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

Book Release: Hannah and Ariela by Johnnie Bernhard

As it appears in The New York Journal of Books

Hannah and Ariela

Image of Hannah and Ariela

Johnnie Bernhard

Publisher/Imprint: Texas Christian University Press

Pages: 176

Buy on Amazon

Reviewed by: 

Claire Fullerton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Johnnie Bernhard

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

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

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

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

The Teacher of Warsaw

The Teacher of Warsaw by Mario Escobar

Image of The Teacher of Warsaw

Author(s): 

Mario Escobar

Release Date: June 7, 2022

Publisher/Imprint: Harper Muse

Pages: 368

Buy on Amazon

Reviewed by: 

Claire Fullerton

An important, sensitive look at the triumph of the human spirit over evil, The Teacher of Warsaw is based on a true story and epitomizes the very best of poignant historical fiction.”

A nostalgic tone sets the stage of Mario Escobar’s The Teacher of Warsaw. In the prologue, an editor is in receipt of a hidden diary now typed as a manuscript from a woman named Agnieszka Ignaciuk, who survived the WWII, German occupation of Warsaw, Poland. The editor says, “That small, lovely woman with the wise eagle eyes placed into my hands Janusz Korczak’s typed manuscript. She acted like she was passing along a forbidden fruit that would eternally expel me from the semblance of paradise my life had recently become.” Taking the manuscript, the editor reflects upon its author, “I remembered the Teacher. Everyone I know called him the Old Doctor . . . I heard his voice. . . . It was just he and I in the middle of a ruined world.”

It is September 1939, and 60-year-old Janusz Korczak is the director of Dom Sierot, a Warsaw home for 200 orphaned children. He’s a man of deep integrity, a beloved and devoted teacher who views his job as a calling and structures the home with no differentiation based on age or rank, where tutors and students equally cohabitate as a family. When one of the orphans asks why he’d never had his own children, the unmarried Dr. Korczak reveals what he has told few others. “The truth is, my father went insane, and I’ve always been afraid that the same thing will happen to me. I thought that if I had children, they might inherit that disease.” It is this reason that makes Korczak all the more committed to the children.

Dom Sierot’s building, which houses Jewish orphans, has been in a Christian neighborhood for 27 years. Korczak shares, “We were there on purpose so that Jewish and Christian children could live together. Long ago I had learned that the only way to knock down the walls of prejudice and hatred toward difference was coexisting and building friendship that allowed the children to fight and the be reconciled again.”

It is November of 1940, and a shock to Korcsak’s system comes when the Germans relocate Dom Sierot from the working-class neighborhood outside the city to a squalid area in Warsaw’s walled Jewish ghetto, consisting of “400,000 within an area no larger than 1.3 miles.” In preparing for the change, the sensitive Korczak softens the blow to the children, “We’ll probably long to be back here in our wonderful house. But the walls that you see around us are not our real home. The real refuge of each one of us is inside our hearts. As long as we’re together, we will keep being happy and belonging to our big family.” When one little boy cries at the sight of the new living quarters, Korczak hands him the treasure map he’d prepared the night before, and says, “Treasure hunts always occur in exotic, remote places. No one’s ever done anything amazing without leaving home first.”

As winter wears upon the ghetto, living conditions become more desperate in the orphanage’s unheated, dilapidated home, where water is scarce in the midst of a food shortage, leaving Korczak to solicit and rely upon the help of charitable donors. When the Gestapo confiscates a cart of food and supplies belonging to the orphanage, Korczak bravely holds his ground and says to the German officer, “This food is for the children and under no circumstances can I allow you to take it from them.” When told to take his complaint to the Gestapo headquarters, the optimistic Korczak goes to plead his case at the German administration offices, only to be thrown in jail for not being in compliance with wearing the requisite Star of David on his arm, intended to signify those who are Jewish.

Upon being unceremoniously grabbed by a German soldier and transported to jail, Korczak says, “For them, life was a useless sketch through which to imprint their senseless brutality and show the world that they were the bosses. For me, life was a perfect beautifully framed painting full of meaning and hope. For them, life was prosaic and frivolous, ever so light, whereas for me it was so heavy I could hardly take a step without feeling the mud stuck to my feet.”

A year on since the Nazis came to Poland, nothing improves in the ghetto. Korczak writes, “Typhus had run its course around the city in recent months, given the deplorable hygienic conditions and insufficient nutrition of the population. It seemed the Germans preferred to kill us off slowly. Their program was designed to weaken our spirits and erode our morale.” Korczak, in the habit of calling assembly whenever a new problem arises, and always serving as inspirational motivator, poses the question to the orphans, “What does it mean to be happy?” “Life in and of itself is an act of happiness . . . Happiness is not about things. We look for it outside of ourselves, but it’s something that’s in our own minds. The work of our hearts is to give pure love.”

As time wears on and conditions worsen, Korczak delivers a speech intended to inspire the orphanages’ dispirited teachers and caretakers. “We sleep and dream of better days but wake to find ourselves here. Yet here, where we serve, we are doing all we can to make better days for the children. We’re in this world to serve one another, to give our very last breaths for our neighbors.”

With a supporting cast of characters in various official positions who are incrementally ready to help Dr. Korczak escape the ill-fated ghetto, the doctor refuses each offer. “Leave me be,” he says to a sympathetic German captain who knows things are nearing an end. “I will go with my children and will not leave them alone.”    

In hindsight, after the worst has happened, trusted companion and co-worker of Korczak’s, Agnieszka Ignaciuk—the deliverer of  Korczak’s left behind diary chronicling the personal tragedies of war—remembers the good doctor and says, “Janusz Korczak had lit up a country swathed in darkness. All of Poland had to know his story and admire his example. I vowed to make that happen.”

In The Teacher of Warsaw, Escobar’s intimate, first-person delivery is flawlessly researched. Its historic timeline unfurls with heightening drama from the vantage point of one selfless man dedicated to the wellbeing of Polish children in harrowing wartime conditions against all odds and costs. It’s a sobering, memorable story taking the reader through tragic events in occupied Warsaw, from September 1939 to May of 1943. An important, sensitive look at the triumph of the human spirit over evil, The Teacher of Warsaw is based on a true story and epitomizes the very best of poignant historical fiction.    

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.

Oliver: A Novella by Mandy Haynes

Description:

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

On author, Mandy Haynes:

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

My Endorsement of the delightful novella, Oliver !

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

Claire Fullerton, Author.

Other Praise for Oliver:

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

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

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

Robert Gwaltney, author of The Cicada Tree

Author Mandy Haynes

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

Mandy Haynes writes of her career:

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

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

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

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

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

The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare by Kimberly Brock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy on Amazon

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

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

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

Book Release: Untethered by Laura Whitfield

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author:

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

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

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

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

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

#Book Release! Greetings from Asbury Park by Daniel H. Turtel

Greetings from Asbury Park

Image of Greetings from Asbury Park

Author(s): 

Daniel Turtel

Release Date: 

April 5, 2022

Publisher/Imprint: 

Blackstone Publishing

Buy on Amazon

Reviewed in The New York Journal of Books by

Claire Fullerton

“a pithy, enjoyable, modern-day story from start to finish, with a cast of fully realized characters you’ll champion to the end.”

The sphere of activity in Daniel H. Turtel’s Greetings from Asbury Park epitomizes character as place, vacillating along the New Jersey shore between Asbury Park, Deal Lake, and Long Branch, in a vivid and vibrantly described setting. “The boardwalk followed the sand from the northern tip of Asbury Park all the way south to Belmar and beyond—a stretch of more than three miles before the Shark River Bridge interrupted it.” On the boardwalk’s half-mile commercial strip between Convention Hall and the Casino, “there were restaurants and bars all down the strip . . . and it was always busiest in the summer.”  

It is the summer of 2016, and affluent Joseph Larkin is dead. A philandering, self-serving, unlikable man who lived in a Long Branch estate, he, seemingly for the sport of creating chaos from the grave, leaves an unresolved web of interconnected characters in his wake, who are primarily unaware of each other.

Greetings from Asbury Park is Casey Larkin’s story. In his early twenties and on hiatus for one month from his job in New York City to attend Joseph Larkin’s funeral, he spends the hot summer days coming to terms with his identity against a backdrop of disparate characters from varying backgrounds all touched by the long shadow of his deceased, biological father. 

Twenty-six-year-old ne’re do well, Davey Larkin, is the pill-popping, heavy-drinking, legitimate son of Joseph Larkin, who “had a personal stool at the bar Pop’s Garage in Asbury Park and bought a drink for anybody who approached him to offer condolences.” Davey is well aware of Casey, his illegitimate half-brother born of his father’s mistress, who’s kept conveniently on the other side of town in an area named Allenhurst. Casey explains their relationship: “Davey’s mother was Joseph’s wife and Allenhurst was as close as she would allow him to keep his mistress . . . I did not even meet Davey until I was eight years old, and did not go to live with them, until three years later, when my mother decided that she’d had enough of being a mistress and headed to New York with the money she’d squeezed out of Joseph in order to try her hand at life as a single woman.”

Casey and Davey have an awkward relationship, and neither have knowledge of their biracial, half-sister, a promising teenage singer in the boardwalk nightclubs named Gabby, whose mother, it is discovered, was Joseph’s maid for 20 years. When Casey and Gabby unexpectedly meet after Joseph Larkin’s funeral through circumstances involving Casey’s inheritance, a complicated relationship ignites, and the moral line between the taboo of shared blood and the unwitting spark of attraction is highlighted.

Meredith Hawthorne is the daughter of an Irish immigrant who works as a landscaper. A year ahead of Casey while they were in middle school, Meredith grew up next door to Casey in Allenhurst and knows of his history with Joseph and Davey Larkin. In reconnecting with Casey, while he’s in town for Joseph’s funeral, Meredith is equally as tentative and inarticulate with her feelings for him as she was when they were younger.

Julie Kowalski owns an upscale boardwalk dress shop named Madame K and employs Gabby part-time. Known regionally as Madame K, Julie is the mother of the free-spirited Lena, with whom Casey has a one-night stand on the night of Joseph’s funeral, after meeting her in a boardwalk bar. Every morning, Julie takes her cup of coffee to her front porch, and watches in fascination as 19-year-old Jacob Besalel runs four laps around Deal lake’s eastern tip.

A serious, disciplined young man from a devout Syrian Jewish background, Jacob is dismayed that his younger sister, Sophia, goes beyond their strict upbringing to test society’s fringes on the boardwalk, where she crosses paths with Madame K, Gabby, and Davey. Because the Besalel family spends summer in the area, all characters in this surprising story are brought into wonderfully crafted, uncanny alignment in ways that add depth, dimension, and clever layers to the tightly entwined story of fate and chance and the inescapable bonds of family connections.  

Daniel H. Turtel artfully weaves multiple storylines centered on Asbury Park and stemming from the life of the duplicitous Joseph Larkin. Varying points of view amid clashing cultures are used throughout this modern-day, progressive story that reads like a sign of the times amid a dysfunctional family, whose hidden story is finally brought to light.

Through the use of economic language and the power of a wildly engaging story, Greetings from Asbury Park explores existential questions such as right versus wrong; nature versus nurture; morality versus self-direction, and ultimately, to whom we are accountable. It’s a pithy, enjoyable, modern-day story from start to finish, with a cast of fully realized characters you’ll champion to the end.  

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

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.

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

The Invisible Husband of Frick Island

Image of The Invisible Husband of Frick Island

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

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

My Full Review is Here:

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

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

Colleen Oakley

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

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

Book Description: THE INVISIBLE HUSBAND OF FRICK ISLAND

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Available where books are sold!

https://linktr.ee/cffullerton