Posts Tagged ‘Debut Novel’

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

June 18, 2014

The Word ExchangeAfter reading Alena Graedon’s unsettling debut novel The Word Exchange, I will never think of my cell phone the same way again! In a world where libraries, book stores and printed items themselves are disappearing, handheld “memes” become indispensable, even to the point of ordering food for you when you get hungry and helping you “find the right word.”

In this eerily dystopian future, Anana searches for her anti-meme father who goes missing right before the launch of the final dictionary ever to be printed. Her sole clue is a note that says,” ALICE,” which is the code word Doug had given her if he was ever in danger — along with two vials of blue pills should she ever become unexplainably ill. But when a highly contagious pandemic “word flu” erupts, the symptoms include disorientation, garbled words and potential permanent muteness.

There are so many wonderful subplots (and a great romance!) including hidden clues relating to Alice in Wonderland, secret meetings at the Mercantile Library, evasion of dangerous stalking thugs, and overall, the addictive “Word Exchange” game that creates “new words” and so much more!

I particularly enjoyed the book being told from Anana’s perspective, alternating with her colleague and admirer Bart’s journal entries. An alphabetized word and definition begin each chapter, and while I was on a road trip, I was fully aware of the irony of when, at one point, I caved and used my cell phone to expand the definition of that chapter’s word…

A great selection for fans of dystopian societies!

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The Returned by Jason Mott

February 17, 2014

Imagine if that person you loved so dearly who died years ago suddenly showed up on your doorstep, looking just exactly as they did when they were alive and well. Imagine if that started happening all over the world, day after day.

Harold and Lucille Hargrave were an elderly couple living in the small town of Arcadia, North Carolina. Since their only child, Jacob, had drowned on his eighth birthday decades ago, Harold and Lucille’s relationship had become a sharp pebble in a shoe: it was painful, but they just kept walking. Harold constantly battled his desire for cigarettes while he complained about everything, especially anything important to Lucille. She kept her world together by improving her vocabulary—much to Harold’s derision—and maintaining a prim exterior. She clung to a type of small-town religion, fiercely championing her own opinions by prefacing them with “the Bible says….” When Agent Martin Bellamy knocks on the door with little Jacob beside him, this fossilized couple is thrust back into the role of being the parents of a young boy.

It’s happening everywhere. A Japanese man runs into a convenience store, screaming “I surrender!” No one knows what he’s surrendering for. A famous French artist comes back to life, but has no interest in enjoying his posthumous fame, only in worshipping the woman he loved, who is now well past caring. Others wait for their beloved dead, but they never appear. There are so many of the Returned. Are they really human? Where can we house them all? Should they be allowed to mix with the True Living?

In the Author’s Note, debut North Carolina author Jason Mott reveals that part of his reason for writing The Returned was to allow himself another chance to live through his own mother’s death, to try to love her more worthily this time. He walks through his own novel as one of the characters, and the reader can watch his heartfelt desire for closure. Both a fascinating study of human nature and a deeply personal journey, The Returned uses fantastical catastrophes to reveal the sometimes surprising depths of the human soul. This review appeared previously at

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32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter

February 5, 2014

Most of us have felt like the ugly duckling at some point in time, but Davidia Jones deals with this from elementary school through high school.  Davidia has been nicknamed “Monkey Night” and this is how she is addressed by her peers. Davidia’s mother, Cora lacks compassion and her only concern seems to be alcohol and men.  After a harsh spanking and tongue lashing from her mother, six year old Davidia stops talking. Sixteen Candles is Davidia’s favorite movie and when she gets to high school she thinks she has found her Jake Ryan.  James Farrell is her Jake Ryan, he is handsome, rich and athletic, and she is totally smitten with him. Davidia finally has the opportunity to show her classmates and James Farrell that she is much more than the ugly duckling they think she is, but as luck would have it things don’t work in her favor. After being utterly humiliated by her classmates, Davidia flees Glass, Mississippi for California with a truck driver.

Davidia has found her voice again and when she gets to California, Mama Jane, the truck driver convinces her nephew, Nicky to give Davidia a job at his night club. Davidia shortens her name to Davie and is now a sultry nightclub singer at Nicky’s. Davidia has completely reinvented herself and life in California is good. After leaving a singing telegram gig, Davidia literally runs into James Farrell, her high school crush. Davidia and James start dating but James does not remember her from high school and she doesn’t bother to tell him. As the story progresses, we find out that Davidia has been getting revenge on her high school classmates by using some of her L.A. connections. Will Davidia get her Sixteen Candles ending with James Farrell or will her inability to let go of the past ruin everything?

Debut Author, Ernessa T. Carter did an excellent job with this coming of age story, it was refreshing to see Davidia escape her unfortunate home situation and eventually come into her own. Carter draws you into Davidia’s corner and you will find yourself rooting for her as she goes through her ups and downs. I hope that a sequel is in the works, I would love to what‘s next for Davidia. ”

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Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Sharon S’s Picks

December 23, 2013

One of the reasons why I like to read is for inspiration and instruction on how to live a better life. Here are the “new to me” books that inspired me most this year.

Healing Through Exercise by Jorg Blech
We all know that exercise can help prevent illness, but Jorg Blech provides well-documented evidence that exercise also promotes healing from existing illness. That means it is never too late to start. Even moderate exercise can have profound effects. The body atrophies more and more the longer we sit or lie in bed, so Blech urges us to get moving in whatever way we can to improve our health and extend our range of motion. Read my full review.

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
First-time novelist Mayhew has crafted a wonderful tale of growing up in the South in the 1950s. The story is told by 14-year-old Jubie, whose unjaded point of view enables her to understand many things the grown-ups around her fail to notice. In the face of tragedy, Jubie finds the courage to act on what she knows to be true, even though it goes against the grain of her society. Read my full review.

Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard
Is America still a place where you can make a life for yourself with very little besides hard work and gumption? Shepard decided to find out by starting a new life as a homeless man in an unfamiliar city. What he was able to achieve and how is a fascinating and thought-provoking tale. Read my full review.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho’s characters are afraid of happiness; after all, it might be better to keep on dreaming than to realize your dreams and be disappointed in them. This story of a young shepherd who dared to pursue his dream in the face of many obstacles has inspired countless readers. It is a good place to start if you want to read the works of this internationally acclaimed author.

The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius by Kristine Barnett
Jake Barnett is a 14-year-old genius who is working on a new theory of relativity which is expected to put him in line for the Nobel Prize. However, this biography is his mother’s story of how she brought out the best in a child who was diagnosed as profoundly autistic and unable to learn. It is a story of courage and creativity which is my favorite true story of the year. Read my full review.

A Different Sun by Elaine Neil Orr

September 18, 2013

Emma grew up in the 1840’s in Georgia, the daughter of slave owners. From an early age she knew it was wrong to own other human beings, but she did not know what she could do about this terrible injustice. Her father was unpersuadable on this point, and feelings of guilt grew steadily inside her as she saw people she cared about being mistreated and maimed.

Henry also grew up feeling tremendous guilt, but from a different source. His mother, whom he revered, died when he was young. The only way he could find to assuage his sorrow was to travel ceaselessly from place to place, fighting the Indians with Texas Rangers, or just drifting.

Emma and Henry meet after Henry’s religious conversion, when he has decided to become a missionary, to pour all his dissatisfaction and wanderlust into the service of the gospel. For Emma, Henry represents an escape from the boredom and injustices of home. He will take her to Africa—the big country on her father’s globe, the country where Uncle Eli and Mittie Ann and Carl come from.

From this point follows an amazing and beautiful story of two people who grow to love each other—and their new country—under the most trying of circumstances. Orr based her fictional story upon the lives of Lurana and Thomas Bowen, the first Southern Baptist missionaries to Africa, with reminiscences from her own missionary parents.

Henry and Emma do not come across as heroes; indeed, they have much to learn from the African wisdom that is pragmatic and close to nature, though possessed of a deep spirituality. Henry’s near-fatal bouts with malaria drive him to the brink of madness while Emma is heavily pregnant with their child. In her loneliness and desperation, she feels a strong attraction to the African man, Jacob, who takes care of them. The choices she makes under these difficult circumstances will impact their lives, their mission, and their community.

Orr’s compressed, restrained style allows the story to unfold slowly and beautifully, without forcing any morals on us. Emma, Henry, and the diverse people they meet on their new continent are fully realized and sympathetic characters, each one unique and compelling. It is a tale of loss, tragedy, triumph, and humility—all in all, a very human tale that will continue to haunt me for years to come.

Elaine Orr along with several other local authors will be at West Regional Library on September, 24th, please visit our website for more details.

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Dry Grass of August by Anna-Jean Mayhew

September 11, 2013

Seventy-three year old first-time novelist Anna-Jean Mayhew has created a story about a troubled family in troubled times. Set in her hometown of Charlotte, NC, in 1954, it is the tale of a well-to-do white family who finds their lives intersecting with the black community in ways they never anticipated.

The story is told by the character of Jubie, the fourteen-year-old daughter, who has always been very close to Mary, the family’s black housekeeper. Jubie’s mother, Paula, is more concerned with her membership in the Myers Park Country Club and her charge account at Montaldo’s than with her four children. Jubie’s father Bill is a prominent businessman who presents an impeccable front to the community, but drinks too much at home and beats his children. 

The four children all have their own ways of coping with their father’s rages and their mother’s disinterest. Stell Ann, the oldest, finds solace in her recent religious awakening. Puddin, as the youngest daughter is called, handles stress by finding a place to hide. Davey is just a baby, too young to understand much beyond his own needs.

For Jubie, there’s Mary—her source of wisdom, her shoulder to cry on. To her parents, Mary is just a maid, but Jubie understands and loves her. It takes a sudden tragedy to open the parents’ eyes and make them see the important things they have overlooked.

I was also born and raised in Charlotte, and this is the first time I have ever read a novel based in the “Queen City.” Though my childhood came somewhat later than the time period described by Mayhew, I can relate to many of the details of segregation and discrimination she describes. It was mesmerizing for me to revisit in fiction the places I once knew so well—Myers Park, Queens Road, Kings Drive, Selwyn Avenue, McDowell Street.

Mayhew’s characters are realistic and believable. We feel with Jubie the awakening romantic feelings of a young teen, her dawning awareness of a bigger world outside her immediate circle. We see Jubie growing from a child into a woman, coming to the painful realization that sometimes she knows more than her parents do, and finding the courage to act upon her beliefs.

Though our circumstances may be different, we can all relate in some way to Jubie’s story, as we continue along on the journey called “growing up.”

Anna Jean Mayhew along with several other local authors will be at North Regional Library on September, 15th, please visit our website for more details.

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The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

July 12, 2013

index.aspxSet in the pinewoods of South Carolina in the mid 1960s, The Secret Life of Bees envelopes you like a sultry summer day. You can hear the bees humming and smell the scent of honey and jessamine flowers. You can feel the warmth rising from the sun-baked grass and see the heat lightning flash in the darkening sky.

Having lived all my life in the Carolinas, I felt a rush of recognition as I read this book. Though very much bound to its time and place, this is also a universal story. It is about finding your first love, and about hating and loving your parents. It is about the divide between black people and white people that I too observed with uncomprehending eyes in 1964. It is about missing your mother so badly you think you will die, and then finding her in the hearts of people who have been there all along, just waiting for you to love them back.

It is a story about forgiveness. The main person fourteen-year-old Lily cannot forgive is herself. She thinks she is the reason for her mother’s death, for the loss of everything that made life worth living for her.

Bees are living inside the walls of her house, bees that fly around her room in the middle of the night. They inspire her to break free of her abusive father, T. Ray, as her mother, Deborah, also tried to do. A place name scrawled on the back of a mysterious picture that once belonged to her mother beckons to Lily, and she decides to go there, taking along her black housemaid and surrogate mother, Rosaleen, who is in trouble with the town’s worst racists for trying to vote. What she finds there is a place where she can heal, piece together the mystery of how her mother died, accept, and forgive.

Lily’s story is interwoven with images from the lives of bees, how devoted they are to their tireless work, how lost and forlorn they are if their queen dies. In the background, the vine-draped Carolina woods exhale their warm scent, inviting and a little sinister.

This is a story that will touch you in very deep ways. As Lily says, “I realized it for the first time in my life:  there is nothing but mystery in the world, how it hides behind the fabric of our poor, browbeat days, shining brightly, and we don’t even know it.” Sue Monk Kidd’s vivid images and characters opened up that mystery for me, reminding me of things I have always known deep down—and that is exactly what every good story should do.

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Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks

May 31, 2013

Brad Parks is visiting our libraries today and tomorrow, along with Mystery authors Deborah Coonts and Nancy Martin.

Faces of the GoneFour people were shot dead execution style in a vacant lot in Newark, NJ and Carter Ross, an investigative reporter with the Newark Eagle-Examiner, wants to know why. The local police say it’s a revenge killing for robbery gone wrong at the bar across the street. Carter’s sources are telling him that the police have got it all wrong, but who will believe a homeless guy or a go-go dancer? There has to be some other connection between the four victims, but what is it?

Wanda was a single mom with four kids who worked as also worked as a go-go dancer to pay the bills. Tyrone Scott, AKA ‘Hundred Year’, had recently been released from prison and may or may not have been in a gang. Shareef Thomas was the alleged robber of the tavern and the “reason” in the minds of the cops for the murders. Devin Whitehead, AKA Dee-Dub, was a young man also believed to be in a gang, but the Brick City Brown gang, who operated on the other side of town from the murder site. What could tie these four individuals together? Carter is determined to discover the truth about these four brutal murders, no matter what the cost.

Faces of the Gone is a fast paced mystery that reads like a thriller. The rapid fire story takes place both in the gritty streets of Newark as well the newsroom of the Newark Eagle-Examiner. It is the first in the Carter Ross mystery series – followed by Eyes of the Innocent – and is a perfect read for a lazy day at the beach or the pool.

Brad Parks will be appearing along with Deborah Coonts and Nancy Martin today: Friday May 31, 2013 at 2 p.m. at the North Regional Library in Raleigh, and Saturday June 1, 2013 at 2:30 p.m. at the West Regional Library in Cary.

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The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

May 6, 2013

I’m not a huge baseball fan. I mean, I like to have a beer and eat a hot dog as much as the next person (potentially a little more, even) but in terms of watching the game… eh. I realize this is a little un-American to say, but our nation’s pastime can get kind of boring. At least, that’s what I thought until I read Chad Harbach’s debut novel, The Art of Fielding.

Henry Skrimshander was heading nowhere. Literally, he wasn’t going anywhere – born and raised in a mid-sized town in South Dakota, it was looking like he’d be there for a while, until the day that his summer baseball team played against (and lost to) Mike Schwartz’s team. This was the summer after high school had ended for Henry, and he was thinking of settling in at the local community college for a few years, until… what? All he’d ever wanted to do with life was play baseball.

Mike Schwartz, rising sophomore and catcher for the Westish College Harpooners, knew raw talent when he saw it, and see it he did. Suddenly, Henry was on his way to play college ball for Westish, leaving behind a life of working in his father’s metalworking shop or taking classes in bookkeeping to cobble together a career.

Once at Westish, the Harpooners become Henry’s life. Between his jock-friendly classes, team practices, his bench warmer roommate Owen, and Mike’s training regimen, Henry is immersed in baseball, and he thrives in it. By junior year, the recruiters are already hanging on the fences at Harpooners games, waiting to see if Henry can break his hero Aparicio Rodriguez’s record of most consecutive errorless games by a shortstop. As the pressure begins to mount, Henry begins to fail.

It starts with a bad throw made worse by a little bit of wind, and goes downhill from there. Harbach follows Henry’s descent into depression as his confidence is broken and his playing deteriorates rapidly. As the life that Henry has been working towards starts slipping through his fingers, he pulls away from Mike and all that he has held important.

The story is told through a variety of characters, each filling in different holes of the story as it goes forward. Henry, Mike, Owen, Westish College’s President Guert Affenlight, and his estranged daughter Pella, all make up the narrative voice of the story. This was a delightful debut novel. If Harbach can make me care about baseball, I’d like to see more of what he can do.”

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The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

January 16, 2013

When Patrick Peoples leaves a neural health facility in Baltimore, he believes that he has spent a few months there. In reality, he has been in the psychiatric ward for four years.

But reality and Pat do not really get along. So now, he is living in the basement of his parent’s home, being part of a movie directed by none other than God. And God will – naturally – provide an awe-inspiring and uplifting ending. Pat is convinced that this will include the end of “apart time,” and his reunification with Nikki, the woman he married… some time ago.

Now, Pat may not be completely sane, but the world at large isn’t entirely rational either. Pat’s friends are convinced that he has cursed the beloved Philadelphia Eagles when he stops watching their games; Eagles fans taunt former Philadelphia player Terrell Owens who might be in the midst of a severe depression; his friend Danny – who for a long time didn’t talk at all – speaks to the dices when they play Parcheesi; his therapist seems to recommend adultery; his father goes through serious mood swings – sometimes because of the way Eagles play, sometimes, well, who knows why? – and then there is Tiffany, a strange bird who follows him whenever and wherever he is running. Is she scouting him, or what?

While Pat is looking up at clouds, constantly finding silver linings, he is haunted by what he has lost and his archenemy, Kenny G, the musician, who has the ability to show up everywhere, and Pat’s road to recovery is filled with “episodes” and setbacks.  But when things go wrong, he insists that this is how movies work and just before the happy ending there will be complications.

Will Pat get to experience the end of “apart time” and then watch the credits of his movie roll after a feel-good ending? Read and find out.

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