Book Review: The Old Place by Bobby Finger

As it appears in The New York Journal of Books

The Old Place

Image of The Old Place

Author(s): 

Bobby Finger

Release Date: September 20, 2022

Publisher/Imprint: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Pages: 336

Buy on Amazon

Reviewed by: 

Claire Fullerton

Debut author Bobby Finger wields crisp, bright language in succinct, ample prose to reveal secrets deliberately hidden from the norms of social order. . . . poignant and memorable.”

Sixty-three-year-old Mary Alice Roth doesn’t know how to fill her days. Feeling wronged and slightly humiliated over her compulsory retirement as a high school teacher, she’s deeply invested in her local standing as a local Billington authority figure, though she’s unaware the community reputation she’s earned is equally divided between her abrasive personality, and sympathy for her tragic losses.

Thirty-something Josie Kerr is a fish out of water but intends to embrace it. Born and raised in Manhattan, she’s married to Travis, who grew up in an affluent family that owns a five-hundred-acre compound just north of Billington, Texas, a town “passersby didn’t really see until the fifth or sixth time they drove through it, a blip on a blip that existed mostly in retrospect.”  

When news of the death of Travis Kerr’s father arrives, Josie and Travis put their Brooklyn apartment on the market and relocate with their young son to Billington, Texas. Josie’s “New York City friends couldn’t believe how happy she seemed in a town so small it didn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.” The optimistic Josie looks on the bright side. “In Texas she had a house. And she had family nearby. She even got a job at a school where teachers never left unless they were forced out or dead.”   

Mary Alice resents the existence of Josie, whom she considers the usurper of her school position, now that Josie is her replacement. Were it not for her best friend Ellie’s advice, the intimidating Mary Alice might get away with her repeated attempts at making Josie Kerr’s life miserable.

Ellie Hall is a divorcee who works in a nearby hospital. She has been Mary Alice’s friend for years since she and her son, Kenny, moved into the house next door. As single mothers with sons the same age who formed an immediate alliance, Ellie and Mary Alice enjoyed a strong friendship, until the common tragedy of each losing their son in the same timeframe set their close friendship adrift for 12 years, until Mary Alice reaches out to Ellie from the isolation of her retirement, and the two begin to reconnect over the habit of sharing morning coffee.

At “dark-thirty,” a knock comes to Mary Alice’s front door, and she opens it to discover a ghost from her past in the form of her sister, Katherine, who lives in Atlanta. Three years younger, the once close sisters haven’t spoken to each other since Katherine’s wedding decades before. It was a fight that caused their estrangement, and “Their lives had expanded in different directions, but when you followed the stories down to their roots, you’d find them joined in a million different ways.”

The attractive, well-to-do Katherine is there in person because Mary Alice doesn’t answer her texts, emails, or phone calls. Katherine tells Mary Alice she’s there on a mission “to fix your mess,” and demands she return with her to Atlanta.

When Katherine reveals the urgency of a call to action, the stunned Mary Alice knows the time has come to address what she’s taken great pains to hide from the Billington townspeople, with regard to what really happened to her son, Michael, who had a bond with Ellie’s son, Kenny, that was more than anyone knew. Wanting to forestall public knowledge of her duplicity, Mary Alice asks Katherine to wait with her for three days, until she’s on the other side of the annual Billington community picnic, of which she’s in charge.

For three days, the sisters revisit the tragedies of the past, which were centered on their family’s rural, multi-generational property known as The Old Place, which had been in their family since the early 19th century. “It was twenty minutes outside of town. Not east, toward Trevino, or north, toward the Hill Country, or west, toward Mexico, but south, toward nothing.” “Getting there required directions, not a map. . . . You felt the trip there as much as much as you saw it.”

Because it factored significantly as the setting of troubling stories involving both her husband and son, Mary Alice fears ever returning to The Old Place. In recalling a particular night in high school, when Katherine talked her into throwing a party at The Old Place while their parents were out of town, Mary Alice has reason to consider The Old Place unlucky grounds in her personal narrative. She considers that high school party “as the prologue of her life . . . the start of everything else. And all of it, absolutely all of it, was Katherine’s fault.”  

Debut author Bobby Finger wields crisp, bright language in succinct, ample prose to reveal secrets deliberately hidden from the norms of social order. The backstories of intertwined, multiple characters are brought to a common light, thematically including fear of public opinion in a setting that sings the praise of small-town Texas. The characters are fully realized as each reconciles their part in the story. Their mindsets are understandable, and their dynamic creates a delightful arc of plausible cause and effect to immerse the reader in an experience that’s poignant and memorable.       

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.

Book Release!

An uplifting, modern day love story written in au currant language that will delight romance readers and more. Author Carol Van Den Hende keeps the reader engaged throughout the story of twenty-seven-year-old Orchard Paige, a beauty industry marketer who hopes to land a job through her company that will give her the chance to work in China, the land of her deceased mother’s ancestry. Orchid perseveres in the face of her unhealed wounds concerning her parents’ tragic death, even as she intends to work with the attractive, Phoenix, who runs a nonprofit organization aimed at supporting veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The author’s knowledge of marketing is informative and impressive, and her taut portrayal of the push and pull of attraction on the road to the eventual allowance of love will keep the reader rooting for Orchid’s happiness with page-turning, even-handed pacing. A heartwarming story full of hope and the promise of happy endings, Orchid Blooming will appeal to lovers of urban fiction and multi-cultural fiction.

A childhood tragedy followed her into adult life. Will she ever claim real happiness again?

Kind and generous, twenty-seven-year-old Orchid Paige will never forget that day. Living as best she can after witnessing her parents’ fatal accident, the beauty industry marketer yearns to win a promotion to China to connect to her mom’s ancestry. But with competition fierce, she despairs she’ll never make the grade… until she meets an encouraging man who makes her feel safe despite her usual distrust.

After Orchid convinces the handsome entrepreneur to let her gain experience at his nonprofit project, she’s determined to keep their relationship professional and ignore their powerful attraction. But when working on his military ad campaign for veterans triggers her own unresolved PTSD, she fears her confident mentor may be too good to be true even if she could trust him with her heart.

Can she conquer her vulnerabilities before she loses her chance at forever?

Orchid Blooming is the captivating first book in the Goodbye, Orchid women’s fiction series, and can be read as a standalone. If you like complex characters overcoming trauma, heart-warming stories, and compassionate connections, then you’ll adore award-winning author Carol Van Den Hende’s emotionally satisfying page-turner.

Carol Van Den Hende is the award-winning author of “Orchid Blooming” and “Goodbye, Orchid” which are inspired by wounded veterans and have won 20+ literary awards, including the American Fiction Award, IAN Outstanding Fiction First Novel Award, and 2020 Royal Dragonfly for Disability Awareness.

Buzzfeed, Parade, and Travel+Leisure named “heartwarming, heartbreaking” Goodbye, Orchid a most anticipated read. Glamour Magazine recommended this “modern, important take on the power of love.” The International Pulpwood Queens, selected Goodbye, Orchid as a 2022 Bonus Book-of-the-Month.

Carol’s mission is unlocking optimism as a writer, speaker, strategist, Board member and Climate Reality Leader. One secret to her good fortune? Her humorous husband and twins, who prove that love really does conquer all.

Please sign up for Carol’s newsletter at carolvandenhende.com/contact or linktr.ee/cvdh

Interview with Carol Van Den Hende:

Q : Orchid Blooming follows your 2020, debut novel, Goodbye Orchid: To love Her, He Had to Leave Her. Can you tell us about the premise and continuation of the story?

A: Thanks for asking, Claire! For both books, I was inspired by people facing challenges. And honestly, who hasn’t faced difficulties in their life? Specifically, the story came to me after seeing a story in the news about a wounded veteran. However, the characters aren’t military people themselves. Rather, they work on military ad campaigns to help veterans.

Here’s the story. In Goodbye, Orchid, generous entrepreneur Phoenix Walker suffers an accident that changes him forever. When he wakes in the hospital, he’s thinking about the woman he loves, half-Asian Orchid Paige. He also remembers that she witnessed the death of her parents as a child, and is sensitive to images of trauma. Now that he’s become the very image of trauma, he has to decide – to love her, will he have to leave her without explaining why?

Orchid Blooming goes back in time to when this couple met. In this prequel, Orchid has worked hard to make a path for herself after being orphaned at the age of twelve. As an adult and successful executive in the beauty industry, she’s motivated to win a work assignment to China, to feel closer to her mother’s ancestry. However, competition is fierce and her best chance is to undertake nonprofit work with Phoenix. Except she must ignore their growing attraction and keep the relationship professional. Then, when they finally begin to admit their emotions, a secret threatens to implode all the trust they’ve built. One beta reader said that the secret “made my jaw drop!”

Q : In your September 2022 release, Orchid Blooming, Orchid Page, the 27-year-old main character, is a beauty industry marketer. What prepared you to write about her background in beauty marketing?

A : I’ve been fortunate to enjoy a long career as a brand marketer and strategist in the fun categories of chocolate, treats and snacks. During these 15+ years, I’ve named and launched new products, worked with amazing agencies on packaging design, been on set for advertising shoots, and so much more. I leaned on some of my favorite parts of these experiences, and also have friends who’ve worked in beauty.

Specifically, Orchid has the opportunity to work with an ad agency founder, and write what’s known as the “brief” for a new ad campaign. (The brief is just industry lingo for a document that lets the creative team know about the relevant target, insights, and benefits of the ad).

Beauty is a fitting industry for Orchid Paige because she comes into the story believing that the perfection of beauty and its curated images might protect her from negative experiences that could remind her of her traumatic past. As with character-driven novels, she’ll find the flaw in her misbelief.

Q : Orchid Blooming is both multicultural romance, and contemporary women’s fiction. Can you tell us how the story fits these genres?

Orchid Blooming has won awards for multicultural fiction and women’s fiction. People are often interested how the series fits these genres (as well as contemporary fiction!) First, the main character Orchid Paige is half-Asian and seeks to travel to China to feel closer to her mother’s memory. Secondly, the story is about her growth as she deals with traumatic events from her past. Ultimately, readers appreciate the hope and optimism in the book’s messages!

Q : Do you anticipate Orchid Blooming appealing to a particular reader demographic?

A: My Goodbye Orchid series appeals to book clubs, men and women, readers who enjoy multicultural characters, disability advocates, and wounded warriors, who inspired Phoenix and Orchid’s story.

Fans explain that they can relate to characters who’ve experienced difficulties in life, or they are readers who appreciate having their empathy deepened.

Q: In your book, you discuss post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What draws you to that subject?

A : Because Goodbye, Orchid was inspired by combat-wounded veterans, my research taught me about the challenges that they can face, including the physical and emotional journey to healing, the effects of PTSD, and sometimes, difficulty transitioning to a civilian career. Each book in this trilogy deals with an aspect of these challenges. My first novel, Goodbye, Orchid, describes Phoenix’s journey after a disabling accident, and was deeply researched with wounded veterans, medical professionals and psychologists.

Experts played a key role in my newest novel, Orchid Blooming, as well. SSGT Aaron Michael Grant read my entire manuscript and shared invaluable input based on his personal experience with PTSD. Clinical Director and trauma specialist Joe Dennis provided important perspective on healing trauma. They’re both thanked in my book acknowledgements, along with scores of others who’ve made this trilogy possible.

Speaking of trilogy, my third book is releasing in 2023. This book, titled Always Orchid, will touch on the difficulty veterans can face when demonstrating that their military skills are transferable to civilian jobs. Early readers have said “This story was captivating from beginning to end!”

Q : The character, Orchid Paige, is interested in connecting with her mother’s Chinese ancestry. What prepared you to write about this subject?

A : Like Orchid, I’m American born and ancestrally Chinese and likewise, I was intrigued how it’d feel to visit my parents’ home country. For more on this topic, please visit Claire Chao’s Remembering Shanghai blog in September, where I’ll be writing about that experience!

Q : . Can you tell us about your background in public speaking?

A : I’m an MBA, global brand marketer and digital strategist for Mars Incorporated, which has given me multiple opportunities to speak publicly.

When I joined the writing community, I was motivated to contribute by translating my experience into actionable knowledge for authors and publishers. For the last decade, I’ve taught foundational workshops on personal brand, visual identity and cover design, marketing strategies and mindset, among other topics at conferences like Writers’ Digest, Rutgers’ Writers Conference, RWA, IBPA and Novelists Inc. I’m proud when attendees provide testimonials like “Carol inspires me and fires me up every time!”

Writers can also find my advice in my Author Marketing Toolkit column at DIYMFA.

I hope readers and writers will find me there as well as on social media: https://linktr.ee/cvdh

Q : You founded Azine Press, which is known for having social and environmental goals into its mission. What inspired you to create Azine Press?

I’m a purpose-driven leader who aims to inspire hope and empathy for people and planet. So when I decided to start a publishing company, it was important that it be registered as a B Corps, or benefits corporation. B Corps “envision a global economy that uses business as a force for good…which is purpose-driven and creates benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders.” This is consistent with my mission to share stories that encourage inclusivity and recognize humanity’s interconnectedness, while pushing the boundaries of why and how we do business.

My alma mater recently interviewed me about my strategies for staying agile as an executive and author-publisher. You’ll see the themes of starting with “why” and cultivating optimism play out among my top seven tips: https://alumni.rutgers.edu/stay-connected/alumni-news-and-stories/how-to-reinvent-your-life/

What great questions, Claire, thanks so much for welcoming me here!

ORCHID BLOOMING HONORS
■ 2022 International Book Award Finalist: Women’s Fiction and Multicultural Fiction
■ 2022 Beach Book Festival General Fiction Honorable Mention
■ 2022 New York Book Festival General Fiction Honorable Mention
■ 2022 July International Impact Award Multicultural Fiction
■ 2022 Summer Outstanding Creator Awards Grand Prize Honorable Mention; 2nd Place Women’s Fiction, Multicultural, Romance, and Drama; 3rd Place Literary & Contemporary Fiction; Honorable Mention Best Couple
■ 2022 Hollywood Book Festival Honorable Mention General Fiction

Celebrating Literary Connections!

This post is in celebration of the surprising connections made from years of being a writer. I have four books and one novella out in the world, and another–fingers crossed- hopefully, making its way through the labyrinthian path from my computer to bookstores, but that’s another subject!

I’m thinking about the countless, sung and unsung heroes with whom I’ve had the pleasure to align over the years. “Book people” are passionate people committed to staying the course of what can only be described as an incremental growth pattern fueled by perseverance and dedication to the love of reading and writing. I’ve found the two arenas are tightly woven. You simply cannot have one without the other. It’s a particular breed of cat who knows this, and they are the breed who derive great satisfaction and personal fulfillment in centering their days on the written word.

Writers, and, readers, and bloggers, and book promoters breathe the very life force into the existence of a writer. They are the stalwart citizens of the literary world who take a writer’s work and magnify it, launching it into a wider sphere by ripple effect, creating attenuation by virtue of the fact that they have an audience of like-minded fellows. My gratitude for these passionate people is endless. They understand the solitary creation of writing as an art, and their support is humbling, sustaining, and imperative.

It’s fair to say that authors spend just as much time promoting their books as they do writing them. On average, each of my books took two years to produce, and that’s about the same amount of time I’ve dedicated to book promotion. It takes time to get the word out that a book exists in the first place, and getting to readers is not something that happens overnight; it’s a process, a build that feels like an uphill climb with countless stops along the way. One cannot do it alone. It takes a village, and much is furthered when an author takes the time to compare notes with those who have gone before them.

Which brings me back to the connections worth celebrating made from being a writer. I will now combine a radio host, an author, and a particular outfit dedicated to championing the literary arts to illustrate a case in point:

Bobbie Jean Bell has enjoyed a long career as the co-host of The Writers Block show on LA Talk Radio, which you can access from their online website. It has been a high honor, over the years, for me to appear on the show three times. Sadly, Jim Christina, Bobbie Jean’s charismatic, one-of a kind co-host of many years, died this past year. With continued commitment and touching sensitivity, Bobbie Jean Bell took the show into her own hands in honor of Jim, and rebranded the show, Rendezvous with a Writer, which airs every Thursday night on LA Talk-Radio. https://www.latalkradio.com/content/rendezvous-writer

Johnnie Berhard is the author of four gorgeous novels. She currently lives in Mississippi, and maintains a strong rapport with her native Texas. Looking back now, I cannot recall how I first crossed paths with this extraordinary writer, but I can report I met her in person at The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas in 2020– or was it 2018? I think it was both, but I digress. Let’s just say the fruits of coming to know Johnnie Bernhard are endless. It has been my pleasure to feature Johnnie’s work here on my blogsite. In a minute, I’ll tell you how Johnnie fits into this, but while I’ve got you, look into Johnnie Here: http://johnniebernhardauthor.com/bio

The Catholic Literary Arts is an outfit that conducts itself in the highest manner. Their mission, as stated on their website ( https://www.catholicliteraryarts.org/) is this: “Catholic Literary Arts exists to provide a welcoming home for people of all faiths and goodwill to learn, to improve writing skills, to meet fellow writers and publishers, and to enjoy spiritual and intellectual formation in the great literary traditions of Western civilization.”

How the aforementioned entities collided with yours truly now delighted to be right in the middle is this: I had the pleasure of watching author Johnnie Bernhard teach a virtual class on the mechanics of writing fiction for The Catholic Literary Arts, and in later talking with her about the endless merits of such an important forum, Johnnie introduced me to Sarah Cortez, in the hope she and I would explore common ground. We did. Our common ground is this: Sarah Cortez is the president and founder of The Catholic Literary Arts, and I have much to say about the art of launching a book! Ms. Cortez took me seriously when I told her it would be my honor to teach a class for her noble organization. I am enthusiastic to report I will do just this on Tuesday, September 27th at 7:00 CST. Here is the link to register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/363439757097

And because Bobbie Jean Bell invited me to be a guest on Rendezvous with a Writer from 6:00PM to 6:50 PST on Thursday, September 15, to talk about books and writing, we will also be talking about my virtual class on Preparing to Launch a Book!

This is what I meant when I said I celebrate the surprising connections made from years of being a writer. The magical alchemy that results from staying the course is the gift that keeps on giving!

I hope you’ll join me on Rendezvous with a Writer on Thursday, September 15th ( link above) and that you’ll register for the class and tell your friends about my virtual class with The Catholic Literary Arts where I share all I know about preparing to launch a book!~

Join Me in a Virtual Class to talk about Your Book Launch!

Having written 4 novels and one novella, I’ve devised a strategy in preparation for each book launch, and I’ll be a teaching an online class about it, for The Catholic Literary Arts on September 27th at 7 PM, Central Standard Time.

I’ll be talking about the steps to take in creating a solid foundation months before the release date of your book, and where to establish an online presence with strong connections that will support your efforts at book promotion, once your book is out in the world.

You’ve, no doubt, written a best seller; now it’s time for you to get ready to introduce your book to the world.

Because preparation for a book launch can be daunting, I will share the tried and true steps that can make it fun. I’ll be available for your questions in a question and answer forum at the end of the class, and I hope you join me!

You can register now for the class at http://www.catholicliteraryarts.org.

Find me here:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7388895.Claire_Fullerton

https://www.instagram.com/cffullerton/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/claire-fullerton-68033321/

https://www.clairefullerton.com/

Book Review: Never Go Home by Christopher Swann.

Fans of Christopher Swann know Susannah Faulkner has baggage. In his wildly popular 2020 thriller, Never Turn Back ( A Faulkner Family Thriller Book 1,) Swann details her backstory: that her parents were murdered before her 10-year-old eyes, that she and her elder brother, Ethan, were raised by their Irish Uncle Gavin who owns an Atlanta bar named Ronan’s that’s probably used as a front, that their shared tragedy caused the siblings to turn out differently, yet their bond remains indelible.

Full review in The New York Journal of Books: https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/never-go-home-novel

Christopher Swann is a novelist and high school English teacher. A graduate of Woodberry Forest School in Virginia, he earned his Ph.D. in creative writing from Georgia State University. He has been a Townsend Prize finalist, longlisted for the Southern Book Prize, and a winner of the Georgia Author of the Year award. He lives with his wife and two sons in Atlanta, where he is the English department chair at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School.

Winner, Georgia Author of the Year 2022

Townsend Prize for Fiction Finalist 2018

Georgia Author of the Year Finalist, 2021 and 2018

Southern Book Prize Long List 2018

Southern Living Best Southern Books of 2017

https://christopherswann.com/books/

Book Release: Hannah and Ariela by Johnnie Bernhard

As it appears in The New York Journal of Books

Hannah and Ariela

Image of Hannah and Ariela

Johnnie Bernhard

Publisher/Imprint: Texas Christian University Press

Pages: 176

Buy on Amazon

Reviewed by: 

Claire Fullerton

“In this tensely wired, swiftly paced, starkly realistic story of human trafficking set beautifully among nuanced clashing cultures, author Johnnie Bernhard defines each character’s motivation to portray the collision of opposing sides while casting a wide lens on a human atrocity.”

The human heart is fearless in author Johnnie Bernhard’s Hannah and Ariela. It’s a vividly drawn, timely story shedding light on an unspeakable crime against humanity.  

Hannah Durand takes the coat her husband left by the door, wraps his scarf around her, and pushes against the winter’s howling blue norther to open the front door. Casting her teary eyes upon the 640-acre Texas working ranch that she and her husband ran for 48 years, the newly widowed, 73-year-old Hannah speaks aloud: “August Durand. I know you’re here. I can feel you in the wind and in the breaking of cedar branches covered in ice. Hold me just one more time and tell me what you think I should do with the rest of my life, my life without you.”

An unconventional, self-sufficient woman born to Anglo prosperity and the great Texas outdoors, Hannah’s life is centered on the Durand Ranch, in the town of Rocksprings, between central and West Texas, “where the land was just as hard and mean as the predators lurking in the shadows waiting for the next easy kill.” It is modern day, and facing an uncertain future, Hannah fears she might not have the stamina to stay on the land alone. Hannah thinks, “I’ve loved this land . . . I feel like I’d lose a part of myself if I sold it.”

Ariela Morales is born to Zaragoza, Mexico, where “life is hard because it was too close to the Texas border.” In a town with little opportunities, the dutiful Ariela helps her family, babysits her siblings for her mother, and squeezes in time to spend with her friend Katia. In telling of that friendship, Ariela says, “Some people in Zaragoza had a harder life than me and my family. My best friend, Katia was one of them.” Together, the teenage friends go to mass “to get our mamas off our backs,” paint their nails, read magazines, and mostly dream “about getting out of Zaragoza.” When Katia flirts with danger by consorting with two cartel members, it leads to perilous, unforeseen consequences drastically changing the trajectory of both girls’ lives.

A dog barking on a lonesome stretch of highway connects the fates of Hannah and Ariela, and wheels are set in motion affecting a cast of characters on both sides of the US/Mexico border. Bernhard portrays the landscape with laser-precision and layers the harrowing story in multiple, first-person points of view covering all angles of what spins into the urgency of safeguarding the traumatized Ariela from further ramifications having to do with the cartel’s sinister, illegal plans.

When Rocksprings’ sheriff discovers Hannah is harboring Ariela, he jumps to conclusions and wants to get border patrol involved, without knowing Ariela has just survived a terrible backstory. Taking Hannah aside, he says, “Now Hannah, I’m going to remind you of this very specific law. When someone enters the US without following immigration laws, it’s a crime.”

Joseph Gonzales is the bilingual, longtime trusted employee of the Durand Ranch, whose involvement Hannah solicits to serve as Ariela’s interpreter. When Hannah weighs the law of the land against doing the decent thing, Joseph joins Hannah in an attempt to get around punitive issues of immigration, while the cartel and law enforcement from either side of the border try to intuit their covert maneuvers, in a do-or-die dynamic begging the issue of right versus wrong.

In this tensely wired, swiftly paced, starkly realistic story of human trafficking set beautifully among nuanced clashing cultures, author Johnnie Bernhard defines each character’s motivation to portray the collision of opposing sides while casting a wide lens on a human atrocity. Hannah and Ariela is the story of one woman’s bravery in rescuing another, only to rise phoenix-like into a newly defined, far-reaching life purpose.

About Johnnie Bernhard

A former teacher and journalist, Johnnie Bernhard’s passion is reading and writing. Her work(s) have appeared in anthologies and in national and international publications, including Southern Literary Review, Houston Style Magazine, The Mississippi Press, the international Word Among Us, and the Cowbird-NPR production on small town America.

Johnnie Bernhard is a multiple, award-winning author and sought-after speaker.

Hannah and Ariela is Johnnie Bernhard’s 4th novel.

For more about Johnnie Bernhard, please visit the author’s web site at http://www.johnniebernhardauthor.com/

Book Review: Holding Her Breath by Eimear Ryan

Holding Her Breath: A Novel

Image of Holding Her Breath: A Novel

Author: Eimear Ryan

Release Date: May 17, 2022

Reviewed by: Claire Fullerton As it Appears in the New York Journal of Books

Holding Her Breath is a generational story written in descriptive language with steady pacing. . . . an engaging, sensitive story set in Ireland, sure to resonate with readers far and wide.”

A compelling look at coming-of-age concerns beneath the taboo of generational mental illness, Eimear Ryan’s debut novel, Holding Her Breath, is the story of a young Irish woman coming into her own by pursuing the buried truth of family secrets.

It is modern day Dublin, and overwhelmed university freshman, Beth Crowe, has mishandled her sports scholarship. Once lauded a natural athlete in swimming, Beth remembers, “At one point in her adolescence, she realized that the adults in the club were describing her in nearly supernatural terms: unreal, savage, unbelievable.” Possessed of the discipline of devoting her youth to “getting up at dawn for training, slipping into the water again after school; her world became narrow but deep. It was only when she stopped, abruptly, that she realized how tired she was.”

After her self-imposed sabbatical, she returns with her own practice out of love for the sport.  Ryan pinpoints Beth’s affinity with water: “It feels illicit somehow, being alone in the water. No coach towering over her at the pool’s edge, saying surely she can do better than that. Now she does as she likes. After a hundred laps she feels calm and rejuvenated, her body pinging with the tremors of exercise.”

Now with a focus on psychology, the taciturn Beth is paired in college housing with the gregarious Sadie, who takes her to a campus book event and introduces her to poet and university professor, Justin Kelleher, a class lecturer on the widely acclaimed poet, Benjamin Crowe, who happens to be Beth’s deceased grandfather.

When a relationship grows between Beth and Justin, Beth is optimistic. She “never thought she could be one of those people to whom things actually happen. Every moment of drama or triumph in her life has taken place in the pool and been rendered less impactful for the hours of repetitive practice that preceded it. She is not used to things happening out of the blue.”

An hour away from campus, Beth’s mother Alice lives with her elderly mother Lydia, the widow of Benjamin Crowe. The fame of Benjamin Crowe is the stuff of legend kept under wraps by Lydia, who won’t part with her husband’s coveted archives, nor reveal what she knows of events leading to his death, a mystery that casts a wide shadow upon Beth and Alice, as well as passionate Crowe scholars.

Because Beth is hesitant to pursue the subject with the formidable Lydia, she asks Justin what he knows of rumor surrounding her grandfather’s death. When Justin mentions a never-published Crowe biography by author Julie Conlon-Hayes, he says, “It’s a story among us Crowe scholars. Now, how much is true, I don’t know. She was friends with your grandparents, so she had great access . . . But then Ben died, and Lydia squashed the project.” Continuing, Justin says, “Because of the nature of his death, we are all the time searching his work for clues and explanations. But perhaps we should consider the poems simply on their own merit.”

When Beth asks her mother what she knows of her famous father’s death, Alice skirts the issue of mental illness. “I was told Dad had an illness that made him confused, which in turn made him fall into the sea. I didn’t connect the dots.” On the tight-lipped comportment of Lydia, Alice says, “Her intent was to preserve, as she called it, the honor of the family. She didn’t want anyone poking around in Dad’s memory, and she never spoke publicly about his death.”

Sensing that the mystery at the center of her family lineage would help Beth better understand herself, Beth visits Sadie at her family’s rural home in Portlaoise, and the girls set out on an adventure to visit the elderly Julie Conlon-Hayes at her home in West Cork, in hopes of learning her side of the story concerning the events that led to Benjamin Crowe’s death, which took place in the area.

Stopping cliffside along the road to Julie Conlon-Hayes’ home, Beth “closes her eyes and tries to put herself in her grandfather’s place over thirty years ago. She pictures him barefoot, his toes gripping the earthy edge of the cliff. Crouching, tucking his chin to his chest, pointing his palms to the water. Except it couldn’t have happened like that.”

Holding Her Breath is a generational story written in descriptive language with steady pacing. Author Eimear Ryan captures youth’s perseverance in the search for one’s place in the world, and weaves in mental illness’s nuances while unravelling long guarded family secrets. It’s an engaging, sensitive story set in Ireland, sure to resonate with readers far and wide.   

Buy on Amazon

.

Eimear Ryan’s debut novel Holding Her Breath is published by Penguin Sandycove (Ireland/UK) and Mariner Books (US).

Her short fiction has appeared in Granta, The Dublin Review, The Stinging FlyThe Long Gaze Back (New Island) and Town & Country (Faber). She is a co-founder and editor of the literary journal Banshee and its publishing imprint, Banshee Press.

She is a sports columnist with the Irish Examiner and has written about women in sport for The42.ie, ImageStranger’s GuideWinter Papers and elsewhere. She is currently working on a book about camogie. She lives, writes and plays in Cork city.

Oliver: A Novella by Mandy Haynes

Description:

Even though eleven-year old Olivia is raised in a southern Baptist church she likes to cover all her bases when asking for a favor. Unlike her brother Oliver, she struggles with keeping her temper and staying out of trouble. But Oliver is special in more ways than one, and in the summer of ’72 he shows Olivia that there’s magic all around us. It’s up to us to see it.

On author, Mandy Haynes:

Author Mandy Haynes has a wide reputation for being one of the most authentic voices of modern-day America’s Deep South. Set in the complex rural South, her stories are alive with spot-on vernacular, her character’s are self-assured and quirky, and the predicaments they find themselves in are quintessentially Southern experiences. Reading Mandy Haynes work is an education in all that goes into the cultural hotbed of the romantic South. Her work takes you down long country roads where anything can and does happen.

My Endorsement of the delightful novella, Oliver !

“A small-town story of childhood innocence, sibling admiration, blind optimism, and plenty of shenanigans, author Mandy Haynes has penned an incomparable narrator in Sissy, who tells a multifaceted story highlighting the altruistic plans of her remarkable brother, Oliver. The Southern jargon in this charming novella is character defining, the precocious mood insightful. Oliver is about bringing out the goodness in people, even if it takes a bit of magic.”

Claire Fullerton, Author.

Other Praise for Oliver:

“Mandy Haynes takes me on a memory journey to the last great childhood of the South, a time when bicycles were a magic carpet that could take a child wherever she wanted to go. The joy of this novella is how easily I slip between the pages and live the adventures with Oliver and Olivia. Sibling love. Kindness. Good intentions gone awry and good deeds fraught with danger. This story echos with my past, and the past of many now homeless Southerners. Once you start reading, you won’t be able to put it down.”

Carolyn Haines, USA Today bestseller, is the author of over 80 books in multiple genres

“Mandy Haynes effortlessly and brilliantly writes children, a feat at which many writers struggle and fail. In Oliver, her uniquely, lyrical voice sings the reader smack dab into this heartwarming story inhabited by Oliver and Olivia, a brother and sister whose special bond is symbiotically balanced upon the other’s abilities and perspectives. I dare you to not fall immediately in love with these characters, and fret over them as I did as they make their journey through this poignant summer from long ago.”

Robert Gwaltney, author of The Cicada Tree

Author Mandy Haynes

Mandy Haynes is also the Editor of Reading Nation Magazine: (https://mandyhaynes.com/reading-nation-magazine/,) which highlights established and up-and-coming authors and their work.

Mandy Haynes writes of her career:

I decided to self-publish mainly because I am too impatient to do all the things you need to do to sell yourself to an agent, and three different indie publishers I’d corresponded with weren’t the right fit. Then it hit me – I could publish them myself. I’d already spent the money on editors. I’d had the book critiqued by one of my heroes, Suzanne Hudson, and I had a group of readers asking, “When can I get your book?” So, I started a publishing company, titled, Three Dogs Write Press and got busy. It’s been a great learning experience.

I have two collections of short stories published now, one novel in the first draft stages, and a second novel in its rough draft stage.  

I do write about some heavy subjects. But to me, those stories are important. I hope that I give the reader a satisfying ending and if they’ve struggled with some of the issues my characters face, I hope I give them closure. At least a feeling of hope and the knowledge that they aren’t alone.

Mandy Haynes Website: https://mandyhaynes.com/my-books/

Oliver is available online and at http://www.threedogswritepress.

The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare by Kimberly Brock

As my review appears in The New York Journal of Books:

The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare is historical fiction based on a true story with legendary status having to do with a mystery beginning in 1585 concerning the Lost Colony of Roanoke, whose citizens vanished without a trace during the perilous times of America’s early settlement. It’s a multigenerational story haunting Alice Merely Young, a WWII widow in her late thirties, and mother to 13-year-old daughter, Pennilyn.

It is the spring of 1945 when Alice’s small-business owning father dies in Helen, Georgia, and Alice returns to the deep roots she tried to outrun on her family’s neglected, vast acreage farm, six miles from Savannah. On riverside grounds sits a dilapidated mansion named Evertell, which Alice inherited. The house has suffered since she’s last seen it, and in Alice’s absence the secrets of her lineage once whispered by forebears, from one generation of women to the next are now silent.

Across the river by the family graveyard, in the small chapel on Bell Island, a treasured commonplace book is housed, which the mother of Alice’s ancestor, Eleanor Dare, began in England, and which Eleanor safeguarded as a Roanoke colonist with an eye

toward passing down to future generations. In the commonplace book, Eleanor Dare scratched a secret: “Every woman in Eleanor’s mother’s line waited for the day when her heart would be ready and she would have a vision, her Evertell, a sign she’d come of age and with it the gift of guidance from her forebears. . . . This is what passed from mother to daughter—a book of women’s wisdom and mysteries.”

 It is now 15 generations down Eleanor Dare’s line, and Alice knows the commonplace book rightly belongs in the hands of her daughter, yet the bravery required to confess her role in one tragic night holds Alice back as she summons the memory of the last time she saw her troubled mother. Alice thinks, “My mother taught me that a story matters, not because it is true, but because it’s been told.”

Alice carries the burden of guilt over a failed familial rite of passage involving her mother and the legacy of a stone now lying sacrosanct deep in Evertell’s woods, thought to be inscribed by Eleanor Dare’s own hand. The memory of that night haunts Alice, who stands before the Evertell woods and thinks, “Until now, I’d tried to forget what happened. I’d never planned to go back to that place. But that was before I had a daughter of my own. Now she looks at me with the question all daughters are bound to ask their mothers: Who are you?”  

Sonder Holloway has kept Evertell’s grounds for 23 years, ever since Alice and her father fled to the town of Helen after the death of Alice’s mother. Taciturn, reliable, and four years Alice’s elder, he’s a devoted man who has Alice’s best interest at heart, but the unreconciled shame Alice carries makes the reunion of the childhood friends awkward, and when Alice reports her intention of selling Evertell to finance Penn’s education, Sonder is sensitive to Alice’s past and patient.

He, and a handful of other wonderfully drawn local characters know well of Evertell’s secrets, for the tightly woven threads of Evertell’s storied fabric include many in the nearby village. All know the legend of the Dare stone connecting Alice’s family with a dark history, and though it’s of historical significance, Alice suspects that stone is the source of a family curse.

The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare is an intriguing, dreamy story about the impact of one unhealed woman who has yet to reconcile her past in such a way that lends itself to transparency with her young daughter, who, by birthright, wants to know and deserves to know about her own lineage. Author Kimberly Brock delicately balances mystery, family lore, and honoring one’s forebears in sonorous language throughout a sweeping story with three points of view, two timeframes, and remarkably steady pacing. Weaving myth and legend with historical fact pertaining to an age-old American mystery, The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare is a spellbinding, beautiful story written by a graceful hand with just the right amount of mysticism.  

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.

Buy on Amazon

Kimberly Brock is the award-winning author of The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare and The River Witch.

Her debut was an Amazon bestseller featured by both national and international book clubs and included in multiple reading lists. Praised by RT Reviews and Huffington Post as a “solemn journey of redemption, enlightenment and love,” and evocative of “the stories of Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers,” Kimberly’s debut novel was honored with the prestigious Georgia Author of the Year Award in 2013, by the Georgia Writer’s Association.

A former actor and special needs educator, Kimberly received her bachelor’s degree from the University of West Georgia in 1996. In 2014, Kimberly founded Tinderbox Writer’s Workshop, a transformative creative experience for women in the arts. Kimberly has served as a guest lecturer for many regional and national groups, including The Women’s Fiction Writer’s annual conference and The Pat Conroy Literary Center. She lives near Atlanta with her husband and three children.

Book Release: Untethered by Laura Whitfield

In immediate, accessible writing, author Laura Whitfield’s starkly confessional memoir, Untethered, begins when tragedy strikes the heart of her tightly knit, Southern family. At fourteen years old, the author’s world is shattered by the death of her beloved older brother, leaving Laura to find her way in the world without the brother she relied upon as a compass.

Throughout the mid-1970’s and into the 1980’s, Laura embarks on a promising modeling career in New York city, and the reader is taken into NYC’s inner sanctum, where the sky is the limit for this young, and beautiful woman from North Carolina. But a series of disastrous love affairs cause the author an overwhelming sense of disillusionment, and, after fleeing back home for safety, it is many years before she realizes the mistakes she made were an unconscious attempt at filling the void over the significant loss of her brother.

Untethered reads as an unfiltered testimony to coming of age concerns during the simple times of the 1970’s and 80’s. Issues of familial and societal expectations collide with a world newly accommodating to women in the work place, and all the while the author tries to reconcile a past riddled with wrong choices and blind mistakes.

With an unstoppable spirit and belief in herself and better days, Laura Whitfield navigates the minefield of adulthood as she returns to school, becomes employed, and assists her parents in their declining years. With one failed marriage behind her, she finds her way to God, a love that endures, and, wiser now, sets out on a path to a bright future.

An engaging, confessional memoir both heart wrenching and inspirational, Laura Whitfield’s Untethered is fascinating reading sure to delight readers who enjoy a multilevel, thoroughly realized memoir.

About the Author:

Laura grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of a journalist and a teacher. She has been an advertising copywriter, newspaper columnist, staff writer for an international relief agency, travel writer, blogger, teacher, communications director for several nonprofits, and personal assistant to a New York Times bestselling author. 

Her coming-of-age memoir, Untethered: Faith, Failure, and Finding Solid Ground (She Writes Press) is now available from your favorite independent bookstore or wherever books are sold. 

Laura is passionate about her faith, books, travel, nature (especially the beach), social justice, and her family. She lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with her husband, Stephen. 

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21993777.Laura_Whitfield

https://www.instagram.com/laurawhitfieldwriter/