Looking for a window into the 1940s? Give PALMETTO MOON a try!
Title: Palmetto Moon
Author: Kim Boykin
Publisher: Berkely Trade
Genre: Southern Women’s Fiction
June, 1947. Charleston is poised to celebrate the biggest wedding in high-society history, the joining of two of the oldest families in the city. Except the bride is nowhere to be found…
Unlike the rest of the debs she grew up with, Vada Hadley doesn’t see marrying Justin McLeod as a blessing—she sees it as a life sentence. So when she finds herself one day away from a wedding she doesn’t want, she’s left with no choice but to run away from the future her parents have so carefully planned for her.
In Round O, South Carolina, Vada finds independence in the unexpected friendships she forms at the boarding house where she stays, and a quiet yet fulfilling courtship with the local diner owner, Frank Darling. For the first time in her life, she finally feels like she’s where she’s meant to be. But when her dear friend Darby hunts her down, needing help, Vada will have to confront the life she gave up—and decide where her heart truly belongs.
Palmetto Moon has a slow, lazy-summer-day Southern feel to it, further increased by the 1947 setting. Everything has an oh-my-gosh was it really? feel to it. Motel rooms for four dollars! Cokes for five cents! (Of course they’re also only 6.5 ounces, as I noted while sipping from my 20 ounce Pepsi Max, but still…five cents. Whoa. Mind blowing.) If you’re a fan of seafood, the many, many crab cakes and salmon croquettes prepared by Frank in his diner might make your mouth water. There are recipes for several dishes at the end, if you’re feeling adventurous. The uniquely Southern expressions (my favorite was, “You’re slicker than a mass of okra, Hank. And twice as handsome.”) add flavor of a different kind.
Three of my favorite things about this book were the three young boys belonging to Claire the “Widow Greeley”. They were a riot on about every page they showed up on. Little Johnathan, the youngest, made me want to go find my own toddler to snuggle. When they’re taking turns running around like maniacs, pushing each other in a wheelbarrow I just had to smile–when they’re pretending to be a squadron of fighter planes up in the stuffy bedroom-slash-storage closet of the formerly-deserted local mansion just outside of town, the same. Hands down, though, my favorite scene with one of the boys was when Frank has a “man-to-man” talk with Daniel, the oldest, about how they’re both in love with Vada and all appears hopeless for them. So absolutely adorable and sweet!
I was all for Vada’s girl-power I-need-to-be-treated-as-a-partner-in-marriage attitude, and liked her about a million times more when she dropped her “poor me” attitude in the beginning and left home rather than marry her parents’ choice of a fiance. When she’s reunited with them and begins to stand up for herself in their presence as well? Even better.
I really enjoyed the time I spent with this book.
There’s definitely elements of the fairy-tale-quick-fix throughout. Frank literally falls in love with Vada at first sight, and he stays steadfastly in love with her even though she barely allows him to really get to know her. Vada wishes that Claire will find a handsome and wealthy man to marry her in spite of the burden of her three children (and practically throws her at the first candidate they find, Claire’s new employer)–and poof!–it happens. The way for Vada and Frank’s HEA is somehow made smooth by…well, I’m not actually sure what, because it’s all behind the scenes. One minute she has obstacles galore, similar to those she’s had since the first page, and then suddenly they’re gone.
Yes, it’s fiction, but parts were a bit too fictional.
The first person (Vada) third person (everyone else–mostly, but not limited to, Frank and Claire) POV shifts were distracting. It always feels like an odd choice to make, shifting between two different types, and doing so tends to draw me out of the story briefly when the shifts occur.
Ditto the use of present tense–felt awkward.
The entire storyline with Vada’s former best friend Darby was superfluous. Vada spends a lot of time looking for and worrying about Darby, but nothing significant comes from all that expense of energy. The resolution of that part of the story is completely anticlimactic and left me scratching my head.
Overall Palmetto Moon was a pleasant way to pass the time. It definitely transported me to different world, and a lazy Southern summer from the past was a pleasant place to be as the weather here up north turns decidedly colder.
Rating: 3 1/2 stars / C+
I received a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.
June 20, 1947
“Murrah?” Rosa Lee’s eyes go wide and she shakes her head at me like I’ve forgotten the rules, but I haven’t. Since before I was born, my parents forbade the servants to speak their native tongue in our house. Offenders were given one warning; a second offense brought immediate dismissal. I say the Gullah word again, drawing it out softly. “Why are you crying?” The hands that helped bring me into the world motion for me to lower my voice.
Rosa Lee’s husband, Desmond, told me my first word was murrah. It was what I called Rosa Lee, until Mother made me call her by name. “My own murrah.” The forbidden words bring more tears. I press my face into the soft curve of her neck and breathe in the Ivory soap Mother insists all the servants use, mingled with Rosa Lee’s own scent—vanilla and lemongrass.
She holds me at arm’s length, trembling, and I know I’ve done it again.
“You got to tell them,” she pleads. “Make them see you can’t go through with this.”
I point to the door that leads to the elegant dining room where my parents are eating their breakfast. “I have told them. Mother refuses to listen, and I’ve begged Father. He says I have to do this.” She looks away. Her body rocks, sobbing violently on the inside. “Rosa Lee, please don’t cry. I can’t bear it.” She shakes her head and swipes at the tears that stain the sleeve of her freshly pressed uniform. “I won’t do it again. I promise.”
“When you’re asleep, your heart takes over. You got no control, and it’s gonna kill you.”
She’s right. Since I graduated and moved home from college two weeks ago, I’ve been sleepwalking like I did when I was a child, but these outings don’t land me snuggled up in the servant’s quarters, between Desmond and Rosa Lee. Most of the time, I wake up and return to bed without incident, but last week Desmond found me trying to leave the house. He said I was babbling about sleeping in the bay, which might not have been so disturbing if I hadn’t been wearing five layers of heavy clothing. I knew what he thought I was trying to do to myself and told him not to worry.
Since then, Rosa Lee has insisted on sleeping on the stiff brocade chaise in my bedroom. Of course, my parents don’t know she’s there or that she’s so afraid I’ll walk to the bay or step off the balcony in my sleep, she’s tethered my ankle to the bedpost with three yards of satin rope she begged from Mrs. O’Doul.
“Maybe it will be different after the wedding.” I love her enough to lie to her. “Father says I’m a Hadley and once it’s over with, I’ll fall in line the way I was born to.”
“But what if Desmond hadn’t caught you?” She threads her fingers in mine and kisses the back of my hand. A part of me wishes her intuition hadn’t sent Desmond to check on me, that he hadn’t found me. “And what are you gonna do when we’re not there?”
“Don’t say that.” My knees buckle, and I melt into a puddle at her feet. Justin has made it clear he’s happy with his staff and has no plans to add “two ancient servants.” But living under his roof and not having Rosa Lee and Desmond with me is unthinkable, another high price of being the last Hadley descendant.
“You think it’s not going to get worse after you’re married? Who do you think’s gonna be there to save you? Mr. Justin?” She hisses the last word. “You think long and hard before the sun comes up tomorrow, because I’m afraid down to my bones that you won’t be alive to see it.”
She collects herself and heads into the dining room to check on my parents. They won’t look into her beautiful brown face and see she’s been crying any more than they see this wedding is killing me, or at least the idea of being yoked to Justin McLeod is. Not because he’s eight years older than me and, other than our station in life, we have nothing in common, and not because of his good qualities, although no one can find more than two: He is a heart-stoppingly beautiful man and the sole heir of the largest fortune in Charleston.
For over a hundred years, Justin’s family and mine have built ships. And while two world wars made us rich, a prolonged peace threatens to weaken our family fortunes considerably. Somewhere in all that, my father convinced Justin a Hadley-McLeod union would position them to take over the world, at least the shipping world. And Father is certain nothing short of a blood union will keep Justin in the partnership.
Rosa Lee pushes through the swinging door and pours the coffee down the drain, her signal that breakfast is over and my parents are no longer close by. I smile, trying to reassure her I’m okay, that I’m going to be okay. She shakes her head and starts to wash one of the breakfast plates in slow motion, barely breathing. I hate those things, and after tomorrow, I’ll own twenty-four place settings of them, part of my dowry. I don’t give a damn about thousand-dollar plates, but I do care for Rosa Lee.
“I can do this.” I say from behind her. My voice sounds sure, steady. “I will do this.”
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About the Author:
Kim Boykin was raised in her South Carolina home with two girly sisters and great parents. She had a happy, boring childhood, which sucks if you’re a writer because you have to create your own crazy. PLUS after you’re published and you’re being interviewed, it’s very appealing when the author actually lived in Crazy Town or somewhere in the general vicinity.
Almost everything she learned about writing, she learned from her grandpa, an oral storyteller, who was a master teacher of pacing and sensory detail. He held court under an old mimosa tree on the family farm, and people used to come from all around to hear him tell stories about growing up in rural Georgia and share his unique take on the world.
As a stay-at-home mom, Kim started writing, grabbing snip-its of time in the car rider line or on the bleachers at swim practice. After her kids left the nest, she started submitting her work, sold her first novel at 53, and has been writing like crazy ever since.
Thanks to the lessons she learned under that mimosa tree, her books are well reviewed and, according to RT Book Reviews, feel like they’re being told across a kitchen table. She is the author of The Wisdom of Hair from Berkley, Steal Me, Cowboy and Sweet Home Carolina from Tule, and Palmetto Moon, also from Berkley 8/5/14. While her heart is always in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, she lives in Charlotte and has a heart for hairstylist, librarians, and book junkies like herself.
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