Category Archives: 2012

2012

Nora Gaskin. Until Proven. Chapel Hill, NC: Lystra Books & Literary Services, 2012.

“I’ve been thinking that all of this lawyering is stupid, that Sean and the others should just open their mouths for a scraping and get it over with. But now I get it. What you’ve always tried to say, Daddy. Being innocent isn’t enough.”

Until ProvenFirst-time novelist, Nora Gaskin, weaves a powerful family drama in two parts. In 1963, Colin Phillips is more or less happily married to Rhetta Phillips, née Vance, and is dedicated to his two daughters, Eden and Wren. The Vance family is a wealthy Southern line, one that Colin, a poor boy from a mill town, managed to marry into. Colin provides for his family by working as a lawyer. Recently, Colin has agreed to represent clients pro bono if they were arrested while carrying out acts of civil disobedience. Rhetta and Colin do not see eye-to-eye on the shifting racial climate, and she is especially displeased by the news of Colin working for free since he insists that she not dip into her inheritance to support the family. But Rhetta accepts the arrangement quietly.  She has news of her own that will alter their family permanently.

Rhetta’s bachelor twin brother, Laurence, intends to return from London and live in the family guest cottage for an unspecified amount of time. Laurence has no official occupation aside from sporadic traveling and writing. While Colin feels affable distance toward Laurence, Rhetta is consumed with protective sisterly affection. For a time Laurence writes and loafs about town, then, mysteriously one day, he brings home a wife, Shelia, a librarian at the local university. He soon departs the guest cottage to establish his household. Laurence hires a local boy, Jabel Clark, to help him and Shelia spruce up their home. Jabel graduated second in his high school class, but has decided to wait to apply for college. He hopes to save money for his guardian and grandmother, Marie Minton, before he thinks of furthering his education. Marie once worked as the Vance family housekeeper and cared for Rhetta and Laurence as children. The arrangement seems to work well, at first. However, some of Laurence’s deepest secrets are revealed to Jabel, and then Shelia is found murdered. As a court case involving Laurence and Jabel gears up, family tensions run high, racial intolerance emerges, and the situation turns ugly.

In 2003, the novel resumes with the next two generations. Although the wounds of the previous case appeared to have scabbed over, one more good scratch rips them open again. Without revealing any crucial spoilers from the first half of the story in 1963, another girl is found murdered in her home and relatives from the same families are implicated in the crime again. The families are left tip-toeing around each other as the court case looming in the near future. Until Proven is packed with great tension and unexpected twists that will keep readers entranced until the final page. Gaskin delves into the dark side of family loyalty, exploring how far the bounds of truth and justice can be stretched in the name of protection and devotion.

Look at this interview in The Daily Tar Heel for more information on the author and the inspiration behind her story.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Gaskin, Nora, Mystery, Piedmont

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

Judy Hogan. Killer Frost. Wethersfield, CT: Mainly Murder Press, 2012.

killerfrostPenny Weaver gets more than she expected when she agrees to teach a composition course at an historically black college in Raleigh, North Carolina. She knew that taking over another teacher’s class after the semester had already started would be a challenge, and that in teaching a remedial composition course she would be working with students unprepared for college work. What Penny was not prepared for was the morale problems at the school, the rumors of sexual misbehavior by a faculty member, and questionable management by the administration.  Penny’s circle of friends give her good advice as she finds ways to navigate the educational and racial politics of St. Francis College, but she cannot confide in them about her feelings for her department chair. Soon all these matters seem trivial compared to the murders of a faculty member and the college’s provost.  This is a spring semester like no other for Professor Weaver.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Hogan, Judy, Mystery, Piedmont, Wake

F. C. Etier. The Tourist Killer. Hideaway, TX: Venture Galleries, 2012.

The Tourist KillerNow that she’s approaching retirement, Claudia Barry is reconsidering her career path. Even in her early sixties, Claudia remains in sharp shape, both of body and mind. A profession like Claudia’s demands that she stays ahead of all possible curves. Mistakes are not permissible. Morals need to be set aside. And a social life isn’t an option; the hours are long and the role requires a discreet personality. But the job pays well. The life of a professional assassin isn’t easy, that’s for sure.

This last kill is routine for Claudia. But she wonders if her professional legacy, 37 – going on 38 – kills, was worth the cost. Without her work, her self-styled isolation leaves her disconnected from the rest of the world. She wears and sheds different identities at the drop of a hat, but her own identity is stunted. She has no attachments, save two equally enigmatic men who drift in and out her life; one is a mysterious mentor of sorts and the other is a former FBI agent. Her sudden self-reflection forces Claudia to confront uncomfortable questions with unclear answers. When, or if, Claudia leaves her job, what is there for her to return home to after all these years?

First-time novelist F.C. Etier cultivates an intriguing character in Claudia. The book opens with a memorable and unusual scene: a female assassin observing her assigned prey, a female serial killer. Etier writes from a removed third-person perspective, zoomed out to capture a host of distinctive characters. Although his writing is thick with authenticating details, the story is told at a fast pace. This is an action-driven work with brisk chapters that never slow down. Interspersed between the chapters are seven brief non-sequential flashbacks that provide insight into Claudia’s past and explain the choices that led her into her line of work. These flashbacks emphasize Claudia’s irresolution as she approaches her final assignment.

Her target is Brian Farrell, the CEO of the ITTA Corporation, an amoebic conglomerate headquartered in London. Farrell is a quintessential power-hungry bad guy. Like many of Claudia’s targets, it isn’t difficult to want Farrell dead. Anyone that did take Farrell out would probably not suffer from a guilty conscience for long.  Meanwhile, Farrell, in his quest for expansion, is eager to eliminate his major opponent, Julian Thibaut. Thibaut is a self-made billionaire and charming Southern gentleman with a knack for sales and financial investments. Etier develops a subplot with Thibaut driven by conspiracies and social-political commentary on the One Percent.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Etier, F. C., Mountains, Suspense/Thriller

Shelley Pearsall. Jump into the Sky. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

Jump into the SkyChange is nothing new to thirteen-year- old Levi Battle. He is well acquainted with getting passed around and traded off among relatives. His mother, Queen Bee Walker, a beautiful but demanding jazz singer, abandoned Levi as an infant in an old Ford in the parking lot of a jazz club because she was dissatisfied with her unglamorous lifestyle and the weight of her maternal obligations. His father, Charles Battle, left Levi behind to serve as an army lieutenant in World War II. By contrast to his family, Levi views himself as a person who sticks around, even though his relatives are constantly shifting.

In his father’s absence, Levi lived first in the custody of his grandmother. Upon her death, he was transferred to the care of his Aunt Odella. The novel begins in the spring of 1945. After three years of housing her nephew, Aunt Odella has decided that since the war is almost over, the time has arrived for Levi to depart Chicago and reconnect with his father who is stationed in Fayetteville. Truth be told, she is tired of her charge and wants a reprieve from her responsibility. For three years she has slept on a cot in her living room to make space for Levi in her cramped apartment. With the end of the war in sight, Aunt Odella sees the opportunity for her personal liberation too.

So Aunt Odella packs Levi onto a train from Illinois to North Carolina with a suitcase and a bag of fried chicken. Levi is panic-stricken. He fears that he will arrive at his father’s army post unwanted. As the train travels further South, Levi faces another unexpected trouble as well–racism. Before relocating, Levi was unaware of the full extent of regional differences toward race. He is unaccustomed to the open hostility that he meets in the South. On his route and upon his arrival to North Carolina, he makes a couple of honest faux pas that do not jibe with the laws of Jim Crow. In one hard lesson, a shopkeeper threatens Levi’s life when he asks for a Coca-Cola. Following that encounter, Levi understands Southern racial etiquette with greater clarity.

With a little bit of luck, Levi manages to arrive unharmed in Fayetteville only to discover that his father’s unit has moved out to a new, undisclosed location. Yet again, he has been deserted, albeit unintentionally. The people in Levi’s life do not appear to discard him totally out of malevolence. Outside factors seem to nudge between Levi and his family and snip the ties. During his time in North Carolina, Levi encounters an old sweetgrass basket weaver named MawMaw Sands who teaches him that at the center of every basket is “a knot of pain” that anchors its foundation. In MawMaw Sands’ opinion, pain and sweetness are interwoven in life. Levi’s life appears knotted with an especially large amount of pain. His challenge is to clutch at the sweetness he can find and braid it in, no matter the struggle.

Novelist Shelley Pearsall sends Levi on a journey to unexpected locations across the country in pursuit of his father. Family, is not so easily found or established, and, as Pearsall reveals, these bonds must sometimes be learned anew. This book is intended for children and young adults, however, Pearsall’s memorable characters and witty narrator could hook readers of any age. Additionally, the portrayal of racism from Levi’s adolescent and unfamiliar perspective is poignant in its genuine and innocent surprise.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Children & Young Adults, Coastal Plain, Cumberland, Moore, Pearsall, Shelley, Piedmont

Tyora Moody. When Rain Falls. Deer Park, NY: Urban Christian, 2012.

whenWhen she was a young girl, Candace Johnson was present when her mother was killed by a drunken, abusive lover.  Aunt Maggie took Candace in but her home was one of harsh, religious judgments, and Candace fled as soon as she could.  In the years since Candace made a good life for herself, marrying a police detective, raising two children, and opening her own beauty salon in Charlotte, North Carolina.

But good friends and a loving spouse are no protection from the violence of the world.  Candace’s husband is killed, and two years later the murder remains unsolved. Candace has kept herself together for the sake of her children, but as When Rain Falls opens, she is hit with another hard blow: her best friend, Pamela Coleman, is murdered in her own garage.  Her husband’s former partner is one of the detectives investigating Pamela’s murder.  The other investigator, Darnell Jackson, is new to the Charlotte police force, but not new to Charlotte.  The failure of the police department to solve her husband’s murder prompts Candace to investigate Pamela’s death; she just can’t loose her two soul mates without getting some answers–and some justice.

The two investigations–Candace’s and the official one–turn up unpleasant facts about Pamela, her law firm, and some respected people in her social circle.  Candace and Detective Jackson butt heads over Candace’s activities even as they find themselves thrown together (and attracted to each other) in various social situations.  The author does a good job of balancing several threads of the story–Candace’s backstory, her struggle as a mother and as a Christian, the possibility of a new romance, and the murder investigations–and concluding them in a satisfying way.  The community of family, friends, and clients who support Candace is well drawn, adding another layer to the novel.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Mecklenburg, Moody, Tyora, Mystery, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational

Jeff Tolley. Azalea Springs. United States: CreateSpace, 2012.

azaleaThe good people of Azaleas Springs know that they have a problem, and it’s one that they’ve had for a long time.  J.D. McIver and his family have run the town for decades–having their way in legal and political matters and amassing wealth and large landholdings.  As the mills around the town closed and outsiders came in to work at a new tire plant, McIver has held on to most of his power.

Even the lawyers in town have to do McIver’s bidding.  Russell Vaughan, the most respected lawyer in town, handles McIver’s real estate transactions, while Gary Tatum, the public defender, gets McIver’s grand-nephews, Rusty and and Ricky Wicker, out of legal scrapes, large and small.  But Rusty Wicker has gone big time–dealing in meth, heroin, and cocaine in a partnership with a foreign drug cartel.  Suddenly J.D.’s ability to launder money seems inadequate and a corrupt sheriff’s department is not so reliable in this tale of greed, racism, and revenge.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Piedmont, Tolley, Jeff

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

George Foster Leal. The Lost Colony of Roanoke. Saratoga Village, CA: Bedside Books, 2012.

As a young man, Don Robeson lived a life of action and danger.  For six years he was a Navy Seal and he honed his skills on some very dark missions during the Iraq War.  But in many ways Don’s character was set during his college years, when Professor Archibald Caulder turned him on to archaeology, and his roommate Johnny showed him how much he didn’t know about women.  Now, at thirty-five, Don is a professor at UNC, lecturing, writing papers, and looking forward to summers when he can be out in the field on a dig.

As this novel opens, Don has just received a phone call from Professor Caulder.  His mentor has been working at a dig site in Manteo, North Carolina.  Caulder has unearthed an old journal–so old that it may be from the Lost Colony.  Now that’s the kind of news that get Don in his car fastOver cognac, Don and Caulder examine the book. Could it be that this is really Ananias Dare’s journal? Caulder has not shown it to anyone working at his dig.  Instead he intrust the book to Don, asking him to get it authenticated–and to get away from Manteo.

Driving back to his beach house in Swan Quarter, Don wonders what to make of his old teacher–Is the book for real?  Is Caulder unnecessarily paranoid about the other researchers at the dig site?  Before the dawn breaks, both questions are answered.  As Don reads the journal, he sees the names one expects and observations and situations that ring true.  He falls asleep thinking about the year 1587, but he is abruptly awakened by a phone call from highway patrol telling him that Caulder has died in a house fire.  Before Don can process the news, two strange cars pull in and block his driveway. Don’s Seal training saves his life, as he slips out the backdoor before his house goes up in flames.

So begins this adventure tale.  Don Robeson will be on the run, barely one step of well-funded killers who want the journal.  He is aided in his adventure Caulder’s beautiful daughter, by his college buddy Johnny, and by a backwoods woman named Ginny Dare.  Not everyone is what they appear to be in a story that has several twist and turns.  History buff will enjoy the excerpts from the journal which reveal the challenges that the colonist faced–and their eventual fate.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Coast, Dare, Historical, Hyde, Leal, George Foster, Suspense/Thriller