Slightly South of Simple: A Novelby Kristy Woodson Harvey
From the next “major voice in Southern fiction” (New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand) comes the first in an all-new series chronicling the journeys of three sisters and their mother—and a secret from their past that has the potential to tear them apart and reshape their very definition of what it means to be a/i>
From the next “major voice in Southern fiction” (New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand) comes the first in an all-new series chronicling the journeys of three sisters and their mother—and a secret from their past that has the potential to tear them apart and reshape their very definition of what it means to be a family.
Caroline Murphy swore she’d never set foot back in the small Southern town of Peachtree Bluff; she was a New York girl born and bred and the worst day of her life was when, in the wake of her father’s death, her mother selfishly forced her to move—during her senior year of high school, no less—back to that hick-infested rat trap where she'd spent her childhood summers. But now that her marriage to a New York high society heir has fallen apart in a very public, very embarrassing fashion, a pregnant Caroline decides to escape the gossipmongers with her nine-year-old daughter and head home to her mother, Ansley.
Ansley has always put her three daughters first, especially when she found out that her late husband, despite what he had always promised, left her with next to nothing. Now the proud owner of a charming waterfront design business and finally standing on her own two feet, Ansley welcomes Caroline and her brood back with open arms. But when her second daughter Sloane, whose military husband is overseas, and youngest daughter and successful actress Emerson join the fray, Ansley begins to feel like the piece of herself she had finally found might be slipping from her grasp. Even more discomfiting, when someone from her past reappears in Ansley's life, the secret she’s harbored from her daughters their entire lives might finally be forced into the open.
Exploring the powerful bonds between sisters and mothers and daughters, this engaging novel is filled with Southern charm, emotional drama, and plenty of heart.
Harvey, considered to be the “it girl” of Southern fiction, introduces the first novel in the Peachtree Bluff Series this spring. Child, this book is everything! We’re hoping to see this soapy read on the Hallmark Channel.”
Read an Excerpt
Slightly South of Simple
I love pretty much every quirky thing about my town. The weird people and the weirder traditions, the over-the-top celebrations and beautiful old homes. I love that I can feel like I am completely at the end of the earth but then, two bridges and twenty minutes later, enter an adjacent town large enough to have everything I need. I thrive on the quiet and privacy of the off-season but the summer vacationers who feel free to photograph my home and sometimes even peek in through my windows have never been my favorite thing.
And Caroline has never been my favorite child. I know that’s not nice to say, but it’s nicer than saying she’s my least favorite child, which is really the truth. I love her to pieces. I’d take a bullet for her. I’d sooner die than see something bad happen to her, and I would never, ever want to live without her. But she is . . . tricky.
So I guess that’s why I didn’t answer the first time she called. I was in Sloane Emerson, my interior design shop, which, yes, I did name after my other two, more favored children. It’s a bit of a family joke, actually. When we moved to Peachtree Bluff, Caroline kicking and screaming in her designer jeans the whole way, I acted casual about opening my store. I acted like it was something I was doing to take my mind off of my beloved husband dying, like it was something I was doing to assert myself. In actuality, I’d had to go back to work because, while we were told we would be receiving millions of dollars in life insurance, we hadn’t. I thought it would intensify the general panic and nightmares and PTSD around our new, very large, very potentially haunted home if my girls knew that.
So when I announced that I was getting back into decorating, my darling jewel of a daughter Caroline had said, “Oh, good. I hear the camper-trailer design business is really flourishing right now.”
And when I enthused that the business was going so well that I thought I would open a storefront, my sweet-tempered, well-adjusted child snapped, “If you name it Caroline’s, I will die.”
So I didn’t name it Caroline’s. I named it Sloane Emerson. It was the first thing I had done in quite some time that my eldest daughter thought was funny.
It was quiet around town that January morning, the tourists hiding wherever they had come from, not to return until April, despite it being my favorite time of year. Maybe it was the temperatures in the mid- to high sixties that made me love the winter so much. Maybe it was that only the locals remained. It was hard to tell.
I was pulling some Pine Cone Hill matelassé samples for two regular clients who needed to spruce up their yachts—in a town of three thousand people, boat owners had become my bread and butter—when the bell above the door rang.
Ah, yes. I would know that beard anywhere. Hippie Hal, reporting for duty.
“What’s up, Hal?”
“Oh, not much, Ansley. You know. The tide rolls in, the tide rolls out.”
“Sure does, Hal.”
This was a part of the morning. Whether it was forty degrees or 140, Hal wore rumpled jeans and a meticulously pressed white oxford. But depending on the heat, he’d layer a few of the shirts. It was his signature look. Hal, who had sold the three McDonald’s he owned in Tennessee and headed for the shore, lived in a small house two streets over that was always a subject of heated debate at town meetings. You see, Hal refurbished bicycles, saved them from the landfill, as he put it. So there were always a few on his front lawn to entice tourists ready to bike around town.
And the historical association, Mrs. McClasky in particular, had a fit about it. Every month.
But it took a lot to ruffle Hal, and until she came over in her crop pants and Keds and made him remove those bikes, they were staying put.
In the meantime, Hal made his morning rounds, said hello to all the shop owners, and rode one of those front-yard bikes back home. He had a big garage. Biggest in town, in fact. I asked him one time, “Hal, why don’t you put those bikes in the garage, and then we could quit having to talk about them every single town meeting?”
He got a far-off look in his eye and said, “That’s not a bad idea. But you see, here’s the problem. If I put those bikes in my garage, Mrs. McClasky wouldn’t have anything to do anymore. She’d have no purpose. Then she’d be miserable. And I feel like it’s my job to spread happiness wherever I go.” He grinned then.
That seemed about right to me.
I smiled at Hal, and he asked, “Want me to send Coffee Kyle down here?”
I nodded, samples in hand. “Sure, Hal. That would be great. I could use a little caffeine.” He turned to walk out, and I said, “Hey, Hal. Wait a minute.”
“What’s that? You need some produce? I can get Kimmy down here, too.”
“No. I don’t need any produce.” I held up two blue shades of matelassé. “Which one do you like better?”
He pointed to the lighter shade on the left. Hippie Hal might have worn a piece of rope as a belt, but the man had taste.
“Boyfriend Sky it is,” I said out loud, even though he had gone.
I looked down at the sample again, thinking of Caroline and how I needed to return her call. She would love this matelassé. Maybe I would send her one. Things were good between us now that she had forgiven me for stealing a whole half-year of city life from her, now that she had still married one of the most eligible bachelors in town and had Vivi and this new baby on the way and that big life she had always dreamed of.
I picked up the phone to dial her—my daughters found it hilarious that I still dialed their numbers as often as I searched for their contacts. As I did, I realized that, yet again, my finger joint was sort of sticking when I tried to bend it, like a door swollen from the rain. I had quit doing my Trigger Finger exercises for a couple of days and the annoying condition had come back with a vengeance. I sighed. Aging is not for the faint of heart. Before I could hit the green button, Kimmy walked in. Her hair got weirder and weirder. She had a severe spiky haircut that was half black, half blue. It looked like a Smurf gone Goth.
“Hal said you wanted Swiss chard?”
This was the only problem with Hal. He was really helpful, except that he had smoked away every brain cell he had long, long ago. Kimmy was the owner of a hydroponic farm, but you didn’t have to be part of the Drug Enforcement Administration to put together that vegetables weren’t the only thing she was growing hydroponically. Hence the friendship between Hal and her.
“That wasn’t me,” I said.
“Didn’t think so. You hate chard.”
I do. I thought of my youngest daughter, Emerson, and smiled. She was in LA pursuing her acting dream, like thousands and thousands of other talented, beautiful women and men. I was proud of her for following her heart, but it still bugged me that she hadn’t gone to college. What was she going to do when she got her first wrinkle and lost all job possibilities? She would land on her feet. Probably.
Emerson loved Swiss chard. She put it in the blender with a handful of grapes and half an orange and some ice and thought it was the most delicious thing ever. But that was LA for you.
“That’s OK.” I pulled a five-dollar bill out of my wallet. “Can you leave me something I do like to cook for dinner?”
I knew what she was going to say, and it annoyed me every day. Every single day. But she asked it anyway, like it was a fresh question. “You eating alone tonight, Ansley?”
I pretended I didn’t hear her and said, very loudly, “Coffee Kyle!”
Coffee Kyle was smoking hot. I was a fifty-something-year-old woman whose children would taunt her mercilessly if they heard her utter the phrase “smoking hot.” And it was inappropriate for me to think that way about a kid in his mid-twenties. But he was, and there was no way around that. He looked like one of those really versatile actors in the Hallmark movies Emerson had done. He was tall, dark, and handsome and could play the mechanic in one video, the lawyer in the next, and the serial killer in the third without skipping a beat.
“Well, hey there, Miss Ansley. I brought a skinny soy vanilla latte for you today.” He winked at me. “Although you don’t need the skinny.”
I laughed in spite of myself. He really was so cute. Something in his good nature reminded me of Sloane’s husband, Adam. I hadn’t seen it at first, but Adam was the perfect man for Sloane. She was kind and loving, my easiest child by far. It had hit her the hardest when her father died, made her afraid and, for a while, anxiety ridden. I worried that a man would overpower her, take advantage of her gentle nature. But Adam knew how to love her, how to make her feel safe and special. I always taught my girls that they didn’t need a man to save them. They needed to be able to save themselves. And Sloane could. But, confident in the knowledge that she could stand on her own two feet, I adored how Adam had positively swept her off of them.
“So what you got going on today, Miss Ansley?” Kyle asked as I handed him his money and he handed me my latte.
“Page and Stage has a new Southern writer coming in today. I thought I’d run down and pick up her book.” I hated TV. I thought it was the downfall of civilization. I didn’t have one. So I read. A lot. I guessed I would have to get one when Emerson’s next TV movie came out. “Other than that, just work. I’ve got two new yachts down there I’m designing if you want to go check in on them. I’m sure they’d love some coffee.”
He saluted me. “Yes, ma’am. I believe I will.”
I was pretty sure that Coffee Kyle was the only barista in the known universe who left his coffee shop wide open and unattended while he made deliveries to his locals. You could buy regular and decaf on the honor system by leaving your dollar in the basket. If you wanted something fancy, Kyle came back every thirty minutes to serve you. But if you lived in town, he knew what you wanted and was probably going to bring it to you anyway, which made it pretty rare to have people in the shop unless they were there for the atmosphere—which, frankly, the place was a little low on, if you asked me.
Kyle hugged me, which was the best part of my day, sadly.
I looked down to see a text from Emerson. Call me when you get a few minutes. That really was strange. It was only seven a.m. in LA. My little Emmy was never up that early. She had probably started some new aerial yoga or zum-barre-lates something or other. I had started to dial her when I heard the bell tinkle yet again and had to end the call.
At first, I thought the man walking through the door was a tourist, which was rare this time of year. He was a little bit overweight, and had a ruddy, dark complexion, that particular mixture of too much sun and too much alcohol that makes a face look aged yet somehow youthful, as though the wearer of said face was still squeezing every square inch of fun out of life. “I’m Sheldon,” he said. I instantly remembered the phone conversation from the day before and realized that while, no, he wasn’t someone I would call a friend, I had definitely seen Sheldon around.
“Oh, of course,” I said, walking out from behind the counter. “The fifty-three Huckins Linwood. Thanks so much for getting in touch with me.” Sheldon had called to let me know he had a boat coming in for an extensive rebuild. It had been badly damaged in a recent hurricane off the Florida coast, and Sheldon was one of the foremost experts in the country in its particular make and model. While he was taking care of the structure of things, he asked me if I’d like to come alongside and take care of the, as he put them, “girly parts” of the boat. I would have preferred the term “aesthetic elements,” but, quite frankly, it was winter, business was slow, and I could use the cash.
I could tell already that my new buddy Sheldon was a man of few words. He motioned his head to the door and said, “Well, you want to see it?”
“Oh, now?” I said, grabbing for my jacket and hanging my camera around my neck, thinking that now wasn’t really great, as I had two daughters to call. But this shouldn’t take too long. I could redesign three staterooms and a salon in my sleep.
Little did I know that, after today, sleep wasn’t something I would be getting much of for a long, long time.
Meet the Author
Kristy Woodson Harvey is a born-and-bred North Carolina girl who loves all four seasons—especially fall in Chapel Hill, where she attended college, and summer in Beaufort, where she and her family spend every free moment. The author of Dear Carolina and Lies and Other Acts of Love, Kristy is also the founder of the popular interior design blog Design Chic.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Slightly South of Simple is a true book about mothers, daughters, and grandchildren. Every grandmother or mother wants to spend time with their family but it can be overwhelming when everyone gets together at one time. That is what happens to Ansley. She is living her life in Peachtree Bluff, doing her thing, and WHAM her three grown daughters and 3 grandchildren all come to stay with her. I love how she just rolls with the different attitudes and outlooks on life each daughter has. She calls them out when she feels they need it but more than anything offers them the support they each need from her. What I really loved is how much the girls supported her. They pushed her to step out of her comfort zone and reconnect with Jack. Slightly South of Simple is very much Caroline’s story. Her husband no longer loves her and has left her and their daughter for a beautiful young model while Caroline is very pregnant with their second child. Caroline runs from New York to her mother for support in what she knows will not be an easy change for her or her daughter. There are life decisions Caroline will be forced to make that will affect her family’s life forever. My heart was tugged at by this southern story. I could picture the scenes, hear the characters voice, and was in a don’t bother me I’m reading frame of mind while reading Kristy Woodson Harvery’s story.
I absolutely loved this book. I was so wrapped up in the lives of Ansley and her three daughters. All of them coming back home to live with her. Caroline, pregnant, with a nine year old daughter and a husband who is dating a supermodel on a reality TV show, no less. Sloane who has 2 young boys and whose husband is deployed overseas. And, last is Emerson who is the actress and the youngest who is filming a movie in Georgia near her mother's house. Emerson is also unmarried. So all the girls are back home again. I read this book over a week ago and am still finding myself smiling and remembering these women and this book. I was not ready to let these characters go when I was finished with the story. The author did such a great job creating them. They truly felt like real people. This was my first book by this author and it will not be my last. Thanks to Gallery, Threshold Books for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
Ansley is the mother of three women, who lives alone in the quiet town of Peachtree Bluff. She runs a successful design shop named after her two youngest daughters. When her children converge on her home, they each bring along life’s trials and tribulations. However it is a shipwrecked boat that threatens to bring back a lost love and deep-rooted secrets. How will she keep her past from her girls, while maintaining her perfectly calm and peaceful life that she has finally achieved? Caroline is a Manhattan socialite who feels her mother’s southern roots, never suited her… that is until the day her life is turned upside down. Pregnant and devastated, she packs up her daughter and heads down to the sanctuary of her mother’s home. She knows she will receive the support she needs from her mom, while her sisters will undoubtedly bring her back to reality. Kristy Woodson Harvey tells the story of this dynamic family through two different points-of-view. Each character processes the current events, as well as reflecting on the past. The breathtaking prologue will grab readers’ attentions. This book is delightfully emotional, painfully sweet, and proves first loves stay with in one’s heart forever. Notes: I signed up to review a digital copy through Netgalley. This review originally appeared on the Ariesgrl Book Reviews website.