The Best Southern Books

As it appears on Shepherd: Best Books

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

Claire Fullerton Author Of Mourning DoveBy Claire Fullerton

Who am I?

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


I wrote…

Mourning Dove

By Claire Fullerton

Mourning Dove

What is my book about?

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

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The Books I Picked & Why

The Prince of Tides

By Pat Conroy

The Prince of Tides

Why this book?

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


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Peachtree Road

By Anne Rivers Siddons

Peachtree Road

Why this book?

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


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Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories

By Ron Rash

Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories

Why this book?

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


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All Over But the Shoutin’

By Rick Bragg

All Over But the Shoutin'

Why this book?

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


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The Fighter

By Michael Farris Smith

The Fighter

Why this book?

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


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

The Butterfly Bruises by Palmer Smith

ABOUT THE BUTTERFLY BRUISES 

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

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

-Poetry Critic and Scholar, Professor Robert Dewhurst 

Meet the Author

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

Claire Fullerton’s Reviews > The Butterfly Bruises

The Butterfly Bruises by Palmer Smith

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

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

Meet Palmer Smith

Passionate about writing and poetry, Palmer 

is a current English MA student.

Her poetry and short stories have appeared in:

Refresh Magazine

The Crime Yard

Newark Library Literary Journal

The Online Journal for Person-Centered Dermatology

Ninshar Arts

Opal Literary

Sea Maven Magazine 

Soul Talk Magazine 
Calm Down Magazine 

For Women Who Roar

A New Ullster Magazine

Poethead: The Irish Poetry Journal

Potted Purple Magazine 

Push Up Daisies Magazine

Level: deepsouth 

The Remington Review

The Scissortail Quarterly… amongst many others.

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

The Butterfly Bruises is her first published collection of work.

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Butterfly Bruises

https://www.thebutterflybruisesbook.com/

Dead of Winter: A Christmas short story from Cork writer Billy O’Callaghan

The Best Christmas Gift: A gorgeous Short Story from Irish author, Billy O’Callaghan!

Dead of Winter: A Christmas short story from Cork writer Billy O'Callaghan

The Cork author writes exclusively for Irish Examiner readers, evoking a harsh winter on the farm, and the warmth of love and longing.

Link Below!

https://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/artsandculture/arid-40770669.html

Billy O'Callaghan: evokes a harsh winter on the farm, and the warmth of love and longing

Book Review: Fugitive by David Butler

As it appears in The New York Journal of Books:

Fugitive: Short Stories

Image of Fugitive
Publisher ‏ : ‎ Arlen House (December 15, 2021)

Reviewed by: Claire Fullerton

“At times uproariously funny, uncannily accurate, and glaringly insightful, David Butler’s Fugitive is a collective exposé on human nature delivered in entertaining snippets with such clever finesse it will reaffirm your enjoyment of the art of the short story.”

Award-winning novelist, poet, short story writer, and playwright David Butler’s second collection of short stories, Fugitive, is a delightful assembly of character-driven stories that, when pieced together, give the reader great insight into modern-day Ireland, while simultaneously depicting universal themes. These are swaggering, anecdotal stories, everyday slices of life made significant, visual as staged plays rollicking in pitch-perfect Irish vernacular, each with a pithy conclusion like a moral to the story.

The 21 short stories that make up Fugitive are primarily short in length and deeply human. Butler’s talent is the ability to set the stage in medias res, dropping the reader into the story with an immediate sense of familiarity. His narrative is direct and conversational, as in the case of the wildly surprising, hitch-hiking story gone wrong as two youths traverse the country. The story, “Taylor Keith,” opens with, “The mist rolling off the mountain was threatening rain, otherwise we’d never have taken that lift.” The journey from Dublin to Galway with a dubious stranger becomes a nerve-wracking misadventure when one odd shock follows another, until the narrator concludes of his driver, “By Jaysus, he was some cute hoor all the same.”  

In “The Lie,” Butler posits the dilemma of Jack as he weighs the question of loyalty to a deceased friend named Ronnie to whom he’d served as best man at his wedding. Beside the casket, Ronnie’s widow asks him what really happened on that stag night long ago, remarking that ever after, Ronnie significantly changed until his life ended in suicide. Jack guards the hidden facts: “Ronnie’d had what they term ‘history.’ But what autopsy can disclose a state of mind?”

In “The Tailor’s Shears,” Butler weaves two subjects: the plight of a divorced woman past childbearing years and the frustrating unpredictability of the publishing world. After seven years of marriage, Emily Brooks wonders what to do with her life. “Spinster is a cruel word. A male word. As she examined the fissured puffiness about those eyes with a detachment that surprised her, Emily decided she would not endure the humiliation of placing herself back on the market. On the reduced to clear shelf.” When chance presents Emily with a local writing group, “It was as if a light had come on inside her head,” and the reader is taken through 25 erratic years of Emily pursuing the publication of her short story collection, in a one step forward, two steps back manner that renders the superb ending comical.

The spot-on use of Irish colloquialism throughout Fugitive animates each lively story. In “First Time,” the teammate of a deceased 16 year old meets his dead friend’s mother at the funeral and, after volunteering to help her around the yard, an improper relationship develops to dangerous proportions. The narrator says of himself, “OK, I can be a bit of a headbanger on the rugby pitch, but I’ve never been any use with the girls,” and “I’d never so much as snogged a girl.” After the illicit affair is discovered, the young man wonders, “I would love to know who dobbed us in. One of the neighbors, was it? Can you not?”

Tipping its hat to the sign of the times, the witty “Distancing” portrays the unintended consequences of social distancing when the anxious Emily calls her neighbor, in that short window of time while her husband walks the dog, to ask that her skimpily clad, 18-year-old Brazilian au pair be kept from her husband’s line of view. Nervous at being caught out by her husband, upon his return, Emily composes a smile, “the smile that, ever since the lockdown started, seemed only to put Frankie on edge.”  

At times uproariously funny, uncannily accurate, and glaringly insightful, David Butler’s Fugitive is a collective exposé on human nature delivered in entertaining snippets with such clever finesse it will reaffirm your enjoyment of the art of the short story.  

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.

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David Butler is a multi-award winning novelist, poet, short-story writer and playwright. The most recent of his three published novels, City of Dis (New Island) was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, 2015. His poetry collections All the Barbaric Glass (2017) and Liffey Sequence (2021) are published by, and available from, Doire Press. His 11 poem cycle ‘Blackrock Sequence’, a Per Cent Literary Arts Commission illustrated by his brother Jim, won the World Illustrators Award 2018 (books, professional section). Arlen House is to bring out his second short story collection, Fugitive, in 2021. Literary prizes include the Maria Edgeworth (twice), ITT/Red Line and Fish International Award for the short story; the Scottish Community Drama, Cork Arts Theatre and British Theatre Challenge awards; and the Féile Filíochta, Ted McNulty, Brendan Kennelly and Poetry Ireland/Trocaire awards for poetry. His radio play ‘Vigil’ was shortlisted for a ZeBBie 2018. David tutors regularly at the Irish Writers Centre.

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

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This Review first appeared in The New York Journal of Books: https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/these-precious-days-essays-0

It takes a writer with supernatural depth of field to remind us that life’s seeming trivialities matter. In the aptly named, These Precious Days, author Ann Patchett brings a sense of the sacred to twenty-three, deeply introspective vignettes that shed light on her uncommon life even as they entertain. Each essay is a slice-of-life meditation in topics ranging from family to knitting to the incremental growth of the author’s career. In equal measure, the engaging essays are uniquely personal and resoundingly universal.

Beginning with Three Fathers, Patchett examines the oddity of her paternal background, and reflects upon the individual influences of her mother’s three husbands by noting, “Marriage has always proven irresistible to my family. We try and fail and try again, somehow maintaining our belief in an institution that has made fools of us all.” With full disclosure, Patchett adds, “My problems were never ones of scarcity. I suffered from abundance, too much and too many. There are worse problems to have.”

In The First Thanksgiving, Patchett tells the story of learning to cook as a freshman away from home for the holiday and ties it into a life lesson: “On that freezing holiday weekend when my adult life began, I not only learned how to cook, I learned to read,” and “I then went on to use this newfound understanding to great advantage for the rest of my life. Books were not just my education and my entertainment; they were my partners.”

With regard to the beginning stages of her writing career, in the essay, To the Doghouse, Patchett writes about the mysterious powers of childhood influence: “Influence is a combination of circumstance and luck: what we are shown and what we stumble upon in those brief years when our hearts and minds are fully open.” Just as the reader prepares for something erudite coming, Patchett waxes rhapsody on the dog, Snoopy, from the Charlie Brown comic strip. “Did I become a novelist because I was a loser kid who wanted to be more like the cartoon dog I admired, the confident dog I associated with the happiest days of my otherwise haphazard youth? Or did I have some nascent sense that I would be a writer, and so gravitated toward Snoopy the dog novelist?”

Going deeper into the topic of her writing career, in A Talk to the Association of Graduate School Deans in the Humanities, Patchett shares, “I went to Sarah Lawrence College in 1981 and had as good an undergraduate experience as any writer could dream up,” then goes on to depict her two-year experience at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, in which she studied with visiting faculty while teaching literature. Patchette writes, “What I learned in those two years of graduate school came not from being taught but from teaching.” “Teaching made me a better reader and a better thinker. I became more conscious about how I expressed myself, which in turn made me a better writer.”

On friendship, the essay, Tavia, depicts a life-long friendship beginning in the second grade, in which Patchette writes, “Insofar as life is a game show, Tavia Cathcart is my lifeline.” But it is in the book’s eponymous essay, These Precious Days, that Patchett dives deepest while recounting the incremental stages of a significant friendship formed later in life. Of These Precious Days, Patchett writes in the book’s introduction, “It wasn’t until I wrote the title essay, These Precious Days, that I realized I would have to put a book together. That essay was so important to me that I wanted to build a solid shelter for it.” And Patchett did. The introspective essays that lead to the book’s focus catalogue life’s vagaries in such a way as to place your own powers of observation beneath the lens of scrutiny.

In the essay, These Precious Days, Patchett tells of the chance events that aligned to bring one Sookie Raphael into her orbit. An invitation to interview Tom Hanks on stage started a series of email correspondence with Sookie, Tom Hanks’ assistant, and the seeds of friendship planted between Ann and Sookie take root at Ann’s home in Nashville. Under uncannily coincidental circumstances having to do with sheltering Sookie during the treatment of her dire medical prognosis, the women create a dynamic bond that now reads like fate. It is a heartbreaking essay, but in the hands of Patchett it is poignant, life-affirming, and testimony to the power of friendship. In the open-ended conclusion, Patchette writes, “As it turned out, Sookie and I needed the same thing: to find someone who could see us as our best and most complete selves.”

Two more essays lead to These Precious Days epilogue, serving, by turn, as an opportunity to revisit Ann’s writing career and the subject of her biological father. At this juncture, the reader is intimately familiar with the voice of the author. They’ve been given the great largess of looking beneath the hood of a world-famous writer’s life, and the reprieve given is a chance to regroup before the last essay, A Day at the Beach, in which comes the end of the story of Patchett’s dear friend, Sookie Raphael, the vividly drawn inspiration behind the collection’s title essay.

Like a foray into the heartbeat of a widely beloved author, These Precious Days by Ann Patchett is a powerful essay collection, wonderfully executed and deeply human.

Ann Patchett is the author of six novels, including Bel Canto, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction. She writes for the New York Times Magazine, Elle, GQ, the Financial Times, the Paris Review and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Author photo by Heidi Ross

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Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

As it appears in The New York Journal of Books:

Reviewed by: Claire Fullerton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Claire Keegan

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Multiple Author Book Giveaway Party All Weekend!

Book Giveaway!

The moderators behind the wildly popular Facebook Book Page, Tattered Page Book Club are throwing a party today and tomorrow, and it’s a great way to discover new authors and books! A group of authors were invited to introduce themselves by sharing a bit about their book then instructing readers on how to enter to win!

I’m giving aways an author signed, print version of my 4th novel, Little Tea. Little Tea is actually a character whose real name is Thelonia Winfrey. The story takes place in the Deep South ( because I grew up in Memphis and never tire of singing the South’s praises) and concerns those long-lasting friendships formed in youth that see us through a lifetime. I began writing Little Tea with the desire to capture the way women relate to each other when they’ve known each other forever: the sense of humor, insider’s language, and secrets we THINK we keep, although, as we all know, with women friends, there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide! The story of Little Tea takes place in 3 places: Como, Mississippi, Greer’s Ferry Lake in Heber Springs, Arkansas, and Memphis. It’s a Southern family saga in that it depicts the influence and power of one’s family.

This is the link that will take you to the party! https://lnkd.in/gwQUKF7A

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.

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#Book Release!

Book Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Interview: Claire Fullerton, Little Tea

by maryhelensheriff | Sep 27, 2021 | Interviews

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

Me: Tell us about Little Tea.

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

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

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

Me: How does the Southern setting influence your story?

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

Me: Describe your journey to becoming an author.

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

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

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

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