The Gods of Howl Mountain by Taylor Brown

Secrets are Held Closely in the Mountains

Click on cover to go to Taylor Brown’s website, where you can purchase this book and his others.

Granny May Docherty lost her daughter Bonni to Dix Hill 30 years ago when nightriders killed her boyfriend, the mill owner’s son Conner, silencing her voice. Her grandson Rory lost his leg to Korea, limiting his employment opportunities on his return home, leaving him little choice but to become a whiskey runner for Eustace Uptree, his best friend’s uncle and Granny May’s lover. Brown takes readers through the rabbit hole away from Mad Men and the American dream of a white picket fence to the colorful and dangerous world of Appalachia, where reigned illegal whiskey and wannabe drivers for the newly founded NASCAR.

A middle-aged wood witch and former prostitute, Granny May longs to know who hurt her girl, but fear of consequences prevents her from pursuing it with Rory. Brown’s subtle backstory of Bonni and Conner’s romance contrasts with the rawness and graphic depiction of mountain life in the 50s. Flooding of mountain valleys for “progress” disrupted Appalachian culture and forced a reluctant relationship with those living in towns and cities. Amy Greene’s “Long Man” shows the resistance of one woman against such flooding by the government. In Brown’s story, the event is long-reaching, since the main road literally heads straight into the man-made lake. As in Amy Greene’s debut novel “Bloodroot,” a body part is used as symbolism of a South yet alive with Pagan ways while tightly holding its secrets.

Taylor Brown digs out niches in his historical fiction—last vestiges of whiskey runners and nascent NASCAR, river kings, the lawlessness at the end of the civil war—getting down to the nitty-gritty of hard-living, developing complex characters who maintain their integrity in impossible situations. He gets a bit too “real” sometimes; for instance, there’s a lot of spitting in this book, some of it from Granny May—so much spitting. In one scene, Eustace flicks his nephew in the nuts. Graphic details can overwhelm the reader, such as when Rory’s rival purposely hits a deer and Brown describes the specifics of the deer’s physical suffering. Having said that, the reader leaves the novel with a sense of having learned history not found in textbooks, such as exactly what someone who drives illegal booze through the mountains does to his car to outrun the revenuers. It’s a definite must-read.

Sisterly by Jorja DuPont Oliva

Janie returns to her hometown to make things right with her sister, and her ex-boyfriend who married her sister, by revealing her secret to them. She stays in the yellow house run by Mrs. Francis, where the otherworldly seems to creep in, everything is too connected for reality, and Mrs. Francis forbids her to enter the mysterious, yet beckoning, backyard. Though the dialogue is stiff—no contractions are used, and can sound unrealistic—Mrs. Francis’ dialect is over the top, the characters’ interactions with each other and Janie’s “episodes” are vivid. When Janie’s missing time and chaotic, dreamlike events are explained in the final scenes, the brilliance of Oliva’s storytelling skills burst forth like fireworks. Though hints are sprinkled like candy throughout the story, the reveal is surprising, and the reader can only be impressed by the descriptive details and timeliness of those “episodes.” References to the inciting incidents are well placed in the story, with emphasis in the reveal for a satisfying ending.

The author offered this novel gratis in March and I was fortunate to pick it up and read it, posting a review for the book gift and for my delight in the story. Thank you, Jorja!

The Little French Bistro by Nina George

Finding Femininity and Feminism in France

Does love have to be earned through suffering?”

Marianne determines that the Seine is preferable to one more minute of accommodating her husband’s controlling condescension. She walks away from the tour group during dinner to dive into the river, and her husband does not even notice her leaving. A homeless man “steals her death” by pulling her from the water. In the hospital, her husband expresses his concern that her attempt affects him adversely. She again walks away, bent on reaching Kerduc, the seaside town depicted in the nurse’s placemat tile, a town in which she invests her romantic notions of a larger death than her life has been. Circumstances lead her there as if by magic, pulling her into a setting amongst colorful, complicated characters that could have been created by Maeve Binchy. She falls into employment at Ar Mor restaurant, fitting seamlessly into the rhythms of the kitchen. At 60, Marianne begins a new life, of wonder, of real love, of authenticity. Toward the end, the novel gets a bit over the top (with the young waitress Laurine inexplicably removing all her clothing to rescue Jean-Remy’s love letter boats from the water, but maybe that one’s a French thing), yet maintains the integrity of its characters and Breton setting. A woman blooming into a fully realized individual after decades of being an extension of her spouse evokes feminism, when she can see herself as an equal to her lover.

Brittany, France, stands proud as a character in this story, new friends emphasizing Breton identity and sharing Breton folklore. Marieanne’s mysterious introduction to the community as “the woman who came from the sea” invokes the legend of Ys, the city swallowed by the sea, and her new love takes her to the magical forest of Broceliande. Although German, Marianne feels at home amongst her new friend, from the little touches, such as her return to playing the accordion, a long-stored instrument given to her by a Breton reluctant to fall for her charms based on memories of the war. She discovers that there are various ways to thwart love and defy romance. In another nod to Maeve Binchy, the ending provides closure without complete resolution, as in real life. There is death, rekindled romance, illness, love rescued, dementia, and new life, with all their complex and tangled emotions.

International bestselling author Nina George, after “The Little Paris Bookshop” (translated into 35 languages), again lays out beautiful, complicated relationships in seemingly impossible situations and offers readers wildly emotional connections and absolution as human beings in “The Little French Bistro,” on its way to multiple translations.

I was fortunate to receive a copy of this wonderful book through NetGalley.

Nina George’s gorgeous website

Gareth Walsh—Artist and Illustrator

 

Click on photo to purchase “Blue Eye” painting.

 

 

Gareth is my first interviewee who’s not a writer, and I’m proud to share his evocative, intriguing work.

Purchase his gorgeous work here: The Darkling.

Share his work far and wide; someone you know will love it.

 

 

 

Click on photo to purchase this original pen drawing.

 

 

Tell me about your artistic process.

“Usually ideas will flit through my mind, and I try to store them in memory for future use. Sometimes the work in progress may go in different directions. Mostly I try to follow the natural flow as much as possible.

 

 

Click on photo to purchase “The Gathering of the Sluagh.”

 

Your art is gorgeous and affordable. How do you determine price?

“Currently, I determine price by the time it takes to complete the work, and also which medium and materials are used.”

 

 

 

Click on photo to purchase this original pen drawing.

 

 

Explore the dark elements in your work.

“I choose colors in a very random way. A lot of my process is very much a kind of instinct. I like this as it keeps the work exciting, at least for me.”

 

 

 

 

Click on photo to purchase this oil painting.

Describe your studio.

“My studio is small and, due to finances, very limiting at the moment. I have various objects around which might prompt ideas, and reference photos. Usually inspiration comes from within, my memory, and dreams.”

 

 

Click on photo to purchase this original watercolor.

 

 

What do you love most about your creativity?

“The thing I love most about creativity is the freedom from reality—the everyday, and how it allows expression of my feelings.”

 

 

 

 

Click on photo to purchase “Moonlight” oil painting.

 

Go to The Darkling to see more of Gareth’s work. He’s always producing: ink sketches, watercolors, and oil paintings.

Get his work on your walls now while it’s still affordable!

Follow Gareth Walsh on Facebook and Instagram @dreemtimeart_.

Prompt: Writing Bad photo prompt

Writing Bad Facebook group

Sharon watched the teenagers approach, knowing the helmet screen was a 2-way mirror. She screamed and banged the metal with her fists and stomped her feet, but cushioning absorbed the sounds. The girl jumped back, startled. The girl asked the boy a question, but he shook his head. The girl blinked a couple times and laughed when the boy poked her and thrust his hands at her to scare her.

Hope died like a candle extinguished. She recalled when she and her boyfriend had come out to the deserted shack deep in the forest, where the inexplicable astronaut suit stood. Rumors held that it came from a defunct amusement park. It had no real functionality, made from metal and heavily solid, as evidenced by the girl tapping on it and pushing it.

Sharon’s boyfriend had gone into the shack while she had investigated the suit. A hand had clamped over her mouth, holding her head tight to someone’s chest as another hand reached around to open the astronaut with a little key that had not been obvious to her. The hands shoved her into the astronaut so quickly that she’d not even thought to fight back yet. She was positioned in a flash and the astronaut suit closed. She didn’t hear the snick of the key, but once she recognized her situation, she found that the suit was securely closed.

Her boyfriend wandered out of the shack, shrugging as though there were nothing to worry about inside. She’d been looking forward to this new adventure—outdoor sex in a forbidden area. Now she witnessed her own disappearance through her boyfriend’s behavior. He called her name for hours, beat the hood of his car, and drove away. Returning with him were her parents and police officers, who searched the premises with flashlights, had a head-hanging conversation with her parents, and also drove off well before morning.

Sharon watched volunteers meet in front of the shack to search for her. When the search party was clearly over, she slumped in the suit waiting to die, wondering if she would succumb to thirst first, as she’d always read. She didn’t know how long she’d been in the suit when she saw the teenagers, who now were fucking in the shack, oblivious to her distress.

She cried without tears.

Our Little Secret by Roz Nay—pub date April 17, 2018

This story opens in an interrogation room, with Angela prepared to tell her story to police, if they will only listen. Finally, Detective Novak allows her to share everything that she feels is relevant, beginning with her meeting H.P. in high school, where he changed her life. They became best friends who fell in love, or as Angela tells the story, soul mates. She leads Detective Novak through their complicated relationship, hampered by her lack of a healthy role model and his small town contentment, and further strained by Angela attending Oxford, where she’s befriended by Freddy, who dotes on her against her will. Detective Novak perks up at the entrance of Saskia, the missing wife, the reason for Angela’s interrogation, during H.P.’s visit to England. Misunderstandings ensue, emotions tangle, and new pathways are formed. Angela blames losing her first love on everyone else, spending her life from that point on waiting for him to do the right thing. When her mother moves in uninvited after leaving her father, she pursues an unhealthy friendship with H.P. as their houseguest and babysitter, which culminates in Saskia’s disappearance. Detective Novak pieces together the evidence through the long night of storytelling by Angela, who is either also an innocent victim or a truly unreliable narrator.

Nay leads the reader through a maze of Angela’s fears, internal struggles, unrealistic desires, and inevitable disappointments. Angela is brilliantly depicted as a minor character in her own life, for which she can then lay guilt at whoever she allowed to make the decisions for her, as she waits in vain for things to go her way without taking action herself. Failure to communicate is a key element in the derailment of Angela’s life, and Nay relays every misstep taken by those underestimating her. The ending is not as well captured as the entire novel leading up to it, subtlety left behind in the previous chapter.

I was fortunate to receive an early copy from the publisher through a giveaway.

Prompt: Writing Bad photo

Writing Bad

Watching from my third story window, I caught a picturesque moment–a couple canoodling inside an umbrella in the seductive drizzle of a Paris afternoon.

I hummed to myself, “I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles,” and began the process of separating myself emotionally from my second husband and oldest daughter…who were kissing in full view of the hotel.

Memories of My Future by Ammar Habib and Anil Sinha

Surgeon Avinash Singh loses a child during surgery to heart failure caused by a new virus. Having accepted always being the best at everything he does, this harsh reality devastates him. His nurse Martha, a second mother in his adopted country, tells him to find a way to deal with it and get back to work. He seeks resolution in the journal of his ancestry given to him by his grandfather. He reads of Khau, the Lion of Bihar, a 13th-century warrior ancestor, who must find a way to save Bihar from the Mongols. Those barbarians destroy everything in their path, because they are unbeatable archers on horseback. Khau determines their weakness and defeats them. The inspirational story motivates Avinash to develop a cure. From this breakthrough, Avinash receives two offers: a position at a coveted medical center in NYC and a chance to offer his skills to a humanitarian effort. He returns to the journal to learn about Veeresh, the leader of his people who did not break under torture by the East India Company’s best “negotiator.” From this lesson, Avi knows he must follow his heart. On this path, he finds true love and faces a challenge that calls out to his warrior blood.

This historical fiction carries more than one lesson within it’s dual timeline. It reads like folklore with a moral to the story. Told alternately through the contemporary life of a brilliant surgeon and a journal of his ancestry, it weaves from one to the other seamlessly. The authors repeatedly mention the diversity of religions in the stories of Avi and his ancestors, and they use the different religious lingo interchangeably to emphasize tolerance. The main takeaway seems to be, however, that you should be yourself and keep moving forward in service to others, using your god-given talents without fear.

I received a digital copy of this wonderful story from one of the authors.

After Anna by Lisa Scottoline—pub date April 10, 2018

Dr. Noah Alderman is on trial for his life, accused of murdering his stepdaughter. Her father fought ruthlessly for custody of baby Anna as a power play after Maggie suffered the relatively unknown, but common, postpartum psychosis. With his recent death, Anna reaches out to the mother she wants to know. She enters the family, which includes Noah’s 10-year-old son Caleb, with a fortune from her father and an attitude of entitlement. Her accusations of molestation against Noah rend Maggie’s heart. Though circumstantial evidence points to Noah as Anna’s killer, Maggie retains a sliver of hope, not quite able to believe he is capable of such an atrocity. A phone call with shocking news sets Maggie on an investigation that may possibly free Noah and return him to her.

Told in alternating timelines, moving back in time through Noah’s trial, while Maggie’s story moves forward from the initial contact with Anna, the stories come together after the trial, with the reader learning information along with the characters. In true Scottoline fashion, the reader is kept guessing who did what until the perspective-shifting bombshell, and the action fast forwards. Un-put-down-able!

I received a digital ARC through NetGalley of this fantastic novel from one of my favorite authors.

Hour Glass by Michelle Rene

The pa of the Glass children, Jimmy and Flower, dies of smallpox in a pestilent tent hospital in Deadwood, South Dakota. They had pulled him into town from their shack on his gold claim, proving their mettle. Madame Dora DuFran takes charge, and Calamity Jane, who’d followed Wild Bill Hickok to Deadwood, works in the pest tent, caring for their pa, watching him slowly fade. Jimmy and Flower, who goes by Hour, sleep in DuFran’s storage room, which previously housed Jane, who prefers to sleep off her routine drunks outside under the stars, anyway. Hour’s mom, a Lakota, visits Jimmy in his dreams to offer wisdom as he confronts challenges (one of which is first love) in their few weeks at DuFran’s brothel, until their pa passes. Jane holds a fundraiser for her “daughter” Hour’s education, receiving enough to send both children to a convent school, giving them a good start in life. Jimmy channels Jane in a life of constant travel, but Hour marries and raises a family in Kansas City. While working as a storyteller in the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, Jane meets up with Jimmy and they catch each other up on their lives. Jimmy sees her only once more, in a small town where she was put off the train, at a hotel on her deathbed. The happily ever after comes to Jimmy when his first love finally leaves prostitution for marriage.

This is an interesting view of Calamity Jane’s life, from the perspective of a child she and Dora DuFran rescued. Rene kept the integrity of a pre-teen boy’s point of view, while filling the cast of characters with real life colleagues of Jane: Wild Bill, Dora DuFran, Charlie Utter, and a passing reference to Buffalo Bill. A fictionalized account of Calamity Jane is likely more appropriate than a biography, as her tall tales live on. Rene gave a noble account of the fundraiser given for Jane’s “daughter,” interspersed her best tall tales throughout the story, and followed the chronology of Jane’s life that is accepted as true, or the truest. It’s a raucous story, such as Jane’s own life.

I was fortunate to receive a digital copy through NetGalley.