Publisher: Zebra Books
Published: November 05, 2013
Format: Paperback (352 pages)
***Though the publisher provides the free ebook, I offer the opinion.***
Tessa McKenzie loved being an interior designer at Master’s Design Incorporated, and she loved living on the East Coast. In fact, she loved it so much she planned to return. However, every minute here ticked by like a slow second hand in this hick town of Apple Valley that was buried in Washington.
Her past and baggage came home with her, but she never learned to let go. Instead, she learned to leave, and this one decision was the best thing that happened to her, until she had to return.
Nothing was fair about this.
Her sister Emily and her husband died, leaving a garbage heap decorated like a Victorian, an autistic child—who hardly knew his aunt, due to her own infrequent visits—and Aunt Gertrude behind. Although Aunt Gertrude raised her and Emily, Tessa always felt outnumbered by her sister, but dealing with these types of feelings after Emily’s death was just hard and wrong. Truth was she loved her sister, even though her sister would have married the man Tessa loved. That marriage spurred her running away, of sorts.
In the end, this man didn’t marry her sister because the baby was not his, but he still lived in Apple Valley and had become sheriff.
At all cost, she needed to steer clear of this man and her old not-so-buried feelings, especially at this vulnerable time. Tessa did that by setting her goals and priorities. As guardian to her nephew, Alex, and as only child left for Gertrude, Tess was going to clean up this cesspool and bring them all back with her to the wonders of Maryland. Her aunt was fast becoming an adversary to her plans and her not-so-pleasant side seemed to be a permanent fixture. Why couldn’t she see that Tess just wanted the best for all involved? Her sister’s death left them all with more bills than they could afford, and this town left them with no way for Tessa to earn the money she was making at her firm.
To stay was never an option, they’d be bankrupt.
Meanwhile, Cade Cunningham had wanted to catch up with his childhood friend, but he didn’t want it to be over a sheriff’s calling. At her house for business, not for personal reasons, Cade couldn’t imagine the flood of feelings he’d deal with seeing her here. His little tomboy friend grew up in all the right places, and she seems to have morphed from what he remembered to a very fine feminine creature.
How did he not see this, years ago? Instead, all he saw was her sister.
Emily and his relationship had grown strained, once his college years arrived, but he manned up and was going to marry her and support their child. The joke was on him, when he found out the child was not his. However, from the minute he found out she’d been expecting he was excited to be a good father. Now, he still feels a connection to another man’s son, but his excitement for his aunt was something that he just never expected.
Years later, Emily is gone, Cade’s marriage to Darla imploded, and Tessa’s back home and wants to flee, again. Not only can he lose the child he thought of as his long before he was born, but also maybe he was losing a chance to rewrite the history that should have been documented the first time around. Was there anyway to change things? Did he even have the right to feel this way?
THE HOUSE ON MAIN STREET by Shirlee McCoy brings you an enjoyable read with all sorts of surprises!
Tessa McKenzie and Aunt Gertrude have a dueling mother daughter relationship, but their love shines through it. Their feud is testament to how much they both want to do it right for Alex. In the meantime, you’ll quickly love Alex. He has a way of bringing the people he loves closer, even through his autistic environment, with music from his heart as his mechanism for communication. In his music, you’ll discover clues for everyone to follow.
Cade Cunningham enjoys his life and job in Apple Valley. He’s done traveling, but he wants his roots here. The slow routine and the town’s usual clockwork give him peace, but his town caused the break-up of his marriage. Although their union lasted six years, it was fraught with problems that came from small town living. The last thing he needs in his life was more relationship complications. Sleeping alone, living along, and being alone does have some advantages, but the pit of his stomach doesn’t always agree. He’s dated and made friends, but these couplings just didn’t click. No sparks. Maybe he’s better off without the sparks.
You’ll enjoy meeting the residents of Apple Valley, uncovering the mysteries of this town, and rediscovering the romance that should have been. Be warned that once you visit this place, you may never want to leave it!
THE HOUSE ON MAIN STREET by Shirlee McCoy is a standalone title that introduces you to an assortment of characters as real as in life with an array of stories just waiting to be told.
Published: October 29, 2013
Format: ebook (289 pages)
Origin: Publisher through NetGalley (eGalley)
***Though the publisher provides the free ebook, I offer the opinion.***
Maggie’s father, Jacob Charles Murphy, had passed away last year—leaving Maggie his property in Eureka Colorado, a mystery that still surrounded the man she had never known, and a gold mine that held no gold but lots of turquoise.
The French Mistress was a working mine, turning a profit and providing jobs, while Maggie Stevens carved out a nice life in Eureka, working at the newspaper and living off mountain for winter right next door to the man she loves.
This next door living arrangement was because Maggie knew Jameso Clark maybe wasn’t the kind of man who could settle down. With all she learned about her father and the effects of war on that man, Maggie knew Iraq had left its scars on Jameso and wanted to keep some privacy in each of their lives. However, Maggie never thought she’d be the one to burden this vet way beyond his abilities in society. However, the positive pregnancy test, in hand, told her she was about to lay a load on man who carried a heavy load already.
Maggie soon learns her troubles in this town aren’t the only bad news around.
Olivia, the barmaid at Jameso’s workplace, has her ex-boyfriend who followed her here and reinserted him into her son’s life. The town librarian has her issues too that link directly to her family’s squandered wealth in years past and Maggie’s father. Olivia’s mother, Lucille, is the mayor of the town has found a man of interest who strikes Olivia as all wrong. However, she can’t judge a good man for herself, how can she throw dispersion on someone’s choice?
Lucille is the town mayor, runs the antique store, and is thrilled her daughter and grandson are here in Eureka, but Gerald Pershing has made her see something she’s been missing. Lucille has been on her own, without a man in her life, and doing just fine, but to have a man cause butterflies in the pit of her stomach, has this mayor realizing that all work and no play as made this woman a dull life. Maybe she’s at the right age to take a chance on love, again?
Well, that question was answered in the worse of ways.
Scorned, robbed, and humiliated are just a few of the adjectives that would describe her situation. Will she ever recover? How can she ever pay back the money from the treasury that she helped steal?
With Mother Nature closing in and cutting Eureka Colorado off from the rest of the world, will this suffocating close bring down the town, bolster this mountain retreat, or destroy its foundations? An avalanche and more snow threaten lives, steals resources, and could end Eureka’s bond forever.
THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US by Cindy Myers will have you root for the town of Eureka and its townsfolk, while learning that sometimes loss isn’t what you think it is and more is not necessarily better.
Eureka is a town of residents, friends, and family, where each new winter makes changes, carves out the new plowed path, gives a new direction to its inhabitant’s future, and has charity and helping at its core. Frenemies pair up and people help each other to survive.
Cindy Myers gives us a town that has a mix of the young and older in their own messes but help each other through. Eureka, Colorado is a place I’d love to call home!
Maggie Stevens went out on her own, but even she doubts her ability to parent. Olivia needs to let go of the past just to have the hope of a future, and her mother, Lucille, needs to realize that not having a personal life can be the one thing to set you up for the wrong fall. Meanwhile, all of Eureka needs to stand together for survival in both physical and financial realms and be willing to go that last mile.
Cindy Myers’ latest, THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US, is a standalone novel, but you’ll want to check out THE VIEW FROM HERE, where you can meet the townsfolk of Eureka in better days and great endings!
Published: March 26, 2013
Format: Paperback (272 pages)
***Though the publisher provides the free book, I offer the opinion.***
Maura Beth Mayhew could accept defeat or fight to stay afloat. She hoped to bring the citizenry of Cherico, Mississippi to stand with her, despite the pushback from Councilman Sparks’ doctored smile and caustic wit. The nearly impossible deadline she had to expand the library circulation and utilization was laid out as an unattainable carrot, but she was up to this task. With the help of some friends, she may be able to fend off this literary attack for modern business dollars and more votes for the Councilman.
At her favorite spot, The Twinkle, Twinkle Café, Maura Beth meets with her best friend, Periwinkle. Periwinkle schools her friend in the finer arts of standing up for oneself, sales, and the correct uses for a gimmick.
The first library pitch Periwinkle makes is to next person who wanders into her establishment. Connie McShay is one of Cherico’s most recent residents and one of Periwinkle’s newest customers. Does this chance encounter provide a vehicle for saving the library?
It sure does!
However, she needs more than just a one-person book club. In fact, she needs the town to rally for it. The only problem is that books can be discussed, ad nauseam. How can this hold people’s interest? Seems like everyone has a like for dislike for a read, but if they don’t like the chosen title will they come anyway? Connie McShay was the link to an idea that needed to be tweaked for a small town instead of a city.
Armed with courage and an idea, Maura Beth needs to enlist the help of main library patron, Miss Voncille Nettles of Who’s Who in Cherico fame. It’s hot July and Maura Beth watches the meeting unfold with thoughts about how to make this small group come under the book club umbrella. Meanwhile, this meeting disintegrates into a snobbery session, putting the Matriarch at a disadvantage and Maura Beth’s library possibly out of business.
Ashton Lee’s THE CHERRY COLA BOOK CLUB brings a city council as villain, a librarian as hero, and townsfolk with personal crises as family.
You’ll enjoy Maura Beth Mayhew as a Melanie trying to revive herself into Scarlett, and you’ll get to know a spinster Scarlett who needs Melanie attributes. Citizens young and old, new, former, or lifelong residents of Cherico with jobs or unemployed have a need for a library that isn’t old and dusty but lively with relevant topics and meals to share. This library needs the family of folks that surrounds it to bring it to life and in the process save a life!
I found characters in these pages that I enjoyed getting to know and a town in which I’d love to live. Join me in Cherico to be a faithful library companion with a sense of family that was never expected but loved all the same and try the recipes waiting just for you!
A standalone novel, THE CHERRY COLA BOOK CLUB by Ashton Lee will leave you counting the days to the release of THE READING CIRCLE (A CHERRY BOOK CLUB NOVEL) in March 2014 .
Publisher: Viking Adult
Published: October 1, 2013
Format: Hardback (512 pages)
***Though the publisher provides the free book, I offer the opinion.***
The first brief appearance by Alma Whittaker is to offer her father’s story.
Henry Whittaker did not come from wealth. In fact, he was born to a poor family in 1860, and his poor lineage shaped him into a child who wanted what some others did possess. This incessant drive to obtain what was not his lot in life took him down a perilous path that could have led to his demise.
Death did not visit this lad, as getting caught a thief should have guaranteed, but in many ways, what he endured was much worse.
The man punishing him said many things that Henry Whittaker carried with him through the many ships, storms, illnesses, and dank places he had gone. The most beloved was that one day Henry Whittaker would become a gentleman.
Truth be told, he most certainly did.
Eventually, Henry took on a Dutch wife and moved to Philadelphia where his wealth seemed to grow as did his family on his White Acre Estate.
In Philadelphia, you’ll meet Henry’s daughter, Alma, at the beginning of life being schooled by her mother and riveted by botany like her father and his father too. Alma was treated as a scholar by both parents and by the gentlemen who visited her home, White Acre.
Alma’s first love is the earth and things that grow, but her next love broke her heart and the one after that one did the same.
This Whittaker daughter comes of age and cares for her father after her mother dies, but after Henry dies, Alma leaves the estate to find some answers. Will she ever find what she seeks?
THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS: A NOVEL by Elizabeth Gilbert is a beautifully written tome of fiction where one main character, Alma Whittaker, strives to answer questions of life itself. Many of those same questions are asked today and those answers still vary.
The marvel that Elizabeth Gilbert deftly manages is that she is able to contrast the father’s and daughter’s lives in an amazing way that ends up very much the same. Henry Whittaker found his home in Philadelphia, and Alma Whittaker finds her home in a very unexpected place. Father and daughter sail the world, each seeking something. Some things they indeed find, but other items stay elusive.
Alma is a strong woman living in a time where women, overall, were considered weak. Her botany writing must be disguised with only her first initial, since the educated men learning of her femininity would dismiss her reputation. In the eyes of these scholars of that day her womanhood would take her out of the sphere of respected and placed into the category of polite. In other words, she wouldn’t count. Later in life, Alma demonstrates just how much stronger she is than most of those educated men and how much smarter she is as well. Alma’s life voyage leads her where she’s meant to be.
This timeframe in history was thoroughly researched as well was the sciences. Nevertheless, I must warn the reader that some adult content does make appearances inside this art of words.
Publisher: Cozy Cat Press
Published: April 18, 2013
Format: Paperback (218 pages)
Series: An Eliza Gordon Mystery
***Though others provide the free ebook, I offer the opinion.***
Goodship, NY is a lovely town for tourists in summertime and of those many whom revisit or establish a yearly routine of showing up. With the many new visitors, Goodship goes through some growth spurts and some are not all good. In fact, a new addition to the town ends up very dead and a gossip website about the many residents of this town may very well lead to this inevitable ending.
However, life in this small town will go on throughout all seasons and all seasons seem to have one thing in common. Everyone eats soup at Soup Opera and this eatery owned by a former Soap star, Eliza Gordon, becomes the very polestar of gossip, bad behavior, innuendo, and sleuthing.
Eliza Gordon does like having her fingers on the pulse of her adopted home of Goodship, but she isn’t the one pulling the strings behind an evil website called The Goodship Grapevine. In fact, this site’s mission doesn’t just seem to be about old-fashioned gossip but is rather about the utter destruction of the townspeople, and while this site becomes everyone’s focus, the newest radio star runs a close second. This man is not loved, liked, or even well tolerated. Even Eliza’s best friend and radio D. J. /part owner, Midge, despises this man.
The shock jock in question around the town is Paul Hackett, and it’s not only is radio personality that is questionable. Midge’s brother suspects his wife of having an affair with this man, and Midge is the one who has suggested as much to him. This guy seems to always be around the women and especially around young ladies who love the famed. This eatery owner does wonder what the newly minted Grapevine website and the newest radio star have in common beyond the town of Goodship. Although, Eliza doesn’t just have sleuthing on her mind these days.
Her prodigal brother-in-law, Jonas, has returned home to the family estate.
This home is in the same place she’s living and although this sprawling estate can still provide the privacy she needs, this living arrangement has stirred up a need to leave it and a curiosity about her dearly departed husband’s younger brother who bears a striking resemblance to her man. It’s been so disturbing to her that she actively tries to avoid the man. Meanwhile, Eliza is still in therapy to get over the death of her husband and move into a budding relationship with Goodship’s Police Chief, Tom Santini. However, even her relationship with Tom is skewed toward her husband. Tom was her husband’s best friend. Despite her history as a Soap star, Eliza’s personal life was usually tidy, in order, and happily without much drama. However, these days the only order her life seems to have is keeping herself busy at the eatery, but even Soup Opera was founded with and established with her husband, Eddie.
This former Soap star’s life is about make a turn that could lead to her murder. Once the most despised radio host is murdered inside her best friend’s radio station and haunting flyers appear to tell everyone about The Quiet, it all seems indicative that there is something more sinister happening that goes much beyond the murder, and it could be infecting the town’s youngest adults. Even if these two events are much unrelated, which they do seem to be, it spells trouble for Goodship and even more trouble for our soup designer sleuth.
Amy Beth Arkawy’s DEAD SILENT, is a twisty tale of mystery that will have you worried about The Quiet and about murder, while you turn pages hoping everyone will still be standing at the end!
Eliza Gordon is a widow whose grieving has stabilized into a steady ache with fewer tears but a cloak of sorrow remains. However, her widowhood has also sprawled out into a wanting for change in life without the loss of her memories or the betrayal of them. Given all this, her natural curiosity for crime solving tends to get in the way of real life’s changes, but a murder does provide refuge for her mind around a whodunit to give her some much-needed space to stop using therapy as a way to delay these changes.
I’m hooked on this series and look forward to the next Eliza Gordon mystery!
Publisher: Second Wind Press LLC
Published: April 10, 2012
Format: Paperback (238 pages)
Origin: Author Recommendation
***Though others provide the free ebook, I offer the opinion.***
Rachel Springer has everything she needs, including her own law practice, well-meaning friends, and the consummate companion who is with her during meditation, at work, and at home.
Her commute to work is car free and a dream and so, as she sees it, her life is perfect.
Rachel has long ago accepted that life without love and a man is okay; however, her best friend doesn’t always agree. This is why Rachel suspects Susan is up to no good when she asks, no tells, Rachel to rent half of her duplex to a man working with her husband.
Susan, in all her pushing, brings this gentle man to see Rachel’s downstairs apartment that is not for rent, and although this man is a total stranger, Rachel’s dog Ralph automatically adores him. To Rachel he is nice, but she’s into something that she doesn’t necessarily want, although is not set totally against, John Turner, she is against having a male around with Susan’s devilish agenda.
But maybe she could be nice to a nice man and ignore Susan’s matchmaking assaults. She draws up a lease and sparks her loyal friend and administrative assistant’s ire. Who is this and why are you renting him your space? Once she convinced Georgia, a background check was not necessary for this man, as his references were already top-notch, Rachel’s own doubt surfaced.
Meanwhile, John Turn is a widower turned loner and a twenty-year employee turned consultant.
To appease his children the he did the dating, but he did really like being unattached. It’s not that he had been a bachelor weighted down by a family, but he had been a husband and father weighted down by an alcoholic wife.
In the end, the drink killed her, but it had doused her spirit long ago.
His five years alone taught him some things and allowed him to enjoy many things, but once he became a grandfather his traveling work sometimes took a toll. He missed his grandson, Ben, who is five now, and it was hard having to put their relationship on hold when left for work. Right now, John was in a proverbial catch 22 situation, although he lived in Washington D.C. before and was looking forward to living there again, the time away from Ben would be painful to both him and his grandson.
He did like the woman who was attached to his short-term housing, but regret could still fill him about leaving even while he packed.
Leigh Somerville’s IT ALL STARTED WITH A DOG is a story that will keep you wanting each to find happiness but the twists and turns that abound will have you biting your nails until the end!
Rachel Springer is a caring woman who has simply accepted her lot in life but gives of herself to others without regret and with a fierce loyalty. Taking in a stray dog is only the beginning of a wonderful character with a good heart. You’ll meet a cast of others who this woman helps along the way. However, in some instances, her law practice can show Rachel the wrong side of people, but she doesn’t lose the right side of herself.
John Turner’s own parent’s alcoholic background made him an easy fit into a closet drunkard’s life. However, he’s missed out of much in raising his own children. A sad circumstance for him, but an even sadder one for his children. Grateful for his second chance in child rearing with his grandson, John is a man who is realizing every day can be a gift but every gift can have a drawback. Love is a wonderful feeling that pain can hide in and wanting to be with Ben is causing to him to second guess everything.
IT ALL STARTED WITH A DOG is a standalone novel that will leave you wanting to read the sequel, ALL GOOD THINGS: SEQUEL TO: IT ALL STARTED WITH A DOG VOLUME 2 (Second Wind Press 2012)!
Q: After the stunning dual success of your memoirs Eat, Pray, Love and Committed, the safer, more obvious choice for you would have been to continue in nonfiction. What was it that prompted you to return to the novel with THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS?
A: I needed to come home to my roots as a writer. Fiction is where I began my writing journey, and all I ever wanted to be was a pure novelist. Fate intervened and led me into the world of memoir (and believe me, I am grateful for my success there!) but the next thing I knew, a dozen years had passed since I’d written a word of fiction. I simply couldn’t let another year go by, so I embarked on this novel.
Q: How difficult is it for you to shift gears between genres?
A: I thought it would be more difficult than it was. I feared I had lost the skill of fiction entirely (almost the way you can lose a foreign language if you don’t practice it often) and so I was intimidated by the prospect of returning to the form of a novel. As a result of my fear, I over-prepared for this book ridiculously. I did ten times the research I actually needed, just to feel covered and safe. Up till the very day I put down the research and began actually writing the novel, I honestly wasn’t sure if I could do it. But as soon as I began, the moment Alma was born, I realized, “Oh! I was so wrong! Fiction isn’t a foreign language; it’s my mother tongue!” I had forgotten nothing, except the joy of it. It felt like a homecoming.
Q: THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS opens in 1800 and spans much of the 19th century as its heroine Alma Whittaker comes into her own as an accomplished botanist. According to Kirkus Reviews, this “sweeping saga…offers an allegory for the great, rampant heart of the 19th century.” Why did you choose to set your novel during this particular time? And what aspects of this era are important for us to remember in modern times?
A: The nineteenth century fascinated me because of its intellectual accessibility. I could never write a story about modern science because the comprehension of modern science is far out of reach to anyone except modern scientists (and each of them can only understand the specifics of their own narrow fields.). The nineteenth century was the last moment in history when a relatively educated layperson could follow what was going on in the world of science and invention to a wide degree. Also, there were no “professionals”, such as we know them today. This was a time when amateur explorers, naturalists and enthusiasts were are still making major contributions to progress. Alma is a woman who would have been up-to-date on all the latest thinking in the world, across many different fields of study. With her own well-tended library, her private offices, and her brilliantly cultivated mind, she could easily have come up with botanical theories to rival those of any man. This idea of such open access to history-changing ideas fascinated me more than anything. That, and an inherent attraction to the gorgeous language of the day. With apologies to the Elizabethians, I think nobody ever wrote or spoke better English than during the nineteenth century. We could use a little more of that.
Q: The mass popularity you achieved with Eat, Pray, Love has probably changed your definition of success. As you go forward, what does it mean to you now to succeed as a writer?
A: I’m lucky in that pressure for success is completely off for me—at least as far as I’m concerned. Fortunately, there’s no way to match the phenomenon of Eat, Pray, Love, so I don’t even have to attempt it! What Eat, Pray, Love did for me was to give me the liberty (both artistically and financially) to pursue my own private literary passions in whatever direction I wanted. There could be no THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS without the beneficence of Eat, Pray, Love. That book has been my great enabler, my great patron. My notion of success now is simply to keep following my interests, wherever they may take me.
Q: The novel’s story soars across the globe—from London, to Peru, to Philadelphia, to Tahiti, to Amsterdam and beyond. You are one of modern literature’s most famous travelers, from Italy, India and Indonesia in Eat, Pray, Love to Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia in Committed, so readers will surely be looking forward to the armchair travel of THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS. Can you discuss why you chose any of these particular settings for the story?
A: I think of this story in some respects as a mystery novel (in that everyone is seeking to solve or find something of great importance to their fates) so I felt the need to follow the mystery wherever it led me, anywhere on the planet, as long as the search remained historically accurate. For Henry to have made his fortune in the quinine trade, for instance, I needed him to explore Peru and then set up business in the Dutch East Indies, before settling down in Philadelphia, which was in fact the birthplace of the American pharmaceutical industry. Ambrose’s search for rare orchids would naturally have led him to the jungles of South America. As for the section of the novel that takes place in the South Seas, well….no self-respecting nineteenth century adventure story would be complete without a journey to the South Seas! That was just a nod to Kipling, Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson — as well as a nod to Captain Cook himself. Finally, Alma’s search for an independent and dignified life could only have brought her back to Amsterdam, which has always been a progressive and intellectually welcoming city. As somebody who herself has found great answers to life through travel, I wanted my characters (especially Alma) to be afforded the same privilege. (And if researching this novel forced me to travel to places like London, Amsterdam and Tahiti in order to get my facts straight…well, that is simply the sacrifice I am willing to make for my work!)
Q: The epigraph of THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS reads, “What life is, we know not. What life does, we know well.” That line is a bit of a riddle in itself. How do you think it comments on Alma Whittaker’s story?
A: I think it’s such a lovely quote because it sheds light on the dilemma of all scientific inquiry. Life’s basic doings are fairly simple to decode. From careful observations, we have been able to figure out how systems like photosynthesis and cell regeneration and reproduction all function. That part is straightforward. But that still doesn’t tell us what life IS. Why are we here? Why do we have these extraordinarily over-evolved minds? Why do we long for the divine? Why do we suffer? Why do we feel that we have souls? Why are we moral or immoral? Why do we contradict and surprise ourselves so? Despite all our intellect, we are no closer to answering these questions than ever—as Alma, by the end of her journey, well realized.
Q: The title of your novel alludes to a theory set forth by a sort of scientific mystic from the 1500s, Jacob Boehme, who argued that the entire natural world is a divine code, crafted and encrypted by God for the betterment of humankind. Boehme was a pretty weak scientist but a highly inspirational thinker. Why did you choose his phrase “the signature of all things” as the name of your novel?
A: First of all, the phrase itself is simply beautiful. But I also felt that Boehme’s theory speaks to a common longing which unites scientists, the religious and the artistic—namely an urge to break the code, to look behind the veil, to be shown the secret answers. I feel as though all the main characters in the novel are, in their own ways, searching for the Signature of All Things. They don’t merely want some of the answers: they want THE answer.
Q: Your book has much of the feel of a novel written in the nineteenth century. How, as a writer, did you go about establishing the authenticity of your novel’s mood?
A: I completely immersed myself in nineteenth-century prose and ideas. Fortunately this was fun for me; I have always had a particular love for writers like Dickens, Trollope, Eliot, Austen, and James. I went back and re-read many of those great novels, and, of course, I also sought out as much information as I could on the botanical exploration and history of the day. But mostly I read letters—not only letters of great naturalists, but also the letters of common people. Those unguarded everyday letters are where I could best hear people’s common speech, and that helped me fall down the rabbit hole of time and language.
Q: Henry Whittaker, your heroine’s father, dominates the first fifty pages of the book, and he rules much of his daughter Alma’s life thereafter. He’s a trifle like a pre-modern Gatsby: an uncultured roughneck who parlays his I’ll-show-them attitude into an incalculable fortune. Do you see his story as a commentary on the temptations and pitfalls of the American Dream?
A: I didn’t intended for Henry to be a commentary on the American Dream, to be honest …partially because I don’t totally see Henry as American, and partially because I don’t see his trajectory as being tragic in the manner of Gatsby. Henry doesn’t have enough self-doubt or self-awareness to be a tragedy, and he never really fails, either. There is nothing he longs for that he does not achieve—except immortality, of course. I see Henry more as a countryless force of nature, as a creature who is, from birth to death, comprised of pure and unstoppable will. It was exhilarating for me to write Henry Whittaker, because he is so huge and relentless and shameless. It was so fun to write of his galloping ascent and his stubborn endurance. He’s the power source whose energy fuels the whole first half of the book. I think of him like the booster rocket who eventually thrusts Alma out into the stratosphere. Yes, he is domineering, but he also loves and challenges his daughter, and without the example of his ruthless might, Alma could never have been the force that she turns out to be.
Q: Your heroine, Alma Whittaker, may be one of the most fully developed characters in all of American fiction. Were there real-life nineteenth-century women to whom you referred in creating her?
A: I looked closely at the lives of such women as Mrs. Mary Treat (a New Jersey–based expert on carnivorous plants who was a correspondent of Darwin’s), and Elizabeth Knight Britton (a respected moss expert who founded the New York Botanical Gardens along with her husband), and Marianne North (a wonderful and fearless botanical illustrator who, like Alma, set out alone to explore the world quite late in life) . . . and many more besides! In the nineteenth-century, botany was considered the only science that was truly open to women (flowers and gardens being “feminine” topics, you know) so I found no shortage of brilliant and tireless female researchers from whom to draw inspiration for Alma’s work. Emotionally, though, Alma is my own creation. From the very first page, I simply felt that I knew her in my bones, and that I had an obligation to tell her story as honorably and thoroughly as I could.
Q: Alma’s great passion is for botany. You yourself were raised on a tree farm. Like Alma, you had a childhood with few neighbors and a lot of books. What other similarities between you and Alma might it benefit readers to know about?
A: A dear friend who read the novel early on said, “It’s so interesting to see bits of your DNA woven into Alma’s character, and then transformed and exaggerated.” This comment surprised me, because I honestly hadn’t seen the resemblance! Then I thought, well, let’s see . . . I also had a charismatic and somewhat self-absorbed father, quite gifted with trees, whom I absolutely adored. I also had pragmatic and efficient mother whom I loved and respected, and who (like Beatrix and Hanneke, both) taught me the gift of discipline, and never permitted me to wallow in my sorrows. (Though my mother is infinitely more affectionate than Beatrix.) I also had, from earliest childhood, an instinctive thrill of learning, and was always exploding with curiosity. I also grew up without friends and neighbors nearby, in the isolated bubble of my parent’s farm. As an adolescent, I was also tall and ungainly, and I longed for male attention that I could never hope to receive. And as an adult, I have also sought (and found) deep refuge and satisfaction in my work—especially at times when my personal life may have disappointed or hurt me. This last bit is really what Alma and I most share in common. The name Alma itself means “soul,” and in this regard (her lifelong passion for her work) Alma is indeed my soul.
Q: For each of the friends, marriage turns out to be, to one degree or another, a catastrophe. You have reflected a great deal about marriage in your other writings, especially in the memoir Committed. What do you think your characters’ errors might teach us about the rather tricky business of matrimony?
A: I think, to be honest, the depiction of their marriages is a bit more realistic and accurate than the model that most romantic novels would have us believe! I didn’t intentionally set out to make these women suffer, but I wanted to show what would really and truly have happened in these mismatched unions. None of their husbands are bad men (in fact, there is not a villain of any kind in the entire novel) but they are simply not the right fit. We all know that this can happen. Poor Retta Snow is the only one who is really undone by matrimony (though I suspect her mind would have unraveled over time anyhow, no matter whom she had married.) Prudence and Alma both survive their marriages with dignity. As their mother teaches them early on, dignity is the only thing that matters, and time will reveal who has it. I feel proud that, by the end of the novel, they both have earned their dignified lives.
Q: Your novel looks at nature in search of something like divinity. Your observation that moss “is a resurrection engine” typifies this quest (p. 169). Can we find God in the physical world?
A: Well, people sure used to think so. Up until the middle of the nineteenth century, men of science were all believers. Most of the great early English naturalists were also ministers; they were the only ones who had education and leisure for such pursuits. Darwin himself almost became a minister. God’s power was always thought to be most easily and obviously revealed in the majestic works of nature. (I think we still instinctively feel that sense of awe and humility when we are faced by nature’s wonders.) The problem came when the scientific evidence began to contradict the biblical record. We must never forget how painful this schism was—and remains—to the deeply devout. As early as 1850, you start to see people having to choose sides, and this choosing seemed to tear something vital out of everyone. Now we live in a world full of scientists who live without divinity, and believers who live without science. I feel something has been lost here—reverence on one side, rationality on the other. I hope my book speaks to that loss. And I love giving the last chapters of my novel to Alfred Russel Wallace, who was a great evolutionary scientist, as well as a believer in the notion that there exists in the universe some “supreme intelligence” who calls to us and longs for communion with us. Wallace saw no inherent contradiction in these two ideas, and he died a happy man.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Absolutely nothing! I am resting. I am deeply at rest. This book was a long journey and I think I may have to catch my breath a bit before launching into another.
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Published: July 9, 2013
Format: Paperback (258 pages)
Series: An Adams Grove Novel (Book 2)
Origin: Publisher through NetGalley (eGalley)
***Though the publisher provides the free ebook, I offer the opinion.***
Although Carolanne Baxter had been more than ready to live back home, she wasn’t ready for the many challenges that seem to arise in Adams Grove.
Some irritations are small, some are tedious, some are weddings, and sometimes it’s a murder!
It all starts with something small.
The laid back lifestyle of a small town is hard to get used to with her transplanted city roots. Carolanne did grow up in this town, but this lifestyle wasn’t the reason she ran far. Back then, major reasons like a deceased mother, a heartbroken, drunk father, and limited career possibilities made her go. She’s back among friends, and her law practice is a partnership affair where they each live upstairs and practice downstairs. It’s a platonic relationship that everyone seems to think is or should be something else entirely.
Her move should help change that view. In fact, her house is done ahead of schedule, and during her tedious maid of honor duties, when everyone is trying to pair her up, even though she doesn’t want to be paired up at all, she is starting the moving process. Away from her partner, she will go and those persistent people should get the message loud and clear.
Meanwhile, preparations for Jill and Garrett’s wedding start to stir up some feelings that Carolanne is certainly not used to having, but she takes it in stride and keeps with the plans. Until, soon, the wedding is upon them.
Carolanne sees to all the usual traditions like something old, something new, and something borrowed, but the something blue is really only the beginning of this event.
She doubts anyone expected someone blue to pop up at this affair, not even the murderer.
WEDDING CAKES AND BIG MISTAKES by Nancy Naigle successfully blends romance, mystery and family drama into a read you can’t miss!
I enjoyed getting to know Carolanne Baxter, and I’m sure you will too. This character’s reasons for coming home are still unclear even to her, but those around her see everything perfectly clear. These people prove not only valuable to her life, but they start Carolanne’s desperate desire to prove them wrong, which only proves them one hundred percent correct. Meanwhile, she has family fences to mend and a new house to pay for, all the while she’s loosing her best friend.
Nancy Naigle’s WEDDING CAKES AND BIG MISTAKES is a standalone novel, but you’ll want to read the SWEET TEA AND SECRETS (Montlake Romance 2012) while you await the next Adams Grove novel!
Published: July 02, 2013
Format: 304 pages
Series: Ophelia Wylde Paranormal Mysteries
***Though the publisher provides the free book, I offer the opinion.***
I saw a dead girl. Okay, to a spiritualist medium it shouldn’t have been so shocking, but it was a moment for sure. Most of the time, I pretend talking to dead people. Easy, really. After visiting the best graves, it’s easy to find the recent dearly departed with the most cash and the wealthy family who would be the easiest picking.
Now, I’m not the self-satisfying type, so hold on and I’ll explain.
Dr. Ophelia Wylde wants to give comfort to those who hurt not just enjoy their cash, and she wants to give the peace that she is denied when her heart aches.
See the thief that stole from me wasn’t the same kind of thief that you might be thinking of me. This man took more than cash in the most perverse way. Enough said about that. You see I am a widow. While both my husband and I shared love, happiness, and a belief in the spirits speaking, we made a promise—if ever eternally separated, we would reconnect with a message. While I believe that is somewhat still possible, I know that this is my last chance to have it happen.
In these years, since my beloved’s death, I moved down the wrong path. However, the belief that the dead can speak was founded many years ago in New Orleans, and still follows me today at a strange place for sure, Dodge City. If the sight of a dead girl didn’t cost me angst the animal smells and sunning hides would certainly have had the privilege.
In 1877, the locomotive is my mode of travel with my beloved pet, Eddie. He is not a talking bird, for the record; he does something better. Anyway, my desire to find this dead girl overtook me, and I wound my way to her. Although, I did need to be brief before the train moved on without me. You see that just wouldn’t do. I have an appointment to keep, and it is one that is dear to me.
After arriving at the spot that held this woman, I knew my eyes deceived me. I wasn’t a little one seeing a dead man in the mirror anymore, no. This dead girl did not even exist.
Feeling somewhat a fool, I made my way backward to the station and arrived with time to spare. Although thanks to some idiot’s drivel, my leaving on this train becomes impossible, since a bounty hunter listens to someone’s babble and adds my non-traditional female mode of dress and sums up that I am someone else, entirely. This person who is supposed to be me is a female serial killer.
The sound of the cell door closing makes me positive that I will miss my appointment and just might be here . . . forever.
Finally, my bail was set by a man who’s grieving and needs my special, albeit fake, help. However, needing money to pay the lawyer, the hotel, and feed myself is the part that isn’t so selfless.
Really, it’s not until I recognize the cowboy that I’d stepped over, when he was sauced, do I make the fatal slip-up.
Fatal does not describe his problem, but it does describe my own.
Meanwhile, I see the dead woman, again. This time, so does two cowboys, but even knowing there is more than meets my eye on this woman, my earthly time becomes limited due to my own mistakes.
OF GRAVE CONCERN by Max McCoy is an amazing story that blends the Western traditional genre with the paranormal genre of today to make a mystery that will bring you back in time and won’t let you go!
Dr. Ophelia Wylde is someone you’ll come to know as early trailblazer of today’s independent woman.
Walking with baggage like anyone of us could, this character spins us into a world that exists beyond this one. In her flawed but believable fashion, Ophelia shows that a woman wearing pants is not a recent fashion trend, and her independent streak is both a product of herself and her circumstances. She’s a woman of 1877 who knows there are very few ways for a female to make money. Choosing the way she can live with herself and bring happiness to others, she sees herself perpetrating a victimless crime of mercy, well except for when she becomes the next victim.
Max McCoy produces a great historical read in OF GRAVE CONCERN with twists and turns that any mystery reader will love. As the story unfolds, other mysteries emerge. However, many of these mysteries are of the world and some aren’t. I know that you that you will be entranced and won’t want to miss the next Dr. Ophelia Wylde mystery!
Published: May 28, 2013
Format: Hardback (272 pages)
Series: A Local Foods Mystery
***Though the publisher provides the free book, I offer the opinion.***
Cameron (Cam) Flaherty has left the big city and her software career behind, well for the most part. She can’t seem to run too far from her self-confessed computer geekness, but she does well to incorporate that part of life with her new life.
Cam took over Great-Uncle Albert’s farm in Massachusetts and has begun her own organic farming with a local group of volunteers and one farm hand, a left over from her granduncle’s ownership and a son of his friend. Due to a volunteer, Lucinda, Cam is connected with the Locavore Club and has gained more volunteer helpers and clients.
While keeping this farm hand, Mike Montgomery, on despite the difficulties she’s encountered with him, she hasn’t had it easy, but she didn’t want to be in the position to let him go. His dislike of her is growing too palpable, but she at least grows used that. This last issue could still cost her the organic certification and could still cause loss of customers, since he continued the argument in front of her customers.
Finally, he was gone and she had caught him before he used the pesticide on her crop. Cam’s certification was still in process and she was able to save the day with her customers.
Although, his termination puts an immediate larger problem right at Cam’s door.
See, he is really gone—his body is found on her grounds, with her pitchfork through him, and she’s chief among suspects. Living much of the time with her great-aunt and great-uncle, Cam’s love of farming grew, but her actually living the dream has turned into a nightmare.
At local events, the mother of the deceased accuses Cam of murder, the suspicious police chief questions her and others, and some townsfolk believe she killed Mike and let that be known. At home, a couple of volunteers leave the farm in fear of their own safety and a father questions Cam over the safety of his volunteer daughter.
Luckily, for Cam one of her old friends is on the police force, but Cam sees not only Ruthie’s strained marriage but also a strained job situation right in front of her. Ruthie is not able to do much. In fact, the chief is keeping Ruthie out of this investigation, and the strained marriage is keeping her away from the farm too.
Can the software she designed to run a farm help her with murder? Can another software predict a list of suspects? Can anything keep her from getting arrested?
A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE by Edith Maxwell is a compelling story in the mystery market, touching many of today’s headlines, creatively!
Cam Flaherty is a novice organic farmer who teaches us the rules along the way. Her learning curve becomes ours and her life is something we worry about too. I really liked Cam as she’s not afraid to ask for help and isn’t afraid to fail. She’s strong and caring but also business savvy and practical; she’s a woman who loves to get her hands dirty but realizes that she needs a profit to live. Her love interest is someone who you’ll like but who also fits the suspect profile along with many other people in town. You’ll find yourself rooting for this relationship but maybe running from this man too.
Edith Maxwell’s A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE is a great mystery that will have you eating local while you await the next book of her series!