Category Archives: Novels Set in Fictional Places

5. Novels Set in Fictional Places

Robin Ford Wallace. The Woman Who Loved the Sea. United States: CreateSpace, 2013.

Piney Point Island is home for Claire.  Claire’s mother, a volatile, unstable person had trouble putting down roots.  She didn’t plan to stay on the island, and every few years threatened to leave, but then her mood would blow over and stay they did.  Their neighbors, the Flannerys, became a second family to Claire.  Mr. Flannery, a high school teacher, charmed Claire and his own daughters, Juliet and Cordelia, by quoting Shakespeare, Robert Burns, and the other masters of English poetry.  But Mr. Flannery wasn’t just a romantic dreamer, he was good about money too.  Over time, he bought up property at one end of the island and built houses for his daughters.  When he built a new house for himself, he sold his original house, just a cottage, to Claire.

Claire, barely twenty and a waitress, was proud to have the money for a down-payment, and she was determined to make the little cottage her home for life.  But then into her life walked Richard Danthe, a rich boy doing penance for bad behavior by working as a pizza delivery man.  Claire fell for Richard and after they married, she helped him develop his career.  But once Richard’s business grew, they moved to Charlotte, far from the island and the sea that Claire loves so much.

Claire’s marriage to Richard, which had been stale for years, is finally undone by Richard’s dalliances with two high school girls.  As The Woman Who Loved the Sea opens, Claire is back on Piney Point Island.  Claire has no plans, except to watch the sea, paint, and renew her friendship with the Flannerys.  Cordelia and Juliet are the same as ever, but they are worried about their father who is drinking too much and appears to be under the spell of Leslie Orange, an ambitious realtor.  Ms. Orange want to develop Piney Point, and she has allies, including a boorish artist whom she is playing off against Mr. Flannery.  Claire aligns herself with Cordelia and Juliet, but what help can she be when her vengeful husband Richard is intent on compelling her to come back to Charlotte?  And then, there is that new mystery man in her life–a beachcomber who admires her paintings and excites her passion–and who comes and goes like the tide.

In The Woman Who Loved the Sea, Robin Ford Wallace mixes the familiar elements coastal development and a vengeful spouse with fantasy and a bit of Shakespeare.  It makes for an interesting read.

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, Romance/Relationship, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Wallace, Robin Ford

Ronald Malfi. Cradle Lake. Aurora, IL: Medallion Press, 2013.

Cradle LakeBuzzards won’t stop lurking around Alan Hammerstun’s property. Once Alan spotted the first few, more and more of the creatures started appearing, perching on his rooftop like hunched “gargoyles” and stalking around his lawn. The buzzards aren’t Alan’s only concern. Since he and his wife, Heather, moved in, strange vines have covered the house. Vines that bleed dark purple ooze and grow back right after Alan cuts them down. Despite the tension bubbling between them, Alan and Heather have quite a bit of patience to continue living in such a nightmarish space.

The Hammerstun couple and their golden retriever, Jerry Lee, only recently moved into the house, located in the mountains of fictional Groom County, North Carolina. Alan was surprised to hear that his Uncle Phillip left the house to him. They had little meaningful contact and Alan hadn’t visited the property since he was a kid. He and Heather lived in New York City. Alan was a native and a college professor in his early thirties. Heather, entering her mid-thirties, relocated to NYC after growing up in the Midwest and worked in an art gallery.

As of late, Heather and Alan had been trying to start a family with little success. Heather’s first miscarriage occurred early in the pregnancy. The experience was unsettling, but the Hammerstuns still felt hopeful. But Heather’s second miscarriage came slightly later in the pregnancy and was a much more traumatic experience. After their ordeal and subsequent attempts to conceive, Heather fell into a deep depression. She quit her job and her vacant, dangerous behavior began to worry Alan. So when the news of his unexpected inheritance reached him, Alan decided a change of scenery might help Heather heal and restore their relationship.

Soon after the move, Alan visits the lake on his property. He learns of its mysterious healing powers, but is cautioned by a friendly neighbor that sometimes the lake doesn’t always work its magical powers for everyone. Alan pursues information about the lake and the strange symbols carved on the stones lining the path to the lake. He finds a gruesome back-story and a warning from George YoungCalfRibs, a Cherokee with a prophetic gift. YoungCalfRibs advises Alan to leave his new home – but to burn it to the ground before he departs.  Meanwhile, Alan and Heather are growing further apart. Heather’s depression shows no improvement and Alan’s stomach ulcer, borne of stress, worsens. The allure of the lake starts to override Alan’s better judgment. Its miracles are easier to see than the possible strings attached.

Readers who don’t normally add much horror to their to-read lists shouldn’t pass by Cradle Lake. Novelist Ronald Malfi’s story is well-written and filled with strong, creepy visuals. The aforementioned buzzards and vines, in addition to Alan’s increasingly intense nightmares, are tangible and chilling. Alan’s growing paranoia and sense of being followed builds up slowly. The simmering tension already present between the Hammerstuns escalates after their move. Malfi does a nice job of prolonging those feelings until they boil over at the very conclusion.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Horror, Malfi, Ronald, Mountains, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Diane Chamberlain. Necessary Lies. New York: St. Martin’s, 2013.

Necessary LiesJane Forrester’s (née Mackie) husband, Robert, can’t understand why his new wife wants to work. Neither can her mother nor any of the stay-at-home wives in her imposed social circle. When Jane and Robert first met, her quirks beguiled him. She wasn’t cut from the same cloth of the prototypical 1960s woman. Now that they’re official newlyweds, Robert wishes that Jane would join the Raleigh Junior League and derive satisfaction in being a physician’s wife, as well as the future mother of his unborn children. But Jane wants a chance at a brief career before children. She is sensitive and idealistic and interested in helping others through work. She gets hired as a social worker in the Department of Public Welfare shortly before their wedding. Robert tolerates Jane’s job, however he makes his desire for children and his short timetable known. With an M.D., Robert has ascended the socio-economic ladder and he is concerned acutely with fitting into his more well-heeled surroundings.

Robert is not thrilled when he learns that Jane will conduct field work alone in the fictional rural Grace County. Field work entails visiting the families of the cases that the social worker manages to monitor their needs and progress. The social worker executes any actions or files any paperwork considered necessary for the greater good. Jane’s two first cases are the Hart and Jordan families who live and work on Davidson Gardiner’s farm. She neglects her boss’s advice and becomes invested emotionally in the Hart family, leading her to a series of choices that could violate the procedures of the Department of Public Welfare and negate the defined purpose of her position. But Jane feels unable to accept the rules as they’ve been handed to her. She is disturbed by how the department enforces its own code of morality and communicates its actions deceptively to the parties involved.

According Charlotte Werkmen, Jane’s boss and former social worker in charge of the case, fifteen year-old Ivy Hart is the last chance for the Hart family. Ivy’s older sister, Mary Ella has already given birth to a baby named William. Mary Ella is beautiful and slow, which Charlotte regards as a dangerous combination. Ivy and Mary Ella’s father is dead and mother is an institutionalized schizophrenic. They live in a farmhouse with their diabetic grandmother, Nonnie. Ivy worries about her family’s security in the farmhouse. Nonnie is increasingly unable to work and she has little regard for her health, indulging frequently in sugar. Because Nonnie is petulant and ornery and Mary Ella is unreliable and often missing, Ivy is the nucleus forced to mother and to hold the family together. By government standards, Ivy qualifies at a functioning level, but barely. She has an IQ of 80 and Petit Mal epilepsy. Charlotte warns Jane to watch Ivy carefully — if Ivy winds up pregnant, all her opportunities will evaporate.

Veteran novelist Diane Chamberlain deals with the sexism and racism prevalent during the 1960s and provides a historical basis to Necessary Lies. She alternates the story between Ivy and Jane’s points-of-view primarily. The novel explores the issue of people’s authority over their bodies. Chamberlain illustrates this point from both perspectives: a doctor refusing to prescribe Jane birth control without her husband’s permission to a eugenics program masked to its recipients as benevolent healthcare. The themes of control and consent reappear over the course of the novel, where institutions and people are given the power to make personal judgements for others. Additionally, the book questions the idea of people who are classified as “incapable” or “unfit” by official sanctioning. Who, if anyone, should have the agency to make decisions for those deemed “incapable” or “unfit”? Chamberlain offers an absorbing read on a fictionalized portrayal of a regrettable segment of North Carolina’s history.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Chamberlain, Diane, Historical, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Wake

John Milliken Thompson. Love and Lament. New York: Random House, 2013.

Love and LamentDeath trails fast on the heels of the Hartsoe family. At age six, the youngest Hartsoe, Mary Bet, mistakes a circuit rider for the Devil. She cowers in the shadow of the Devil on horseback with hobnail boots and a black handlebar moustache. Soon after the encounter, Mary Bet’s eight other brother and sisters and her mother begin dying off, one by one, as if in a orchestrated funeral procession. Mary Bet believes that the Hartsoe family is cursed. But her generation and her father’s clutch to life during one of America’s more trying, transitional phases – Reconstruction.

Mary Bet’s father, Rezin Cicero, or R.C. for short, fought in the Civil War and wants to distance himself from the memories of battle. However, the constant reminder of his peg leg makes moving on a challenge. His miserly father, Samuel Hartsoe, withheld the family business from him. Samuel believes that R.C. should learn and labor to generate his own fortune. R.C. manages a general store and married one of William “Captain Billie” Murchison’s daughters, Susan Elizabeth. R.C. and Susan Elizabeth’s marriage tangles the family trees somewhat awkwardly. Samuel Hartsoe still feels lingering indignation that his father, John Siler, sold the Hartsoe family home to the drunken and vulgar Captain Billie rather than bequeathing it to him. As R.C.’s children and his wife die by a seeming string of dumb and simple misfortune, his faith flags. He rejects what others mourn as God’s will and he descends into madness. His youngest daughter, Mary Bet watches guiltily while R.C.’s body and mind decay. Love and Lament is a story concerned with the tension of family relationships, community exchanges, and constant hardships.

Meanwhile, Mary Bet, the story’s heroine, matures as the broken, war-torn South ushers in new industrialization and alterations in established values at the turn of the century. Mary Bet was born the year the railroad arrived in Haw County, a loosely fictionalized version of Chatham County. Mary Bet is a figure of the New South and a liminal character. She struggles to unshackle herself and move beyond the past. In her will, Mary Bet’s mother Susan Elizabeth deeds her jewels to her prettiest daughter, her silver to her most ambitious, and the family Bible to Mary Bet. Her mother’s gift appoints Mary Bet as the keeper of the Hartsoe family history. And fittingly so — Mary Bet is the only one of R.C. and Susan Elizabeth’s children to enter adulthood after all. From the rubble of the old world, Mary Bet emerges as a modern woman.

Novelist John Milliken Thompson spins a family saga rooted in the Southern Gothic tradition that spans from Reconstruction to World War I. The grief of the Hartsoe family echoes the changing climate of post-Civil War South. Thompson relates his story with mesmerizing and authentic detail that evokes great pathos for the Hartsoe clan. His rendering of Mary Bet from age six to age thirty rings true. With Mary Bet and the rest of the Hartsoes, Thompson accentuates how memory and history can haunt us, from the past long into the future.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Chatham, Historical, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Thompson, John Milliken

Jessica Beck. Deadly Donuts. United States : CreateSpace, 2013.

Deadly DonutsThanks to the summer heat, Suzanne Hart’s donut sales are lagging. Turns out nobody in April Springs craves a freshly fried donut and a piping hot cup of coffee with sky-rocketing temperatures and soupy humidity that keep them just as shiny as Suzanne’s glazed donuts. So her shop, Donut Hearts, has been quiet, verging on deserted. Suzanne doesn’t mind the lack of foot traffic. She is glad to have her college-aged assistant Emma out of classes and in the shop and she maintains high spirits despite the disappointing turn in business. Unfortunately, her most recent customer delivers a nasty little treat. The mystery man alleges to have proof that Suzanne’s father was a cold-blooded killer. After a bit of initial contempt, Suzanne arranges to meet the mystery man beneath the town clock at one in the morning to see his supposed evidence and decide if his half-baked claim is truer than she would like to believe. If it is true, then it might just cost Suzanne more than she can afford.

Unfortunately, when Suzanne meets the mystery man under the clock at the designated time, she finds him – very dead. Minutes after Suzanne arrives on the scene and stumbles upon the unlucky corpse, the cops show up. At first things don’t look good for Suzanne, but then they look even worse for her mother who was suspiciously absent prior to the murder. Yet again, Suzanne and her closest friend, Grace Gauge, start examining the case. Suzanne is determined to find out who murdered the mystery man and if, in turn, his allegations about her father were accurate. As Suzanne and Grace sniff out all the possible leads, they discover that Suzanne was not the only person the mystery man tried to blackmail.

Meanwhile, Suzanne’s philandering ex-husband, Max, begs for her help. Max claims he is a changed man. The changes, he insists, are all due to his love for Emily Hargraves, the owner of Two Cows and a Moose, the local newsstand. Emily is a peculiar character with a whimsical penchant for dressing up her stuffed animals (two cows and a moose, of course) in costumes. Max has resolved to abandon his slick charm if can get a chance with Emily. He waxes poetic about his newfound love and sincerity. But since his odds seem weak, he is hoping for reinforcement. More specifically, Suzanne. Unwittingly, Suzanne is pulled into playing matchmaker for the very odd pairing. She has no qualms about lending Max a hand, but she is surprised that another woman could truly reform her chronically charming ex-husband.

This is the tenth installment in Jessica Beck’s Donut Shop Mystery series. If you’re new to the series, jump back to this blog post that covers the first book, Glazed Murder. Beck wields self-reflective humor by referencing the cozy mystery sub-genre on a few occasions throughout the novel. In one particularly navel-gazing instance, Suzanne quips that her mother had “even read a series based on a donut-shop, of all things.”

Beck offers four enticing donut recipes: two traditional recipes from scratch and two recipes relying on some prepackaged ingredients, which should satisfy readers of all cooking levels. She integrates the recipes within the text of the story. If you’re based in the Triangle area and don’t feel in the mood to slave over a deep fryer, then you could always enjoy this book over some Monuts or Rise donuts and coffee!

After

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

Elizabeth Craig. Quilt or Innocence. New York: Signet, 2012.

Quilt or InnocenceAll Beatrice Coleman wants is a nice, quiet retirement. Now that she’s moved to small town Dappled Hills, North Carolina she is closer to her daughter, Piper, and has plenty of free time to catch up on her reading. Beatrice has visions of spending her days lying in a backyard hammock sipping leisurely on a mint julep. Almost immediately, Beatrice’s fantasy is interrupted by her intrusive next-door neighbor, Meadow Downey, who barges in and forces Beatrice to attend one of her Village Quilters guild meetings. Although Meadow pulls her into the group, Beatrice is reluctant to get involved. She didn’t come to Dappled Hills for the company. Prior to her retirement, Beatrice worked as a folk art curator in Atlanta. Coincidentally enough, she is familiar with all of the technical details of quilts and has even appraised some in the past. But Beatrice has never attempted to make a quilt herself – nor did she have any inclination to. Quite frankly, she resents been torn away from her sweet corgi, Noo-noo, and her current read, Whispers in Summer.

Before she can say “backstitch,” Beatrice is embroiled in the local quilting scene, and all of the drama that comes with it. She learns quickly that the beloved Patchwork Cottage, which supplies all the town quilters with material, is set to close. Most of the guild members support Posy, the shop owner, and a couple members implore her to stand her ground against Judith, her landlord. Judith is forcing Posy out by raising the rent. Surprisingly, Judith is also a quilter and active with the guild. Despite the shared hobby and associations, Judith is interested in launching a high-end women’s boutique in the space, which she believes will be a more lucrative venture. Judith is not exactly popular in the guild. Fellow members tell Beatrice how Judith often stoops to blackmail and delights in meanness. The night of a quilting bee, for instance, Beatrice catches Judith in the act of ripping off another member.

More than a few people wouldn’t mind Judith gone, obviously. When she turns up dead the morning after the quilting bee, fingers point in every direction. Many possible motives arise and novelist Elizabeth Craig believably shifts among all of the reasonable alternatives. Just as Beatrice fell into the Village Quilters guild by accident, so too does she become embroiled in the mystery of Judith’s murder. Beatrice asks lots of questions and uncovers a number of intriguing, if not incriminating, tidbits about the guild members. Although Beatrice doesn’t claim to carry on an investigation, her sleuthing clearly rattles the murderer, who leaves threatening notes on her doorstep stuffed inside of empty Nehi bottles.  Even with the prospect of continued and escalated threats, Beatrice does not cease asking questions nor remove herself from the case. She’s in too far now to stop – with the murder and the quilting. As Beatrice probes further, she realizes that maybe she didn’t want the sleepy retirement she hoped for all along.

Much like one of the quilts Beatrice admires in the novel, “It looks like a quilt to curl up in on a cold night. With a mug of hot chocolate,” Quilt or Innocence, is a comfortable, engaging read. Although Meadow is the designated eccentric oddball of the bunch, Craig delivers many distinctive characters. At the end of the book, Craig rewards readers with quilting tips and four tempting recipes. This is the first book in Craig’s A Southern Quilting Mystery series. For readers who want more: the second book in the series has been released and the third will come out in December of this year.

We previously covered one of Craig’s books in her Myrtle Clover Mystery series, A Dyeing Shame.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Craig, Elizabeth Spann, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Monique Miller. The Marrying Kind. Deer Park, NY: Urban Christian, 2012.

marryingAs this novel opens, Travis Highgate definitely does not look like the marrying kind.  He is divorced, disengaged from his two sons, unemployed, and about to be evicted from his not-so-nice apartment.  A chance encounter with a college friend leads to a house-sitting gig in a very nice neighborhood. This could be just the break that Travis needs, but how will Travis use it?  At first, it is all about enjoyment–days in front of his friend’s wide screen TV and nights taking out new women, using his friend’s car and even his clothes.  Slowly, Travis comes to see that this is not the way to make a life that will give him lasting happiness.  Readers will root for Travis as he struggles to dig himself out of a financial hole, live the values that will lead to happiness, save his ex-wife from a dangerous entanglement, and reunite his family.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Miller, Monique, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship

John Ehle. Move Over, Mountain. New York: William Morrow, 1957.

mountainPa Cummings wanted his sons to go north.  The segregated South in the mid-twentieth century held limited opportunities for African American men.  All of his son did go north except Jordan, who married young.  Jordan has made a life for himself, with a wife and two sons, but you can’t say that he’s gotten ahead.  He’s worked at a number of jobs, but as the novel opens he’s lost his job delivering coal.  He’s also gambled away his wife’s savings.  Just as Jordan is hitting bottom, his brother Bryant returns from the North.  Bryant has money and opinions, and he seems to be interested in playing the big man to Jordan’s wife and sons.  Sibling rivalry helps Jordan harness his ambition, but he is not prepared for the lengths to which Bryant will go to defeat him.

John Ehle wrote this book when he lived in Chapel Hill, and the fictional Leafwood and Tin Top are widely thought to be modeled on Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

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

Press 53 of Winston-Salem published a 50th anniversary edition of Move Over, Mountain in 2007. The cover art in this posting is from that edition.

 

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Filed under 1950-1959, 1957, Ehle, John, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Orange, Piedmont

M. S. Cole. Southern Conflict. Kernersville, NC: Alabaster Books, 2011.

southernnMany of us have learned about the textile industry in North Carolina from history books or family stories.  Mill village housing, segregation of the workforce, stretch-outs, time-and-motion studies, company stores, strikes, blacklisting–all of these are known to us as pieces of history. Southern Conflict brings that history to life through the story of the Turner family.

One small mill house is home to the Turners– two children and five adults.  Four of the adults work in the Banner Cotton Mill that dominates the little village of Pine Valley.  Emma Lee, who presides over the household, used to work in the mill too, but she now stays home to raise two children who have been abandoned by their mother, one of Emma Lee’s cousins. Emma Lee thinks she knows mill work, but it is Aunt Elle, who at 72 still works in the mill, who has seen it all.  But maybe not.  It’s the 1950s, and some winds of change are beginning to blow. When the owner tightens the screws at Banner Cotton Mill, the workers organize, even to the point of reaching across the racial divide. Owner Isaac Banner pushes back, and there is violence and retribution.

Each member of the Turner family member is touched by what happens. How they think about the mill and their lives, and the actions they take, may prompt readers to have fresh ideas about North Carolina’s industrial and social past.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Cole, M. S., Historical, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Dale Neal. The Half-Life of Home. Sacramento, CA: Casperian Books, 2013.

The Half-Life of HomeRoyce Wilder is a man split between two worlds. His past lies in unrefined Beaverdam; his present resides in manicured Altamont. But those two worlds become uncomfortably close when a real estate businessman named Lawrence Landrum pressures Royce into selling his land. Landrum manipulates Royce with talk of radon, a radioactive gas that is seeping from Royce’s property. Although a certain level of radon is acceptable, Landrum claims that the levels in Beaverdam are dangerous. Royce doubts Landrum’s claims, however other impending financial burdens force him to reconsider the offer.

Selling the past is not an easy task for Royce. He is a person “rooted, down to earth” who believes that no man should be forced “to give up his history, surrender his soul, part with the past.” Even the idea of a yard sale paralyzes Royce. He has spent his years collecting odds, ends, and scraps he finds that share a tie with Beaverdam. His wife, Eva, on the other hand, sees the past as “junk that’s cluttering the present.” Her perspective is not surprising given her occupation: executive director of Keep Altamont Beautiful. Her job defines her as a person and instills purpose into her life. Eva has an obsession for order and beautification. Litter, disfigurements, and any instance of imperfection upset her. As husband and wife, Eva and Royce are at odds. They demonstrate all the typical signs of a strained marriage with their lack of intimacy and their inability to communicate their private thoughts.

Their teenaged son, Dean, is a sullen reminder of their former happiness. Dean has outgrown his contented childhood and has replaced his cheerful youth with slouching indifference. He attends an affluent private school, yet Dean still manages to forge a friendship with a less than desirable crowd and acquire an interest in graffiti. Both Eva and Royce agonize over how to reconnect with their son and how to resuscitate their withering nuclear family. All of them – Royce, Eva, and Dean – are isolated entities that cannot figure out how to intersect.

Dave Neal studied creative writing at Warren Wilson College and lives in Asheville. In Half-Life, he presents a kaleidoscopic narrative shifting between the viewpoints of a handful of characters. Neal structures most of the novel around family, using the Wilders as his model. He dwells on themes of generations, the past, and memory. Specifically, he focuses on the concept of inheritance and the paradoxical gravity and fragility of ancestry. How necessary are the tangible possessions of heritage to family? Royce finds himself battling such dilemmas when he is forced to choose between keeping his family’s property and restoring the bonds among his immediate family.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Mountains, Neal, Dale, Novels Set in Fictional Places