Category Archives: Novels Set in Fictional Places

5. Novels Set in Fictional Places

Ellery Adams. Books by the Bay Mysteries.

When forty-something Olivia Limoges was looking to change her life she settled on the idea of moving back to her hometown of Oyster Bay, North Carolina.  The locals don’t exactly welcome her with open arms–she’s wealthy, grouchy, bossy, and has pretentious aspirations to be a writer.  It’s a rocky start for Olivia, but as the Books by the Bay series unfolds, Olivia makes a place for herself in Oyster Bay.  She joins a writing group and the members of the group become friends; she re-connects with her half-brother, joining him in the restaurant business; and  she may even have found a new love interest in the person of Sawyer Rawlings.

Olivia comes to know Rawlings because he is the town’s chief of police, and  Oyster Bay has an unusual number of murders, many of which touch Olivia in some way.  The victims include a gossip columnist looking into a wealthy local family, an author of historic novels, and a local “witch” who knows a secret about Olivia’s mother.  In each of these cozy mysteries, the murders reveal something about Olivia’s past or that of this seemingly-quiet little town.  Readers come to know Olivia and her backstory even as they enjoy her sleuthing–in which she is often aided by her poodle, Captain Haviland.

 

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Filed under Adams, Ellery, Coast, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Series

Stephen King. Joyland. London: Hard Case Crime, 2013.

JoylandJoyland is an amusement park in the business of selling fun – and that’s by the “seat-of-the-pants” fun not that “scripted” fun that Disney peddles to its customers, according to geriatric park owner, Bradley Easterbrook. Joyland has all the standard amusement park fare: rides, refreshments, a crackpot fortune-teller, a beloved mascot, and a haunted house. Except Joyland’s haunted house really is haunted. Or so twenty-one year-old Devin Jones is told. In the summer of 1969, Linda Gray spent the day at Joyland in the company of an unidentified male masked in sunglasses and a baseball cap with a bird tattoo on his hand. Later in the evening, the pair entered the Horror House together, only Linda never left. Linda’s companion slashed her throat and left her body inside, where it was discovered the next day. Four years later in 1973, the killer still roams free. Since the murder, employees have reported sightings of Linda’s ghost.

When Devin first hears the tale, he is more concerned with relaying it to his disinterested girlfriend Wendy Keegan than focusing on the lurid details. Wendy is the first thing on Devin’s mind and he is the furthest thing from hers. Devin eagerly fantasizes about his life with Wendy following their graduation from the University of New Hampshire. He dreams of a successful literary career and wedded bliss completed with a few kids running underfoot. His unquenched libido and earnest schoolboy devotion blind Devin from the fact that Wendy is slipping, or rather pushing, away from him. Wendy plans to work in Boston with a friend during the summer and she encourages Devin to take a job far away at Joyland in the small, fictional town of Heaven’s Bay, North Carolina. Their break-up is predictable, and Devin spends a good portion of his time ruminating on first love.

Then he becomes absorbed into the world of Joyland. He finds friends, “wears the fur,” learns the park lingo, and juggles a million menial tasks at once.  Howie the Happy Hound is Joyland’s mascot and all the Happy Helpers take turns in wearing the dog costume. During the summer, shifts are restricted to 15 minutes to prevent heatstroke. Devin, though, dons the suit repeatedly. Despite the discomfort, he discovers an unexpected enthusiasm for wearing the costume and exciting children at the park. Reflecting back on his time at Joyland, Devin muses that no job has satisfied him as deeply as dressing as Howie and dancing the Hokey Pokey.

Veteran novelist Stephen King establishes a convincing atmosphere in Joyland with his use of colorful carny slang. The book features a pulpy cover design and is marketed as a hardboiled crime novel, although Devin is an inadvertent sleuth rather than a jaded detective. Joyland is a bildungsroman meets murder mystery. King’s focus is less on the horror and gore and more on Devin’s maturation. Solving Linda Gray’s murder just falls on the laundry list of Devin’s pivotal summer of development. By deemphasizing the mystery aspect of the novel, Joyland becomes a more dimensional story and quite an exhilarating ride of a read.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coast, King, Stephen, Mystery, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Ellery Adams. Written in Stone. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2012.

Written in StoneWhen Oyster Bay’s gossipy diner proprietor Dixie relays a message to Olivia Limoges from the reclusive witch of Oyster Bay, Olivia laughs it off as a bunch of hocus-pocus and horoscopes. The witch, Munin Cooper, wants Olivia to pay her a visit. Olivia is a successful restaurateur and aspiring author. She is a woman who takes care of herself and her constant companion, Captain Haviland, a standard poodle. However, when Olivia discovers that Munin Cooper inexplicably knows a private detail about her deceased mother she decides to brave the journey across the swamp to hear out the witch’s message.

According to local lore, the witch requires her visitors to relinquish their most precious belongings in exchange for her help. Most of Munin’s visitors are just desperate enough to part with their possessions. Tucked away in her shack, Munin embeds those trinkets and mementos into memory jugs. A memory jug serves as “a scrapbook made with found objects” that represent an individual’s life. Munin is an eerie figure. A member of the Lumbee Indian tribe, she lives in primitive but self-sufficient isolation and decorates herself with jewelry fashioned from teeth and small animal bones. She warns Olivia that death surrounds her and that she should protect herself and her friends before any terrible events occur. To help her fend off death, Munin gives Olivia her final memory jug. Despite her otherworldly wisdom, Munin does not realize that death will seek her out first. A park ranger finds her drowned in a stream shortly after Olivia’s visit.

After she learns of Munin’s passing, Olivia refuses to believe that the witch died from natural causes, so she urges Police Chief Rawlings to examine the case further. Because Munin lived in a different county, Rawlings cannot influence the ruling of accidental death. But Olivia knows it was murder and she has all the evidence she needs to solve the crime thanks to the memory jug. In order to identify the killer, she must first understand the relationships among the keepsakes in the jug. With the Coastal Carolina Food Festival gearing up, Olivia is overwhelmed with her restaurant, The Boot Top Bistro. Yet with her life and the lives of her friends in question, she juggles supervising her business and sleuthing a murder. As the web of connections grows clear and clearer, Olivia is shocked by what she unearths.

Novelist Ellery Adams delivers another absorbing mystery for her “Books by the Bay” series. Adams tantalizes her audience with snippets of Olivia’s mysterious back story. She supplies an enigmatic mix of details that will leave readers curious for the full explanation. Moreover, her lush descriptions of food are enough to make your mouth water and your stomach growl. This book should probably be read on a full stomach. For readers interested in more, consult three of the Read North Carolina Novels previous blog posts on Adams’ work: A Killer Plot, A Deadly Cliché, and The Last Word.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Adams, Ellery, Coast, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Cheris Hodges. Forces of Nature. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 2013.

Forces of NatureIn the 1970s,  jealousy drove Douglas Wellington Jr. to great success in establishing his manufacturing company, Welco Industries. As a young man, Douglas Jr. was ashamed of his poor background, and his intellectual interests led his peers to dismiss him as nerdy.  But “money changed things and changed the way people viewed” Douglas Jr. He wielded his power and money to exact revenge on the people who once thought of him as just a poor boy from Waverly. His most ambitious sights were set on the Hughes Farm. In Douglas Jr.’s mind, Joel Hughes stole Erin Hamilton from him. Although Douglas Jr. married another woman, he was still besotted with Erin. And if he couldn’t win Erin back, then he would make them both pay.

Fast forward into the present day and Douglas Wellington III is now CEO of Welco Industries. Much of nearby Reeseville has been developed by Welco. But not quite the entire town has been dug up and gentrified. Not the Hughes Farm, at least. Douglas hopes to solidify plans on the Douglas Wellington Jr. Business Park as soon as possible to honor his deceased father’s memory and to appease his board of directors. The chairman of the board, Clive Oldsman, hounds Douglas relentlessly about speeding up the project. Originally Douglas had dreams of making a name in the music industry, but when his father fell ill with colon cancer, he was lured into the family business to please his dying father. So his sights are fastened on the Hughes Farm.

Crystal Hughes, daughter of Joel and Erin Hughes, is not about to let Welco steal her family’s farm out from under her. She’s feisty and full of ideas to protest the business park, including handcuffing herself to the desk of Douglas’s receptionist. Crystal’s determination is understandable. After all, the Hughes Farm is a legacy. The farm was the first property owned by African Americans in Duval County. Under Crystal’s management, the farm produces vegetables that are donated to the local homeless shelter. Also, Starlight House, a group home for young girls, sits on the property. Crystal has a fierce devotion to the girls at Starlight, who in turn, show their affection and appreciation by helping with chores around the farm. Crystal loves the farm and she is confident that anyone who spends time on the land will fall in love with it too. She is so confident, in fact, that she challenges Douglas to spend one week on the property before he continues with his plans to destroy the farm. Douglas accepts the offer, if only because of his attraction to Crystal.

In Forces of Nature Cheris Hodges offers a light rendition on Romeo and Juliet: two sworn enemies stifling their attraction to each other out of familial loyalty. Will Crystal’s proposition change Douglas’s mind? There is plenty of intrigue and family secrets to keep readers turning the pages of this book.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Hodges, Cheris F., Novels Set in Fictional Places, Romance/Relationship

Rhonda Riley. The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope. New York: Ecco, 2013.

The Enchanted Life of Adam HopeAfter her Aunt Eva passes away, seventeen-year old Evelyn Roe is charged by her parents to tend to her deceased aunt and uncle’s farm near the fictional town of Clarion, North Carolina. The farm lies twenty-five miles outside of Charlotte. Riley’s story begins at the end of World War II and most of the town’s men are off fighting, if they have not already perished in the wake of the war effort.

With their work at the cotton mill, Evelyn’s parents do not have time to look after the farm. Despite her initial shock at the responsibility, Evelyn quickly adapts to her new circumstances and finds freedoms alongside her obligations. Thanks to her height, her red hair, and her smattering of freckles, Evelyn is teased mercilessly. Like many small towns, Clarion does not take kindly to differences. But on the farm, she develops a loving bond to her family’s land.

On the farm, Evelyn happens upon something odd — a man lodged in the harsh, red clay earth. Evelyn rescues and cares for the disfigured man. Yet the unknown, unnamed man is not what he seems. He possesses strange talents that verge on supernatural. Evelyn and the man who eventually transforms into Adam Hope fall in love. Their connection is profound, both spiritual and sensual. They marry and start a family.

The town of Clarion accepts Adam unequivocally. They appreciate his kind heart, large appetite, and earthy nature. At first. After a tragic incident brings grief to the Hope family, Adam’s unusual behavior elicits discomfort and draws questions from the townspeople. Suddenly, the Hope family finds their way of life endangered. Will Evelyn and Adam be able to restore their standing in the community and maintain their intimate bond? Or will the stress of prying public opinion unravel the Hope family?

First-time novelist Rhonda Riley presents a story with biblical undertones that focuses on unwavering love and that experiments with concepts such as gender and physical manifestations of differences. Her exploration of gender in particular is at times reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. She highlights the subtleties and secrets that exist within families. Riley questions ancestry and if people can know one another truly.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Riley, Rhonda, Romance/Relationship

Gail Godwin. Flora. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.

FloraHelen Anstruther does not think highly of her Alabama relative, Flora. In Helen’s opinion, Flora is simple-minded and prone to regrettable emotional outbursts. At ten, Helen feels more mature than the unrefined, twenty-two year old Flora. Helen’s father Harry, an alcoholic and sharp-tongued high school principal, is no fonder of Flora than is his daughter. But after Nonie, Helen’s grandmother and primary parental figure, passes away Harry has a problem. He intends to spend the summer in Oak Ridge, Tennessee working on a top secret military project and needs someone to watch over Helen during his absence. Flora is his deceased wife’s cousin and his only viable choice left. Despite her perceived shortcomings, Harry asks Flora to spend the summer at their home in a fictional North Carolina mountain town during the close of World War II.

After a polio scare strikes the town, Flora and Helen remain shut away in the Anstruther house, Old One Thousand, which served previously as a convalescent home. The house is rich in material for Helen’s busy imagination. In fact, Helen’s curiosity often leads her into places she does not belong and to things that belong to others, like a series of letters exchanged between Nonie and Flora. Nonie and her father have raised Helen on a steady diet of sarcasm and disapproval. Helen finds fault after fault with Flora: her unflagging sincerity, her predilection for tears, her inability to drive. Fresh out of teachers’ college, Flora hopes to become a teacher, however her childlike nature and seeming dependence undercuts this ambition. Often Helen feels like the adult, guiding Flora and even helping her practice her skills by creating an imaginary classroom. Helen is a precocious child and has an acute awareness that Flora longs for her approval. Although Helen expresses contempt toward Flora, the two develop a fast friendship with their Irish grocery boy, Finn, that creates an uneasy triangle. By the end of the summer, those tense relationships reach a breaking point.

Godwin situates the novel from Helen’s perspective, as child and as adult. With the perspective of adult Helen, the book possesses an elegiac tone. The novel edges toward a coming-of-age story, except that the lessons come late to Helen, who mourns that as a child she missed the complexity of Flora’s true character. Godwin creates vivid yet realistic characters shaded through the eyes of Helen. She also depicts how children are influenced and shaped by their elders, for better or for worse.

This book, like many of Godwin’s novels, is set in Mountain City, which is widely thought to be modeled on the author’s hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. There are some instances of racist language and dialogue in the book.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Buncombe, Godwin, Gail, Mountains, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Sallie Bissell. Music of Ghosts. Woodbury, MN: Midnight Ink, 2013.

Music of GhostsSallie Bissell has returned with another Mary Crow thriller. In this installment, Lisa Wilson, the college-aged daughter of a previous North Carolina governor is mutilated and murdered after she and a group of summer interns venture into the woods to spend the night in the fabled Fiddlesticks cabin. The cabin is known throughout Pisgah County for its grisly past. Fiddlesticks murdered his wife and the man he found her with and then played his fiddle over their bodies. Before her death, Lisa is lured by the sound of fiddle music.

Once news of the murder spreads, Sheriff Jerry Cochran puts his plans to propose to his girlfriend, reporter Ginger Malloy, on hold. Cochran tries to keep the sordid details hushed, yet predictably photos are leaked. The media, including his girlfriend Ginger, places Cochran in a difficult position. If that isn’t enough, the victim’s father, former Governor Wilson journeys to Pisgah County to bully Cochran personally into hunting down the killer–and fast.

Fingers point quickly to Nick Stratton, Lisa Wilson’s boss. He asks Mary to take his case, despite all the incriminating evidence against him. But Mary is torn. Since her boyfriend Jonathan Walkingstick’s daughter Lily has returned from a court-ordered visit with her maternal grandparents, she has seemed distrustful and confused. Then Jonathan receives notice that Lily’s maternal grandparents intend to fight him for custody. Amidst the murder, the media frenzy, and a custody battle about to gear up, Mary is overwhelmed. Although Jonathan has requested that Mary not take on any criminal cases, she wants to help Stratton.

Will she take the case? Is Stratton guilty, or is there still a killer roaming free in the forest? Bissell has crafted a story full of surprise twists and plenty of tension that will leave readers on baited breath.  Given the plot, readers will not be surprised that the novel contains scenes of violence and gore, and crude language.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Bissell, Sallie, Mountains, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Suspense/Thriller

Jennifer Estep. The Mythos Academy Series.

  • First Frost (e-novella). New York: Kensington Publishing, 2011.
  • Touch of Frost. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 2011. 
  • Kiss of Frost. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 2011.
  • “Halloween Frost” in Entangled, ed. Allison Brennan (e-short story). Authors4theCure, 2011.
  • Dark Frost. New York: Kensington, 2012.
  • Crimson Frost. New York, Kensington Publishing, 2013.
  • Spartan Frost. New York: Kensington Books, 2013.
  • Midnight Frost. New York: K-Teen, 2013.

Gwendolyn Frost is a normal teenaged girl– well, as normal as any of the teenagers attending Mythos Academy. High in the mountains of western North Carolina, the academy provides a safe place for teens like Gwen to get an education. Gifted with supernatural abilities, all of the students are the descendants of ancient warriors or mythical creatures. But Gwendolyn doesn’t think her powers are very exciting– sure, being a Gypsy with the power to find lost objects and read people’s thoughts has its uses, but it’s not like being a Spartan or a Valkyrie and being gifted with abnormal strength, speed, and agility. Gwen wishes she were as talented athletically as her peers, particularly because she has a crush on the school’s most popular and good looking boy.

Everything changes, of course, when a supernatural threat looms over the academy. Somehow Gwen finds herself at the center of the fighting– as the champion of the Greek goddess Nike herself. How does a simple Gypsy girl with no talent for swordplay become a goddess’s champion? And can she even survive? Find out in this exciting young adult series, reminiscent of Percy Jackson’s The Lightning Thief  and the 1981 film Clash of the Titans.

 

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Filed under 2010-2019, Buncombe, Children & Young Adults, Estep, Jennifer, Mountains, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Series

Jen Calonita. The Grass is Always Greener. New York: Poppy, 2013.

thegrassisalwaysgreenerThe conclusion to Jen Calonita’s Belles series finds half-sisters Mirabelle and Isabelle Monroe each facing her own crossroads. The Monroe family is used to an easy life, but that changed when Isabelle “Izzie” Scott (in reality Monroe) arrived. Hailing from the nearby struggling community of Harborside, the daughter State Senator and family patriarch Bill Monroe never knew existed has certainly made life interesting in the affluent town of Emerald Cove. No one has felt the changes more than Izzie’s half-sister Mirabelle.

Originally a quiet conformist, Mirabelle has started to march to the beat of her own drum. She’s pursuing her own interests in painting, as well as a quirky, artistic boy named Kellen. Izzie has changed her life,  but nothing is perfect. Kellen is moving away, and Mirabelle’s novice artwork faces harsh criticism from a teacher. Will she stay true to her newfound path?

Although used to blazing her own trail, Izzie has trials to face as well. Shortly following the death of her beloved grandmother, an aunt Izzie never knew about arrives in town. Zoe Scott had a terrible falling out with her sister, Izzie’s mom, before Izzie was ever born. Now Zoe wants to make amends and take her niece away to live in California. Izzie isn’t sure if she wants her aunt in her life, much less if she wants to leave the Old North State. Additionally, Savannah Ingram, the alpha girl of Emerald Preparatory, looks ready to make Izzie pay for disrupting the status quo. Forced to work with the snobby queen bee on a project, Izzie is sure she’ll be miserable. But is Savannah really as bad as she thought? Torn between the lessons of her meager upbringing and the challenges of her new, shinier life, Izzie must decide what her future will hold.

Both girls are about to turn sweet sixteen, and at this rite of passage they must decide who they will be. But since Isabelle and Mirabelle Monroe first accepted one another as sisters, one thing is certain– whatever they face, they’ll face it together.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Calonita, Jen, Children & Young Adults, Coast, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Ann B. Ross. Miss Julia Stirs Up Trouble. New York: Viking, 2013.

miss juliaReaders of this series know that Miss Julia has come to love Hazel Marie and her son Lloyd, who is the illegitimate son of Miss Julia’s late husband.  They are family.  So much so that Julia and her new husband, Sam Murdock, have settled the pair, along with Hazel Marie’s husband, J.D. Pickens, and their twin girls into Sam’s old house.  Not only does the Pickens family have a nice house, but Sam’s cook, James, has stayed on to help.  This is a blessing because Hazel Marie was never much of a cook and those babies have her worn down.  But James is no spring chicken and when he injures himself in a fall, the Pickens household is in crisis.  James needs help to get in and out of bed, so Hazel Marie must tend to him and her babies, keep the house in order, and cook the kind of meals that keep a man at home. (J.D. was a womanizer before he married Hazel Marie and he travels quite a bit for his work–all of which causes Miss Julia to worry about this marriage.)

Of course, Miss Julia steps in.  She has trouble finding a temporary cook, so she lines up various friends to come over and both cook and give Hazel Marie cooking lessons.  (The recipes that are used are scattered throughout the book.)  Organizing all these cooking lessons is quite a juggling act, but it is nothing compared to managing the personalities sharing space at the Pickens house.  James proves to be a demanding patient, Hazel Marie’s sleazy uncle, Brother Vern, is back in town and has moved in, and Granny Wiggins, who Etta Mae has recruited to clean, is a tornado of energy–and opinions.  Plus, Miss Julia and Lillian have both spotted J.D. with another woman and they will do anything to keep Lloyd from finding out that his new dad is no saint.  This, the fourteenth book in the Miss Julia series, is a tasty dish of misadventure, misunderstanding, and southern charm.

A note on the dust-jacket:  The imagery on dust-jackets has become stereotypical and formulaic–and sometimes even misleading.  It’s not uncommon for the image on the cover to misrepresent some basic element of the location or the main character by, for example, making the heroine a blonde when the book says she’s a brunette, or showing a mountain lodge out of Travel + Leisure when the action takes places at an abandoned hunting cabin.  The dust-jacket for Miss Julia Stirs Up Trouble is an exception to this trend.  It’s a delight to look at the image and see so many items mentioned in the book–everything from a bag of Gold Medal flour to a grilled cheese sandwich to J.D.’s aviator style sunglasses.  Kudos to the people at Viking Press.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Henderson, Humor, Mountains, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Ross, Ann B.