A Banter That Sings


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A BANTER THAT SINGS by Claire Fullerton

from WELL READ Magazine January 2023

by three dogs write press

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from ‘WELL READ Magazine January 2023’

MILLER’S CAFE by Mike Hilbig

A Banter That Sings by Claire Fullerton

The streets of Galway were gray that night. Everywhere I looked, gray buildings, gray sidewalks, gray sky beneath a mist floating in from the Atlantic, hovering ominously and imprinting coronas on the sidewalk from the interior light of pubs still open in the midnight hour.

Our footsteps echoed as we walked from The Kings Head to the hackney office on Dominic Street, across the street from Taylor’s, which was Kieran’s favorite pub. Kieran used Taylor’s as his personal office. Many were the nights he summoned Darren and Shannon and me to Taylor’s to talk business because Kieran never saw the line between work and play. Were it any other night, the four of us would have gone into Taylor’s; we would have sailed through the door in Kieran’s wake, following his bouncing, proprietary swagger as he made his way to the back section designated for Irish traditional musicians. But the evening had been exhausted at The Kings Head. It was past time to call it a night, and I had to get home to Inverin.

I was standing on the sidewalk when the hackney driver brought his two-door Honda around. I bid goodnight to the three of them and got in the front seat for what would be a thirty-minute ride up the coast road. You’d think the memory I retain of that night would center on the activity in The Kings Head. Close to one hundred people had turned out for The Galway Music Centre’s inaugural showcase of local musicians, which the four of us had spent an entire month orchestrating on behalf of the nonprofit business we’d started. But as Ireland has a habit of making art of the contrary, what stands in my memory is the hackney ride home.

It wasn’t often I had cause to make the journey from Galway to Inverin at night, but when I did, it was an eerie experience. The total darkness on the two-lane road, how the moon illuminated the sea in shifting hues of black, cobalt, and silver; the lonesome stretch of treeless landscape beneath the absence of sound made the journey surreal as I watched for signposts guiding me home. It was a gradual change of consciousness as I left the energy of Galway City and crept into the bleak solitude of Inverin. Whenever I took a hackney, there’d be a conversation with the driver to fill in a silence too fraught with possibilities, but then travelling with a stranger in the dark of night tends to create a tacit alliance.

On this night, the hackney driver was a local named Michael Connolly, and I admit I started it all because I’m uneasy with weighted pauses. I have a nervous habit of filling in gaps when I think there’s too much dead air.

“Are you from around here?” I asked Michael Connolly, who was raven-haired and blue-eyed and looked to be in his early thirties. Tall and lithe with graceful hands resting loosely on the steering wheel, it seemed he’d cut through this coastal swath of Connemara so many times that the car no longer required his guidance.

“I am, yeah. Born and raised just up the road, but I’ve done me share of travelling.” His Connemara accent got under the vowels, rolled to a singing pitch, and ended each sentence in a manner that left me expecting more. “You’re an American, yeah?” he continued, in that way the Irish have of letting you know nothing slips by them.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m from Memphis, Tennessee, but I’ve spent the last few years in Los Angeles.”

“Los Angeles,” Michael Connolly said, repeating the name as if he were sorry to hear of my troubles. I can’t say I blamed him. He was so relaxed with himself, so brighteyed and open that he lacked the requisite wary manner it takes to get by in a place where all that glitters isn’t gold.

I gave him a sideways glance. “Have you been to Los Angeles?”

“Oh God, yeah,” he said. “Lived there two years, so I did, and that was enough for me. My idea of heaven is Ireland with Los Angeles weather,” he said. “My idea of hell is Los Angeles with Irish weather.”

It was a seamlessly delivered line with such perfect timing that it left me speechless. Five months on the west coast of Ireland, and I still hadn’t loosened my grip on the thrill of Irish banter. I found all exchanges fascinating and would study the distinctive phrasing of the musical dialect in the vain hope I’d be able to master it one day.

Because the Irish have an effect on a person. They’re so good at being themselves that it makes an outsider want to become one of them, to shed all dissimilarities and drift into that easy way of theirs, where the art of communication is a banter that sings.

Claire Fullerton is the multiple, award-winning, traditionally published author of four novels and one novella. She has recently completed her fifth novel. Claire lives in Malibu, California with her husband and three German shepherds.

Book Review: Reef Road by Deborah Goodrich Royce

My Book Review, as it appears in the New York Journal of Books:

Author Deborah Goodrich Royce’s psychological thriller Reef Road hits the high notes of suspense with breathtaking sleight of hand, building as it unfolds in alternating chapters written in two tenses like puzzle pieces that keep the reader on their toes.

The story is one-part true crime detective novel that reads like creative nonfiction concerning a decades’ old unsolved murder, and one-part literary thriller involving a woman enmeshed in a self-created chain of events now careening out of hand. Reef Road seamlessly weaves two storylines while suspensefully delaying their linkage, oscillating with a slow burn between what is perceived at face value and what really happened.

The story opens in media res, under the prologue’s heading The Wife. It is May 2020, in the advent of Covid-19’s lockdown, when two boys find a disembodied hand washed up on Palm Beach, Florida’s sand. When the boys alert the authorities, so begins Reef Road’s harrowing backstory that leads to that severed hand.

An unspecified voice under the heading A Writer’s Thoughts narrates intermittingly throughout Reef Road. The writer researches the 1948 Pittsburg death of 12-year-old Noelle Huber, whose murder to date remains unsolved. Now living abjectly alone in Palm Beach with an aged dog named Cordie, the decidedly peculiar writer has personal interest in the case and reports, “I grew up under the shadow of a dead girl—a girl I had never met, whose family had not heard of me, a family I would not know if I passed them on the street, nor would they, in turn, know me.” The weight of the dead girl’s shadow is due to the writer’s neurotic mother, once a close, childhood friend of Noelle Huber’s, who remained indelibly scarred by her murder in such a way that made her exceedingly nervous and cast a pall on the writer’s childhood.

Investigating decades’ old evidence, the writer’s feelings are complicated by residual resentment associated with the case. In speaking of the damage incurred from growing up with her paranoid mother in a small town on the outskirts of Pittsburg, the writer says, “My mother’s imprint of her friend’s murder was that of the twelve-year-old child she’d been at the time. A large part of her was frozen in 1948.”

In addressing what it was like to grow up with a damaged mother, the writer says, “I didn’t want to have that kind of mother. I did not want to be that kid. I did not want to come from the family I did, with some string attaching us all to a dead girl.” In explaining what clearly becomes an unhealthy obsession with Noelle Huber’s murder, the writer says, “A single act of violence does not end. Noelle Grace Huber was murdered seventy-two years ago this year, but, for me—for others like me—it never ends.”

Linda Alonzo does not speak Spanish. Married to a prosperous Argentinian named Miguel Alonzo, she is the mother of two young children who grew up in Pittsburgh and now lives in the tony section of Palm Beach’s Reef Road. The marriage is difficult, and with regard to Miguel, “Linda increasingly chafed under the yoke of his control.” Yet the perks of the marriage outweigh the obvious. “Linda and Miguel were walking the edge, all right. The edge of what, precisely, she did not know.”

Diego Alonzo is presumed dead. The elder brother of Miguel, his last known whereabouts was in the mountains of Bolivia decades prior, after he fled another fight with his mother, before all lines of communication went dead. In the dark of night, the mysterious Diego manifests at the Alonzo’s Reef Road front door, and ushers in familial upheaval complicated by the constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic, making his visit protracted, adding chaos to Linda and Miguel’s fragile marriage, and leading to an inciting incident in the tumultuous story: “At eleven a.m. on a Sunday morning, Linda picked up the phone to call the police and report her family missing. Why she had not called the cops, the day it had actually happened was an act of omission that would come back to haunt her.”  

The exciting, page-turning intelligence of Reef Road cannot be overstated. The clever story will please lovers of mystery, crime, and thriller genres. Author Deborah Goodrich Royce handles the balance of Reef Road’s off-kilter story with a magnificent, firm grip. The novel is rife with uncanny connections and flawed main characters with hidden agendas. It’s tense with secondary characters, whose impacts are stunning, as events ricochet in a series of strange chain-reactions sprung from perfectly timed twists you’ll never see coming.  

Meet the Author: Deborah Goodrich Royce

Deborah Goodrich Royce’s literary thrillers examine puzzles of identity. Finding Mrs. Ford and Ruby Falls will be joined by Reef Road in January 2023.

Deborah began her career as an actress, starring as Silver Kane, sister of the legendary Erica Kane (played by Susan Lucci) on the ABC soap, All My Children. She went on to star in feature films such as April Fool’s Day and Just One of the Guys, TV movies such as Return to Peyton Place and The Deliberate Stranger, and series such as Beverly Hills 90210 and 21 Jump Street.

After the birth of her daughters, she moved with her family to Paris and worked as a reader for le Studio Canal Plus. In the 1990’s, Deborah was the story editor at Miramax Films in New York. There, she oversaw readers, manuscript acquisitions, and script development, editing such notable screenplays as Emma by Doug McGrath, and early versions of Chicago and A Wrinkle in Time.

With writing partner, Mitch Giannunzio, Deborah won a grant from the Massachusetts Arts Council in 2002 to develop and workshop their original screenplay, Susan Taft Has Run Amok.

With her husband, noted small-cap investor, Chuck Royce, Deborah restored the 1939 Avon Theatre in Stamford, CT. Under her leadership, the Avon hosts an ongoing series of film luminaries, most recently, Mira Nair, Richard Gere and Chloe Sevigny. The late Gene Wilder, a longstanding advisory board member of the Avon, was an early advocate for Deborah’s writing.

Deborah and Chuck have restored several hotels (Ocean House, Deer Mountain Inn, Weekapaug Inn, and The Margin Street Inn), a bookstore (The Savoy in Westerly, RI), and numerous other Main Street buildings in Westerly, RI and Tannersville, NY.

Deborah serves on the governing boards of the New York Botanical Garden, the Greenwich Historical Society, and the PRASAD Project and the advisory boards of the American Film Institute, the Greenwich International Film Festival, the Preservation Society of Newport County, and the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach. She is a former trustee of the YWCA of Greenwich and the Garden Conservancy.

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Book Release: Scare Your Soul by Scott Simon

Most books are meant to be read.
This one is meant to be lived.

It’s not easy to be courageous. Feelings of fear and uncertainty often stop us dead in our tracks. But what if you had the courage to take action anyway? What changes would you make to transform your current reality into the life of your dreams?

Here’s the good news — like a muscle, courage grows stronger the more you exercise it. And Scare Your Soul will not only teach you how to exercise courage but will guide you in taking small, boundary-pushing actions to expand your comfort zone (so that you feel less fear and more confidence with each action).

By combining research on positive psychology with real-life stories of Scare Your Soul participants, international thought leader and happiness entrepreneur Scott Simon challenges you to confront your limiting beliefs. With writing prompts, activities, and real-world challenges, Scare Your Soul is an interactive roadmap to building bravery.

Scare Your Soul teaches you that the greatest antidote to much of what ails you in your life isn’t achievement, it’s action. So if you crave an extraordinary life but feel like you don’t know how to take “extra” ordinary action, this book is for you.

It’s time to Scare Your Soul.


Editorial Reviews

Review

“This is an empowering and inspiring book! If you want to lead the life you’re meant to lead, this is the compass you ought to take along.”―Tal Ben-Shahar, author of international bestsellers Happier and Being Happy

“In a world that feels so dark and full of fear, this book is a lantern for the courageous way forward.”―Jennifer Pastiloff, best-selling author of On Being Human

“I used to think being fearless was enough, until I read this book. It’s a game-changer.”―Turney Duff, author of the New York Times bestseller The Buy Side

“For any wallflowers desiring to encompass boldness—this is for you.”―Janne Robinson, author and poet –This text refers to the hardcover edition.

About the Author

Scott Simon is a happiness entrepreneur and founder of Scare Your Soul. He is dedicated to creating, curating, and leading opportunities for people around the world to be happier and more courageous. Scott founded the Scare Your Soul organization in 2015, organically growing it from one Facebook post to a global movement with sixty volunteer ambassadors worldwide. He has presented to groups around the world, appeared widely on TV and podcasts, given a TEDx Talk, and brought his passion for courage to retreats, a life coaching practice, and mindfulness meditations in person and online.

Little Tea is Free on Kindle Unlimited!

Southern Culture … Old Friendships … Family Tragedy

One phone call from Renny to come home and “see about” the capricious Ava and Celia Wakefield decides to overlook her distressful past in the name of friendship.

For three reflective days at Renny’s lake house in Heber Springs, Arkansas, the three childhood friends reunite and examine life, love, marriage, and the ties that bind, even though Celia’s personal story has yet to be healed. When the past arrives at the lake house door in the form of her old boyfriend, Celia must revisit the life she’d tried to outrun.

As her idyllic coming of age alongside her best friend, Little Tea, on her family’s ancestral grounds in bucolic Como, Mississippi unfolds, Celia realizes there is no better place to accept her own story than in this circle of friends who have remained beside her throughout the years. Theirs is a friendship that can talk any life sorrow into a comic tragedy, and now that the racial divide in the Deep South has evolved, Celia wonders if friendship can triumph over history.

Review

Every so often you read a novel so intricately and exquisitely crafted that it reaffirms an admiration for the whole art of writing. Little Tea by Claire Fullerton (Firefly Southern Fiction) accomplishes this considerable feat with sensitivity as graceful as Southern charm. But not everything about the tradition-steeped culture of the past is as pleasant as it looks on the surface. The reader, through the intelligent and reserved perspective of protagonist Celia Wakefield, steadily discovers these alarming discrepancies while attempting to both discern the present and understand what came before. As flashbacks clarify Celia’s context, the supporting characters take on fully-fledged lives of their own, practically dancing out of hers and into their own rich narratives. The conclusion binds their stories together with some utterly satisfying twists and revelations. 
Little Tea has many strong points thanks to the adept Claire Fullerton. She clearly thrives when employing her métier. Themes and motifs including illuminating the complexities of Southern culture, delving into gritty yet convincing family dynamics, examining racial tensions, wrestling with mental illnesses and addictions, and, above all, proving the tenacity of enduring love between friends, all are handled with tremendous skill yet a delicate touch that keeps the prose elegant and highly readable. Fullerton has great fun when setting the stage for a scene, painting a vivid image with lush language such as, “In the air, a vibrato of cicadas pulsed so discordantly as to be concordant, like one wall of sound that tricked the ear until I could feel its heartbeat.” As the reader jumps back and forth between the past and the present, it never feels jarring or incongruent when the author can create a sense of place this deftly. Every character is complete and complex, hiding profound secrets under their Southern guise of composure, and it is a joy to understand them better with every memory that Celia invokes. 
Though gorgeously penned and sometimes as dainty as a fine cup of the title beverage, Little Tea also manages to raise profound questions and demand critical reflection upon some challenging truths. Celia’s bond with Little Tea faces many obstacles and pressures, with the ugliness of prejudice twisting an apparently compassionate cultural climate into something destructive and disturbing. Some characters have moved forward from old sins while others have not, wrenching families apart. While racism underscores the narrative, its presence doesn’t, unfortunately, mean that the characters avoid life’s other misfortunes. Marital dissatisfaction, identity crises, battles with depression and addiction, and death itself still haunt the pages of the novel. In spite of all this, or perhaps because of it, there is a persistent sense of hope and joy illuminating the pages; it inspires Celia, Ava, and Renny to come out of this trip with a better understanding of their lives through the lens of their friendships. Love runs deeper than hate, and that reassuring truth is the real crux of Little Tea. ~ BOOK TRIB 

From the Author

The 2020 International Book Awards named Little Tea a finalist in the Women’s Fiction category. The Faulkner Society named Little Tea a finalist in the 2018 William Wisdom International Competition. The 2020 Chanticleer Reviews named Little Tea a 1st place winner in the Somerset Awards for Literary Fiction. Little Tea is the August 2020 Book selection of The Pulpwood Queens International Book Club. Little Tea is a featured book with Novel Network.

Foster by Claire Keegan

In emotionally evocative, simplistic language, author Claire Keegan tells the story of a young girl sent to live with rural Irish relatives, while her over-burdened mother is due to have yet another baby. First-time experiences and awkward adjustments give the tentative girl her first taste of self-worth and belonging to a childless couple now aching to share their heart. A story profound in tacit nuance and cultural identity, the poignant ending resonates with an appropriateness both heart-rending and satisfying.

      Claire Keegan is an Irish writer known for her award-winning short stories. Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, Best American Short Stories, Granta, and The Paris Review; and translated into 20 languages.

An international bestseller and one of The Times’ “Top 50 Novels Published in the 21st Century,” Claire Keegan’s piercing contemporary classic Foster is a heartbreaking story of childhood, loss, and love; now released as a standalone book for the first time ever in the US

Book Review: The Presence of Absence by Simon Van Booy

The Presence of Absence

Image of The Presence of Absence

Author: Simon Van Booy

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Reviewed by: 

Claire Fullerton for The New York Journal of Books

Max Little is dying and wants to leave behind something of his life. A young writer of novels, novellas, and short stories, Max grew up in Wales, is of Pakistani descent, and now reclines in a New York hospital bed, in full acceptance of his terminal illness.

Not wanting to beg the reader’s pity, Max does what he does best by writing, and begins his straightforward narrative by marveling at the magic between reader and writer: “You do realize that by turning the page you’ve decided to follow a complete stranger down a possibly meaningless path?” he says. “Stories lead us behind the curtain of somebody else’s life into the deepest chambers of our own.” Max considers that by the time the reader puts eyes to his words, he, himself, might be absent. “None of that matters,” he assures, “because our lives are braided here and now by this sentence.” Seemingly delighted to embellish his point, Max continues, “For instance, I’m writing this in the present, and you’re reading it in the present. Except there is a gulf of time between us. I might even be dead. Yet here I am.”

In Simon Van Booy’s extraordinary novel, The Presence of Absence, each well-wrought sentence builds upon the next, taking us deeper into Max Little’s life with staggering lucidity. The first part of the story is constructed in descending numerical chapters that decline with a sense of fatalism as the narrator reconstructs his life’s highpoints interspersed with uncanny, existential observations on the business of life, death, and dying. Max confesses his mind’s innerworkings with adroit ease. “Do people ever walk around their homes, wondering which room they will die in? Whether it will be a Wednesday night or Saturday morning at the table with toast and coffee?”  And “What would happen to things like knives and forks once I was gone. Would my wife keep them?”

At the center of Max Little’s concern is his wife, Hadley, and the reader is taken to their first meeting even as Max shares his ruminations on how to best tell Hadley he is dying. Pondering his plight alone on a beach, he arrives at a profound spiritual truth, when he comes to consider himself in the third person. Max posits, “When you nurture the ability to witness your life in the third person, in extremis, or through prayer or meditation, there is an unavoidable shift in consciousness as you realize that who you are is not simply how you feel—but a presence beyond desire of any sort.”

Jeremy Abrams’s mother is dying. He comes into Max’s life through the coincidence of their shared New York therapist. The men bond over the similarities in their life circumstances, and as their friendship grows, it is Jeremy who suggests that Max begin keeping the journal the reader now holds in their hands. Max writes, “You might wonder what dying people look forward to. Being visited, yes, but also being left alone—though that takes a lot of practice, managing thoughts . . . I also look forward to reassuring people it’s okay this is happening.”

In The Presence of Absence, Part Two is theatrically introduced as a quick, black scene change. The section brilliantly holds the subheading, Sotto Voce. The third person story moves forward eight years in time, and fittingly alternates between breathtaking poetry, poignant one-liners, and what miraculously transpires from the connections formed in Max Little’s absence. An insight comes at the hands of one such connection, who stands at a sink washing cups in a basin and thinks, “Like the cups draining on a tea towel, absence has a practical value in how it shapes presence.”

A mind-bending, affecting story that breaks the heart open with startling clarity, this book makes the reader want to take pen in hand to underline The Presence of Absences’ passages. That author Simon Van Booy has taken a universal subject most prefer to shy away from and creatively crafted an accessible work of high art is an unparalleled literary feat. The deft use of language in this tour de force fulfills its own mission when Van Booy summarizes, “Language is a map leading to a place not on the map.”   

Simon Van Booy

Simon Van Booy is the award-winning and best-selling author of nine books of fiction, and three anthologies of philosophy.

He has written for the New York Times, the Financial Times, the New York Post, NPR, Poets & Writers, and the BBC. His books have been translated into many languages and optioned for film. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. In 2013, he founded Writers for Children, a project which helps young people build confidence in their storytelling abilities through annual awards.

Beasts Of The Earth by James Wade

Beasts of the Earth

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Reviewed by: 

Claire Fullerton for The New York Journal of Books

We know from the start LeBlanc is wounded, that his limping spirit is tantamount to the spare, prison-like furnishings of the low-ceilinged duplex he’s rented on the shanty side of town for the past 20 years, that his economic speech has little to do with still waters running deep, that it’s born of a wariness from what he’s hiding.

It is the economic downturn of 1987 in Coral County, Texas, where thirty-something Harlan LeBlanc works alongside the small crew of Carter Hills High School’s Grounds and Maintenance Department, and partakes of a cursory friendship with a troubled, young co-worker named Gene Thomas. A man of habit gripping to a rote, daily schedule, LeBlanc tends the high school’s football field with each step carefully taken, in a manner telling of his mind frame. “LeBlanc reveled in such undertakings—the opportunity to create boundaries, to ensure the proper area for the rules to be applied. There was an element of control, an upholding of justice, that brought peace

to his mind.”  

It is 1965 in the bayou of Assumption Parrish, Louisiana, and 13-year-old Michael Fischer’s hardscrabble world grows harder when his regionally shunned, depraved criminal father is released from prison. “A boy should be happy when his father returns, but Michael was not happy. He had memories of Munday—memories distorted by time and hearsay—and though there existed still a longing for the comfort and protection of a father, dread guided the boy.” Used to being the man of the house for his morbidly obese mother and younger sister, Michael is in fear when his hard-drinking father is home, and only breathes easy when he habitually disappears.

After home circumstances take an unspeakable, dark turn at the hands of his father, Michael flees to the woods, where he’s met with more danger still, until he’s found by a dying recluse of a poet named Remus, who takes the injured Michael to his cabin, and begins the long road to repairing the traumatized, now displaced, youth.

Over time, the strangers warm to an alliance, and Michael “played at having a father, and Remus played at being one. But the past is not a thing to sit still, and there are no new beginnings. The world itself was begun only once. And since that beginning its every rotation has depended on the one before—each circumstance born from the last.”

Cassie Harper has broken Gene Thomas’s heart. A student at Carter Hills High, there is

more to her than meets the eye. When Cassie is found murdered on school grounds, it rocks the entire community. When circumstantial evidence comes to include Gene Thomas, it strikes LeBlanc too close to home, casting aspersions on his character, and giving rise to his secret, haunted past.  

Author James Wade treads a tight wire between Beasts of the Earth’s dual storylines. He deftly keeps the reader guessing about common ground throughout the tumult of the three-part storyThe tone is shadowy and off-kilter, with elements of gothic-tinged realism vested upon an innocent heart, and a mind in peril of becoming unhinged.

There is much to keep the reader invested. Wade’s pitch-perfect, personality-driven dialogue sings in the voice of life, and his ability to meld existential thought, situational metaphor, and cinematic setting is a full-bodied experience: As Harlan LeBlanc sets out to right a wrong from the past, “He walked along the river in the morning light and watched it widen and grow as it approached Port Neches and then on to the Gulf of Mexico, and he wondered if the river might hold itself or some piece of itself out there in all that ocean—might cling at some molecular level to whatever made it a river in the first place, salt or no salt. But he knew the answer and knew the difficulty in fighting back against an ever-growing tide.”

Beasts of the Earth satisfies the discerning reader. Its balanced, oscillating chapters are played out in riveting complete scenes that take you deeper into the gritty backstory of Harlan LeBlanc, a man you care about, and somehow understand from what he’s not saying, while the town around him holds him in suspicion and his moral compass covertly guides him to truth and justice sought at a personal cost.

A soul-deep exploration of a wounded man in crisis, James Wade’s Beasts of the Earth follows his two widely acclaimed novels, All Things Left Wild, and River, Sing Out, and secures his position as an author of extraordinary merit.  

Author James Wade

James Wade lives and writes in the Texas Hill Country with his wife and daughter. He is the author of River, Sing Out and All Things Left Wild, a winner of the prestigious MPIBA Reading the West Award for Debut Fiction, and a recipient of the Spur Award for Best Historical Novel from the Western Writers of America. His third novel, Beasts of the Earth, is now available from Blackstone Publishing.

Book Review: A Place to Land by Lauren Denton

A Place to Land

Image of A Place to Land

Author: Lauren K. Denton

Release Date: October 4, 2022

Publisher/Imprint: Harper Muse

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Reviewed by: 

Claire Fullerton

“Lauren Denton unfurls a mystery by reconciling a buried past with a modern-day story set in a town with vibrant characters brimming with Southern charm.”

A delightful Southern story extolling the deep bond of sisters, Lauren Denton’s A Place to Land has a heartwarming tone as it unravels a 40-year-old mystery coming back to haunt a cast of small-town characters whose lives are entwined in Sugar Bend, Alabama, which sits on Little River, with a population of under 2,000 just a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

Violet and Trudy Figg have an extremely close relationship. Now both in their sixties, their bond comes from “more than just being sisters, more than sharing a home and parents and a fondness for chocolate pudding.” From elder sister Violet’s point of view, “It was a single request from their fragile, damaged mother that linked them with something thicker than blood.” “With a father who was often out on the road in his eighteen-wheeler, and a mother who spent most of her energy dodging blows . . . Violet had accepted her role of Trudy’s caretaker long ago.”  

In their youth, the sisters were complimentary opposites. Trudy enjoyed a wide reputation as a popular beauty pageant queen, while Violet was the quiet, introspective sort who spent most of her time outdoors.

The sisters now keep a steady schedule. “Trudy and Violet both navigated life the best way they knew how—for Trudy, it was working with her materials and setting the pieces just right, while for Violet it was through the birds . . . helping them on their way.”

Trudy creates eclectic visual art with the likes of shells, feathers, and driftwood, while Violet works as a surveyor for the Coastal Alabama Audubon Society. Together, the sisters own and operate Two Sisters Art and Hardware Goods in downtown Sugar Bend, where Trudy’s art is sold alongside souvenirs for tourists.

Eighteen-year-old Maya is seeking her place in the world. She’d “been put in the foster care system after the death of her grandmother, and she’d lived in ten different homes since then.” After turning 18, Maya signed the appropriate papers permitting herself to strike out on her own, and following her instincts, she stumbles upon the quaint town of Sugar Bend, which leads her to Violet and Trudy. After a dubious beginning, the sisters come to embrace her.

Frank Roby has an unhealed past with Violet. A retired law enforcement officer, his long ago romance with Violet came to an inexplicable end, which caused him to jump at the first opportunity to accept a job in another town. After 40 years, Frank moves back to Sugar Bend from Pensacola as a widower. In rekindling his interest in birds, he goes to a class at the local Audubon Society, where he is unwittingly paired as a trainee with 63-year-old Violet. Cautious and still harboring feelings for Violet, he keeps his sentiments for her under wraps.  

Liza Bullock is an outsider who’s worked for a year as the editor of The Sugar Bend Observer. Frustrated by living in a backwater, uneventful town, “If she could find a story with enough meat on its bones, she could write a sizzling expose and land herself at a copy desk in Birmingham or Atlanta.” When a decrepit johnboat “awash with age and river detritus” mysteriously rises from Little River, Liza’s reporter instincts are ignited.

Frank Roby’s nephew works as a Sugar Bend policeman and is in the habit of asking his retired uncle for assistance. When he asks Frank to investigate the suspicious boat awash on the banks of Little River, memories of the year 1981 flash to Frank’s mind, when he was a rookie cop in the throes of a promising future with Violet and was sent to the exact location to investigate a domestic disturbance.  

Unbeknownst to the young Frank of 1981, Violet’s sister had recently married local celebrity, Jay Malone, a successful businessman the whole town revered, and who owned the house Frank was sent to look into. At the time, Frank was unaware Violet had fears for her sister, that she suspected there was more to Jay Malone than met the eye, and that the bruises Trudy tried to hide were inflicted by his hand.

Author Lauren Denton unfurls a mystery by reconciling a buried past with a modern-day story set in a town with vibrant characters brimming with Southern charm. Secrets, coincidence, family loyalty, life choices, and questions of right versus wrong as viewed through the lens of the law are woven neatly in two timeframes, seamlessly linking all characters until they each achieve, seemingly by kismet, the perfect place to land.  

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

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