Author Archives: Eileen McGrath

Shannon Hitchcock. The Ballad of Jessie Pearl. South Hampton, NH: Namelos, 2012.

balladNorth Carolina was a very different place ninety years ago, and no one–especially a young girl–could be certain what her future would be.  Jessie Pearl, a farm girl of fourteen, was encouraged by her mother to think about life beyond the farm. Her mother promised Jessie that if Jessie studied enough to be admitted a teachers’ college, she would find the money to send Jessie.

But as The Ballad of Jessie Pearl opens, Jessie’s mother has died, and Jessie and her pregnant sister Carrie are keeping house for their father and Carrie’s husband.  Carrie delivers a healthy boy, but shortly after Ky’s birth, Carrie is diagnosed with tuberculosis.  Jessie leaves school to nurse her sister through this terrible illness, and after Carrie dies, Jessie assumes the responsibility for raising little Ky.  College becomes a fading dream until a sister-in-law shares her books with Jessie and tutors her.  But in the two years covered by this novel, Jessie and her family experience a number of challenges–challenges that could not be successfully met without the family and community pulling together.   Jessie fears a life of scrubbing, cooking, and working the tobacco fields, but she loves these people and must weigh her dreams against her love for her family and her community.

This warm, engaging novel is based on a true story from the author’s family.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Historical, Hitchcock, Shannon

Jessica Beck. Assault and Batter. United States: Jessica Beck, 2013.

assaultSuzanne Hart didn’t see this one coming. Yes, Suzanne knows that sweet, goofy Emily Hargraves has been dating her ex-husband, Max.  Suzanne even helped the romance along, but Suzanne is unprepared when Emily asks her to be the maid of honor in her wedding–which will take place in just a few days. Suzanne wants to say no, especially after she learns that Max’s best friend, who was the best man at her wedding to Max–and who made a scene at the reception–will be Max’s best man yet again. No, she just can’t do it!  But Emily is so sweet and she assures Suzanne that Max is on board with this too.  Suzanne finally agrees.

This wedding sets Suzanne to brooding. She has been dating Jake longer than Emily and Max have been a couple, yet Jake has not shown any interest in a nuptial event.  If anything, he seems to be pulling away.  Suzanne is not aching for another marriage–in fact she kind of likes living with her mother–but she wants Jake to stay in her life.  She’ll have to have a serious talk with him when he comes back to town for Emily and Max’s wedding.

But suddenly that wedding is in doubt.  Jude Williams, a not terribly nice ex-boyfriend of Emily’s, has been murdered.  Emily met with him the night he was killed, and Max’s best man shows evidence of having been in a fight.  Did someone in the wedding party murder Jude?  Once Suzanne begins to investigate she finds a lot of people with a grudge against Jude–the aunt who raised him, the father of one of his previous girlfriends, a married woman with whom he had an affair, her husband.  With so many suspects, Suzanne turns to her friend Grace and their old friend, George Martin (now the mayor of April Springs) for assistance, and readers follow this threesome as they consider motives, check alibis, and narrow their list of suspects.

This is the eleventh novel in the Donut Shop Mysteries series.  Like the earlier books in the series, it includes tasty recipes for donuts and other breakfast fare.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Beck, Jessica, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Brynn Bonner. Death in Reel Time. New York: Gallery Books, 2014.

reel timeSophreena McClure and Esme Sabatier are back in this, the second novel in the Family History Mystery Series. Their client, Olivia Clement, is recovering from treatment for breast cancer.  Her illness has shaken her and upset her family and friends too.  The friends banded together to help Olivia through her treatment, but they also want to give Olivia something special for her birthday—Sophreena and Esme’s genealogical research services.

Olivia is thrilled.  Both her maternal and paternal grandparents died before she knew  them.  She grew up as an only child, raised by her mother and and aunt and uncle who lived next door.  The adults in her life rarely spoke about her father who disgraced the family by running away during World War II to avoid the draft.  Olivia really wants to know about her father–What kind of man was he? Why did he leave? Could he still be alive?

Soph and Esme get to work right away, visiting Olivia almost daily to ask her questions, review boxes of family memorabilia, and bring Olivia up-to-date on leads they found searching the web.  These daily interactions cause the women to notice certain things about Olivia’s family–her son’s great cooking and his dissatisfaction with his legal career; her daughter Beth’s deference to her bullying husband Blaine; and Beth’s unsettled relationship with Blaine’s brother.  Creating an unwelcome distraction is a young filmmaker, Tony Barrett, who is staying with Olivia while he interviews an elderly local man.  He has recently enlisted Beth to help him with the interviews.  Beth enjoys this work, and the old man seems to have taken a shine to her

But when Beth arrives injured and a bit incoherent for her mother’s birthday party, everything changes.  Just as dessert is being served, Detective Denton Carlson arrives to tell Beth that her husband has been murdered.  Soph and Esme (who has been dating Detective Carlson) pump him for information, but little is known about Blaine’s death other than how he died.  The where, when, why, and who did it are unknown.  As the police work on the case, Soph and Esme try to continue their research while treading very gently with a family that has had more than its share of trauma. To take some pressure off Beth, Soph steps in to help Tony complete his interviews.  Little does anyone know how important his work will be to Olivia’s family.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

For the first book in the Family History Mystery Series, see Paging the Dead.

 

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Bonner, Brynn, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont

Deborah J. Ledford. Crescendo. Kernersville, NC: Second Wind Publishing, 2013.

cresInola Walela should be a happy woman.  She has established herself professionally as a officer in the Bryson City police department, and as this novel opens she is about to receive a medal of honor for her role in taking down a killer who was wanted in three states.  Her personal life is on the upswing too.  Her romance with Swain County Sheriff Steven Hawk has progressed to the point where the two are living together.  Despite some differences over housecleaning, they seem to be a good match.

But still, Inola worries.  She is not at ease with Steven’s family, who live nearby, and she doesn’t know how to tell Steven that she can’t have children.  Also, the alcoholism in her family haunts her, and she feels somewhat isolated professionally–always a little insecure despite her achievements and unable to confide to her colleagues.  Her new partner, Cody Sheehan, looks up to her, but he is green and a bit of a hothead.  Inola likes him, but she does not have a great deal of confidence in him.  Lori Traeger adds to Inola’s insecurity.  The good-looking redhead, newly appointed to the police force, is the niece of the chief.  Since the Bryson City force is so small, Inola worries that she will be pushed aside to clear a path for Lori to rise in the department.

With all this on her mind, it is no wonder that Inola goes off track when a traffic stop goes very wrong.  In a flash what Cody and Inola thought could be an abduction turns into a firefight and a traffic fatality that leaves two dead and Cody barely clinging to life.  One of the dead is a woman who as she was dying, begged Inola to find her kidnapped son.  Inola is placed on administrative leave, but thoughts of that little boy push her to investigate the circumstances of the dead woman’s life.  But Inola fails to recognize that the person who is most helpful to her–and most attuned to her feelings–is the person responsible for all the death and trauma.

This taut, well plotted novel is the final book in the Steven Hawk-Inola Walela supense series.  Click to see information about the first and second novels in the series.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Ledford, Deborah J., Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Swain

Annis Ward Jackson. High Country Coverup. United States: SunnyBrick Publishers, 2010.

high countryIsn’t it a truism that when a person is murdered, the police always suspect that a family member is the killer?  Then why was it that when Everett Dawson, a wealthy retiree, was murdered no one suspected his newish, stylish, younger wife?  Marcia Dawson wasn’t a suspect because her husband’s body was found hidden on Gurney Styles’ property.  Styles, who had been drinking the weekend of the murder and whose wife was out of town, didn’t have much of a memory of the night Dawson died, let alone have an alibi.  Although the case against Styles was far from airtight, the assistant district attorney prosecuted it with great energy, and Styles was convicted.  But Gurney’s wife, Dulcie, believes that her husband is innocent, and when she asks Rachel Myers for help, Rachel can’t refuse.  Soon Sheppard County’s amateur detective puts her mid-summer gardening aside to help this nice woman save her husband from a life in prison.

This is the seventh book in the Rachel Myers Murder Mysteries Series. Many of the characters in the previous books, including Isaac Starling and that handsome detective Robby Barnett, are present in this book, and Ms. Jackson’s love of gardening comes through as it did in the earlier volumes.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010, 2010-2019, Jackson, Annis Ward, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Larry Rochelle. Back to the Rat. Chapel Hill: Larry Rochelle, 2013.

Back to the Rat has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel: an athletic scandal is tarnishing UNC’s reputation and an NCAA investigation of it is itself a questionable endeavor; shadowy figures who may or may not work for the government drug and kidnap the hero; and locals who hope that a beloved Chapel Hill landmark may be resurrected.  Palmer Morel, a forty-something tennis pro is in the midst of all this.

Palmer lives just south of Chapel Hill and as his tennis fortunes have waned, he’s picked up a dubious second career as a bag man for a local mobster, Chucky Minori. He needs the money, but he needs something more too.  At the suggestion of a friend who notices his down mood, Palmer visits The Body Shop, a Carrboro dance therapy center.  There Palmer encounters Pris Price, who he fantasizes could cure all his ills.  Pris both rebuffs and bewitches him, drawing him into danger and an immense conspiracy.

Readers who know the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area will enjoy Mr. Rochelle’s use of local landmarks as the settings for many key scenes.  And Palmer’s confidant and caper partner, the columnist “Barry Cinders”, will bring to mind a certain News & Observer columnist.  But one need not be steeped in local lore to enjoy Back to the Rat.

Back to the Rat is fourteenth Palmer Morel thriller. Morel’s adventures have taken him across the United States, from Kansas City to Biloxi, to Chapel Hill and points in between.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Novels in Series, Orange, Piedmont, Rochelle, Larry, Suspense/Thriller

Mary Flinn. The Nest. New York: Aviva Publishing, 2013.

nestA nest, yes, but whose nest?

With retirement on the horizon, her daughters out of the house, and her husband traveling for business, Cherie Johnson was looking forward to enjoying the freedom and peace of being an empty-nester.  But all that changes in a single week when her older daughter, Hope, moves home after her boyfriend announces that he is moving to Italy without her.  Hope has studied to be an art teacher, but in the down economy, she can’t get a teaching job.  She gets by–barely–by working in a high-end dress shop and bartending.  Cherie has adjusted to Hope’s situation, but she is unprepared when her husband, Dave, becomes another casualty of the economy.  After twelve years as a sales representative, a corporate restructuring leaves Dave without a job.  Dave could go to his mother, who heads a furniture manufacturing company, but neither he nor Cherie want to do that.  Instead, Dave sends out resumes, checks employment websites, and handles the household chores–including training the little Papillon puppy that Hope brought home with her.  Dave juggles this all pretty well for the first month or two, until his fruitless job search takes its toll on his spirits.

At least Cherie and Dave’s daughter Wesley is doing well.  She is about to finish her nursing degree at UNC-Chapel Hill, and she has just become engaged to a nice fellow who has a good job with Apple.  But with the cost of a wedding now on the horizon, Cherie realizes that she must put off retirement.  At least she has coworkers who lift her spirits and gently offer advice–and so does Hope.  In chapters that alternate between Cherie and Hope’s perspective, readers learn how each woman thinks and grows, and how the family rights itself.  As in Mary Flinn’s other books, The Nest includes a network of family and friends populated by well drawn characters.  Readers will be both exasperated and charmed by Dave’s mother, Toots, and it’s a testament to Flinn’s generosity that even Hope’s self-absorbed boyfriend Liam is not wholly dislikable.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Flinn, Mary, Guilford, Piedmont

Annis Ward Jackson. Blue Ridge Parkway Plunge. United States: SunnyBrick Publishers, 2009.

blue ridgeRachel Myers, who readers first met in Blind Malice, has moved back to her Blue Ridge home in (fictitious) Sheppard County, North Carolina.  Rachel feels guilty moving back now, rather than a few years earlier when her elderly father could have used her help, but now she has a good job waiting for her at a high-end retirement community near her hometown.  Donna Matheson, Rachel’s longtime friend, alerted her to job.  Now that Rachel is back in the area, Donna thinks that she has also found the right man for Rachel–Detective Robby Barnett.  This kind of meddling is what old friends do, right?

But the plot in this book centers on a different friendship.  Isaac Starling has been the hired man on the Myers farm for decades.  He was more than a workman, he was a loyal friend to Rachel’s late father, and Rachel is so fond of him that she wants him to live in the family home with her now.  So Rachel can’t refuse Isaac when he asks her to investigate the death of his friend, Jack Whaley.  Mr. Whaley’s body was found at the bottom of a cliff along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The authorities think that his death was suicide or an accident, but Isaac can’t accept that.  Isaac insists that Jack was an upright man, but under questioning by Rachel he remembers a few occasions when Jack bumped up against some trouble.  It’s not much to go on, but Rachel follows those leads–with help from that nice Detective Barnett.

This is the second book in the Rachel Myers Murder Mystery Series.  Readers will enjoy learning more about Rachel’s interests; gardeners will particularly appreciate the description of Rachel’s plans for the gardens around her family home.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2009, Jackson, Annis Ward, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Janice Lane Palko. Cape Cursed. United States: Plenum Publishing, 2013.

Relocating the Cape Destiny Lighthouse is a high stakes venture for Bliss Sherman.  Moving a structure its size and age is no easy task, and many of the locals oppose relocating the historic structure.  This project will be the first really big job that Sherman Engineering has done since Bliss create the company after splitting (personally and professionally) from the established engineering firm headed by her ex-husband.  This high profile job has brought Bliss a lot of media attention.  Since few engineering firms are headed by Amerasian women, and Bliss is an attractive woman with a compelling story, she has been asked for interviews by everyone from People to the local high school paper.  The project needs to be a success–and on budget.

Bliss is grateful to have good people working for her–Randy, a hands-on crew manager and Nancy, an administrative assistant.  Nancy is a godsend, working around Bliss’s dyslexia to keep the office running smoothly and handling dozen of small personal matters for Bliss.  But will a good plan, the right equipment, and a good crew be enough?  When the company’s equipment is vandalized and Bliss assaulted, Bliss begins to worry.  Is the lighthouse really cursed–do bad things happen to people associated with it? Is her ex-husband, now a professional rival, behind these troubles?  Or are some locals–including that handsome Parker Swain–so committed to stopping the move that they have resorted to violence?  The suspense builds as Bliss struggles to decide who to trust in a situation that has become professionally and personally perilous.

The controversy surrounding moving the fictitious Cape Destiny Lighthouse will remind many readers of the arguments over the relocation of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 1999.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coast, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Palko, Janice Lane, Suspense/Thriller

Wiley Cash. This Dark Road to Mercy. New York: William Morrow, 2014.

dark roadEaster Quillby is twelve, but she has already made up her mind about her dad, Wade: he is the loser that her mom always said he was. Wade was a professional baseball player, a pitcher, but he never made it to the major leagues and he has drifted ever since. Robert Pruitt is an ex-ballplayer too. He’s a hard man–brought up by a sadistic dad, he’s been a drug dealer and now he’s an ex-con who works as a bouncer at the Tomcat bar just outside Gastonia. And he knows what he thinks about Wade: Wade beaned him a ballgame, disfiguring him and ending his baseball career. Wade ruined his life, and Pruitt would do anything to ruin Wade’s. Brady Weller doesn’t know what to think about Wade. Brady is the guardian ad litem for Easter and her little sister Ruby–someone assigned by the courts to watch out for their best interests after their mother died from a drug overdose.

As This Dark Road to Mercy opens, Wade reappears in Easter and Ruby’s lives. He has heard that their mother died, and he thinks that he and the girls can be a family again. But it’s not just his ex-wife’s death that has spurred Wade into action. He has a stash of money–money that he stole from the original thief. With this stake, he thinks he can start anew–with the girls, and in a new place. Wade easily spirits his daughters away from the group home where they’ve been living, but before long both Pruitt and Weller are on his trail.  The action moves from Gastonia to the coast, down to Myrtle Beach, and then on to St. Louis, where a pivotal scene takes place. At times the book reads like a road-trip novel and Easter’s occasional narration adds humor, but this is a novel about serious issues: the ties of family, the darkness of the human heart, and the hope that many people have that they can outrun their past. Cash mixes in references to North Carolina minor league baseball teams, the Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire home run race of 1998, and echoes of the 1997 armored car robbery that occurred in Gaston County, all of which clearly center his story in time and place. This Dark Road to Mercy is hard to categorize but easy to enjoy.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Cash, Wiley, Gaston, Piedmont