“The girl in the garden” by Melanie Wallace

June is a young mother, timid and painfully thin, with a small infant. She is abandoned by her partner at a seaside tourist cabin somewhere in New England.  Penniless, she is taken in by Mabel, the widow who owns the cabins.  This premise, and the beautiful book cover, are what led me to read “The girl in the garden”.


June is the daughter of ‘trailer-trash’.  She has never known parental love.  Now, age fifteen, she is a mother herself…  When the baby’s father abandons her penniless and alone – she is not surprised at her fate.

“And as she’d lived so much of her life in abandonment, she found desertion a normal state of being.”

Mabel married the love of her life. Now, still reeling from his recent death, she is sympathetic toward June.  She understands loss. Her heart breaks for the plight of June and baby Luke.

“…she knew a great deal about loss and knew that the sorrow it spawns is impervious to consolation, allows no solace”

When Mabel was newly widowed she felt cast adrift – wondering how she could go on… A neighbor, Roland, stepped in and helped her with the night shift at the cabins and any chores that she was unable to do herself.  Now, she doesn’t know how she would manage without him. He is a constant and steadfast ally.

Mabel and Iris are long-time friends.  In fact Mabel is Iris’s ONLY friend.  It is Iris’s choice. After the death of her husband, Iris became a recluse.  Her husband had been physically and emotionally abusive – a monster.  Iris has a daughter Claire.  Claire reminds Iris so much of her dead husband that she cannot abide the sight of her. She has arranged for her lawyer to act on Claire’s behalf.  She has a small cabin built in her garden where Claire is to live on her own – with NO contact from Iris.  In fact, Iris’s only contact with the world is Mabel and her lawyer, Duncan.

When the winter months come, Mabel knows that she cannot let June and baby Luke live in the cold, unheated cabins.  She turns to her friend Iris and, in return for a favor bestowed many years previously, Iris feels obliged to acquiesce to Mabel’s request.  So it is that June and baby Luke move into the cabin in the garden formerly occupied by Iris’s daughter, Claire.

Claire hasn’t lived there for years.  When she graduated from high school she took herself off to see the world through the lens of her camera.  Always more comfortable behind the lens, than any other way.

On the surface a reader might think Iris cold and unfeeling. However people always have their own reasons for behavior which is sometimes shocking and hard to understand.  Iris had a unique marriage that left her shamed and betrayed.  She felt the only way forward was to retreat from the world and her young daughter.

These and other characters in this powerfully written novel are all damaged in some way. In fact, one of my favorite characters in the novel I haven’t yet mentioned.  His name is Oldman.  A WWII veteran and a long confirmed bachelor, he is Duncan’s friend, he was once a friend to Claire, and now he befriends June and baby Luke.

 “it’s never the scars which can be seen that matter”

Oh, and I’d be remiss not to mention Sam.  A Vietnam war veteran he accompanies Claire back to where she grew up.  He and Oldman form a deep, indescribable bond.

“before meeting Oldman his life hadn’t had much rhyme or reason to it and that he’d felt for  a long time that he was at its mercy, which hadn’t been very merciful.”

June, Mabel, Iris, Claire, Duncan, Oldman, and Sam. If “The girl in the garden” were a movie, it would be categorized as an ‘ensemble cast’.  The seven divergent protagonists were equally important in their own right, yet indelibly connected.

This novel was written in a very different style from what I am used to.  There was very little dialogue.  As I kept reading I realized that that was intentional.  All of the characters in this book were essentially solitary people.  So… it stands to reason that we get to hear their thoughts, not their conversation.  For one reason or another they are attempting to navigate life alone.  Despite the long sentences and rambling paragraphs, I found this very easy to read.  The words painted such vivid pictures, and the characters were so engaging that I feel I will miss them all now that I’ve finished the book.  They were all victims of circumstance – yet aren’t we all?


Two scenes that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.  Without giving too much away, I’ll say only that one involves a heroic dog, and the other describes a photograph of two men and two horses.  Truly a magical use of words!

Set during the 1970s, this is a novel about people helping people, “The girl in the garden” is a testament to the good in the world.  Sometimes, with all that is going on, we need reminding. It is also a novel about loss – loss that damages souls – and the souls attempt to heal… A novel peopled with survivors.snowman

I will close this review with a similar scene to the ending of the novel (at which time I was completely verklempt). Literary fiction at its finest!


Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy of this novel in consideration of my review.written-with-american-flags

melanie-wallace,Melanie Wallace was born and raised in New Hampshire and now lives with her husband in Myloi, an agrarian village below the Ohi mountain range in Greece, and in Athens. Her novel The Housekeeper was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Posted in book reviews, Favorite books, Fiction, Literary fiction, NetGalley title | Tagged , | 15 Comments

Some challenges of being a writer (Guest post by attorney/novelist, Steve Clark)

Writing a novel is hard work.  Hard work that some authors make look easy, but it is hard all the same.  Today on Fictionophile I have the privilege of hosting a guest post by attorney/novelist Steve Clark, the author of the legal thrillers “Justice is for the lonely” and, most recently, “Justice is for the deserving”.justice-is-for-the-deservingjustice-is-for-the-lonely







Steve Clark discusses the writing process, character development, and more.  From plotting to first drafts, Steve Clark shares some of the challenges of being a writer.

What’s the hardest part of any novel? The first scene. Make that the first sentence. How many of us have stared for hours at that blank page? Worse—how many have never started a novel for want of a beginning?

In my first book, Justice is for the Lonely, I decided I couldn’t go wrong having the protagonist, Kristen Kerry, confront one of the antagonists in the first scene. Before we get three pages in they have a major conflict, i.e. the guy tries to date-rape our heroine. She beats the crap out of him, and we’re off. Hopefully that was a sufficient carrot to entice people to read on.

 How about those days when the fingers freeze over the keyboard? When I’m floundering, I ask myself, “What would likely happen next?” In Lonely, did the guy survive his whipping? Did Kristen get in trouble for putting the guy in the ER, instead of just throwing him out? So in chapter 2, I switched to the point of view of the failed rapist, Tony Caswell. I described his agony, hoping readers would enjoy a fuller description of his injuries and the difficulty he had getting home. Then I cemented his vow of revenge—putting Kristen’s life in danger.

Caswell’s chapter flowed into the establishment of his boss, Michael Stern as a major character, who starts as a villain, then becomes Kristen’s love interest later in the novel. I showed (hopefully not told) his loveless marriage, his ruthless ambition, his disregard for others’ feelings, his disdain for Caswell, and his determination to later double-cross Kristen in the malpractice case. While Caswell is truly evil I tried to paint the handsome, charming Stern as a ‘bad boy.’

In the next several chapters I set up conflicts over the litigation between Kristen and Stern, gradually painting each becoming attracted to the other. One key to character development is showing that your character is capable of emotional change and overcoming his or her faults. Hopefully I succeeded with Stern in Lonely. I developed the truly evil Leonard Marrs, but kept the parolee away from the other major players, trying to build suspense. When would he manage to get in the Stern house? Who would he assault or kidnap?

A problem with any first draft is keeping the pace, making the reader want to turn pages. I had so much fun getting into the character’s minds and observations that it was difficult to not slow the action down. But keep cranking everything you can—you can go back and cut later. Like running a marathon put one foot in front of the other. You can analyze the race afterwards. Lonely eventually was cut by a third.

Writing the second book, Justice is for the Deserving, entirely in Kristen’s POV was a different challenge. In first person you can’t jump to another character’s thoughts to explain what your narrator will find out or what others are doing. I imagined Kristen sitting down and telling the story after the adventure was over. First person allows greater intimacy with your character—easy to slip right into her thoughts, pick up where I left off. But of course the reader knows she will survive, so the plotting may be harder.

In my third manuscript I arrange immediate conflict between Kristen and her adoptive daughter’s boyfriend. The struggle wasn’t blood chilling, but hints at more to come. The initial hook doesn’t have to be between two people. For instance, in What She Knew by Gillie MacMillan, we learn in the first chapter that the narrator’s son has gone missing. It doesn’t matter yet who took the kid or if he simply got lost, because it’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Before we ever see an antagonist we want to learn what happened to the child.

You can’t increase tension in a parabolic line without interruption or without reaching levels of implausibility. One way of dialing back a bit is creating sub-plots which can be resolved as the main story moves along. They also make good red herrings to keep the reader guessing.

In Justice is for the Lonely I worked several sub-plots which helped advance the main plot. Kristen’s sister lived with an abusive boyfriend. Would she find the courage to leave him? Will Leonard Marrs be paroled to commit mayhem? Will Caswell make partner in Stern’s law firm?

Stern’s paralegal has had a crush on him for years. When I introduced this sub-plot, hopefully readers wondered what she might be willing to do to get Stern relieved of suspicion for his wife’s death.

As you plot your main story line, think of other desires or frustrations that your characters might experience that would generate interesting sub-plots. It’s not enough to have the cab driver who picks up the protagonist announce that his wife doesn’t like him anymore and then disappear. The sub-plot must tie in and be relevant to the conflict between the major characters.  

If you are really stuck start your first draft with action. Sally slaps Bob or Bob plows into the rear of another car while thinking of his ex-wife. Once you have action you can have reaction and may build characters through their responses to the action.

If after hitting the other car, Bob jumps out, feverishly apologizing and accepting responsibility, that defines his character one way. But if he starts screaming at the other driver for having stopped in front of him, threatening to kill him, that defines him quite another way.

It’s trite to say that a first draft consists of simply getting something on paper, but it’s true. Don’t worry whether it’s great.  Remember Hemingway, “All first drafts are shit.” Or Oscar Wilde, “When I write anything especially brilliant, I am sure to tear it up the next morning.”  


Novelist/Attorney Steve Clark

Novelist/Attorney Steve Clark


Steve Clark is an author and lawyer in Oklahoma City specializing in medical malpractice. He is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, an honor limited to the top 1% of attorneys. He is also listed in The Best Lawyers in America.

With a lifetime of practicing law under his belt, Steve began his writing career.  He has authored two legal thrillers featuring the young attorney Kristen Kerry.


Steve’s latest novel, “Justice is for the deserving” is available at the following retailers:




Posted in Authors, Guest post, Legal thrillers, Writing | Tagged , | 3 Comments

“The Doll Funeral” by Kate Hamer – PUBLICATION DAY in UK!

ng-faber-and-faber-wish-granted-the-doll-funeralLast February I read and reviewed Kate Hamer‘s debut novel “The girl in the red coat“. It was a favorite read of 2016 so when I saw her second novel on NetGalley, I was sad to discover that it wasn’t available – but that you could ‘wish for it‘.


The publisher, Faber & Faber, granted my wish!ng-wish-granted

The blurb:

My name is Ruby. I live with Barbara and Mick. They’re not my real parents, but they tell me what to do, and what to say. I’m supposed to say that the bruises on my arms and the black eye came from falling down the stairs.

But there are things I won’t say. I won’t tell them I’m going to hunt for my real parents. I don’t say a word about Shadow, who sits on the stairs, or the Wasp Lady I saw on the way to bed.

I did tell Mick that I saw the woman in the buttercup dress, hanging upside down from her seat belt deep in the forest at the back of our house. I told him I saw death crawl out of her. He said he’d give me a medal for lying.

I wasn’t lying. I’m a hunter for lost souls and I’m going to be with my real family. And I’m not going to let Mick stop me.aqua-book-divider

I haven’t yet read The Doll Funeral, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it if the opinions of my fellow book bloggers prove true.  The blurb sounds creepy and intriguing, just my type of novel! I plan to read Kate Hamer’s latest book near the U.S. publication day in September. Just another reason it makes my heart smile to be a book blogger!

“The Doll Funeral” will be available for purchase in hardcover in Canada on March 28, 2017 – AND, it is available NOW in Canada in Kindle format!

“The Doll Funeral” will be available for purchase in the U.S. on September 12, 2017.

It is available for purchase NOW in the United Kingdom via Amazon.co.uk

Posted in Fictionophile report, NetGalley title | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

“A better truth” by Valerie Joan Connors

And now for my review of my Mystery/Thriller Week title.  It is always a slight gamble when you get a book for review that a) it’s a title you have never heard of before; and, b) you’ve never heard of the author before.  This time however, my gamble paid off in spades!  I’m certain we’ll be hearing about this author lots more in the future.


A better truth is sort of a hybrid between suspense fiction and women’s fiction.  The author weaves her story with skill and the characters are well-drawn and sympathetic.

The protagonist of the story is Willow St. Claire, whom we first meet in her cabin in the North Georgia mountains.  She has lived there for three years now.  She owns and manages a bookstore in the small town of Blue Ridge, then escapes home to her solitary life which she shares with her two german shepherd dogs – sisters named Lucy and Ethel.lucyethelWillow has had a very traumatic life and now she relishes the peace and solitude her remote cabin affords her.  She is divorced from a egotistical and ambitious lawyer and has a teenage daughter whom she adores.  Her daughter, Grace, has elected to live in Washington, D.C. with her father and his new partner.  When Grace shows up at her door unannounced one evening, events begin to spiral out of control once again…

We then flashback to Willow’s former life. Her husband, Walter, had been emotionally abusive.  So much so that I as the reader just wanted to give him a slap.  He was extremely condescending, controlling, demanding, and manipulative.  It is obvious to the reader, if not immediately to Willow, that he has married her solely for her family connections.  He believes that her adoptive father, Eldon Bishop, (who is a very wealthy Senator), will help him become established in the legal/political world in Washington.  He was forever sucking up to people with whom he thought could further his ambition.  His goal was to become a ‘person of influence’.

When Grace is born, he absolutely dotes on his new daughter.  She becomes quite spoiled and it seems to Willow that Walter and Grace shut her out of their lives.  Willow’s mental health seems to be deteriorating…  Her high stress lifestyle in Washington as the wife of an ambitious lawyer is playing its toll.  Her freelance writing deadlines compete with her   increasingly misbehaving daughter and her husband’s constant demands.  Willow becomes more and more overwhelmed and is prescribed anti-depressants and tranquilizers. She can no longer differentiate between what is ‘real’ and what is imagined. She begins to suffer from night terrors.  But this is not the first time she has been so afflicted.

Willow and her brother Garrett were adopted by the Bishops when Willow was just six years old.  They had suffered a horrific trauma by witnessing their birth-mother’s murder.

Events lead up to the present once more and Grace’s daughter in turn suffers from yet another traumatic event whilst visiting her mother’s cabin.  Willow’s hard-earned sense of security has been threatened – and stolen. Her beloved daughter is hospitalized in an almost catatonic state.girl-patient

The reader roots for Willow and her daughter.  Walter, her ex-husband makes for one of those characters that you ‘love to hate’.

I loved the title as it seemed to fit the novel so well.  Willow, unable to face the horrible truth of her life, has invented a ‘better truth’.

This fast-paced novel kept me enthralled the entire time I was reading it.  It speaks to issues of emotional abuse, mental illness, and female independence – all the while maintaining a frisson of suspense leading up to a ‘WOW’ ending. Highly recommended!f-4-5-star

I received a digital copy of this novel directly from the author as part of “Mystery/Thriller Week“.

written-with-american-flagsvalerie-joan-connorsValerie Joan Connors is the author of four novels.
The child of an artist and a musician, Valerie was born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Valerie credits her association with the Atlanta Writers Club for the fact that her four novels were both written and published. She has happily served on the AWC Board since 2011 in nearly every capacity. During business hours, Valerie is the CFO of an engineering firm. She is a dog person, and supports lion, tiger, and elephant conservation efforts, and hopes to raise awareness through her writing. Valerie lives in Norcross, Georgia, with her husband and two rescue dogs. She is working on her next novel.

Posted in book reviews, Fiction, Page turners, Suspense, Women's fiction | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

What makes a good #bookblog #bookblogger?

lets-talkThe book blogging community has been super supportive of this blog since its inception. In turn, I try my best to return the favor by reading their blog posts and Tweeting links when I feel the post has merit and is well written.

I came across this badge today on the blog: Hello Chick Lit


so I thought I would display it here (and permanently on my sidebar) as a way of testifying that I DO SUPPORT other book bloggers.

Why am I proclaiming this now?

Because I am continually being ‘tagged’ with blogging memes, blog hops, and blogger awards.  I have stated in my “About/Policies” page that I do not wish to participate in these, along with my reasons why.

Lately, I’ve begun to feel that I’m letting the side down by not participating. I’ve begun to feel that I’m not a ‘team player’ if I don’t go along with these.  But really, they make me uncomfortable.  I especially don’t like the whole ‘tagging’ aspect despite the fact that I am flattered to be tagged or awarded. Is it an integral part of book blogging that I must take part?

I love ALL book bloggers!  They share the love of books and THAT is what it is all about.book-blogger-love

Do I HAVE to participate in tagging memes, blog hops, and blogger awards to be a good book blogger?  Any and all comments will be gratefully appreciated.  Please weigh in on this topic.

Posted in Book bloggers | Tagged | 52 Comments

“The Mistress of Tall Acre” by Laura Frantz

Sometimes you come across a novel on your TBR at JUST the perfect time.  Don’t get me wrong, my favorite genre is mystery/thriller, but sometimes you just want a change. “The mistress of Tall Acre” filled a need for me.  I loved it!


A delightful cross between “Jane Eyre” and “Gone with the wind”, this historical love story was well researched, and kept me turning the pages despite other things I had to do.

Set in the years directly following the American Revolution, the novel is set on a five-thousand acre Virginian plantation – Tall Acre.

The male protagonist, Seamus Ogilvy, served as a patriot under the direction of General George Washington.  By the end of the eight years of fighting and unimaginable hardship he too has garnered the rank of General.  american-army1778He returns to Tall Acre to find his plantation has suffered much over the years.  His fragile wife, Anne, is dead, and his little daughter, Lily Cate is living with Anne’s sister in Williamsburg.  When he goes there to bring her back home he is turned away, so he takes the tiny girl by force in dead of night.

Lily Cate is afraid of her father.  She has no memory of him, and she is squeamish about his war injuries.  A lonely little girl, she wanders the grounds of Tall Acre.  This is how she meets Sophie Menzies, a young woman who lives in the neighboring estate.  Sophie too is desperately lonely.  She has suffered much during the war.  Her dear mother has died, her brother never returned from the fighting, and her father was a ‘turncoat’ who sided with the Loyalists and absconded back to Scotland.  Now it is just her and two loyal servants living on her 1000 acre estate.  Food is scarce and money even more so.

girl-with-a-hoopSophie and Lily Cate strike up a friendship. Seamus meets the neighbor his little daughter talks about non-stop.  He finds her stalwart and kindly, and he is grateful for the attention she pays to his little girl. She has brought play and joy back into Lily Cate’s life.

Sophie is shunned by the townsfolk and neighbors due to her father’s political leanings. She cannot find work, and her estate is to be sold for back taxes.  Seamus comes to her aid in exchange for some secretarial duties and time spent with Lily Cate.

a typical plantation 'bedchamber' from the time period in which "The Mistress of Tall Acre" is set.

a typical plantation ‘bedchamber’ from the time period in which “The Mistress of Tall Acre” is set.

Though Sophie comes to love General Ogilvy, she is very intimidated by the war hero that he is, and she feels repulsed by the fact that he is a slaveholder.  It is only Lily Cate who brings any joy to her life.

Sophie, and several other characters in the novel were Scottish immigrants.  I was fascinated to come across many Scots terms while reading such as: glaikit, braw, meirleach, peely-wally, camshauchle, loosome, pinchbeck, and the like.

The relationship of Sophie and Seamus has many trials and tribulations, but the author focuses on the story of the magnificent “Tall Acre” so much that the book doesn’t seem overly ‘mushy’ or ‘romantic’.  Under Sophie’s influence, Seamus arranges ‘manumission‘ for all fifty-two of Tall Acre’s slaves. The story also focuses on the many servants (who were once slaves) and briefly touches on their social conditions.

I was also very interested to read of the social customs and clothing worn during this time man-18th-centuryperiod.  Also touched upon was the lack of medical care and the reliance on home potions and remedies.

Was it well researched?  Meticulously.  Was the story predictable? Yes it was.  But then, readers who like historical romance expect predictability.  (though there was one’twist’ that I didn’t see coming) The characters fairly leapt off the page, and the plot was didactic and well as entertaining.  Details of the restoration needed after the Revolution, and the political climate of the time, were fascinating to read about.  It was Christian fiction, but not ‘preachy’.  Religion was a bigger part of people’s lives in the 18th century, so the Christian aspect just seemed a necessary part of the story.

1-skeleton-keysEvery once in a while we must take a step back to a time when the world was vast.  When a trip of thirty miles was undertaken with hesitation.  Before telephones, cars, and modern comforts. A time when folk had to be more self-sufficient, and self reliant. Reading books set in this time period provides us with needed reminders of how life once was…

It was with sadness, that I read the last page and left 18th century Virginia to return to the present.  I guess that is testament enough as to how much I enjoyed it.


I received a digital copy of this novel from Revell via NetGalley for review consideration.




Laura Frantz was born and raised in Kentucky.  She writes for the joy of it, and to give others joy.  Her enthusiasm shows. Her lifelong love of libraries and history have served her well. She is the author of eight Christian historical novels.

Posted in book reviews, Christian fiction, Favorite books, Historical fiction, Love stories, NetGalley title | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Cover Love: Part 18 – Hearts

Dustjackets entice the reader to enter a different world. Covers are, after all, the way the publisher ‘hooks’ the reader into choosing one book over countless others.

In this, my eighteenth installment of ‘Cover Love‘, I’d like to show you books that feature hearts on their covers.  It is almost Valentine’s Day after all!
Some I’ve already read, some are on my ‘to read’ list,
and some I chose only for their covers.

Some, perhaps, will now be on your TBR!

Hearts are on the covers of just about every genre of fiction!
Yes… hearts aren’t just for ROMANCE any more!

Just click on the cover to read the book’s synopsis from  Goodreads.

You might just find your next favorite book!from-doon-with-deathfallingminding-frankiea-psalm-for-lost-girlswhat-alice-forgota-parcel-for-anna-brownelabor-daythursdays-in-the-parkdangerous-to-knowbittersweetmother-motherlizzy-and-janea-small-piece-of-her-heartthe-promise-of-stardustheart-troublelooking-for-alaskawhere-did-your-heart-gopaper-heartsdifficult-womenlocal-girlsonerecipientmurder-madness-and-lovevaporthe-course-of-lovethe-bleeding-heartsafe-with-mesoulmatessolitude-creekthe-sky-is-everywherethis-is-how-you-lose-herthis-lullabytouchthe-drowningthe-improbability-of-loveanother-piece-of-my-heartfalse-heartscrooked-little-heart

Stay tuned for Cover Love Part 19:

“Cupped hands”

The next post was motivated by my fellow blogger Jill !

or… revisit any of the first seventeen installments of Cover Love – some of which I’ve updated

#1  In Red Walking Away

#2  Windows

#3  Gates

#4  Doors

#5  Lakes

#6  Jars

#7  Piers

#8  Lighthouses

#9  Umbrellas

#10  Looking up at treetops

#11  Autumn leaves

#12 Crows and ravens

#13 Seeing double

#14  Keys

#15  Letters

#16  Walking in snow

#17  Chairs

Posted in Cover Love series, Dustjackets, Fiction | Tagged | 11 Comments