Category Archives: 2010-2019

2010-2019

Jason Mott. The Returned. Don Mills, Ont: Harlequin MIRA, 2013.

The ReturnedIf someone you loved came back from the dead, exactly as they were before they died, would you want them back in your life again? That’s one of the many questions Agent Martin Bellamy asks Lucille and Harold Hargrave.

People around the world have begun to return from the dead suddenly and without explanation. Agent Bellamy works for the International Bureau of the Returned, an organization that was shaped up hastily in the wake of this new phenomenon. The Returned seek out their families and friends and the Bureau helps reconnect them to their loved ones. Despite the Bureau’s involvement, they are just as baffled as the rest of the world. In truth, the Bureau has simply been “counting people and giving them directions home,” plus filing some paperwork in the process. The Returned can appear anywhere, at any time. Lucille and Harold’s eight year-old son Jacob is found in a village near Beijing.

On August 15, 1966, Jacob Hargrave died on his eighth birthday. His death was accidental and tragic. Since Jacob’s passing, his parents sidestepped their grief. Instead of acknowledging their pain, Lucille and Harold avoided the topic. Decades later, when Jacob reappears, Harold can’t recall Jacob’s name. In his advancing age, Harold has started shrinking, a factor he attributes to his recently curbed smoking habit. By contrast, Lucille has remained in comparably solid physical shape for her age. But nothing makes Harold feel his age so much as the newly returned Jacob, preserved as an eight year-old. Lucille eases instinctively back into her role as mother, though her behavior surprises her. Still Harold and Lucille’s faded memories and the awkward gap between their old age and Jacob’s youth reveals the difficulty of passed time. Suspicions, particularly on Harold’s part, that Jacob is not a real living and breathing person doesn’t help matters. Although Harold and Lucille have been reunited with their son, it won’t be easy to pick up right where they left off.

Their reunion is not an insular event though. As the numbers of the Returned increase, people start to speak out against the “miracle.” The True Living Movement was founded as a campaign to support the living. It tended to attract anti-government enthusiasts. Supporters of True Living are concerned with reestablishing the natural order of the world, which means sending the Returned back to where they supposedly belong. Although True Living is more extremist in its approach, the US government is equally uneasy about the Returned. The government’s mandates for the Returned increase quickly from home confinement to containment in special camps. Tensions mount as small-town Arcadia, and the world, is ripped apart, seam by seam, from the panic surrounding the Returned.

The Returned is poet Jason Mott’s first novel. Mott has written two poetry collections previously. He holds a BA and MFA in creative writing from UNC-Wilmington. His novel was selected by Plan B, Brad Pitt’s production company, to be adapted into a television series. Mott’s background as a poet is obvious; his writing is lyrical and sophisticated. The novel is told in the third-person with standard enumerated chapters, but Mott intersperses the central story and its chapters with vignettes of the Returned. Mott also forms convincing relationships and connections between his characters, like the playful jabs between Lucille and Harold and Jacob’s goofy jokes. Don’t read the novel expecting pure science fiction or detailed answers at the end. There are no satisfying answers here. Mott explores memory and time as well as loss and second chances with loved ones.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog. And read this article from The Daily Tar Heel to learn more about the inspiration behind Jason Mott’s novel and his writing process.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Mott, Jason

Jane Tesh. Now You See It. Scottsdale, AZ: Poisoned Pen Press, 2013.

now

Rabbits are the animals most often associated with magicians, but Wizards of Wonder, the magicians club in Now You See It, is more of a snake pit. The Finch brothers, Lucas and Taft, are the peacemakers in the group.  They get the idea to channel their colleagues’ energies in a positive direction by having a contest. Whoever can open the special box the brothers have–a box that once belonged to the great magician Harry Houdini–can help themselves to any of the the brothers’ magic props.  But before the contest gets going, someone steal the Houdini box.

Although this is clearly a crime, the Finch brothers do not want to involve the police.  Instead they contact David Randall, a private investigator who is the main character in this and the two earlier books in the Grace Street Mystery series. David’s business is just limping along, so he is happy for the case. But when Taft Finch is murdered and one of the other magicians attacked, David knows that this is about more than a simple theft. Professional jealousy, deception, thwarted romance all swirl together.

This is the third Grace Street Mystery, and characters and issues from the early novels are present in Now You See It.  David’s romance with Kary is progressing, and David’s dreams of his dead daughter are becoming more a source of comfort than pain. David’s housemate and friend, Cameron wants to propose to his lady love, Ellin, but she has been distracted by her job on the Psychic Service Network–and her work problems cleverly figure in the plot.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Tesh, Jane

Lisa Wingate. The Prayer Box. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2013.

The Prayer Box“I don’t believe it,” I answer. “Men are always trying to solve the mysteries of God, but they never will.”

She plucks a whelk shell from the sand, contemplates it, turning it over with her bone-thin fingers. “There will always be another mystery. God is infinite.”

Ninety-one year-old Iola Anne Poole doesn’t have the best reputation. The people of Fairhope regard her as a hermit and a squatter. Word around town is that Iola wormed the Benoit House away from its rightful owners. Girard Benoit’s nephews intended to sell the estate to a group of locals who had grand plans to turn the Victorian house into an upscale beach resort on Hatteras Island. But supposedly Iola intervened and manipulated the old Mr. Benoit, who was not in a clear frame of mind. Or so the story goes.

Meanwhile, thirty-three year-old Tandi Jo Reese has recently started renting Iola’s nearby cottage. Desperate and down on her luck, Tandi fled from an abusive and criminal husband with her two children, JT (age 9) and Zoey (age 14). Without a home, the cottage was the best deal Tandi could find, apart from sleeping in her car. But her money is running out. The rent is already overdue and Tandi is struggling to find a job that will hire her since she is too afraid to provide any details of her former life.

Tandi grew up in a family of slick smooth talkers – her father, her mother and her sister, Gina – who merge fact with fiction to get what they want. Her home life was tumultuous. Then again, it still is. Although Tandi has escaped from her husband, Trammel, she sees the disillusionment in her kids’ faces. Up until Tandi decided to leave, she hadn’t been the world’s greatest mom. After an accident, she became hooked on Oxycontin and walked around in a doped up haze. Because of her tough upbringing and her abusive husband, Tandi hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time, if ever. Now JT and Zoey’s faith in their mother is wavering.

One day, not long after Tandi and her kids have moved into the cottage, she notices a suspicious lack of movement in Iola’s house. When she investigates, she finds Iola’s body lying peacefully in a bed. At first, Tandi is worried that hubbub surrounding Iola’s death might draw notice to the fact that she’s behind on the rent. But Tandi isn’t aware of Iola’s general unpopularity around Fairhope. Tandi’s financial woes aren’t a complete secret though. One of the lay people at the Fairhope Fellowship Church strikes a bargain with Tandi: she will clean out Iola’s house in exchange for her rent.

Tandi accepts the deal. But it isn’t an easy job. The house has been damaged by the most recent hurricane. Architecturally, the house is unsound. Buckets are scattered throughout the rooms to catch dripping water. And Iola hoarded a massive stockpile of food from home grocery deliveries. Canned goods flooding out of the pantry shock Tandi, especially since she can barely afford food for JT and Zoey without skipping meals herself. However, the prayer boxes are the best surprise that Tandi stumbles upon.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a prayer box, check out this blog entry by Lisa Wingate on making and using prayer boxes. The basic concept behind a prayer box is to create a box or decorate a pre-existing box, which the owner will fill with prayers and reflections, or even favorite scriptures. Every year, for eighty-one years, Iola fashioned a prayer box and filled it with letters to her father. As Tandi combs through the boxes she relates the struggles in Iola’s life to her own. Strangely, the lessons in Iola’s letters resurface and guide her through this trying chapter in her life. And in the process, Tandi discovers that Iola was not the woman that many presumed her to be.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coast, Dare, Religious/Inspirational, Wingate, Lisa

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

Electra Rome Parks. When Baldwin Loved Brenden. Deer Park, NY: Urban Books, 2013.

when baldwin lovedFor many people, those college years are the most intense period of their lives.  Friendship are made, identities are established, and hearts are won and lost.  So it was for “The Group,” five African Americans in the 1980s attending a school similar to North Carolina State University.  Brenden, Christopher, Bria, Baldwin, and Rihanna had good times–Christopher and Bria partying and hooking up with abandon, Brenden and Baldwin falling in love, and Rihanna keeping everyone from getting too far off track.

But as tight as their friendships were, The Group came apart. In the ten years since their graduation, communications were infrequent, and face-to-face get-togethers just didn’t happen.  It’s Rihanna’s death that brings them back together, at least for a few days.  In that time the friends confront their mistakes, bad choices, and secrets. Readers learn what happened between Brenden and Baldwin, the things that Christopher and Rihanna did that made a bad situation worse, and the secret that wild child Bria was keeping even from herself.  Their few days together, mourning Rihanna and reconsidering the past, allow them to move on with their lives and for them to support each other in the good–and sad–times ahead.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Parks, Electra Rome, Piedmont, Wake

Sharyn McCrumb. King’s Mountain. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013.

kingsSharyn McCrumb is a descendant of the Overmountain Men, the 18th century backcountry fighters who turned the tide of the Revolutionary War by their defeat of British forces and Tory sympathizers at King’s Mountain. One of those Overmountain Men, John Sevier, narrates much of the novel, and readers see the events leading up to the battle, the fight, and its aftermath through his eyes.

Sevier, and other historical figures such as Isaac Shelby and Col. William Campbell, come to life through McCrumb’s description and dialog.  Readers get a good sense of what motivated Sevier to settle where he did, the dangers of moving the the west side of the mountains, and why the threats from British army major Patrick Ferguson prompted Sevier, Shelby, and their kin to act.  The battle and its human cost are well portrayed, and readers will feel interest in both the historical figures who exploits they already know of and the purely fictional characters whose stories round out the narrative.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Historical, McCrumb, Sharyn, Mountains

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

Lee Smith. Guests on Earth. New York: Algonquin Books, 2013.

Guests on EarthEvalina Toussaint is the narrator of many stories. From page one she insists her reminisces of Zelda Fitzgerald are the primary focus of this story. But Lee Smith’s Guests on Earth isn’t a novel about Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s a novel that Zelda Fitzgerald happens to appear in. As Evalina concedes, “Is any story not always the narrator’s story, in the end?” The infamous Zelda imbues Smith’s work of fiction with color and historical context, but she’s a glittering gem in Evalina’s kaleidoscopic world. A detached and detailed narrator, Evalina holds the kaleidoscope and watches all characters scatter and shift around her.

Evalina was born the daughter of an exotic dancer named Louise. She is devoted to her mother. They live in the French Quarter in New Orleans. Louise gains the affections of a Mr. Arthur Graves, a wealthy cotton broker, who dotes on her and Evalina. When Louise becomes pregnant, Mr. Graves furnishes a house outside of the Quarter, in a more respectable suburb. But the relationship sours after a sickly baby arrives and quickly dies. Distraught, Louise commits suicide. The repentant Mr. Graves takes the now orphaned Evalina into his home, Bellefleur, with predictably bad results. After her short-lived stint at Bellefleur, Evalina is shipped off to Highland Hospital in Asheville, partially because she refuses to eat and partially, as the novel suggests, at the urging of Mr. Graves’ wife.

Despite being uprooted again, Evalina acclimates without much trouble. The head doctor’s wife, Grace Potter Carroll, befriends Evalina. Mrs. Carroll heard word of Evalina’s unpolished musical talent before her arrival and offers Evalina piano lessons. Dr. Carroll believes that patients benefit from structure, good nutrition, and plenty of exercise. He orchestrates a schedule of constant activity for the Highland residents. Between the art classes and the hikes and the patient-staged theatricals, Highland feels like an extended summer camp to watch after the mentally ill.

Zelda is one of the many patients traipsing around Highland, but Smith renders her with a radiant energy, distinct from the rest. Evalina learns Zelda’s fickle nature straight away, how she can be friendly one instant and then cruel the next. After their art class, Zelda invites Evalina to make paper dolls and then rips them to shreds. Evalina observes how Zelda never looks the same twice and she notes that Zelda’s face was always shifting. Appropriately, Zelda plays Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary during a ballet at the hospital – one of her many productions at Highland.

Eventually, after some time there, Evalina, like many of the characters, moves on from Highland. She is accepted into the Peabody Institute to study music. Even though Evalina demonstrates immense talent, she prefers to play as an accompanist rather than a soloist. After several years in the real world, Evalina suffers another breakdown that sends her straight back to Highland. Things have changed. New doctors preside over the hospital with different philosophies. None of the old patients remain. Zelda is gone (but not for long).

Yet Highland still feels like home to Evalina. The security of its structure gives Evalina comfort since her childhood was spent in an unconventional environment, due to her mother’s employment. And her mother’s suicide shattered and displaced Evalina during her formative years. Evalina observes that the distinction between mentally sound and mentally unsound is tenuous at best; a line that she and other patients play jump rope with. While Evalina collects stories from the new and incoming residents, she is reticent to share own with others. Smith, in fact, provides many of patients’ stories secondhand, but does not cover much of the ugly reality in them firsthand. As one of the doctors discusses with Evalina, patients only stay at Highland for a brief moment, an excerpt from their entire life. With such a limited glimpse of a person, it is difficult to put a whole life in context. Lee Smith’s Guests on Earth portrays fabricated glimpses of a flamboyant historical figure, infused by the perspective and life story of a fictional and fascinating narrator.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Buncombe, Historical, Mountains, Smith, Lee

William Roy Pipes. Darby. Kent, U.K.: Ecanus Publishing, 2013.

darbyThe impulse for revenge consumes Andrew Woodard.  His father, George Woodard, was murdered in the woods near their home in Wilkes County, North Carolina.  Floyd Caldwell came upon the elder Woodard as he was dying and tried to save his life.  For his kindness, he is regarded with suspicion by the Woodard family, who believe that Floyd killed George over a land deal gone bad.  Even when the sheriff clears Floyd of the crime, bad feelings fester. It finally reaches the point that George’s brother, Virgil Woodard, challenges Floyd to a duel.  The  two men cross over into Tennessee, where dueling is still legal in at this time (1904), and Floyd kills Virgil.

Could that be the end of this feud?  No.  Virgil’s second at the duel was George’s son, Andrew, who vows to avenge both his father and uncle’s deaths. Although a young man, Andrew is exceptionally violent and wily.  Even as other members of the Woodard and Caldwell families move on from the past to make rich lives, Andrew plots his revenge.  Darby follows Andrew through a twenty-year period of crimes, incarceration, deception, and madness in a chilling look at the destructive power of hate and illusion.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Mountains, Pipes, William Roy, Wilkes

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