Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Review: Porch Lights

Summary: When fireman Jimmy McMullen is killed in the line of duty, his wife, Jackie, and ten-year-old son, Charlie, are devastated. Trusting in the healing power of family, Jackie decides to return to her childhood home on Sullivans Island—a place of lush green grasslands, the heady pungency of Lowcountry Pluff mud, and palmetto fronds swaying in gentle ocean winds.

Thrilled to have her family back, matriarch Annie Britt promises to make their visit perfect. Over the years, Jackie and Annie, like all mothers and daughters, have had differences of opinion. But her estranged and wise husband, Buster, and her best friend, Deb, are sure to keep Annie in line. She's also got the flirtatious widowed physician next door to keep her distracted. Captivated by the island's natural charms, mother, daughter, and grandson will share a memorable, illuminating summer. -- William Morrow Paperbacks

It's almost summer and that means recommendations for beach (or pool) books! I think I have a good one to share with you! It's called PORCH LIGHTS by Dorothea Benton Frank, and I kind of wished I had saved it to read while I am at the Jersey Shore this weekend. This touching novel takes place in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and it both warmed my heart and made me hunger for a relaxing trip to the beach!

PORCH LIGHTS tells the story of Jackie and her mother Annie. Jackie is reeling from the recent loss of her husband in a firefighting accident as well as a few tours of Afghanistan. She decides that a visit to see her parents on Sullivan's Island might be just what she and her young son Charlie need to help the healing process. Naturally, Annie is excited to have her daughter and grandson come for a visit, and she wants everything to be perfect. However, Annie and Jackie haven't always seen eye-to-eye on many things and there is a bit of tension when they are together. To make things even more complex, Annie is attracted to a handsome (and younger) doctor who lives next door -- one who is obviously attracted to Jackie. And (and this is a big one!), Annie and her long-time husband Buster have been living apart for almost eleven years but still have feelings for each other!

Initially, I wasn't sure that PORCH LIGHTS was exactly the type of book that would appeal to me. I'm not a huge fan of this genre, and yet, I really enjoyed this heartwarming story. (Did I mention that it is perfect for the summer?) I quickly became absorbed in the characters and their problems, and I liked how the book played with my emotions. One minute I was laughing at Annie and the next I was tearing up for Jackie and Charlie!

I think credit has to go to Ms. Frank for being able to pull off a story like this one. It could have been so sappy! However, I was extremely impressed with her writing and storytelling abilities as well as her ability to bring the setting to life; and while I will admit that much of the book was predictable, I didn't mind that at all. In fact, I would have been disappointed had the book ended any differently. When I read a book like this, I want happy endings and ones that are wrapped up tightly with a big red bow. PORCH LIGHTS left me with a big smile on my face!

I especially appreciated how the story went back and forth between Jackie and Annie as narrators. I thought Ms. Frank captured both of their voices perfectly, and I liked how it allowed me to understand both characters. Had the story been written with just one of these characters' voices, I would have had an entirely different view of their actions and  motivations.

Another fun aspect of the novel was the Edgar Allen Poe connection. Poe lived in the South Carolina Low Country and there were many references to him throughout the novel. In fact, Annie was an amateur expert on his life! I also appreciated how each chapter began with a snippet from one of his books.

I also liked about PORCH LIGHTS was the character development. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of Jackie and Annie, and I loved their interactions with each other. They both were more similar than they initially thought (or what I initially thought!), and I loved their bantering as well as how they showed their love for each other. Similarly, I liked how this novel explored the dynamics between Annie and her long-time husband Buster. Their relationship was complicated to say the least, but I enjoyed seeing them try to work things out despite their bumpy past (and their strong-willed personalities.)

I also appreciated how much humor was in this novel. Needless to say there were some pretty heavy issues addressed in this story -- war, death, separation, loss, grief, and more -- but the book still had its fair share of light moments. Annie was absolutely hilarious, and while I'm sure she wasn't always easy to live with, I loved her!

In addition to being a great beach book, PORCH LIGHTS would also make a fun summer book club selection. There is a reading guide available with twelve interesting questions. It might also be fun to complement your discussion by making some of the food and beverages that were mentioned in the story. Some of the topics you might want to explore include mother/daughter relationships, forgiveness, healing, loss, grief, and new beginnings!

I really liked PORCH LIGHTS and definitely recommend it as a summer beach read!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I have a couple of her books on my shelves (she is a frequenter of SIBA) and just loaded an audio of hers on the iPod. I need to see what everybody has been talking about!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

She definitely sounds like a great beach novel author!

bermudaonion said...

Even though this book was predictable, I enjoyed it a lot. Frank just made me care about the characters. Great review!

Beth F said...

You're so right that she has a great ability to mix the sad with the humor. And predictability doesn't bother me when the characters and the story are compelling.

Beth Hoffman said...

It's been so long since I've read one of Dottie Frank's books, and I've just recently put her on my list of summer reads.

trish said...

I love books that leave me with a smile on my face! I agree with one of the previous posters -- I don't mind if a book is predictable as long as the characters and story are compelling!

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

sounds good!