#Book Release! Greetings from Asbury Park by Daniel H. Turtel

Greetings from Asbury Park

Image of Greetings from Asbury Park

Author(s): 

Daniel Turtel

Release Date: 

April 5, 2022

Publisher/Imprint: 

Blackstone Publishing

Buy on Amazon

Reviewed in The New York Journal of Books by

Claire Fullerton

“a pithy, enjoyable, modern-day story from start to finish, with a cast of fully realized characters you’ll champion to the end.”

The sphere of activity in Daniel H. Turtel’s Greetings from Asbury Park epitomizes character as place, vacillating along the New Jersey shore between Asbury Park, Deal Lake, and Long Branch, in a vivid and vibrantly described setting. “The boardwalk followed the sand from the northern tip of Asbury Park all the way south to Belmar and beyond—a stretch of more than three miles before the Shark River Bridge interrupted it.” On the boardwalk’s half-mile commercial strip between Convention Hall and the Casino, “there were restaurants and bars all down the strip . . . and it was always busiest in the summer.”  

It is the summer of 2016, and affluent Joseph Larkin is dead. A philandering, self-serving, unlikable man who lived in a Long Branch estate, he, seemingly for the sport of creating chaos from the grave, leaves an unresolved web of interconnected characters in his wake, who are primarily unaware of each other.

Greetings from Asbury Park is Casey Larkin’s story. In his early twenties and on hiatus for one month from his job in New York City to attend Joseph Larkin’s funeral, he spends the hot summer days coming to terms with his identity against a backdrop of disparate characters from varying backgrounds all touched by the long shadow of his deceased, biological father. 

Twenty-six-year-old ne’re do well, Davey Larkin, is the pill-popping, heavy-drinking, legitimate son of Joseph Larkin, who “had a personal stool at the bar Pop’s Garage in Asbury Park and bought a drink for anybody who approached him to offer condolences.” Davey is well aware of Casey, his illegitimate half-brother born of his father’s mistress, who’s kept conveniently on the other side of town in an area named Allenhurst. Casey explains their relationship: “Davey’s mother was Joseph’s wife and Allenhurst was as close as she would allow him to keep his mistress . . . I did not even meet Davey until I was eight years old, and did not go to live with them, until three years later, when my mother decided that she’d had enough of being a mistress and headed to New York with the money she’d squeezed out of Joseph in order to try her hand at life as a single woman.”

Casey and Davey have an awkward relationship, and neither have knowledge of their biracial, half-sister, a promising teenage singer in the boardwalk nightclubs named Gabby, whose mother, it is discovered, was Joseph’s maid for 20 years. When Casey and Gabby unexpectedly meet after Joseph Larkin’s funeral through circumstances involving Casey’s inheritance, a complicated relationship ignites, and the moral line between the taboo of shared blood and the unwitting spark of attraction is highlighted.

Meredith Hawthorne is the daughter of an Irish immigrant who works as a landscaper. A year ahead of Casey while they were in middle school, Meredith grew up next door to Casey in Allenhurst and knows of his history with Joseph and Davey Larkin. In reconnecting with Casey, while he’s in town for Joseph’s funeral, Meredith is equally as tentative and inarticulate with her feelings for him as she was when they were younger.

Julie Kowalski owns an upscale boardwalk dress shop named Madame K and employs Gabby part-time. Known regionally as Madame K, Julie is the mother of the free-spirited Lena, with whom Casey has a one-night stand on the night of Joseph’s funeral, after meeting her in a boardwalk bar. Every morning, Julie takes her cup of coffee to her front porch, and watches in fascination as 19-year-old Jacob Besalel runs four laps around Deal lake’s eastern tip.

A serious, disciplined young man from a devout Syrian Jewish background, Jacob is dismayed that his younger sister, Sophia, goes beyond their strict upbringing to test society’s fringes on the boardwalk, where she crosses paths with Madame K, Gabby, and Davey. Because the Besalel family spends summer in the area, all characters in this surprising story are brought into wonderfully crafted, uncanny alignment in ways that add depth, dimension, and clever layers to the tightly entwined story of fate and chance and the inescapable bonds of family connections.  

Daniel H. Turtel artfully weaves multiple storylines centered on Asbury Park and stemming from the life of the duplicitous Joseph Larkin. Varying points of view amid clashing cultures are used throughout this modern-day, progressive story that reads like a sign of the times amid a dysfunctional family, whose hidden story is finally brought to light.

Through the use of economic language and the power of a wildly engaging story, Greetings from Asbury Park explores existential questions such as right versus wrong; nature versus nurture; morality versus self-direction, and ultimately, to whom we are accountable. It’s a pithy, enjoyable, modern-day story from start to finish, with a cast of fully realized characters you’ll champion to the end.  

Claire Fullerton’s most recent novels are Little Tea and multiple award winner, Mourning Dove. Honors include the Independent Book Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Regional Fiction, the Reader’s Favorite for Southern Fiction Bronze Medal and various other literary awards.

River, Sing Out by James Wade: Book Review

In the captivating River, Sing Out, author James Wade weaves lyrical prose and character driven regional dialect against a hardscrabble backdrop along the East Texas Neches River. 

Thirteen-year-old Jonah Hargrove lives in a trailer beside the river that “sat clumsy and diagonal, and faced the small clearing, looking out at the world as if someone had left it there and never returned.” Motherless and at the mercy of a hard-drinking, abusive father only at home part time, Jonah is a friendless, social outcast left to his own devises. When he finds a secretive, seventeen-year-old girl on the run in the woods, his life is upturned when he nurses her to health and helps her search for the lost backpack holding the meth she stole from shady John Curtis, which she plans to sell, in hopes of starting her life over.  

John Curtis is not a man with whom to trifle. Wiley, quick-witted, and ambitious, he runs an East Texas drug operation, and is regionally feared. When Dakota Cade, Curtis’s muscle-bound, right-hand man, asks about the secret to Curtis’s success, Curtis replies, “If it weren’t for the rage inside of me, I don’t believe I’d be able to take another breath. Wasn’t always like that, of course. I used to think there was something wrong with me. Something missing, maybe. But the older I got, the more I understood what I had was a gift.” 

When Jonah asks the girl he found to tell him her name, she casts her covert eyes to the water and says, “Call me River,” and with literary existential sleight of hand, author James Wade metaphorically writes, “The river flowed and the world turned, cutting paths both new and old, overwhelming those things which came before but could not adapt to the constant movement, the everlasting change. The river and the world together, and both giving life and both swallowing it whole, and neither caring which, and neither having a say in the matter. The boy watched both passing by, his choice and his path each belonging to some current long set in motion.” 

Jonah and River are wary misfits, each without the skills to humanly connect even as they fall into collusion in their mutual flight from the pursuit of the determined John Curtis. With riveting pacing, a heart tugging relationship grows between the youths in fits and starts, “But such solace in those first days was rarely more than a whisper, fading so quickly and completely, the girl was left to question whether it had been there at all.” As the two wade together in the Neche River, their relationship dares to take root, “And somewhere in the beyond, a single fate was selected from a row of fates, no one more certain than the other, yet each bound to the world by threads of choice and circumstance.” 

A sense of page-turning urgency drives River, Sing Out. It’s a high stakes story in flight by a babe in the woods who helps the first love of his life run from a criminal so cleverly sinister as to be oddly likable. Action packed and visually drawn with dire cliff-hanging crafting, River, Sing Out has the extraordinary one-two punch of fascinating high drama written in deep-thinking, elegant prose.     

https://www.jameswadewriter.com/

James Wade author headshot

“An extraordinary piece, exemplifying wonderful positive restraint by letting the narrative solve the condition. Just very well done. No wasted words.”

–Paul Roth, editor, The Bitter Oleander

ABOUT JAMES

James Wade is an award-winning fiction author with twenty short stories published in various literary journals and magazines. His debut novel, ALL THINGS LEFT WILD, was released June 16, 2020 from Blackstone Publishing. His second novel, RIVER, SING OUT, also from Blackstone Publishing, was released June 8, 2021. He has 6 additional novels forthcoming from Blackstone Publishing.

James spent five years as a journalist, before serving as a legislative director at the Texas State Capitol during the 83rd Legislative Session. He also worked as a lobbyist on behalf of water conservation in Texas. 

James lives in the Texas Hill Country, with his wife and daughter. He is an active member of the Writers’ League of Texas.

Represented by Mark Gottlieb with Trident Media Group

Awards and Honors:

Winner of the 2021 Reading the West Award for Best Debut Novel (ALL THINGS LEFT WILD)

Winner of the 2021 Spur Award for Best Historical Fiction (ALL THINGS LEFT WILD)
A winner of the 2016 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest (Historical Fiction)
A finalist of the 2016 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest (Thriller)
A finalist of the 2016 Tethered By Letters Short Story Contest
Honorable mention in the 2016 Texas Observer Short Story Contest

Honorable mention in the 2015 Texas Observer Short Story Contest

Work by James can be found in the following Publications and Anthologies:
The Bitter Oleander | Skylark Review (Little Lantern Press) | Tall…ish (Pure Slush Books) | Intrinsick Magazine | Dime Show Review | Bartleby Snopes | Jersey Devil Press | Typehouse Magazine | After the Pause Journal | J.J. Outre Review | Potluck Magazine | Yellow Chair Review | Through the Gaps | Eunoia Review 
 

FOLLOW JAMES

Instagram
James Wade Writer Facebook
James Wade Writer Twitter
James Wade Writer LinkedIn

The Best Southern Books

As it appears on Shepherd: Best Books

https://shepherd.com/best-books/southern-books

Claire Fullerton Author Of Mourning DoveBy Claire Fullerton

Who am I?

I’m the multiple, award-winning author of 4 novels and one novella, raised in Memphis, Tennessee, and now living in Southern California. The geographical distance gives me a laser-sharp, appreciative perspective of the South, and I celebrate the literary greats from the region. The South is known as the last romantic place in America, and I believe this to be true. The South’s culture, history, and social mores are part and parcel to its fascinating characters, and nothing is more important in the South than the telling of a good story. As a writer, I’m in love with language. I love Southern turns of phrase and applaud those writers who capture Southern nuance. It is well worth writing about Southern sensibilities.


I wrote…

Mourning Dove

By Claire Fullerton

Mourning Dove

What is my book about?

An accurate and heart-wrenching picture of the sensibilities of the American South. Millie and Finley Crossan move from Minnesota to their mother’s genteel world of 1970’s Memphis and learn to navigate the social mores of the Deep South, where all that glitters is not gold. Southern nuance, charismatic characters, a sibling relationship, and an opulent setting underlie this 13-time book award winner that asks how it is that two siblings who share the same history can turn out so differently. 

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The Books I Picked & Why

The Prince of Tides

By Pat Conroy

The Prince of Tides

Why this book?

A resounding Southern family saga. A sins-of-the-father story told in the first person by one of the South’s most revered authors. The Prince of Tides is set on a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina and depicts the haunting secrets of the working class Wingo family in a multi-generational story rife with Southern nuance and now considered a literary classic. The story opens when narrator Tom Wingo flies from the South to New York to meet with his sister’s psychiatrist, and the astounding family saga unfolds from there. 


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Peachtree Road

By Anne Rivers Siddons

Peachtree Road

Why this book?

Peachtree Road is considered a modern-day Gone with The Wind, in that it is set in the pivotal, changing times of 1960’s Atlanta, and concerns the opulent area of Buckhead, where the privileged who built modern-day Atlanta live. The story is narrated in lyrical language by Shep Bondurant, an insightful young man born to privilege, who tells the coming-of-age story of Southern traditions and hypocrisy, and the impact of growing up alongside his troubled cousin, Lucy. A deeply probing story on multiple levels concerning society and the impact of family. 


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Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories

By Ron Rash

Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories

Why this book?

Ron Rash is a national, literary treasure. The author of multiple award-winning novels, this book is an assembly of 34 short stories, most set in Appalachia, and depicting the social nuances and landscape of the American rural South. I recommend this because it will provide a great introduction to the incomparable author known as The Appalachian Shakespeare. As a writer, Ron Rash epitomizes the idea of landscape as destiny, and his well-drawn characters come to life from his flawless use of regional language. 


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All Over But the Shoutin’

By Rick Bragg

All Over But the Shoutin'

Why this book?

Pulitzer prize-winning and best-selling author Rick Bragg depicts hardscrabble, family life in rural Alabama, with a bad-tempered, hard-drinking father and a mother who won’t see her children go without. Bragg’s honest voice is immediate and compelling, and the visceral feel of the setting is the perfect backdrop for this rags to riches story of a man who triumphs over adversity to become a widely acclaimed writer. Bragg’s use of Southern vernacular is what makes this story. 


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The Fighter

By Michael Farris Smith

The Fighter

Why this book?

The Fighter is Southern noir at its best, and the spare, economic voice of the narrator adds to the guttural bleakness of a man down on his luck but willing to persevere against all odds. Set in the sultry Delta, Jack Boucher has put behind him 25 years of bare-knuckle fighting but is given cause to step into the ring one more time. A dark desperation colors this popular novel, and readers will be shown why Michael Farris Smith is considered one of the finest writers now on the American literary landscape.   


https://shepherd.com/best-books/southern-books

The Butterfly Bruises by Palmer Smith

ABOUT THE BUTTERFLY BRUISES 

Smith’s debut collection consists of 80 poems and several short stories. It is a meditation on miscommunication, childhood, Northeastern vs. Southern American culture, family, nature vs. technology, and the imagination of the introvert.

“From sonnets to somnambulance, from algae to oxytocin, from manatees to Manhattan, Smith rides the riptides of memory’s fictions and frictions in this prolific debut. The Butterfly Bruises is a gem mine of poems and stories that write through grief and growing up, personal and planetary survival, with words rugged and glistening like seashell shards.”

-Poetry Critic and Scholar, Professor Robert Dewhurst 

Meet the Author

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Having grown up in NYC and the Southeast, Palmer is presently an MA student at The University of Virginia. Read More

Claire Fullerton’s Reviews > The Butterfly Bruises

The Butterfly Bruises by Palmer Smith

The Butterfly Bruises
by Palmer Smith (Goodreads Author)
Claire Fullerton‘s review  

An assembly of deep probing, masterfully crafted prose and poetry for the discerning reader. The tone is insightful, the use of language impressively beyond the pale. Thought provoking and at times seemingly personal and confessional, the contents of Palmer Smith’s The Butterfly Bruises is breathtaking as her subjects range from a mirror reflection to the death of the family dog to musings on how butterflies survive in winter. This is a book to savor; extraordinary, creative writing that reads as a series of vignettes written from a fresh perspective. A list of eleven discussion questions at the book’s end for book clubs and readers will prompt your powers of reflection, and there is much to reflect upon in this resonant, meditative book! I thoroughly enjoyed it and will certainly revisit its pages.

Meet Palmer Smith

Passionate about writing and poetry, Palmer 

is a current English MA student.

Her poetry and short stories have appeared in:

Refresh Magazine

The Crime Yard

Newark Library Literary Journal

The Online Journal for Person-Centered Dermatology

Ninshar Arts

Opal Literary

Sea Maven Magazine 

Soul Talk Magazine 
Calm Down Magazine 

For Women Who Roar

A New Ullster Magazine

Poethead: The Irish Poetry Journal

Potted Purple Magazine 

Push Up Daisies Magazine

Level: deepsouth 

The Remington Review

The Scissortail Quarterly… amongst many others.

Her poetry was recently praised by the CFO of Garden and Gun Magazine. 

The Butterfly Bruises is her first published collection of work.

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Butterfly Bruises

https://www.thebutterflybruisesbook.com/

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

As it appears in The New York Journal of Books:

Reviewed by: Claire Fullerton

In 114 pages, author Claire Keegan delivers an odyssey of the soul in her gem of a novel, Small Things Like These, without leaving the setting of New Ross, beside the River Barrow.

It is 1985 Ireland, and coal and timber merchant Bill Furlong knows times are hard with Christmas coming. The married father of five girls, Furlong is a self-made man who comes from nothing, his deceased mother having lived with shame as an unwed mother who reared her child by being a domestic servant of the wealthy, Protestant Mrs. Wilson.

Furlong’s days feel mechanical for all their routine. “Lately, he had begun to wonder what mattered, apart from Eileen and the girls. He was touching forty but didn’t feel himself to be getting anywhere or making any headway and could not but sometimes wonder what the days were for.”

Just days before Christmas, Furlong keeps his employees at the yard while he makes deliveries to customers long loyal to his business. When a large order from the Good Shepherds Convent arrives, Furlong takes personal responsibility for delivery, but shudders with the recollection of the troubling time he’d last had on the grounds, when he was approached by a waif of a girl asking him to help her escape. The memory haunts Furlong, who recalls his wife’s response when he’d voiced his concerns over the place purported to be a training school for girls that also ran a laundry business.

Furlong knows well of the harsh rumors attached to the convent as a place for wayward girls, and author Claire Keegan, capturing the very bone marrow of Irish sensibility, writes of Eileen’s response to her husband’s worry: “She sat up rigid and said such things had nothing to do with them, and that there was nothing they could do, and didn’t those girls up there need a fire to warm themselves, like everyone?” The pragmatic Eileen continues, “If you want to get on with life, there’s things you have to ignore, so you can keep on.”

Furlong has conflicted feelings about his own childhood. Raised in his mother’s employers’ home, he knows had it not been for the sufferance of Mrs. Wilson, his life would be disadvantageously different. Feeling hit close to home, Furlong responds to his wife’s comments, “Isn’t it a good job Mrs. Wilson didn’t share your ideas? Where would my mother have gone? Where would I be now?”

Furlong’s Christmas delivery trip to the convent is fateful. While opening the latched storage shed to unload his coal, he discovers a young girl trapped within, and, when he takes issue with the nuns on the girl’s behalf, he suspects all is not as it seems. Being told one thing by Sister Carmel at the convent, his heart intuits a darker truth that rings in a similar tone to the plight of his mother, and in time, Furlong is inspired to act. “He found himself asking was there any point in being alive without helping one another?” Furlong wonders, “Was it possible that the best bit of him was shining forth, and surfacing?”

Spontaneously spurred to action to help the young girl, Furlong knows, “The worst was yet to come.” “But the worst that could have happened was also already behind him; the thing not done, which could have been—which he would have had to live with for the rest of his life.”  

Small Things Like These is a succinct, heart and soul story of a man coming to terms with a consciousness born of his personal narrative. In precise, unadorned language, it personalizes a once taboo subject recently come to the fore, and now considered a blight on Irish history.

All praise to author, Claire Keegan, for masterfully adding to her arsenal of widely acclaimed, human interest stories. Small Things Like These is a fathoms-deep, poignant novel that will appeal to fiction readers enamored of the sub-genre categories small town and rural fiction; holiday fiction; and family life.  

Author Claire Keegan

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The Author of Mourning Dove Reads From her Book.

I had the immense pleasure of narrating the audiobook of my novel, Mourning Dove, which is set on the genteel side of 1970’s Memphis, and concerns two siblings who come to the Deep South as outsiders and learn to navigate the customs and social mores of what is, to them, a foreign land. Mourning Dove is the recipient of 13 book awards and is classified as upmarket fiction, meaning that which bridges the genres of commercial and literary fiction, and to that I’ll add that lovers of Southern fiction have embraced this book as well.

Since I narrated the audiobook, I’m sharing a bit of video as well to give you a more immersive experience, which will hopefully parlay the full intention of Mourning Dove’s mood and feel. The audiobook is available on Audible! http://bitly.ws/jdX4

Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

Release Day!

Image of Once Upon a Wardrobe

Author(s): Patti Callahan

Release Date: October 19, 2021

Publisher/Imprint: Harper Muse

Reviewed by: Claire Fullerton for the New York Journal of Books

Once Upon a Wardrobe tells the story of the inspirational threads author C. S. Lewis wove together in his 1950 fantasy novel for children, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Author Patti Callahan unfurls the story through the eyes of siblings in two timeframes, maintaining a sense of awestruck wonder, while revealing the inner workings of the man behind the magic.

The story opens in idyllic, 1950 Worcestershire, England, at the bedside of eight-year-old George Devonshire, who suffers from a congenital heart condition that in no way dampens his shinning spirit. A voracious reader with an unstoppable imagination, George tasks his 17-year-old sister, Megs, a mathematics student on scholarship at Oxford University, with tracking down the university’s English literature tutor, author C. S. Lewis, to ask where the land of Narnia came from in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Although she loves her brother to the point of no refusal, at first Megs balks and tells George that C. S. Lewis’s famed book is mere fantasy, but reconsiders when George says with heartbreaking sincerity, “I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think the world is held together by stories, not all those equations you stare at.” And so begins the journey of discovery that changes Megs by widening her focus from the neat grid of numbers and equations to the realm of uncharted imagination—all in the name of selfless love for her brother.

Snow is on the ground in the month of December when Megs follows C. S. Lewis to his house after one of his Oxford lectures. It takes her two returns to muster the courage to knock on the door, yet when she is discovered hiding on the grounds by C. S. Lewis’s elder brother, Warnie, she’s invited into the brothers’ home to meet the great author and is received with open arms.

The magnanimous C. S. Lewis, known as Jack, understands the question Megs asks regarding Narnia on behalf of George, yet sets about answering it in a protracted way that requires multiple return visits. Rather than succinctly telling her where Narnia came from, Jack encourages Megs to form her own conclusion as he incrementally tells her the story of his own life. Jack says to Megs, “Who knows when exactly a story begins? Probably at the start of time. But maybe Narnia had its first seeds in a land that my brother and I imagined as children in our attic,” and adds, “Perhaps I was training myself to be a novelist.”

There are myriad mysterious influences that spawn a novelist’s inspiration, and Callahan suggests many with a gentle hand and deep wisdom through Once Upon a Wardrobe’s characters. With regard to the importance of reading, Jack tells Megs, “Every life should be guided and enriched by one book or another, don’t you agree? Certainly, every formative moment in my life has been enriched or informed by a book. You must be very careful about what you choose to read—unless you want to be stuck in your opinions and hard-boiled thoughts, you must be very careful.” 

Because Jack suggests that Megs listen to his stories then go home and write them down from memory, each time Megs returns to the bedside of George, she reads from her notebook and, in time, surprises herself by developing the finesse of a seasoned storyteller. The series of stories she tells is fascinating in that they parlay the background and maturity of a world class author as he navigates the ambiguity of life’s tribulations. From the building stories she tells George of Lewis’s life, Megs realizes, “George’s imagination is taking him places while I ramble on about stories and facts about Mr. Lewis. George takes something of this world and travels to another as if the story world and the real world run right alongside each other.”

At 17, Megs centers her life on education and her beloved brother, but when she is befriended by Padraig Cavender, an Oxford student who hails from Northern Ireland, the wheels are set in motion to fulfill George’s only wish for Christmas, which is inspired by C. S. Lewis’s popular book, and results in a thrilling adventure to Ireland that illuminates the answer to George’s initial question.  

The broadly researched Once Upon a Wardrobe is written in enchanting language apropos to the setting’s time and place and regales the reader with little known tidbits pertaining to the inspiration behind The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. With elegant prose, Callahan invites the reader to intuit creativity’s source. Once Upon a Wardrobe is a captivating story for all ages; a standalone book combining fact, and fantasy, and its peek behind the curtain crafting is an important adjunct to C. S. Lewis’s Narnia chronicles.

Claire Fullerton’s most recent novels are Little Tea and multiple award winner, Mourning Dove. Honors include the Independent Book Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Regional Fiction, the Reader’s Favorite for Southern Fiction Bronze Medal and various other literary awards.

https://linktr.ee/cffullerton

#Book Release!

Book Cover

(This book review appears in The New York Journal of Books.)

In It’s a Wonderful Christmas: Classics Reimagined, each of the five critically acclaimed authors crafts a story inspired by their favorite holiday movie. Combined, the novella collection makes for delightful reading, which, author Julie Cantrell suggests, is the spirit of this collection’s intention. In the author’s note for her novella, Cantrell writes, “When the pandemic put a damper on the 2020 holidays, we decided it was the perfect time to pool our efforts into a positive, uplifting project that would bring a little jingle jangle joy to our readers.” And they do. Each unique novella shines as a complete, satisfactory experience.

Julie Cantrell chose National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and centered her novella, A Fun, Old-Fashioned Family Christmas, on a dysfunctional Baton Rouge family adjusting to their new normal, now that their college professor father has abandoned the family for his 19-year-old student. In their disillusionment, teenage siblings, Ellie, and Jake, don a brave front and join their mother on the family’s annual trip to Houston—sans father—to celebrate the holiday season with their maternal grandparents, who hide their dampened spirits over the unexplained and unhealed estrangement of their only son.

Feeling nostalgic, Ellie flips through family photograph albums of happy Christmases past and, wanting to please her grandparents, issues invitations to relatives far afield, setting the stage for the chaotic reunion of the emotionally baggage-carrying clan. Ellie, hip to social media’s influence, documents the family dynamic with posts on TiKTok, which quickly go viral and grab the attention of a national television show intent on, ironically enough, producing a segment on a family enjoying a traditional Christmas. It’s a tangle of false starts and best intentions gone awry, and Cantrell lures the reader with heartwarming insight into the power of family.

The second novella is titled, Lovely Life, by Janyre Tromp, who tips her hat in her author’s notes to the men and women of the armed forces and shares that her novella’s inspiration came from the classic movie, White Christmas, whose script Tromp distills to its core. Tromp tells the reader her novella is about, “Someone helping a veteran save their business with a big musical production.”

With the novella’s setting in the lake area of Frankfort, Michigan, Lovely Life concerns the multi-generational family seat of Vietnam War veteran Robby Willingham, once a mess sergeant returned worse for wear to run the restaurant/music venue that’s part and parcel of his family’s famed castle hotel. The venue is in the kind of financial peril that’s burdened by a ticking clock, while Robby is pressured with keeping the business’s doors open. When his one-time fiancé, Beatriz Harris, returns to help, now that she’s the world-famous singer in the band Robby helped form pre-war, Robby is confronted with an unreconciled past that includes a lover’s triangle made of Beatriz, himself, and his ex-best friend. A spin on the ties that bind and the fears that hold us back, Lovely Life achieves a harmonious resolution while laying bare themes of sacrifice, healing rifts, and working together for the common good in the name of friendship.

Author Lynne Gentry’s novella, Miracle on Main Street, takes its inspiration from the movie, Miracle on 34th Street. Set in the town of Mt. Hope, the West Texas diner Ruthie Crouch started 40 years prior is failing, and all town businesses are suffering, which inspires the locals to stage a Christmas parade to stimulate tourism. The camaraderie of the townsfolk drives the story, and Tromp introduces a wonderful cast of characters who come to Ruthie’s aid when her estranged husband, Earl Dean, from 40 years back, reappears dressed in rags, and Ruthie’s position as sole proprietor of the diner is threatened, which reveals her long held resentment from Earl Dean’s abandonment.

Though Ruthie and Earl Dean’s daughter is now dead, their grandson, Angus, is devoted to Ruthie and her business, and a predicament arises when Angus longs to let the seemingly vagrant Earl Dean into his life. When Mt. Hope’s citizens embrace Earl, Ruthie remains wary, but her guarded heart opens when she hears the explanation for Earl Dean’s decades long absence. Themes of community, friendship, and perseverance are at the heart of this homespun story, as is the willingness to forgive for the betterment of all.

Author Kelli Stuart tells us in her author’s note that the “Sugar Plum Fairy” in The Nutcracker was a figment of Tchaikovsky’s imagination, and nobody knows where she and the mysterious partner with whom she dances the pas de deux came from. In her novella, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Stuart sets out to answer the riddle by creating a fully imagined fantasy world and populating the kingdom with astounding characters, including a despairing young queen named Alyona; a returned paramour turned knight in shining armor named Max; Chak-Chak, his dog; and an evil, arch nemesis named the Mouse King.  

It is December 24, and in an effort toward breaking the Mouse King’s curse set upon The Land of Sweets, the dispirited Alyona’s mettle is tested as she endeavors to save her kingdom. In days of yore, the kingdom knew prosperity, and tradition had it that Alyona appeared yearly before the masses to hand out sweets, the crowning jewel being one plucked from the kingdom’s sugar plum tree, which gave Alyona the moniker, the Sugar Plum Fairy.

When childhood sweetheart, Max Pavlov, appears at Alyona’s door with information about how to break the kingdom’s curse, forces are set in motion on the way to restoring order, including an army, the location of a girl named Marie, the acquisition of a particular nut, and battle with a seven-headed beast. Persevering through hard times, working together, and keeping the faith are themes in this spellbinding story, the least of which is the triumphant insight that it is love that keeps us together.

A Christmas romance rounds out, It’s a Wonderful ChristmasClassics Reimagined, and author Allison Pittman titles her novella, 500 Miles to Christmas, inspired by the 1940s movie, Remember the Night. The novella opens with a car chase as young Leah Anders, an aspiring fashion designer, is pulled over for speeding on a Texas highway by deputy Rick Murray. The attraction is instant, and Rick Murray sees no need for the polite, soft-spoken girl to be jailed, so he takes Leah to his mother’s ranch where she is seen to as a guest, while her bail is arranged.

But Leah’s relationship with her famous, novelist mother is a complicated one, and it was, after all, her mother’s BMW in which Leah took to the road in anger and since her mother seeks to teach Leah a lesson about discipline and self-sufficiency, the wait for bail is a long one with plenty of opportunity for Leah to work her way into the heart of Rick Murray. Freedom from dependency, perception shifts, resiliency, talent, and drive are the themes in this charming Christmas romance, which is set three days before Christmas and ends with great promise for the future.

It’s a Wonderful ChristmasClassics Reimagined achieves what it sets out to do. It’s an enjoyable assembly of novellas sure to lift the holiday spirit of every reader.   

Claire Fullerton’s most recent novels are Little Tea and multiple award winner, Mourning Dove. Honors include the Independent Book Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Regional Fiction, the Reader’s Favorite for Southern Fiction Bronze Medal and various other literary awards.

Author Interview: Claire Fullerton, Little Tea

by maryhelensheriff | Sep 27, 2021 | Interviews

Claire Fullerton is the multiple award winning author of 4 traditionally published novels and one novella. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines, including Celtic Life International, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.  Website: https://www.clairefullerton.com/

Me: Tell us about Little Tea.

ClaireLittle Tea concerns Southern culture, female friendships, family tragedy, and healing the past. Little Tea is actually the nickname of a character because Southerners are fond of nicknames! The story is a celebration of those deep friendships that last a lifetime–their shared history, loyalty, unconditional acceptance, and the importance of a sense of humor. 

Me: Which scene was the most difficult to write and why?

Claire: There’s a particular scene in Little Tea that is pivotal in the story. I’d never had such an experience, so I used my imagination and employed all senses. The scene came together for me when I incorporated how the atmosphere sounded. 

Me: How does the Southern setting influence your story?

Claire:  Southern culture is part and parcel to Little Tea. I’ll go as far to say had the story been set anywhere else, the events couldn’t have happened as they did. 

Me: Describe your journey to becoming an author.

Claire: It began for me with keeping a daily journal from a very young age. I kept a journal when I lived on the west coast of Ireland. When I returned to America, I wrote the book that became Dancing to an Irish Reel from what was in my journal. It’s been a steady build from there that includes 4 novels, one novella, and a recently completed manuscript. 

Me:  Who has been your greatest influence in becoming a writer?

Claire: All the fearless writers who dare to write in the first person!  Beyond that, I admire Donna Tartt, Pat Conroy, Ron Rash, Anne Rivers Siddons, Billy O’Callaghan, and many of the Irish authors. 

To buy click here.

For more about Little Tea and a few other sensational southern books, read this blog post

Sensations Summer Reads

As it appears on Mary Helen Sheriff’s July, 19 Blog

by maryhelensheriff | Jul 19, 2021 | Book Lists

It won’t surprise you to learn that the author of Boop and Eve’s Road (that’s me for the uninitiated) loves herself a smashing southern story.  I’ve put together a refreshingly diverse list here–all southern, all sensational, but so very, very different.  Do yourself a favor and pick up one (or heck y’all, all three of these reads).

Purple Lotus by Veena Rao is the story of Tara who immigrates from India to Atlanta, Georgia to be with her husband Sanjay. Theirs is a horribly ill-suited arranged marriage. Tara finds herself lost in a new country with an abusive husband and an unfortunate lack of self confidence. Eventually, she makes friends in her new community giving her the courage to leave her husband and make her own life in her new country.  Some might argue that Purple Lotus is more of an immigrant story than a southern story, but I’d point out that Rao beautifully captures the experience of someone fresh to the South, that the south is more than its traditions, that the South with its world renown hospitality has room for all.  Tara’s story of empowerment will steal your heart.  Don’t miss it.

Sharp as a Serpent’s Tooths the best collection of short stories I have ever read.  The characters, like June Bug and Eva, are delightful, quirky, and engaging.  The plots are mesmerizing, unique, and page-turning. The southern country setting adds texture and delight with its Pentecostal Preachers, snakes, and speaking in tongues. Mandy Haynes has put together a beautiful collection with a southern voice that drawls off the page. 

Little Tea by Claire Fullerton explores some of the more traditional southern motifs, complete with plantation homes and racial tension. Three childhood friends come together at a lake in Arkansas where an old boyfriend forces them to face the past. Through the voice of the main character, Celia Wakefield, Fullerton explores the evolution of racial relations in Mississippi. White daughter of a wealthy old southern family, Celia befriends the daughter of the black couple who runs her family’s plantation.  Tucked away in the country in 1980s, their friendship flourishes. However, once the friends leave the plantation behind it becomes more difficult to navigate a mixed-race friendship in a world not quite ready for such things. 

If you are a fan of all things Southern, you might also enjoy these posts:

Book Clubs that Travel: Boop and Eve’s Road Trip

A Literary Care Package for Southern Mamas

Where to Eat on Your Road Trip Through the South

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WEDNESDAY, JULY 21, 2021 AT 4 PM PDT

Author Road Show “Southern Fiction: There’s No Place Like Home”

The aforementioned authors will talk about the South, and what makes Southern fiction!

Free  · Online Event

The Original Post by Mary Helen Sheriff

https://linktr.ee/cffullerton