Kristy Woodson Harvey completes her popular trilogy

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 2, 2019

“The Southern Side of Paradise,” by Kristy Woodson Harvey. Gallery Books. 2019. 387 pp. $16.

By Deirdre Parker Smith

Salisbury’s own Kristy Woodson Harvey has wrapped up her trilogy set in Peachtree Bluff, Georgia (remarkably similar to Beaufort, N.C.) and the Murphy women are all embarking on new adventures.

Paradise is the key word here. Although they all face challenges, the Murphys somehow manage to find perfection in a variety of forms: a perfect wedding, a perfect reunion, a perfectly exciting new career and a perfect balance for one of the sisters.

The weather is perfect, too, and the boats don’t founder in rough waters.

So why are mother Ansley and daughter Emerson so worried all the time?

This third book, on Southern Living’s 25 Beach Reads Perfect for Summer list, ties up some loose ends, but it also leaves the storylines wide open if fans clamor for more.

What started in “Slightly South of Simple” and continued in “The Secret to Southern Charm” follows a familiar path. Each book has featured mother Ansley and one of her daughters, starting with Caroline, the clever, bossy one, reeling from her husband’s affair with a super model.

The second book finds poor Sloane reeling because her beloved Adam is missing in action in Iraq. Mother Ansley is agonizing over a past love.

This third book asks what true love looks like and acts like.

And it focuses on the youngest, Emerson, the aspiring actress who is avoiding the results of a blood test and squabbling with her high school boyfriend, Mark, as they plan their wedding and future.

Ansley, meanwhile, has her own plans to spend the rest of her life with Jack, her high school sweetheart, the man she left to marry the right man, Carter Murphy, who died in the 9/11 attacks. She’s been on her own with her girls for 16 years, and hasn’t let love in at all. It’s enough dealing with her three very different and demanding daughters.

Overall, Ansley’s been pretty lucky, as have her girls, who never wanted for anything. She never had the money she thought she would after Carter’s death, but she had family and she’s nurtured in a way as she nurtures others.

Emerson, at the ripe old age of 26, and has been in Los Angeles for eight years, getting good parts and bad, working hard and striving to be better and get better roles. She’s been back in Peachtree because she was filming a movie about the super model who had an affair with Caroline’s husband. What a mess.

What more could happen to these four women? Well, we have to get the results of Emerson’s blood test. She’s afraid it’s aplastic anemia, since she’s bruising easily and fainting.

And we have to find out if Ansley is going to let her family in on the  enormous secret she’s been keeping for 30 years.

What will become of Adam? And will Emerson really marry Mark, or will his demands be too much?

Ansley is still fiercely protective of her girls, and she wants to tell them the big secret at the right time. When Jack tries to talk about it, she is adamant about getting her way. She is the mother lion, and her girls always come first.

Mark assumes Emerson will settle down in Peachtree Bluff and have his babies. He owns a very successful business, making tons of money. Why would Emerson want to go back to L.A. to claw her way to the top? But acting is what Emerson has ALWAYS wanted to do and she’s making progress.

Will she be true to herself and follow her dreams, or will she surrender to Mary’s demands?

Both Ansley and Emerson want to be happy and set for life, but things keep getting in the way. There’s a wedding to plan, and a second wedding to plan for — someday.

At the book’s opening, Ansley talks about how she has never liked surprises, and how her mother told her that’s all life is, one surprise after another.

That is true of Harvey’s story this time. She introduces complication upon complication. And misdirection after misdirection. What you think might happen doesn’t necessarily.

The once-tight relationship of the girls with their mother is tested, and for one daughter, found wanting, although her fears are childish at best, and particularly selfish. Much growing up will be required.

This is a breezy beach book, a fast read, not too many characters to keep up with, no far flung settings. This time, more than in the first two books, Ansley comes across as bossy and self-centered, and so does Emerson, who only thinks about what SHE wants. In this light, we see that Emerson, Ansley’s difficult child, is much like her mother.

Where Ansley has been strong and steady, she is unsure, looking at her life with a narrow view. Is it love? Or is she just tired of fixing everyone else, over and over?

The wedding that takes place leads to new discoveries, more good fortune for the Murphy women and futures lit up like Broadway.

You need not have read the first two books to understand this one.

You can trust Harvey to take you through any darkness into light, and to create happy endings with sighs of relief.