Author: Janie Dempsey Watts

Publisher: Little Creek Books

ISBN: 978-0984805082

Avie has come back to her childhood home to serve as executor of her father’s estate in northern Georgia – a substantial family farm worth more than $1 million. Splitting the proceeds from the estate with her brother and half-sister ends up becoming a metaphor for the way her own life is being torn apart. As Avie sorts through her father’s belongings to evaluate their worth, she begins her own search for the value of her life up to this point: Her 15-year marriage with Michael back in California is crumbling, her son’s asthma has become the central part of her life instead of her writing, and her belief in herself has left her vulnerable.

Back in Taylor’s Ridge, Avie rekindles old friendships and family conflicts, makes new friends, and joins her son in a hunt for a silver mine that had belonged to the Cherokees before their forced relocation to Oklahoma in the 1830s – The Trail of Tears – and never found since.

Avie’s relatives have their own agendas: Mean-spirited Uncle Earl has always hated her and believes he can intimidate her; Aunt Ardelia meddles in everyone’s lives and uses binoculars to spy on Avie’s every move; Griffin, her brother, hopes to develop the land and make them all multimillionaires; and Jolene, her half-sister, steals Avie’s jewelry to buy new clothes so she can woo her latest beau. With help from an old friend, storeowner Xylia, and new one, a part-Cherokee man, Will, who lives in a cabin up on the ridge, Avie works to make some of the most difficult decisions of her life in terms of her father’s estate, her marriage, and her life.

On the old TV show, Designing Women, Julia Sugarbaker, the lead character, noted that while all families have crazy relatives, the difference between people in the North and people in the South is that northerners hide these family members in the attic, while southerners proudly parade them out for everyone to see. Watts has done just that, creating memorable characters that entertain us, scare us, and redeem us.

This fast-paced novel will also keep readers intrigued as it weaves several stories together into one seamless narration. Richly crafted descriptions turn Taylor’s Ridge into one of the main characters, as its own force of nature that Avie must overcome. But Watts’ descriptions also take us into the heart of the South and make us feel welcomed. Here’s what a visit to the local Waffle House is like:

The waitress turned to another customer, a good-looking, silver-haired man with a generous girth.

Hello honey, how you doin?” she asked in a syrupy voice. She took his order and recited her mantra, and the cook responded again. In the background, the custodian’s squeegee scraped again the window. The chanting of the waitresses and the cook, the squeaking noise against the glass and the scraping and flipping clang of the spatula against the grill created a rhythm of its own. Performance art, southern style.

This is the type of book that fulfills the southern axiom: Come in, put your feet up, and stay awhile. Watts’ novel envelopes you with good southern charm and intrigue.

After years of living in California, Janie Dempsey Watts returned to the community she grew up in and lives near her own family farm in Woodstation, Georgia. Her short stories and articles have appeared in a number of publications, and one of her stories was a finalist in the Pirate’s Alley William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition. Moon Over Taylor’s Ridge is her first novel, and she is currently working on a collection of short stories, Mothers, Sons, Lovers and Other Strangers. She is also a member of ChattaRosa, a women’s writing and critiquing group in Chattanooga, TN – and for full disclosure, so is the author of this review. Watts had written the book before she joined the group, so this is the first time I had read it.

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