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

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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.

The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani

My review, as it appears in the New York Journal of Books

Adriana Trigiani’s three-part The Good Left Undone reads like a multigenerational saga extolling the power of family. Part one begins with the sobering epigraph, “Let whoever longs to attain eternal life in heaven heed these warnings: When considering the past, contemplate these things: The evil done; The good left undone; The time wasted.” From the poignant beginning, the template is cast and incrementally filled in two timeframes fully played out by the Cabrelli family, in a pitch so passionate the reader remains personally involved throughout the story.   

The Cabrellis are working class people, proud, salt-of-the-earth Italians whose everyday lives are devoutly guided by their Catholic faith. They live among the Birtolinis, Savattinis, Spiranzas, and Mattiuzzis. They drink espresso from moka pots and dine on bombolini during coastal Viareggio’s annual Carnevale. They are jewelers, and sailors, parents, and nurses, with ties to Italy, France, and Scotland. At the center of the story is the Cabrellis’ ancestral history. The family exists in modern times because some survived the second world war.

It is 81-year-old Matelda Cabrelli Roffo’s birthday as she sits in her third generation, seaside home in the village of Viareggio, Italy. Closing her eyes, she reminisces on those now gone, and understands, “a family was only as good as their stories.”

At 25, and engaged to be married, Anina Tizzi is a dazzler. Arriving at Matelda’s house to keep their scheduled appointment, she reminds her grandmother of their family tradition and says, “Your grandmother gave you a piece of jewelry to wear on your wedding day, your mother gave jewelry to my mother, and now it’s your turn to give it to me.”

When Anina asks Matelda to disclose a bit about her own mother, Matelda looks out to the Ligurian Sea and, knowing her days are numbered as the family lore archivist, concedes, “Anina would soon find out where the sea had taken Domenica Cabrelli before it swept her away, along with her true love and their secret.”

Freeing significant family heirlooms from their hiding place to present to Anina, each a building block contributing to the overall family story, Matelda is visited by the shadow of history. It is 1920, and her mother, Domenica Cabrelli, is 11 years old, on a treasure hunt with her best friend, Silvio, along the dunes of Viareggio’s white sand beach. When bad luck finds the inseparable friends, Silvio needs stitches, and Domenica, accompanying Silvio to Dottore Pretucci’s office, decides then and there to train as a nurse. It’s a fateful decision that spawns a trajectory of events ultimately effecting Domenica’s life and carrying forth to future generations.

Upon learning something about her great grandmother’s surprising story, Anina wants to hear more, and remarks of Domenica, “There might be something else in her story that would inform my life now. One person in the family impacts the whole group.”  

The sea is a pervasive image in The Good Left Undone, as is the satisfaction an artisan receives from doing valuable work with committed hands. In the multi-layered, wider sphere, Trigiani’s focus is character driven and personal, with underlying themes of perseverance in the face of fate and chance, and an eye to preserving family lineage.

The heart and soul story of Domenica Cabrelli is thoroughly realized. It concerns the life and loves of a woman devoted to her family and heritage as set against the painstakingly researched backdrop of the Second World War, peppered with fascinating, little-known facts about the war’s impact on the Italian people.

In her compelling story, Trigiani’s detail is beautifully nuanced. Her sense of place is illuminating and vibrantly alive with the small details that make an Italian life meaningful. Matters of day-to-day survival are equally balanced with affairs of the heart in such a way that serves as a grandmother’s cautionary tale to her granddaughter. When Anina’s doubts about marriage arise, Trigiani’s dialogue is deadpan, quick-witted, and pithy as Matelda imparts her brass tack advice, “Listen to me. Love yourself. That’s the greatest adventure. When you love yourself, you want to find your purpose, something only you can do in the way only you can do it. Make things. Create. And if a man comes along—and believe me he will—the relationship is already off to a good start because both of you love the same person. You.”

The Good Left Undone is a poignant expose on the value of the unsung heroes in a multigenerational, working-class family, and through the power of story, author Adriana Trigiani reminds us that our own family stories are important. As Matelda reveals family secrets, the dawning of awareness comes to Anina. She becomes more and more enraptured and wants to hear everything about her family from her grandmother. “Mostly, Anina wanted to reach into the years ahead and bring her children into the present so her grandmother would know them. She wanted them to hear the family stories from the source. After all, her grandmother didn’t just tell the family stories; she was the story.”

Adriana Trigiani’s The Good Left Undone will delight book clubs, and those who enjoy historical fiction and women’s fiction. It’s a deeply felt, epic tale that transports the reader straight to the heart of Italy.

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.

ABOUT ADRIANA

“One of the reigning queens of women’s fiction.” –USA Today

“A comedy writer with a heart of gold.” – The New York Times

“Trigiani is a master of palpable and visual detail.” – The Washington Post

Beloved by millions of readers around the world for her “dazzling” novels, (USA Today) Adriana Trigiani is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty books in fiction and nonfiction. She has been published in 38 countries around the world. The New York Times calls her “a comedy writer with a heart of gold,” her books “tiramisu for the soul.” She wrote the blockbuster The Shoemaker’s Wife, the Big Stone Gap series, the Valentine trilogy and Lucia, Lucia.  Trigiani’s themes of love and work, emphasis upon craftsmanship and family life have brought her legions of fans who call themselves Adri-addicts (a term coined by book maven Robin Kall). Their devotion has made Adriana one of “the reigning queens of women’s fiction” (USA Today).

Adriana was among the first creators on Bulletin, Facebook’s platform launched in 2021. Her newsletter “Adriana Spills the Ink,” covers all aspects of living with ideas gleaned from the world’s best authors and their books. Adriana provides the tips to help you find the tools to unleash the creativity in your own life. You can read the newsletter here.

Adriana is an award-winning playwright, television writer and producer, and filmmaker. She wrote and directed the film adaptation of her debut novel Big Stone Gap, shot entirely on location in her Virginia hometown with an all-star cast including: Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, John Benjamin Hickey, Anthony LaPaglia, Jenna Elfman, Jane Krakowski, Judith Ivey, Mary Pat Gleason, Dagmara Dominczyk, Mary Testa, Paul Wilson, Chris Sarandon, Jasmine Guy, and introducing Erika Coleman and Bridget Gabbe, with music by John Leventhal, and songs performed by his lovely wife Rosanne Cash, the legendary Ralph Stanley, Papa Joe Smiddy and the Reedy Creek Boys, If Birds Could Fly and Michael Trigiani. Glorious local talent performed on the soundtrack and acted in the movie, sharing their gifts beyond the peaks of the Appalachian mountains.

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.

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/

#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.

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.

Book Release: Fresh Scars by Donna Mumma

Fresh Scars by [Donna Mumma]

Time heals all wounds. . . or does it?

 Asia Butler and her sister, Ivy Butler Morelli, have not spoken in fifteen years. The two endured brutal emotional abuse from their mother, Veronica, and want only to forget the past . . . and each other.

But the past comes calling when they each receive a letter from Veronica’s attorney promising much needed cash if they will fulfill her dying wish and consent to cleaning out their childhood home. Asia and Ivy reluctantly return to their hometown of Emerson, Florida, only to discover the house is a hoarder’s nightmare filled with strange mementos and clues hinting that they were not the only victims of Veronica’s sadistic nature. Can this new pain be the path to their healing? Will they be able to choose forgiveness over resentment?


Editorial Reviews

Review

“A powerful story about the wounds we carry, and the courage it takes to let them go.” –Zena Dell Lowe, The Storytellers Mission

Donna Mumma’s debut novel, Fresh Scars, is a moving and poignant tale that shows just how strong the human spirit can be. “This one touches all the emotions, and readers may very well find the courage to face a few of their own difficulties after reading it! Don’t miss this well-crafted and redemptive story!”
–Jennifer Uhlarik
2020 Will Rogers Medallion Award Finalist, Sand Creek Serenade

Fresh Scars immerses readers in the skin of characters who battle the trauma of childhood abuse and discover the spiritual strength to overcome it. Author Donna Mumma crafts an authentic depiction of anxiety, sibling rivalry among survivors, and the triggers which draw each sister back to relive the past. The tangles of psychological realism weave themselves around a compelling mystery while the drama proves equally captivating. I felt entwined with the characters until reaching the perfect and satisfying ending. I couldn’t recommend Mumma’s novel more highly.”
–Tina Yeager, LMHC, Life Coach, Author, Speaker, and Host of the Flourish-Meant Podcast –This text refers to the paperback edition.

About the Author

Meet Donna

I am a native Floridian, farm kid and dreamer. I was blessed with two wonderful parents who taught me how stories enable us to learn, escape, connect and be inspired.

My writing inspiration also comes from the folks I knew in my growing up years. I came from a small town in Central Florida filled with some of the greatest storytellers. Tales of hunting trips gone awry, flipped airboats, eccentric relatives and beloved dogs seasoned my childhood.

From the stories of my parents and neighbors, I learned two important lessons. First, life comes with sunshine and hurricanes. Second, with God’s help, we can flourish in both.

My parents had a saying. It’s not important that you get knocked down but that you get back up. I write stories about people who fall, stand and press forward with God’s help.

I invite you to come with me on this writing journey. My hope is somewhere along the way we can discover all the Good Lord intended when He set us on this path.

Donna Mumma has been writing since age eight.  She has won awards for speculative and women’s fiction as well as devotions. An avid believer in education, she holds a BAE and M.Ed. in Elementary Education. She serves as a chapter mentor for Word Weavers International. Donna now lives on the West Coast of Florida with her husband. She is the mom of two college boys and one energetic collie named Duke. Her favorite things are faith, family, alligators, a warm cup of tea and sunflowers

Blog – Donna Mumma

https://www.instagram.com/dmumma748/

Donna Mumma (Author of Fresh Scars) | Goodreads

Congratulations to Donna Mumma on the release of her debut novel with Firefly Southern Fiction!

Release Day: The Invisible Husband of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley!

The Invisible Husband of Frick Island

Image of The Invisible Husband of Frick Island

The Invisible Husband of Frick Island links the modern world with the past on a small island struggling to stay afloat literally and figuratively. It’s a lively, heartwarming story with eccentric characters depicting the lengths a small community will go to in support of one of its own.”

Piper Parrish lives on Frick Island and works at the local deli. At the end of every afternoon, she waits on the marina’s dock for Tom’s boat to come puffing into the harbor after “squeezing in every minute of the government-allotted eight hours of crabbing per day.” Piper and Tom are newlywed, childhood sweethearts, and Piper is patient for her husband’s return. “Time on the rustic Frick Island had always been more of a theoretical concept measured in jiffies or whiles or later ons,” so she is used to delays. When a boat captain tells her Tom radioed for help during a storm earlier that morning, and that his boat is now missing, Piper holds out hope for Tom’s return, even when his boat is found at the bottom of the sea four days later.  

My Full Review is Here:

https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/invisible-husband-frick-island

Colleen Oakley is the USA Today bestselling author of You Were There Too, Close Enough to Touch, Before I Go, and the forthcoming The Invisible Husband of Frick Island (May 2021). Colleen’s novels have been longlisted for the Southern Book Prize twice and Close Enough to Touch won the French Reader’s Prize. Her books have been translated into 21 languages, optioned for film and have received numerous accolades including:

Colleen Oakley

A former magazine editor for Marie Claire and Women’s Health & Fitness, Colleen’s articles and essays have been featured in The New York TimesLadies’ Home JournalWomen’s HealthRedbookParadeWoman’s DayFitnessHealthMarie Claire and Martha Stewart Weddings. A proud graduate of the University of Georgia’s school of journalism, Colleen currently lives in Atlanta with her husband, four kids, four chickens, two guinea pigs, and one fish.

Colleen Oakley
Colleen Oakley’s Website Colleen Oakley | Atlanta-based Writer and Author

Book Description: THE INVISIBLE HUSBAND OF FRICK ISLAND

Sometimes all you need is one person to really see you. 

Piper Parrish’s life on Frick Island—a tiny, remote town smack in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay—is nearly perfect. Well, aside from one pesky detail: Her darling husband, Tom, is dead. When Tom’s crab boat capsized and his body wasn’t recovered, Piper, rocked to the core, did a most peculiar thing: carried on as if her husband was not only still alive, but right there beside her, cooking him breakfast, walking him to the docks each morning, meeting him for their standard Friday night dinner date at the One-Eyed Crab. And what were the townspeople to do but go along with their beloved widowed Piper?

Anders Caldwell’s career is not going well. A young ambitious journalist, he’d rather hoped he’d be a national award-winning podcaster by now, rather than writing fluff pieces for a small town newspaper. But when he gets an assignment to travel to the remote Frick Island and cover their boring annual Cake Walk fundraiser, he stumbles upon a much more fascinating tale: an entire town pretending to see and interact with a man who does not actually exist. Determined it’s the career-making story he’s been needing for his podcast, Anders returns to the island to begin covert research and spend more time with the enigmatic Piper—but he has no idea out of all the lives he’s about to upend, it’s his that will change the most.

USA Today bestselling author Colleen Oakley delivers an unforgettable love story about an eccentric community, a grieving widow, and an outsider who slowly learns that sometimes faith is more important than the facts.


WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT THE INVISIBLE HUSBAND OF FRICK ISLAND:

“An utterly charming story brimming with heart and humanity. This is the hopeful book we all need right now. I loved it!” Emily Giffin#1 New York Times bestselling author

“Sweet, quirky, surprising, and altogether lovely, The Invisible Husband of Frick Island is everything I long for in a book. I fell in love with Oakley’s sparkling prose, charming characters, and quaint island setting. This is a story I can’t wait to revisit, again and again. A must read.”—Emily Henry, New York Times bestselling author of Beach Read 

“What’s a town to do when a recent widow keeps talking to her husband that no one else can see? Follow along, of course. Colleen Oakley’s captivating The Invisible Husband of Frick Island is populated with quirky characters that stole my heart. Make this your summer read and discover the joys of a delicious Frick Island cake, the sanctuary of a tight-knit community, and the hope of second chances.”—Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake

“A gently told story of grief, community and ambition, The Invisible Husband of Frick Island is imaginative, lovely and full of surprises.”—Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author of Always the Last to Know

“This twisty, never-predictable novel is exactly what we’ve come to expect by Oakley—a romantic mystery with a hopeful message and wonderful characters. I was surprised on every page!”W. Bruce Cameron, #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Dog’s Purpose

Available where books are sold!

https://linktr.ee/cffullerton

You Belong Here Now by Dianna Rostad

“In lively, descriptive language, Dianna Rostad has penned a heart-warming, epic story built on the premise of a search for belonging that reads as an odyssey in all that it takes to find the heart of one’s family.”

A sweeping, atmospheric story set in cattle country, Bull Mountain, Montana, You Belong Here Now is a heart-tugging, home on the range story told through a wide-view lens with panoramic perfection.

Author Dianna Rostad gives context for this enthralling story in her author’s note on page one: “From 1853 through the early 1900’s, The Children’s Aid Society in New York rescued over 120,000 orphans living on the city streets in the aftermath of war, Spanish Flu, and immigration. The orphan train carried them out to the rick soils of farms and ranches.”  

My Full Review is in the New York Journal of Books: a book review by Claire Fullerton: You Belong Here Now: A Novel (nyjournalofbooks.com)

Dianna Rostad

ABOUT DIANNA

Dianna Rostad was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Her parents and extended family come from the ranches of Montana and the farms of Arkansas. Dianna raised three kind, human beings, and when they began to test their wings, she took to writing with a passion, completing Southern Methodist University Writer’s Path program in 2009. A favorite task of her creative endeavors is the discovery and research of people and places where her novels are set. She has traveled extensively to pursue the last artifacts of our shared history and breathe life, truth, and hope into her novels. Now living in Florida, Dianna continues to write big-hearted novels for wide audiences everywhere.

May be an image of book and text that says 'love this book, and guarantee you won't find finer debut work anywhere." -William Kent Krueger You Belong Here Now NOVEL "From the moment the reader steps on the train with these orphaned children, You Belong Here Now shows how beauty can emerge from even the darkest places." -Erika Robuck ON SALE NOW DIANNAROSTD DIANNA ROSTAD'

In this brilliant debut, three children take the orphan train from New York City to the Big Sky Country of Montana, hoping for a better life where beautiful wild horses roam free.

Montana: 1925. An Irish boy orphaned by Spanish flu, a tiny girl who won’t speak, and a volatile young man who lies about his age to escape Hell’s Kitchen, are paraded on train platforms across the Midwest to work-worn folks. They journey countless miles, racing the sun westward.

Before they reach the last rejection and stop, the oldest, Charles, comes up with a daring plan, and alone, they set off toward the Yellowstone River and grassy mountains where the wild horses roam.

Fate guides them toward the ranch of a family stricken by loss. Nara, the daughter of a successful cattleman, has grown into a brusque spinster who refuses the kids on sight. She’s worked hard to gain her father’s respect and hopes to run their operation, but if the kids stay, she’ll be stuck in the kitchen.

Nara works them without mercy, hoping they’ll run off, but they buck up and show spirit, and though Nara will never be motherly, she begins to take to them. So, when Charles is jailed for freeing wild horses that were rounded up for slaughter, and an abusive mother from New York shows up to take the youngest, Nara does the unthinkable, risking everything she holds dear to change their lives forever.

May be an image of 1 person, book and text that says 'N NOVELNETWORK® WORK® fullofs CLAYTON, You Belong Here Now ANOVEL DIANNA DIANNAROSTAD ROSTAD BOOK MAIL'

PRAISE FOR YOU BELONG HERE NOW

“Dianna Rostad has written a story in a narrative voice so fine and true it settles over you like a warm comforter. Set against the harsh backdrop of western Montana, You Belong Here Now is a novel as straightforward and powerful as the characters who populate it. I love this book, and I guarantee you won’t find a finer debut work anywhere.”
William Kent Krueger, New York Times bestselling author of This Tender Land

“From the moment the reader steps on the train with these orphaned children, You Belong Here Now shows how beauty can emerge from even the darkest places.”
Erika Robuck, bestselling author of Hemingway’s Girl

“Rostad has successfully crafted a heartwarming, unflinching story of orphans, family, and horses, wrought in finely chiseled prose. Timeless, irresistible, You Belong Here Now, set in the wild grasslands of Montana, is for fans of Orphan Train and all of us who long for acceptance. A brilliant debut!”
Weina Dai Randel, award-winning author of The Moon in the Palace

“Rostad’s bighearted debut is full of surprises, and warm with wisdom about what it means to be family.”
Meg Waite Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Train to London

Dianna Rostad’s Website: Dianna Rostad – Author of YOU BELONG HERE NOW