The Shelf: Jennifer Manske Fenske, A Year on Ladybug Farm, and Driftwood Summer


Jennifer Manske Fenske

Jennifer Manske Fenske’s new novel, The Wide Smiles of Girls (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, $24.95), opens gracefully and mysteriously: “Before Ruth died, before there was a fall or a push or a jump from the old bridge, she lived on Langdon Island and loved Hale Brock.” The dead Ruth and her grieving husband are central characters in this elegantly written story about the minor dramas that tend to tear families apart and the catastrophes that somehow seem to bring them back together.

As the novel begins, young do-gooder Mae Wallace has left her job in Atlanta at World Matters, a nonprofit agency loosely modeled after CARE (where the author was a consultant for four years), and moved to an island off the South Carolina coast, right next door to grieving widower Hale Brock. Mae has relocated to be closer to her younger sister, March, who is rehabilitating after a devastating fall from a horse. Ultimately, the ending is a little too tidy, but the characters—whether alive or dead—are compelling and believable. The author, a former Atlantan who now lives in Colorado, is especially adept at conveying the incomparable, sometimes mystifying love-hate relationship possible between sisters.

A Year on Ladybug Farm

Berkley Books, $14 paperback

In this novel by Georgia’s Donna Ball, three women of a certain age leave the comforts of suburbia and sink every cent they have into a century-old money pit—a rambling house on sixteen acres in the bucolic Shenandoah Valley: “The quietness was so intense, it was almost a texture—as light as silk, as soft as velvet.” Through a renovation that may never end, Cici, Lindsay, and Bridget discover the charms of small-town life and the art of aging gracefully.

Driftwood Summer

NAL Accent, $15 paperback

Atlanta author Patti Callahan Henry’s Driftwood Summer also features three women, plus a 100-year-old house. Estranged sisters Riley, Maisy, and Adalee reunite in coastal Georgia to celebrate their mother’s seventieth birthday and to try to save the family’s bookstore. Beyond the sibling melodrama, Driftwood Summer is a loving tribute to the role a good bookstore can play in a community.

Armchair Traveling

Sacred Places: A Guide to the Civil Rights Sites in Atlanta, Georgia

Mercer University Press, $18

U.S. Rep. John Lewis provides the foreword for Harry G. Lefever and Michael C. Page’s brilliantly executed pocket guide: “What you will discover when you walk these roads of history is that the actions of everyday citizens—people just like you and me—transformed these plain, ordinary buildings into monuments of democracy.”

Newcomer’s Guide to Georgia

John F. Blair, $18.95

Longtime newspaperman Don O’Briant stuffs an awful lot into this slim volume. “I’ll try to give you all the information you need to become a Georgian,” he writes, “or at least to act enough like one to fool the natives.”

The Out Traveler: Atlanta

Alyson Books, $15.95

Native Georgians Jordan McAuley and Matt Burkhalter appeal to a more specific audience in this pint-size celebration of Atlanta’s bustling gay community. Their recommendations for what to see and where to go are personal and well informed, if a little boosterish, with a proud emphasis on “the luxurious, the classy, or at least the truly unique.”