Category Archives: Fiction

Mysteries of the Ozarks (Volume III)

High Hill Press has recently published Mysteries of the Ozarks (Volume III), a collection of twenty-six stories “dedicated to those who have strong ties to the Ozarks and those who love reading abou this beautiful land.”

The anthology is edited by Ellen Gray Massey. Contributors include: Velda Brotherton, Jory Sherman, Radine Trees Nehring, Betty Craker Henderson, Jane Hale, Carolyn Gray Thornton, Larry Woods, Bari Bumgarner, and several others.

While I haven’t read all the stories in the anthology, the ones I’ve read have been great.

How can you not be swept away with stories such as “The Mystery of Cedar Shade” by Jory Sherman, “The Missing Skull” by Velda Brotherton, or “Catfish Jack” by Roberta Vaughan Schwinke. 

The story of “Catfish Jack” is based on an Osage County legend, memorialized by the poem: “Catfish Jack lived in a shack, left one day and never came back.”

If you’re looking for a collection of stories that capture the essence of the Ozarks region of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, with its scenic hills where the Osage Indians once roamed, check out Mysteries of the Ozarks  (Volume III).

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Filed under Anthology, Fiction, Mystery, Southern Fiction

THE HIDDEN MAN by David Ellis

On October 20, 1925, U.S. journalist and humorist Art Buchwald was born. Okay, I’m a day early mentioning a celebrity writer’s birthday, but tomorrow is also my grandson’s Michael’s birthday–so why not?

the Hidden ManI recently read a thriller called THE HIDDEN MAN, written by David Ellis and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. What makes this book so intriguing and noteworthy is not only the vivid writing, compelling characters, and strong story line, but also the author himself. Ellis is not only a writer, but he was the lead prosecutor in the trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. 

Ellis uses his first-hand knowledge of the criminal defense system to write THE HIDDEN MAN, a thoughtful and surprising thriller that ponders the larger questions of fate, loyalty, redemption and having the courage to do the right thing, in spite of the risks and regardless of the consequences.  

The main character is Midwesterner Jason Kolarich, who rises from humble beginnings to become a star in a high-powered criminal defense firm. Although Jason has escaped his neighborhood and unfortunate family situation, he has never forgotten his roots. After his wife and daughter die in a freak car accident while Jason is working late, he blames himself and walks away from his celebrity for a simpler life. While trying to cope with his unimaginable grief, he is hired by a mysterious “Mr. Smith” to defend a childhood friend from a murder charge. In doing so, Jason must relive a tragic incident that has haunted him for decades.

In THE HIDDEN MAN, David Ellis has created a likeable hero in Jason Kolarich, an everyday man who has scraped his way to the top through hard work and determination, yet still remains true to his values. Donna Volkenannt dvolkenannt@charter.net

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Filed under Fiction, Legal Thriller, Thriller

The Last Ember by Daniel Levin

On this date in 1902, poet and editor Ogden Nash was born.

It’s been over two weeks since my last review, but if you’re looking for a page-turner with an intriguing premise, I believe this book is worth the wait.

lastemberThe Last Ember by Daniel Levin is an exciting biblical thriller that will keep you reading till the wee hours of the night. Levin’s debut novel combines elements of history, mystery, conspiricies, politics, religion, and archaelogy into an intelligent and engrossing story. 

Jonathan Marcus, the main character, is a fallen-from grace antiquities scholar skilled in Latin, Greek, and archaelogy, now  practicing law in New York.  After Jonathan is dispatched to Rome to represent his firm in a high-profile case involving the authenticity of an ancient stone map, he is pitted against with Dr. Emili Travia, a passionate preservationist and a woman from his past.

 While Jonathan is in Rome, an Italian antiquities squad discovers a woman’s perserved corpse. The corpse bears a clue about a biblical mystery that leads to the discovery about a sacred object. The clue, coupled with a hidden message in the ancient stone map, propels Jonathan and Emili to join forces on a quest that takes them from the underground caverns beneath the streets of Rome to the holiest shrines in Jerusalem.

Levin’s background and education undoubtedly qualify him to write this novel. He does a fine job translating the foreign language passages so the reader isn’t distracted from the story. He writes with elegance and passion about emotionally charged topics, but at the center of it all is a remarkable tale. 

A longer version of my review of The Last Ember can be found on Bookreporter.com. You can also read New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry’s fascinating interview of Daniel Levin on Bookreporter.com.  Donna Volkenannt

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Filed under Biblical Thriller, Fiction, Thriller, Uncategorized

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan Looks at Racism in the South after World War II

I couldn’t find a famous author’s birthday for today, but I found a historic event. On June 15, 1215, King John signs Magna Carta at Runnymede, England.

mudboundThe book I’ve chosed this week is the novel MUDBOUND by Hillary Jordan, published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Last year I received the book as part of a prize package for being a top ten winner in the WOW! Spring Flash Fiction Contest. I added Mudbound to my stack of “to be read” books. It took me several months to get to it, but once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.

The story takes place in the Mississippi Delta at the end of World War II, where two Southern families, the McAllans, who are white, and the Johnsons, who are black, struggle to eke out a living raising cotton in the unforgiving delta. When the rain falls, the waters rise , creating a sea of mud, isolating the families from town.  

The book opens from Jamie McAllen’s point of view. Jamie is a damaged war hero. He and his brother Henry and Henry’s wife Laura are in a rush to bury the McAllens’ father before the storm sets in. Right away I wondered, what happened to the father. Ronsel Johnson is also a war hero, but some in the community are not as welcoming because of the color of his skin.  

Mudbound is a beautifully written story about love and loss and betrayal and the ugliness of racism. Told from the points of view of Jamie, Henry, and Laura McAllan and Ronsel, Hap, and Florence Johnson, whose voices are clear and compelling. Mudbound is a lovely work of fiction with a haunting story.  In 2006 Mudbound won the Bellweather Prize for fiction, which awarded biannually to a first literary novel that addresses issues of social justice

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Filed under Fiction, Literary Fiction, Southern Fiction, Uncategorized

STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE, a thriller by Jon Land

June 8 – Happy Birthday, Sara Paretsky, author and creator of the award-winning V I Warshawski detective novels. Paretsky was born on this date in 1947.

Oh, and on this date in 1948, a not-famous-except-to-her-family-and-friends writer was born to James and Katherine Duly in St. Louis, Missouri — that would be yours truly. Happy birthday to me!

strongenoughThe novel I’ve chosen for this week’s discussion is STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE by Jon Land.

Reading well written thrillers is one of my guilty pleasures and favorite escapes. I love getting swept away by serpentine plots and skillfully formed characters.  Last year I was introduced to Jon Land’s writing when I read and reviewed THE SEVEN SINS: THE TYRANT ASCENDING. Since then I’ve come to enjoy Land’s writing style.

The central characters in STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE, Land’s latest suspense novel, are Caitlin Strong, a damaged Texas Ranger seeking redemption, and  Cort Wesley Masters, an outlaw exonerated of the murder conviction of Caitlin’s partner, who is seeking revenge. Another notable and intriguing character is an assassin ironically named Guillermo Paz.

The story takes place in border towns in Texas, board rooms in Washington, D.C, marketplaces in Bahrain, slums in Venezuela and crime-plagued cities in Mexico. Beyond the fast-paced action and complex characters, the novel presents a message of mercy, understanding and redemption.

What I really like about Land’s novels is the way he subtly nudges the reader to ponder larger questions about human behavior. His latest novel broaches free will and the influence of parents, especially fathers, on shaping the lives of their children. 

STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE is an inventive thriller with memorable characters, surprising plot twists and fast-paced action, but it also gets you think while enjoying the ride.  Donna Volkenannt

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Filed under Fiction, Thriller, Uncategorized

SECRET KEEPERS, a novel by Mindy Friddle

This is my very first book discussion on my A Book A Week Blog, where once a week I will introduce my readers to a book I have read. Each blog will begin with a small note about a writer whose birthday is celebrated today.

June 1 – Happy birthday, Australian author Colleen McCullough. She was born June 1, 1937.  She wrote the novel The Thorn Birds in 1977. 

Now, on to my very first book discussion. 

I have chosen the novel SECRET KEEPERS by Mindy Friddle as my first book. It is one I read recently and was swept away by the writing, strong sense of place, and engaging characters.

secretkeepersSECRET KEEPERS  is set in the fictitious town of Palmetto, South Carolina. The year is 1987–an era of big hair, leg-warmer aerobic classes, and Sanka coffee.

The once robust city of Palmetto held much promise; now it is in a state of stagnation, as are the lives of many of its residents.

Seventy-two-year-old Emma Hanley’s dream is to take “The Trip” and travel Europe. Her husband Harold isn’t as enthused. His unseemly death and burial are cause for consternation and scandal among some family members and the town gossips.

Emma’s life has been one of sorrow, missed opportunities, and shouldering responsibilities for others. Her grown daughter Dora has settled into a joyless marriage. The former flower child shed her Hippie’s beads decades earlier after her brother Will was killed in Vietnam. Emma’s son Bobby, brilliant as a youngster, suffers from an illness that has erased his once-promising future. Dora’s son Kyle is torn between trying to please his strict, Bible-thumping father and his teenage longings to experience life.

When Dora’s old flame, Jake Carey, returns to town and begins a landscaping business, secrets are unearthed and the town is transformed into something magical.

The beguiling cover of SECRET KEEPERS, with its boots/planters, bring to mind many of the characters in Friddle’s novel–worn out and damaged, but still functional and capable of letting beauty shine through.

SECRET KEEPERS is a beautifully written novel of love and loss and renewal. Friddle’s warm and engaging novel of life in a decaying southern town sparkles with memorable characters and a story that will linger long after turning the last page.  In addition to being an acclaimed writer, Friddle is a Master Gardner, and her respect for the beauty of nature shines throughout her novel.  Donna Volkenannt

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Filed under Fiction, Southern Fiction