Book Review: June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore—and a Giveaway!

JuneJune
Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Crown, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-553-44768-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Twenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in rural St. Jude, Ohio, mourning the loss of the woman who raised her—her grandmother, June. But a knock on the door forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery’s vast fortune. How did Jack Montgomery know her name? Could he have crossed paths with her grandmother all those years ago? What other shocking secrets could June’s once-stately mansion hold?

Soon Jack’s famous daughters come knocking, determined to wrestle Cassie away from the inheritance they feel is their due. Together, they all come to discover the true reasons for June’s silence about that long-ago summer, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered by murder, blackmail, and betrayal. As this page-turner shifts deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages.

When I first started reading June, I have to admit I was thinking I might be sorry because the opening pages smack of magical realism and I REALLY don’t like that. Happily, though, I pushed on and the story soon became a pretty straightforward tale, albeit set in two time periods 60 years apart. The POV in 1955 is from a girl named Lindie whose best friend, and object of her affection, is June. In present day, the focus is on June’s grandaughter, Cassie. It’s during Lindie’s and June’s time that we get the first hint of the dark things that happened back then.

These three young women are each very interesting in different ways. June appears to be the proper daughter raised in gentility who never breaks the rules and always does what’s expected of her. Lindie is the girl exploring her lesbianism and she goes overboard in trying to make herself unattractive, perhaps an effort to play down her girlness. And then there’s Cassie who initially seems to be in the grip of a deep depression, unable to cope with the necessities of everyday life, but she’s soon rocked out of her somber, uncaring mood by the news that she has inherited a huge fortune from a man who claimed he was her grandfather.

The coming battle between Cassie and Jack Montgomery’s acknowledged family is just what you might expect but her search for the facts leads to answers she certainly never anticipated and it’s June’s and Lindie’s stories that are really compelling.

Beautifully written prose and easy transitions from one time period to the other and back add to characters who are as appealing as any reader could want. Author Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, unknown to me before now, already has a reputation as a fine writer and June should be seen as another feather in her cap.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2016.

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About the Author

Miranda Beverly-WhittemoreMiranda Beverly-Whittemore is the author of three other novels: New York Times bestseller Bittersweet; Set Me Free, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, given annually for the best book of fiction by an American woman; and The Effects of Light. A recipient of the Crazyhorse Prize in Fiction, she lives and writes in Brooklyn.

Connect with Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

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Book Review: Isolation by Mary Anna Evans

Isolation EvansIsolation
A Faye Longchamp Mystery #9
Mary Anna Evans
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2015
ISBN 978-1-4642-0402-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Archaeologist Faye Longchamp-Mantooth has dug herself a deep hole and she can’t make her way out of it. As she struggles to recover from a shattering personal loss, she sees that everyone she loves is trying to reach out to her. If only she could reach back. Instead she’s out digging holes all over her home, the Florida island of Joyeuse.

In their old plantation home, Joe Wolf Mantooth is surrounded by family—Faye, the wife he loves; their toddler son he adores; and his father, who hasn’t gotten around to telling him how long he’s been out of prison or how he got there—yet Joe has never felt so helpless or alone.

Then a close friend at the local marina is brutally murdered, the first in a string of crimes against women that rocks Micco County. Joe, desperate to help Faye, realizes she is in danger from both her inner demons and someone who has breached the island’s isolation. Local law and environmental officials say they want to help, but to Faye and Joe they feel more like invaders. A struggling Faye reaches back over a century into her family’s history for clues. And all the while, danger snakes further into their lives, threatening the people they love, their cherished home, even the very ground—some of it poisoned—beneath their feet.

There are some authors I know I can always count on to give me a good story, to take me away for just a few hours from the trials and tribulations of real life. They are the ones I always go back to when I feel the need for some familiarity, sort of like the old friend you haven’t seen in a while but you suddenly have the urge to catch up. Mary Anna Evans is one of those authors for me and, once again, she brought a tale that engaged me from beginning to end.

This time, Faye is keeping to home ground, literally, while she mourns a loss and retreats into herself to try to cope, not always very well. Her digging is aimless although she does have some purpose in mind but her husband, Joe, sees only the reclusive sadness that is tearing her apart. His own grief is more in the background and he has found his own sort of distraction in his father, a man he doesn’t like much. Out of desperation, Joe has been taking his father to the local marina just so he doesn’t have to talk to him and it’s on one of those visits that they find their friend Liz floating in the water.

Then Faye strikes something in one of those endless holes she’s been digging and she and Joe soon find themselves surrounded by environmentalists and a lot of questions, especially since Faye’s grandmother, Cally, might have had something to do with this potential disaster. Before Faye finds the answers she needs, another devastating loss could bring her to her knees.

My affinity with Faye is a little odd because we really have very little in common, only a love of history and my own very fleeting thought, years ago, of becoming an archaeologist. It’s a testament to Ms. Evans’ ability to craft a living, breathing character—and not just Faye—that I feel compelled to keep up with Faye’s life and her ongoing search for her own family history. In Isolation, Ms. Evans created a plot that’s unique and intriguing but it’s the people who continue to call me back. There are no disappointments here except that I have to wait endlessly for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2015.

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An Excerpt from Isolation

Fish know which docks are owned by people who are generous with their table scraps. In the evenings, they gather around wooden posts that vibrate with the footsteps of a human carry- ing food. They wait, knowing that potato peels and pork chop bones will soon rain from the sky. They race to skim the surface for floating bread crumbs. They dive, nibbling at each half-eaten hot dog as it sinks. When a restaurant, even a shabby dive where hungry people clean their plates, throws its detritus off one par- ticular dock every night, fish for miles around know all about it.

On this night, the fish wait below a dock that has always offered a nightly feast. Tonight, they feel the vibrations of familiar feet. The food falls into the water, as always, and the sound of a stainless steel spoon scraping the bottom of a stainless steel pot passes from the air above to the water below. Everything is as it has been, until a sharp noise jabs into the water hard enough for the fish to hear it. The spoon falls.

The spoon is large, designed for a commercial kitchen, so it hits the water with a smack that can be heard both above and below the surface. A scream falls into the fishes’ underworld along with the spoon.

A big pot, with food scraps still clinging to its inner surface, hits the water an instant later. Only creatures with the agility of the waiting fish could scatter quickly enough to avoid being hit.

After another heartbeat, something else falls among them, something bigger and softer. Soon there are two somethings, both with arms and legs and feet and hands, one that gurgles and another that leaves when the gurgling stops.

The thing that stays behind is a human body. As it settles in the water, tiny minnows nestle in the long hair that floats around it like seaweed. Catfish explore its ten long fingers with their tentacled mouths. None of them associate its two bare feet with the sprightly vibrations that had always signaled a rain of food.

Before long, predators appear, drawn by the smell of blood.

Chapter Two

Joe Wolf Mantooth was worried about his wife.

Faye was neglecting their business. She was neglecting her health. He wanted to say she was neglecting her children, but it would kill her to think he believed such a thing, so he spent a lot of time telling that part of himself to be quiet. He also wanted to say she was neglecting him, but it would kill him to believe it, so he spent the rest of his time telling that other part of himself to be quiet. Or to shrivel up and die. Because if he ever lost Faye, that’s what Joe intended to do. Shrivel up and die.

The children seemed oblivious to the changes in their mother.

Michael, at two, saw nothing strange about her leaving the house every morning with her archaeological tools. She had always done that.

Amande was away from home, doing an immersion course in Spanish at a camp situated so high in the Appalachians that she’d asked for heavy sweaters long before Halloween. Faye had been too distracted to put them in the mail. Joe had shopped for them, boxed them up, and sent them off. Faye seemed to have forgotten that her daughter had ever said, “I’m cold.”

Amande was perceptive for seventeen. If she hadn’t noticed that Joe had been doing all the talking for the last month, she would notice soon. Lately, when faced with a call from her daughter, Faye murmured a few distracted words before pretending that Michael needed a diaper change. If Faye didn’t come up with another excuse to get off the phone, Amande might soon call 911 and ask the paramedics to go check out her brother’s chronic diarrhea.

Though Joe did speak to Amande when she called, surely she had noticed by now that he said exactly nothing. What was he going to say?

The closest thing to the truth was “Your mother’s heart fell into a deep hole when she miscarried your baby sister, and I’m starting to worry that we may never see it again,” but Joe was keeping his silence. Faye had forbidden him to tell Amande that there wasn’t going to be a baby sister.

Was this rational? Did Faye think that her daughter was never going to fly home to Florida, bubbling with excitement over her Appalachian adventure and the coming baby?

If she did, it was yet more evidence supporting Joe’s fear that Faye’s mind wasn’t right these days. Every morning brought fresh proof of that not-rightness as she walked away from him…to do what? As best he could tell, she was carefully excavating random sites all over their island. If she’d found anything worth the effort, he sure didn’t know about it.

In the meantime, Joe sat in the house, face-to-face with a serious problem. This problem was almost as tall and broad as Joe. His hair had once been as dark. His skin was the same red- brown, only deeper. This was a problem Joe had been trying to outrun since he was eighteen years old.

His father.

“Try this spot.”

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Faye Longchamp-Mantooth believed in intuition. It had always guided her work as an archaeologist. After she’d gathered facts about a site’s history, inspected the contours of the land, and scoured old photographs, she always checked her gut response before excavating. Her gut was often right. It was only recently, however, that her gut had begun speaking out loud and in English. Lately, her gut had been urging her to skip the boring research and go straight for the digging.

“Have you ever excavated here before?” its voice asked. Faye’s answer was no.

“Then try this spot.”

Every day, Joyeuse Island sported more shallow pits that had yielded nothing. Of course, they had yielded nothing. Faye had failed to do her homework. But going to the library or sitting at her computer would require her to be still and think. Thinking was painful these days, so she skipped it.

“Okay,” she said, not pleased to see that she’d begun answering the voice out loud, “I’ll give it a shot. But I don’t think there’s anything here.”

Her hand was remarkably steady for the hand of a woman who’d been hearing voices for a month. She used it to guide her trowel, removing a thin layer of soil.

She would have known this old trowel in the dark. Her fingers had rubbed the finish off its wooden handle in a pattern that could match no hand but hers. Since God hadn’t seen fit to let her grow the pointy metal hand she needed for her work, she’d chosen this one tool to mold into a part of herself.

Faye was working in sandy soil as familiar as the trowel. It was her own. She’d been uncovering the secrets of Joyeuse Island since she was old enough to walk, and she would never come to the end of them. As she grew older, she saw the need to mete out her time wisely, but she rebelled against it. The past would keep most of its secrets, and this made her angry.Faye didn’t know where to dig, because she didn’t know what she was trying to find. It would help if the voice ever offered a less hazy rationale for ordering her out of the house. All it said was “You can find the truth. Don’t let this island keep its secrets from you.”

Her frenetic busyness was an antidote for the times the voice tiptoed into ground that shook beneath her feet. It crept into dangerous territory and then beckoned her to follow. It asked her to believe that she was to blame for the baby’s death, for the mute suffering in Joe’s eyes, for every tear Michael shed.

This was craziness. Two-year-olds cried several times a day. Men who had lost babies suffered. And there was rarely any blame to be handed out in the wake of a miscarriage, even late miscarriages that carry away a child who has been bumping around in her mother’s womb long enough for mother and daughter to get to know one another.

Still, the voice said Faye was to blame, so she believed it. And it told her that it was possible to dig up peace, so she dug.

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About the Author

Photo credit Randy Batista, Media Image Photography, Gainesville, Florida

Photo credit Randy Batista, Media Image Photography, Gainesville, Florida

Mary Anna Evans is the author of the award-winning Faye Longchamp archaeological mysteries–Artifacts, Relics, Effigies, Findings, Floodgates, Strangers, and Plunder. She has degrees in physics and chemical engineering. Her background includes stints in environmental consulting and university administration, as well as a summer spent working offshore in the oil fields. Writing lets her spend weeks indulging her passion for history, archeology, and architecture, and months making up stories. Mary Anna is preparing to move to Oklahoma since accepting an Associate Professor position with the University of Oklahoma.

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Book Reviews: Cemetery Whites by Connie Knight and A Treacherous Paradise by Henning Mankell

Cemetery WhitesCemetery Whites
A Caroline Hargrove Hamilton Mystery
Connie Knight
Maple Creek Media, April 2013
ISBN No.: 9780985967895
Ebook

Henrietta Hargrove Harrell had driven the dirt roads of DeWitt County for her entire eighty-five years.  Professor Thomas Harrison of San Antonio had been told about Henrietta and on his trip to Yorktown he knocked on Henrietta’s door and introduced himself.  The Professor asked Henrietta to drive him to the Hargrove Family Cemetery.  He told her that seeing the graveyard would fit into some historical research of his.  Henrietta, known as Great Aunt Hettie to the Hargrove clan agreed.  But just in case some problem might crop up, Henrietta brought along Dolnny Harrell, her thirty-three year old grandson, as well as a Colt 45 in her purse.

None of the three in Henrietta’s vehicle noticed the little grey car following along behind.  When Henrietta pulled up at the cemetery the grey car parked in some brush to hide.   The Professor stated that he wanted to see some of the graves in the older section of the cemetery, specifically Thomas Watson Hargrove and his wife, Elizabeth Dennison, early settlers to the area.

Henrietta pointed out the grave where a large patch of white Irises known as Cemetery Whites grew.    The trip to the cemetery didn’t end well for the professor or Henrietta or her grandson.

Caroline Hargrove Hamilton has just relocated from Houston, Texas after the death of her husband.  Caroline has moved back to DeWitt County.  She determines while in Yorktown she will study the history of her family and perhaps be able to publish some articles of historical value.

Caroline’s cousin Janet volunteers to chauffer Caroline around and one of the first stops is the cemetery.  Henrietta is nowhere to be seen but the Professor is lying amount the Cemetery Whites.  It appears that the Professor has been shot.

So begins Caroline and Janet’s investigation into the murder as well as learning much about the family history.  The two dug up a lot of the past and learned about new connections to the family that no one had discovered previously.

This was an interesting book and I look forward to Caroline’s future adventures if the series is carried on.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, December 2013.

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A Treacherous ParadiseA Treacherous Paradise
Henning Mankell
Translated by Laurie Thompson
Alfred A. Knopf, July 2013
ISBN 978-0-307-96122-8
Hardcover

Truth: documents were discovered that told of a Swedish white woman who lived in Africa in the Portuguese founded town of Lourenco Marques. This woman ran a brothel. The record doesn’t say anything about this woman, why she lived in the town, or what happened to her. Apparently, she disappeared as mysteriously as she appeared. Author Henning Mankell tells her tale in this novel of speculative fiction.

1904. Hanna Lundmark, raised in Sweden is forced by her mother to travel to the coast to find work since their meager farm is failing. Soon, she’s on a ship bound for Australia. She marries one of the sailors but a month later, at an African port, he dies. Unable to cope with the grief by staying aboard, she departs and ends up living in a brothel. From then on, she sees her life change in so many ways as she interacts with the native population of blacks, and the numerous whites from various countries.

I wasn’t too sure about this book and even after finishing, am not completely certain of my feelings. It’s long with a long build-up at the beginning detailing much of Hanna’s life. It lacks high action but only because it’s not a mystery/thriller type of book. This is a book about culture, about discovery of attitude and emotions, of decisions made and the consequences that follow. This book shows the racism of the period, of the distrust from both blacks and whites.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, September 2013.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.