Eve Prince is done—with college, with her mom, with guys, and with her dream of fashion design. But when her best friend goes MIA, Eve must gather together the broken threads of her life in order to search for her.
When Eve’s grandmother, Boop, a retiree dripping with Southern charm, finds out about the trip, she—desperate to see her sister, and also hoping to alleviate Eve’s growing depression—hijacks her granddaughter’s road trip. Boop knows from experience that healing Eve will require more than flirting lessons and a Garlic Festival makeover. Nevertheless, Boop is frustrated when her feeble efforts yield the same failure that her sulfur-laced sip from the Fountain of Youth wrought on her age. She knows that sharing the secret that’s haunted her for sixty years might be the one thing that will lessen Eve’s growing depression—but she also fears that if she reveals it, she’ll lose her family and her own hard-won happiness.
2020 American Fiction Awards Winner in Coming of Age 2021 Eric Hoffer Montaigne Medal Finalist 2021 Eric Hoffer Category Finalist Buzzfeed’s 12 Most Anticipated Books of Fall Popsugar’s “The 21 Most Exciting New Releases Hitting Bookshelves Throughout October” Parade’s “Highly Anticipated Books of Fall” Frolic’s “Ten Books Perfect for Your Book Club”
“A touching intergenerational romp through the coastal South.” —Kirkus Reviews“
Boop and Eve’s Road Trip will touch your heart. A beautiful and emotional story of sisterhood, family, and friendship. From the first page, Mary Helen Sheriff’s lush and lyrical writing draws you in. Fans of Patti Callahan Henry and Kristy Woodson Harvey will adore this debut.”
–Kerry Lonsdale, Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Last Summer“
Boop and Eve’s Road Trip is warm, witty, and wise, with characters I loved and characters I loved to hate. Filled with twists and turns and many a bump in the road, this trip is a delight from beginning to end.” –Han Nolan, National Book Award-winning author of Dancing on the Edge
MeetMary Helen Sheriff
When I was a kid I wanted to be a model, an actress, a teacher, and a writer. Lack of height, smoking good looks, and talent lost the first two of those professions for me, but I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the latter two.
I’ve spent 14 years in classrooms teaching elementary school, middle school, college, and professionals.
During this time, I’ve also had the pleasure of dabbling in writing for children, teenagers, and adults in a variety of forms including fiction, poetry, blogs, and nonfiction. I even spent several summers immersed in an MFA program in children’s literature at Hollins University (which I suppose isn’t exactly dabbling).
I’m taking a break from the classroom to concentrate on my writing. My debut southern women’s fiction, Boop and Eve’s Road Trip, was published on October 6, 2020
Great E-Book Deal!
Ebook on sale for the first time ever! Boop and Eve’s Road Trip was just nominated for a Zibby Award for best opening sentence: “Boop loved her daughter to the moon and back, but Justine had a way of sucking the joy out of a room faster than a vampire bat.”
It won’t surprise you to learn that the author of Boop and Eve’s Road (that’s me for the uninitiated) loves herself a smashing southern story. I’ve put together a refreshingly diverse list here–all southern, all sensational, but so very, very different. Do yourself a favor and pick up one (or heck y’all, all three of these reads).
Purple Lotus by Veena Rao is the story of Tara who immigrates from India to Atlanta, Georgia to be with her husband Sanjay. Theirs is a horribly ill-suited arranged marriage. Tara finds herself lost in a new country with an abusive husband and an unfortunate lack of self confidence. Eventually, she makes friends in her new community giving her the courage to leave her husband and make her own life in her new country. Some might argue that Purple Lotus is more of an immigrant story than a southern story, but I’d point out that Rao beautifully captures the experience of someone fresh to the South, that the south is more than its traditions, that the South with its world renown hospitality has room for all. Tara’s story of empowerment will steal your heart. Don’t miss it.
Sharp as a Serpent’s Tooths the best collection of short stories I have ever read. The characters, like June Bug and Eva, are delightful, quirky, and engaging. The plots are mesmerizing, unique, and page-turning. The southern country setting adds texture and delight with its Pentecostal Preachers, snakes, and speaking in tongues. Mandy Haynes has put together a beautiful collection with a southern voice that drawls off the page.
Little Tea by Claire Fullerton explores some of the more traditional southern motifs, complete with plantation homes and racial tension. Three childhood friends come together at a lake in Arkansas where an old boyfriend forces them to face the past. Through the voice of the main character, Celia Wakefield, Fullerton explores the evolution of racial relations in Mississippi. White daughter of a wealthy old southern family, Celia befriends the daughter of the black couple who runs her family’s plantation. Tucked away in the country in 1980s, their friendship flourishes. However, once the friends leave the plantation behind it becomes more difficult to navigate a mixed-race friendship in a world not quite ready for such things.
If you are a fan of all things Southern, you might also enjoy these posts:
I woke up this morning to the surprise of this on Goodreads.
This, I think, is proof of the scales balancing in that Little Tea was released at the beginning of the pandemic, which meant the book tour primarily in the Deep South that I had scheduled was canceled. I had ten events scheduled, back-to-back, in three Southern states including radio, bookstores, and television. The cancelation left me, as well as legions of authors, not only disappointed, but baffled about how to get the word out about our books. I owe endless gratitude to WordPress Bloggers, book clubs, podcasts, libraries, Facebook book pages and book groups. ZOOM and StreamYard have been phenomenal venues.
Below is Landis Wade of the Charlotte Reader’s Podcast.
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.
Little Tea is available at online book outlets and book stores!
Asia Butler and her sister, Ivy Butler Morelli, have not spoken in fifteen years. The two endured brutal emotional abuse from their mother, Veronica, and want only to forget the past . . . and each other.
But the past comes calling when they each receive a letter from Veronica’s attorney promising much needed cash if they will fulfill her dying wish and consent to cleaning out their childhood home. Asia and Ivy reluctantly return to their hometown of Emerson, Florida, only to discover the house is a hoarder’s nightmare filled with strange mementos and clues hinting that they were not the only victims of Veronica’s sadistic nature. Can this new pain be the path to their healing? Will they be able to choose forgiveness over resentment?
“A powerful story about the wounds we carry, and the courage it takes to let them go.” –Zena Dell Lowe, The Storytellers Mission
Donna Mumma’s debut novel, Fresh Scars, is a moving and poignant tale that shows just how strong the human spirit can be. “This one touches all the emotions, and readers may very well find the courage to face a few of their own difficulties after reading it! Don’t miss this well-crafted and redemptive story!” –Jennifer Uhlarik 2020 Will Rogers Medallion Award Finalist, Sand Creek Serenade
“Fresh Scars immerses readers in the skin of characters who battle the trauma of childhood abuse and discover the spiritual strength to overcome it. Author Donna Mumma crafts an authentic depiction of anxiety, sibling rivalry among survivors, and the triggers which draw each sister back to relive the past. The tangles of psychological realism weave themselves around a compelling mystery while the drama proves equally captivating. I felt entwined with the characters until reaching the perfect and satisfying ending. I couldn’t recommend Mumma’s novel more highly.” –Tina Yeager, LMHC, Life Coach, Author, Speaker, and Host of the Flourish-Meant Podcast –This text refers to the paperback edition.
About the Author
I am a native Floridian, farm kid and dreamer. I was blessed with two wonderful parents who taught me how stories enable us to learn, escape, connect and be inspired.
My writing inspiration also comes from the folks I knew in my growing up years. I came from a small town in Central Florida filled with some of the greatest storytellers. Tales of hunting trips gone awry, flipped airboats, eccentric relatives and beloved dogs seasoned my childhood.
From the stories of my parents and neighbors, I learned two important lessons. First, life comes with sunshine and hurricanes. Second, with God’s help, we can flourish in both.
My parents had a saying. It’s not important that you get knocked down but that you get back up. I write stories about people who fall, stand and press forward with God’s help.
I invite you to come with me on this writing journey. My hope is somewhere along the way we can discover all the Good Lord intended when He set us on this path.
Donna Mumma has been writing since age eight. She has won awards for speculative and women’s fiction as well as devotions. An avid believer in education, she holds a BAE and M.Ed. in Elementary Education. She serves as a chapter mentor for Word Weavers International. Donna now lives on the West Coast of Florida with her husband. She is the mom of two college boys and one energetic collie named Duke. Her favorite things are faith, family, alligators, a warm cup of tea and sunflowers
I’m Claire Fullerton, the traditionally published author of Little Tea, Mourning Dove, Dancing to an Irish Reel, and A Portal in Time. I also have a novella titled, Through an Autumn Window, which is included in the book, A Southern Season: Scenes from a Front Porch Swing. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and now live in Malibu, California.
# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
There are no “real-life” stories in my novels, though I draw from a strong sense of place and am inspired by people and events I know.
# What inspires/inspired your creativity?
People are always my inspiration, My last two novels are set in the Deep South, and the South has such wonderfully colorful characters that are part and parcel to the Southern culture. I think all stories happen because of the people involved, so my inspiration comes from simply paying attention to people’s mannerisms, the stories they tell, and their way with words.
“The Invisible Husband of Frick Island links the modern world with the past on a small island struggling to stay afloat literally and figuratively. It’s a lively, heartwarming story with eccentric characters depicting the lengths a small community will go to in support of one of its own.”
Piper Parrish lives on Frick Island and works at the local deli. At the end of every afternoon, she waits on the marina’s dock for Tom’s boat to come puffing into the harbor after “squeezing in every minute of the government-allotted eight hours of crabbing per day.” Piper and Tom are newlywed, childhood sweethearts, and Piper is patient for her husband’s return. “Time on the rustic Frick Island had always been more of a theoretical concept measured in jiffies or whiles or later ons,” so she is used to delays. When a boat captain tells her Tom radioed for help during a storm earlier that morning, and that his boat is now missing, Piper holds out hope for Tom’s return, even when his boat is found at the bottom of the sea four days later.
Colleen Oakley is the USA Today bestselling author of You Were There Too, Close Enough to Touch,Before I Go, and the forthcoming The Invisible Husband of Frick Island (May 2021). Colleen’s novels have been longlisted for the Southern Book Prize twice and Close Enough to Touch won the French Reader’s Prize. Her books have been translated into 21 languages, optioned for film and have received numerous accolades including:
A former magazine editor for Marie Claire and Women’s Health & Fitness, Colleen’s articles and essays have been featured in The New York Times, Ladies’ Home Journal, Women’s Health, Redbook, Parade, Woman’s Day, Fitness, Health, Marie Claire and Martha Stewart Weddings. A proud graduate of the University of Georgia’s school of journalism, Colleen currently lives in Atlanta with her husband, four kids, four chickens, two guinea pigs, and one fish.
Book Description: THE INVISIBLE HUSBAND OF FRICK ISLAND
Sometimes all you need is one person to really see you.
Piper Parrish’s life on Frick Island—a tiny, remote town smack in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay—is nearly perfect. Well, aside from one pesky detail: Her darling husband, Tom, is dead. When Tom’s crab boat capsized and his body wasn’t recovered, Piper, rocked to the core, did a most peculiar thing: carried on as if her husband was not only still alive, but right there beside her, cooking him breakfast, walking him to the docks each morning, meeting him for their standard Friday night dinner date at the One-Eyed Crab. And what were the townspeople to do but go along with their beloved widowed Piper?
Anders Caldwell’s career is not going well. A young ambitious journalist, he’d rather hoped he’d be a national award-winning podcaster by now, rather than writing fluff pieces for a small town newspaper. But when he gets an assignment to travel to the remote Frick Island and cover their boring annual Cake Walk fundraiser, he stumbles upon a much more fascinating tale: an entire town pretending to see and interact with a man who does not actually exist. Determined it’s the career-making story he’s been needing for his podcast, Anders returns to the island to begin covert research and spend more time with the enigmatic Piper—but he has no idea out of all the lives he’s about to upend, it’s his that will change the most.
USA Today bestselling author Colleen Oakley delivers an unforgettable love story about an eccentric community, a grieving widow, and an outsider who slowly learns that sometimes faith is more important than the facts.
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT THE INVISIBLE HUSBAND OF FRICK ISLAND:
“An utterly charming story brimming with heart and humanity. This is the hopeful book we all need right now. I loved it!” —Emily Giffin, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Sweet, quirky, surprising, and altogether lovely, The Invisible Husband of Frick Island is everything I long for in a book. I fell in love with Oakley’s sparkling prose, charming characters, and quaint island setting. This is a story I can’t wait to revisit, again and again. A must read.”—Emily Henry, New York Times bestselling author of Beach Read
“What’s a town to do when a recent widow keeps talking to her husband that no one else can see? Follow along, of course. Colleen Oakley’s captivating The Invisible Husband of Frick Island is populated with quirky characters that stole my heart. Make this your summer read and discover the joys of a delicious Frick Island cake, the sanctuary of a tight-knit community, and the hope of second chances.”—Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake
“A gently told story of grief, community and ambition, The Invisible Husband of Frick Island is imaginative, lovely and full of surprises.”—Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author of Always the Last to Know
“This twisty, never-predictable novel is exactly what we’ve come to expect by Oakley—a romantic mystery with a hopeful message and wonderful characters. I was surprised on every page!”–W. Bruce Cameron, #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Dog’s Purpose
Congratulations to Barbara Linn Probst on the release of her second novel! The Sound Between the Notes releases today!
What if you had a second chance at the very thing you thought you’d renounced forever? How steep a price would you be willing to pay? Susannah’s career as a pianist has been on hold for nearly sixteen years, ever since her son was born. An adoptee who’s never forgiven her birth mother for not putting her first, Susannah vowed to put her own child first, no matter what. And she did. But now, suddenly, she has a chance to vault into that elite tier of “chosen” musicians. There’s just one problem: somewhere along the way, she lost the power and the magic that used to be hers at the keyboard. She needs to get them back. Now. Her quest―what her husband calls her obsession―turns out to have a cost Susannah couldn’t have anticipated. Even her hand betrays her, as Susannah learns that she has a progressive hereditary disease that’s making her fingers cramp and curl―a curse waiting in her genes, legacy of a birth family that gave her little else. As her now-or-never concert draws near, Susannah is catapulted back to memories she’s never been able to purge―and forward, to choices she never thought she would have to make. Told through the unique perspective of a musician, The Sound Between the Notes draws the reader deep
Like her award-winning debut, Queen of the Owls (six awards and counting), The Sound Between the Notes is about a woman’s search for identity, authenticity, and belonging—but this time, the story is told through the unique perspective of a musician.
The Sound Between the Notes has been called powerful, riveting, gorgeously written, “a breathtaking emotional journey,” and a compulsive page-turner that’s impossible to put down. In its highly-coveted starred review, given only to books “of remarkable merit,” Kirkus has called it “a tour de force steeped in suspense … a sensitive, astute exploration of artistic passion, family, and perseverance.”
Praise for The Sound Between the Notes:
“The climax, on the night of her performance, is a tour de force steeped in suspense … A sensitive, astute exploration of artistic passion, family, and perseverance.” — Kirkus Reviews “The Sound Between the Notes is so beautiful, so lyrical, so musical that it was hard to put down…This is a wonderful story from a skillful writer, one that appeals strongly to the heart. It features awesome characters, a twisty plot, and gorgeous writing.”
Readers Favorite, 5-star review “In her second novel, Barbara Linn Probst delivers yet another powerful story, balancing lyrical language with a skillfully paced plot to build a sensory-rich world that will delight those who loved Queen of the Owls and win countless new readers. Offering a deep exploration of the search for identity and connection, The Sound Between Notes reminds us to embrace everything we are—and everything that’s made us who we are.”
Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA TODAY best-selling author of Perennials “Beautifully told, The Sound Between the Notes, is the story of tragedy and triumph, of the push and pull of family, of the responsibility we feel to ourselves and those we love. Once I started the book, I couldn’t put it down until I reached the last, gorgeously written note.”
Loretta Nyhan, author of The Other Family and Amazon charts best-seller Digging In Family ties can bind or blind us—even with relatives we’ve never met. In The Sound Between the Notes, trails of music connect generations separated by adoption—while the same notes threaten a family believed sewn with steel threads. In this spellbinding novel, Barbara Linn Probst examines how the truth of love transcends genetics, even as strands of biology grip us. Once you begin this story, suffused with the majesty of music and the reveries of creation, the ‘gotta know’ will carry you all the way to the final note.
Randy Susan Meyers, International Bestselling Author of Waisted and The Comfort of Lies “As soaring as the music it so lovingly describes, poignantly human, and relatab
Barbara Linn Probst
Barbara Linn Probst is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, living on an historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her debut novel, Queen of the Owls, (April 2020) is the story of a woman’s search for wholeness, framed around the art and life of iconic American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Queen of the Owls won the bronze medal for popular fiction from the Independent Publishers Association, placed first runner-up in general fiction for the Eric Hoffer Award, was short-listed for the First Horizon and the $2500 Grand Prize, and is currently a finalist for the Sarton Award for women’s fiction as well as the Somerset Award for literary and contemporary fiction. Barbara’s second novel The Sound Between the Notes, recipient of starred Kirkus Review for work “of remarkable merit,” launches in April 2021.
Barbara has a PhD in clinical social work and blogs for several award-winning sites for writers. To learn more about Barbara and her work, visit barbaralinnprobst.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.
To order The Sound Between the Notes, please go to Amazon or the links on her website
Author Website here:
I’m with Barbara Linn Probst at The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas! The biggest book club convention in the world!
Every March, I look forward to St. Patrick’s Day because it triggers the memory of when I lived on the west coast of Ireland. As an American with 48% Irish DNA, I felt right at home in Inverin, which is a small village in Connemara, 2.7. miles up the road from the village of Spiddal, the next significant town being Clifden, fifty miles or so up the same road.
I lived in Ireland for more than a year and loved every minute of it.. Connemara is a land separated into geometric prisms by grey-stone walls leading down to the rock encrusted shores of the Atlantic on one side of the coast road and bog-land that stretches out forever on the other. Alongside the novelty of discovering Ireland was a curious sense of familiarity that gave way to a sense of belonging. Between the time I arrived in Ireland and the time I left, I managed to ingratiate myself into the rhythm of a land that has more soul and character than any place I’d ever imagined.
Inverin really isn’t much more than a stretch of the coast road at the gateway to the Gaeltacht, which is an area on the west coast of Ireland where Irish is spoken as a first language. Inverin is moody, pastoral, a bit desolate, and those that reside there have deep generational ties. Inverin is 13 miles up the coast road from Galway City. Here are some photographs to give you an idea of Inverin’s atmosphere:
I lived within a short walk of this graveyard. It’s down a gravel road not far from The Centra, which, for all intent and purposes, is the lone gas station/grocery store in Inverin. I have a thing about graveyards that’s hard to explain. They speak to me of the significance of human existence–of love and life and history, with indelible, reverential resonance indicative of a region’s culture. Ireland takes its cemeteries seriously, and walking through an Irish graveyard has always given me an anchored sense of place. They are lonely, haunting, and beautiful, and what I love about the graveyard pictured above is that the headstones all face the sea.
Inverin was my home base, and during the week, I took the bus from Inverin into Galway, where I worked on New Road at the Galway Music Centre. Galway is a college town, which makes it feel youthful and vibrant. Here are some photographs that illustrate my point:
The Claddagh, Galway, a port for anglers on Galway Bay.
As a writer by nature, I walk through life with a running commentary in my head, and keep a journal. I took the experience of living in Ireland and used it as a basis to write a novel about a single American female who leaves the record business in Los Angeles and relocates to rural Ireland, where she meets an Irish traditional musician who won’t come closer nor completely go away. The novel is titled “Dancing to an Irish Reel.” I went out of my way not to patronize anything about Ireland, particularly its people. I wanted to refrain from bringing an American frame of reference to the book because I felt it had been done before and somehow cheated what I wanted to be the point of the story, which concerns the ambiguity of a budding love relationship, with its attendant excitement, hope and doubt. On the one hand, this story could have happened anywhere (I know of very few people who haven’t been thrown into confusion as they navigate the minefield of new found attraction) but because this story takes place in Ireland, I had the opportunity to highlight a setting in possession of unfathomable beauty, with a history of cultural nuances worth the singing of deep praise. In writing “Dancing to an Irish Reel,” I did what all novelists do: tell about how they find the world through the vehicle of one painstakingly crafted case in point story.
In anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day, there is a Goodreads Giveaway running until March 20 of Dancing to an Irish Reel.
And this will be fun, as well as unprecedented! On Sunday, March 14, I’ll have the immense pleasure of being a part of a Facebook, multiple book page St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I’ll be in conversation with Irish author, Billy O’Callaghan, at noon, Eastern Standard Time on the Facebook page, The Write Review. We plan to talk about Irish culture, the influence of Ireland on our writing, and whatever else comes to mind. I hope to see you there! You can find all the book pages involved in this celebration on the graphic below, so if you’re on Facebook, simply go to the book pages to join in the fun!
A former teacher and journalist, Johnnie Bernhard’s passion is reading and writing. Her work(s) have appeared in national and international publications, including: University of Michigan Graduate Studies Publications, Southern Literary Review, Houston Style Magazine, The Mississippi Press, the international Word Among Us, and the Cowbird-NPR production on small town America. Her entry, “The Last Mayberry,” received over 7,500 views, nationally and internationally.
Her first novel, A Good Girl, is a 2017 finalist in the national Kindle Book Awards, a Pen/Bingham nominee, and shortlisted for the 2015 Wisdom-Faulkner international Writing Competition. It was chosen for panel discussion at both the 2017 Louisiana and Mississippi Book Festivals.
In 2018, A Good Girl was nominated by the Institute of Mississippi Arts and Letters for Fiction of the Year and accepted into the Texas Center for the Book permanent collection.
Her second novel, How We Came to Be, was released in 2018. It is a finalist in the 2017 Wisdom-Faulkner international Writing Competition. Chosen for panel discussion by the 2018 Louisiana Book Festival and the Mississippi Book Festival, it has received stellar reviews, including being named a “Must Read” by Southern Writers Magazine and listed as a 2018 Summer Reading List choice by Deep South Magazine. It was awarded the Summerall Book Prize by Lamar University in 2019.
Johnnie’s third novel, Sister of the Undertow was named a book of the month by the international book club, The Pulpwood Queens. It was a featured novel for panel discussion at the 2020 AWP and chosen as Best of the University Presses, 100 Books by Literary Hub and the Association of University Presses.
Johnnie was selected to be a speaker for the TEDWomen 2020: Fearless series.
Johnnie’s Third Novel, Sisters of the Undertow is making waves in the literary world,
Sisters Kim and Kathy Hodges are born sixteen months apart in a middle-class existence parented by Linda and David Hodges of Houston, Texas. The happy couple welcomes their “lucky daughter” Kim, who is physically and mentally advanced. Following several miscarriages, Linda delivers “unlucky” Kathy at twenty-nine weeks, ensuring a life of cognitive and physical disabilities. Kathy enters public school as a special education student, while Kim is recognized as gifted.
Both sisters face life and death decisions as Houston is caught in the rip current of Hurricane Harvey. Kim learns the capricious nature of luck, while Kathy continues to make her own luck, surviving Hurricane Harvey, as she has survived all undertows with the ethereal courage of the resolute.
Sisters of the Undertow examines the connotations of lucky and unlucky, the complexities of sibling rivalry, and the hand fate delivers without reason.
Fans of audiobooks! Johnnie Bernhard’s latest novel is out today for your listening pleasure. Narrated by Emmy Award winning book narrator, Theresa Bakken, Sisters of the Undertow will appeal to those who love stories about sisters, families, and the human struggle to fit in. Theresa’s voice is smooth and carries you right into the story. Come download your copy. A 2020 Pulpwood Queens Book Club selection and published by Texas Review Press.
SISTERS OF THE UNDERTOW has been chosen for the Texas Center for the Book Collection, State Library Austin.
Below: Ginger Smith, Johnnie Bernhard, Yours Truly, Kim Moon at The 2020 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas.
Johnnie’s 2nd, world-class novel: How We Came to Be
Here’s my book review of How We Came to Be:
How We Came to Be is a triumph of order from chaos as told in the most accessible first-person voice I’ve had the good fortune to come across in ages. I was under narrator Karen Anders’ spell from the first because author Johnnie Bernhard came out swinging by gifting the reader with this engaging novel’s premise by the third page. Karen doesn’t look good on paper. She is a fifty-year-old, high school English teacher living in Houston; a divorced, single mother facing empty-nest syndrome, well aware of her dependency on alcohol, but nowhere near ready to quit. Why should she? Karen’s life is a mess. One would think this is a recipe for a down on its heels story, but the reader is captivated by Karen’s tell-it-as-it-is persona and—dare I say it, identifies when Karen summarizes her circumstances by confessing, “I’m hating every moment, but pretending I’m having the time of my life.” When I got to this line, I knew I was hooked. We all have that sardonic friend who manages to smile through the egg on her face. This is Karen in a nutshell, and she keeps on keeping on, trying for the upper hand, while her adopted daughter, Tiffany’s first three months away at college become a study in bad choices, of which Karen has no say beyond putting out the fires. Karen’s dilemma is a common one and raises the question of how to be an effective single parent without chasing her daughter away. In the meantime, back at the empty nest, Karen knows she must forge a life beyond the rat-wheel of predictable sameness centered on her Houston high school’s schedule. In an uncanny act of timing, Karen’s world is widened when she is befriended by WW11 Hungarian refugee, Leona Supak from across the street, and an unlikely alliance is formed that challenges Karen to grow. Having been single for decades and barely hanging on, it probably isn’t the best time for a man to come into Karen’s life, yet when Matt Broussard pursues the surprised Karen in an Austin bar, she thinks, maybe? How We Came to Be is a brass-tacks, contemporary story without a moment of campy pretention. The events are cause and effect, but the story is what goes on in the likable Karen’s head. She is not so much a victim of circumstances as she is a neophyte at growing into her own. How We Came to Be is the story of a woman drowning in deep waters, who has the sense to learn how to swim. I applaud author Johnnie Bernhard for her wizardry in crafting this perfectly paced story in a voice so unique and compelling. This is a book to read and return to. It is perfect for book clubs because there is so much in it to discuss!
And Johnnie’s first novel, A Good Girl:
A Bible’s family tree and an embroidered handkerchief hold the key to understanding the past as six generation Texan, Gracey Reiter prepares to say goodbye to her dying father, the last surviving member of the Walsh-Mueller family. The present holds the answer, and the last opportunity for Gracey to understand her father’s anger, her mother’s guilt, and her siblings’ version of the truth.
The Walsh-Mueller family begins in Texas when Patricia Walsh leaves the famine of nineteenth century Ireland, losing her parents and siblings along the way. She finds a home, love, and security with Emil Mueller in a German settlement near Indianola on the Texas Gulf Coast. They begin their lives on a small cotton farm, raising six sons. From the coastal plains of Texas, five generations survive hurricanes, wars, The Great Depression, and life, itself.
An all-encompassing novel that penetrates the core being of all who read it, A Good Girl pulls back the skin to reveal the raw actualities of life, love, and relationships. It is the ageless story of family.
One of the highlights of 2020 for many writers was watching this!
I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Now that my book, ‘’Dancing to Irish Reel” is out, I’m being asked the inevitable question, “How much of the story is true?” Everyone who knows me personally knows I picked up and moved to the west coast of Ireland without much of a plan, and that I stayed for a year. Add that to the fact that the book is written in the first person, that the narrator’s interior monologues in the story are unabashedly confessional to the point of unnecessary risk. I’ve been told the book reads like a memoir, and for that, I can only say I’m glad because this was my intention. I can see why readers might think the entire story is true.
But writers make a choice in how to lay out a story, and in my case, I wrote the book based on the kind of books I like to read. I’m a one-trick pony kind of a reader. I want an intimate narrator’s voice with which I can connect. I want to know exactly whom I’m listening to, so that I can align with a premise that makes the story’s swinging pendulum of cause and effect plausible. The way I see it, there are always bread crumbs along the path to the chaotic predicaments people find themselves in, and although many are blind to their own contributions, when I read a book, I want to be the one who divines how the character got there.
What fascinates me about people are their backstories. Oh, people will tell you their highlights, but they rarely reveal their churning cauldron of attendant emotions; they rarely confess to carrying acquired fears. We all want to appear bigger than our own confusion, and the key word here is “appear,” because when it comes to faces, most people like to save theirs. This is the point I wanted to make in the story, but I also wanted “Dancing to an Irish Reel,” to be about discovery, so I started with a narrator who is a fish out of water: a twenty-five year old American ensconced in a specific culture she uncovers like the dance of seven veils. In the midst of this there enters an Irish traditional musician named Liam Hennessey. He is from the region, of the region, and therefore it can only be said he is because of the region in a way that is emblematic. From a writer’s point of view, the supposition offers the gift of built-in conflict, most poignantly being the clash of the male-female dynamic set upon the stage of differing cultures trying to find a bridge. And I can think of no better culture clash than America and Ireland. I say this because I happen to know to the Irish, we Americans are a bit brazen, that we have the annoying habit of being direct. But the Irish are a discreet lot, culled from a set of delicate social manners that seem to dance around everything, leaving an American such as me with much guesswork.
No matter how they shake it, writers write about what they know, even if it has to be extracted from varying quadrants that have no good reason for being congealed. “Dancing to an Irish Reel” is a good example of this: it came to me as a strategy for commenting on the complexities of human beings inherent longing to connect—the way we do and say things that are at variance with how we really feel, in the interest of appearances, and how this quandary sometimes dictates how we handle opportunities in life. In my opinion, there is no better playing field on which to illustrate this point than the arena of new found attraction. I’m convinced the ambiguity of new love is a universal experience, and since the universe is a big wide place, and since ‘”Dancing to an Irish Reel” has something to say about hope and fear and the uncertainty of attraction, it occurred to me that I might as well make my point set upon the verdant fields of Ireland because everything about the land fascinated me when I lived there, and I wanted to take any reader that would have me to the region I experienced as cacophonous and proud: that mysterious, constant, quirky, soul-infused island that lays in the middle of the Atlantic, covered in a blanket of green, misty velvet.
Excerpt from “Dancing to an Irish Reel”
The distance between Inverin and Clifden is approximately sixty kilometers. It’s a visually inspiring hour-long ride through undulating midlands with grass as soft as velvet, gray stone walls that split the landscape, and bubbling intermittent streams as you glide along a two-lane road that cuts through a terrain devoid of street markers, stop signs, or any other indication the area has been previously trodden. There is little suggestion of civilization anywhere in sight and it is a quiet, unobstructed journey through the heart of Connemara with nothing in store, save for the destination of Clifden.
Driving into Clifden, one is abruptly thrust into the center of a thriving village that hosts an annual, three-day music festival wherein every pub door is invitingly open with signs outside announcing which Irish traditional musicians will be playing within the standing-room-only venues. A rudimentary chalkboard sat on the sidewalk outside of Mannion’s Pub with “Welcome Liam Hennessey” sprawled across in large, eye-catching cursive.
I followed Liam into the middle of a waiting crowd, which parted ceremoniously as he made his way to the old man seated against the wall across from the bar. Wind-tossed and toothless, the man sat on a battered wooden chair, tuning a fiddle and nodding his greeting while Liam opened his accordion case and settled in beside him. When a flute player joined them, the crowd fell into an anticipatory hush, ready for the music to begin. I stationed myself in front of the bar, minding my own business, but that soon became short-lived.
“Are you here with Liam?” asked a middle-aged man who was standing too close to me.
“Yes.” I took a step back.
“She’s here with Liam,” the man announced, turning to the man beside him.
“Ah,” the second man gasped, “she is, so!”
“Where did you get that blond hair on your head?” The first man eyed me.
“I brought it with me from America,” I said.
“She’s from America!” The man turned to the other man, his eyes opened wide.
“America indeed!” The second man drew in his breath.
“All I want in the world is for me brother to come in and see me standing here talking to you,” said the first man. “I wouldn’t care if a pooka came for me after that. Will you have a pint? Get her a pint, Tom,” he directed.
“Tom, make that a half-pint,” I said, trying not to laugh. I looked over at an obviously amused Liam, who smiled and winked as if to say he knew what was happening.
I looked toward the door and noticed an unusually small woman walking in with what appeared to be members of her family due to their similarity in stature. I’d met her in Galway before: she was a musician named Deanna Rader who played guitar and sang anything from Irish traditional music to her own compositions. I’d heard her sing in her low, husky voice a few times before, and because she was a friend of Declan’s, I’d exchanged pleasantries with her a few times as well. From the looks of things, she was in Mannion’s with her father and two sisters. She came smiling to my side instantly.
“Well then, you’ve made your way out here now, have you?” She looked up at me.
“I came here with Liam,” I said, grateful to know someone in the crowd.
“I knew you must have. So, it’s the two of you now, is it?”
“Well, I don’t know if I’d put it that way,” I said, diverting the implication. I couldn’t recall if I’d seen Deanna while I was out with Liam, or if she asked this because she’d heard people talking.
“You’re a long way from home yourself,” I said. “Is this festival a big deal?”
“Oh God, yes. People look forward every year. Luckily my parents live in Letterfrack, just up the road. I’ve been spending the last couple of nights with them. We’ve all come ’round tonight for the craic.”
“Well, it’s nice to know someone here,” I said.
“My sister came out to sing tonight. Would you mind asking Liam if she could give us a song?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll ask him when they take a break.”
“They probably won’t do that, so you’d be waiting for ages,” Deanna said. “You’ll just have to lean over and ask, like.”
“When?” I asked.
“How about now?” she said.
“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” she smiled sweetly.
I looked over at the musicians, who were in full swing. There was no way I was going to butt in, even though Deanna kept standing there looking up at me expectantly. Just then, a man at the bar stepped forward enthusiastically. He leaned into the musicians circle, grabbed Liam by the arm, and shouted loudly, “The young lady here wants to give us a song.” With that, the music came to a screeching halt, and a whirlwind of preparation commenced. Liam leaned over and whispered to the two musicians beside him, instruments were set down, a microphone was raised, a path spontaneously cleared, and into the arena stepped Deanna’s sister. It was like the infamous scene of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy.
There was a hush in the room as all eyes riveted upon the girl. She stood all of five foot two, but within that minuscule framework there was a lot going on: thick, raven hair fell in loose waves across her forehead and down her back. Large green oval eyes slanted and squinted catlike beneath thick, dark lashes. Turn by turn, her eyes focused and held one man in the room after another. She stood with her right hand on her hip and her voluptuous weight shifted to the left. With great histrionics, she crooned out a song in the Irish language I’d never heard before.
When she finally stopped, she sashayed over to Liam, totally aware everybody was watching. With grand theatrics, she threw both her arms around his neck and kissed him square on the mouth, nearly knocking him over with her forward advance. All hands in the room clapped loudly, wolf whistles erupted, and a few eyes turned my way.
“I imagine you’d have something to say about this passionate display,” said Deanna’s father, who had materialized beside me.
“Not really,” I said. “Do you?”
“You have to watch that one is all. She’ll be the death of me one day, he said, cocking his head toward her.
“I hope not,” I said.
“No harm done then?”
“No harm at all,” I said.
Dancing to an Irish Reel is available where books are sold!