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Islands    by Anne Rivers Siddons order for
by Anne Rivers Siddons
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2004)
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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

I didn't want the novel to end. Anne Rivers Siddons has fourteen best sellers to her credit. Islands will be her fifteenth. Though the story line reached a natural conclusion, I hated to say goodbye to the characters, to the place - the outer islands of South Carolina - and to Charleston. I held the book in my hands, contemplating the glorious tale I just read.

Anny Butler, a contented thirty-five year-old with a satisfying job, meets fifty-year-old orthopedic surgeon Lewis Aiken. Love at first sight and the story takes off running. Anny is introduced to Lewis's lifelong friends, as she begins a love affair with both Lewis and the Carolina coast. The passing years are chronicled with the particular grace that is a signature of Siddons' books. It's a simple story magnificently told, about a tightly knit group of friends who in a sense become each other's families. Siddons has brought together real people with all the attendant flaws, foibles and idiosyncrasies. I laughed with them, cried for and with them, exalted when they excelled, and felt ashamed when they faltered.

The focus of the author's books is usually the low country of South Carolina. Her love of Charleston and the South Carolina coast is evident in every lyrical word she employs to bring before readers' eyes the beaches and salt marshes and the creatures that inhabit them: 'In those muted bronze days of September, when the monarch butterflies came drifting in from the north and settled in shivering clumps on the trees and shrubs, and the great autumn writing spiders wove their fables in the early mornings ...' And here's another description that resonated with me - 'It was early February, and a low purple-and-orange sunset burned over the water and the marsh and woods beyond. The whole vista was steeped in a vast silence and stillness so profound that you instinctively whispered.'

The author builds houses out of words that frame dreams - from the almost derelict wooden pile on the Sullivan's Island beach, to the salt marsh heaven of Sweetwater on Edisto Island, or the formal mansion on Charleston's Bull Street. The novel revived my memories of wonderful, magical visits, when I stayed in a house exchange on Edisto Island, and visited friends in Charleston. The beautiful descriptions do not in any way distract from the story line. Siddons interweaves surroundings, characters with their overflowing emotions, and the developing plot, with an enviable skill. And I have to admit that I did not see the ending coming as it did.

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