark read but the mystery was intriguing and kept me reading to the end. My main issue was that this one felt like a sequel, rather than the beginning of the series with a massive amount of time spent discussing events that happened before the start of this book. I couldn’t help but feel a bit lost, like I came halfway into the story and was struggling to catch up.

I also shared my March 2018 recap, a month of local events, puppy birthdays, and impromptu getaways! It was pretty great book-wise too!

My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Do I really need to say anything about this one other than AHHHHH ♥!!! It’s also shockingly thick: nearly 700 pages! If the snowstorms keep up I have a feeling I’ll be settling in with this one in no time. Thank you, william Morrow!


March 2018 recap


• My mom and I went to our first soup crawl! It’s a yearly event and one I’ll definitely be back for next year! 15 soups from 15 shops. Our favorite was by far the seafood pot pie!

• My mom’s birthday took an interesting turn: a water main broke and our entire town lost water. This was a weekend-long headache for everyone!

• Matt spent a week in Colorado with his dad – anytime he’s out of town, that’s when I’m able to make all the meals that I love and he hates haha! I made a delicious sheet pan honey mustard chicken and had leftovers for days. Yum.

Nacho turned 1!!!

• I’ve been buying cute spring dresses, yet Pittsburgh seems to be firmly stuck in winter mode :( :(

• Last weekend I took an impromptu trip down to D.C. with my mom and sister! Because we were basically tagging along with my sister – and because we really only had one full day – we didn’t put too much thought into sight-seeing, though we did stop by the International Spy Museum – SO cool!

• I read 11 books in March, a number which honestly surprised me. I would have guessed it was way lower! Also surprising, only one was on audio: Tom Sancton’s wildly intriguing nonfic The Bettencourt Affair: The World’s Richest Woman and the Scandal That Rocked Paris. Um yes. I completely gobbled this one up. My other favorites of the month included Rhys Bowen’s The Tuscan Child, Simone St. James’s The Broken Girls, Maya Rodale’s Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained, and Aime Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Obsidio, though that’s a given, right?


MARCH’S GRAPHIC NOVEL ROUND-UP included the good…and the blah. Cullen Bunn’s The Damned is a Probition-era gangster read full of that classic noir feel, only with demons. Apart from the addition of the demons, this one was just your average crime story and left me bored and unsatisfied. Tara O’Connor’s The Altered History of Willow Sparks is one I’d love to explore as a full-length novel! Willow isn’t popular, she doesn’t wear name-brand clothes or have great skin, but then she discovers a strange book in the backroom of the library where she works after school. Ivy Noelle Weir’s Archival Quality screamed my name: a woman finds a position as an archivist in a museum, oh and maybe there’s a ghost too. VERY fun, very quick, and the added bonus of a focus on mental health! Lastly, Sarah Graley’s Kim Reaper. Possibly my favorite of the four I reviewed in this post. Becka has a massive crush on majorly goth Kim. Just as she gathers up the courage to finally talk to her (and maybe ask her out), she’s accidentally sucked through a portal. Turns out Kim is working part-time as a Grim Reaper! SO fun and I can’t wait for more!

4 MINI REVIEWS FOR THE WEEKEND featured another four minis that run the gamut from great…to DNF. You all know I’m a teensy bit obsessed with the Romanovs, so it was a no-brainer to grab an ARC of Ariel Lawhon’s I Was Anastasia. Inspired by Anna Anderson, this story is told in two voices: Anastasia’s, told chronologically and detailing the Revolution, and Anna Anderson’s, beginning in the 1960s and working backwards to 1920). Though there were a few clues sprinkled throughout, I was kept guessing the whole time as to whether Anna was Anastasia or not! Final Girls by Riley Sager was a FANTASTIC thriller and absolutely perfect for the snowy weekend when I read it. Three massacres, three survivors. Dubbed the final girls by the media, these woman are moving on the best way they can. Until one is found dead, seemingly from suicide. Something doesn’t quite add up though – could Lisa have been murdered? One of my most anticipated releases of the year turned out to be a HUGE disappointment: Amy Bloom’s White Houses, a novel detailing the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. It was terrible and I DNF’d. Yawn. Finally, there’s the Middle Grade novel, Kasey & Ivy by Alison Hughes. Told through a series of letters to her best friend, Kasey discusses how a small bump on her leg left her in the hospital all summer. Worse, she’s in the geriatric ward. Sweet, cute, I even shed a tear or two!

A DIFFERENT KIND OF EVIL BY ANDREW WILSON initially drew me in with its amazing premise: Agatha Christie solves crimes. Yep! Unfortunately, I quickly discovered this is the kind of series where you need to be familiar with the previous books. Though this is only the second book, the events take place almost immediately after the first and were called back to constantly. To the point where I didn’t become invested in this one until the latter half of the novel, and by then it was too late. Although I didn’t love this one as much as I had hoped, I would love to revisit it someday – after I read the first book.

LET ME LIE BY CLARE MACKINTOSH was yet another okay read, though by the end I was rolling my eyes. I enjoyed a previous novel of hers, but now I’m wondering if Clare just isn’t the author for me? After her parents both commit suicide mere months apart, Anna is left reeling from their loss – and pregnant, thanks to her grief counselor. As the anniversary approaches, a strange postcard convinces Anna her parents didn’t kill themselves, that they were murdered. I think someone who doesn’t usually read thrillers will find this one much more exciting than I did, although I loved Murray’s character and would love to read a book all about him and his wife.

THE BROKEN GIRLS BY SIMONE ST. JAMES was one of my favorite reads of the month. Told in two stories (2014 and 1950), this novel tells the tale of a boarding school, a murder, and a discovery that links it all together. This has serious friendship goals – I absolutely LOVED the four girls – and a legend passed down through the years about a young woman who still haunts the halls. Deliciously creepy and kept my eyes glued to the page!

MORE MARCH MINIS seemed to be a running thing in March. Rhys Bowen has quickly secured a place as an author I’ve come to adore. Her latest standalone, The Tuscan Child, follows a woman in the early 1970s as she clears out her father’s belongings – and discovers secrets he was keeping about his time in the war. In the 1940s, Sir Hugo’s plane was shot down and he was stranded in the mountains in Italy. This is one where I don’t want to give away too much, but know I loved this one and look forward to reading MUCH more of Rhys’s work! A Possibility of Whales by Karen Rivers lured me in with its cute cover..but this Middle Grade read was a total dud. Alice Feeney’s Sometimes I Lie is a massively buzzed-about book of the year and one that certainly kept me reading, though I easily guessed at the ending.





Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan

Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan
Pub. Date: April 3, 2018
Source: Finished hardcover via publisher (Thank you, Dutton!)
Summary: In a quiet Dublin suburb, within her pristine home, Eleanor Costello is found hanging from a rope. Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan would be more than happy to declare it a suicide. Four months ago, Frankie’s pursuit of a killer almost ended her life and she isn’t keen on investigating another homicide. But the autopsy reveals poorly healed bones and old stab wounds, absent from medical records. A new cut is carefully, deliberately covered in paint. Eleanor’s husband, Peter, is unreachable, missing. A search of the couple’s home reveals only two signs of personality: a much-loved book on art and a laptop with access to the Dark Web.

With the suspect pool growing, the carefully crafted profile of the victim crumbling with each new lead, and mysterious calls to Frankie’s phone implying that the killer is closer than anyone would like, all Frankie knows is that Eleanor guarded her secrets as closely in life as she does in death.

As the investigation grows more challenging, Frankie can’t help but feel that something doesn’t fit. And when another woman is found murdered, the same paint on her corpse, Frankie knows that unraveling Eleanor’s life is the only way to find the murderer before he claims another victim . . . or finishes the fate Frankie only just managed to escape.
Genre: Mystery/Thriller

When Dr. Eleanor Costello is found dead in her home, it seems like a textbook suicide case. That is, until the autopsy report begins to show cracks in the ruling: old stab wounds and broken bones that were never properly tended to. Traces of a poison – and the antidote in her system. With Eleanor’s husband missing and a laptop with access to the Dark Web, what was once an open-and-shut suicide case quickly turns into a murder investigation. The further Frankie Sheehan looks into Eleanor’s past (and as the body count grows), the more she realizes the woman was most definitely not the elegant, put-together, orderly woman she presented to the world.

Too Close to Breathe is the first in Kiernan’s Frankie Sheehan series. When I was first approached about it, I’ll admit I was a bit hesitant – as much as I love mysteries, what could yet another police procedural add to the genre that wasn’t already there? Turns out, a lot of language, ha! Now, I wasn’t expecting this book to be a squeaky-clean read (I’m sure many people would have a choice word or two to say at finding a body burning in a bonfire, for instance!), but another review actually counted all the f-bombs in this book: over 120 and the book is less than 300 pages!

As for the mystery itself, I was intrigued to the point where this was essentially a one-sitting read. I wanted to know about Eleanor (was she the victim or was it her husband who was really the one being abused) and I loved watching the police try to connect the dots as the second, the third, the fourth body was discovered. (I have to admit, by the time a fifth character was announced missing, my patience was beginning to wear thin.)

One thing to note: Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan has a past. In her previous case she was brutally stabbed by a man seconds after he killed a woman. At times Too Close to Breathe feels more like a sequel than a debut, simply because of how much time is spent on that other case. For a good portion of the novel I was thoroughly confused and couldn’t help feel as though I was missing something, simply because of how often Frankie, other characters, the narrative called back to that night. It’s not until toward the end of the book that it’s finally explained what went on in that house (and that’s not until after the police begin to suspect that murder has a connection to their current ones).

A great cast of characters brought much-needed humor and lightheartedness to what is an extremely dark story. While romance doesn’t feature in Too Close to Breathe, it’s certainly hinted at and I know that potential will be a huge draw for the next novel. Though I had some issues with this one (at times I felt as though I was reading the second book in the series rather than the first), Too Close to Breathe is a solid mystery and one where I actually didn’t guess at the ending. I’m curious to see where Kiernan goes with the sequel – and hope to see Dublin play a larger role!