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First Line Friday — The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery

10 Sep

Happy Friday! Tonight I was supposed to be winging my way to a western vacation. Some health issues (not Covid) are causing a bit of a delay, but we will hopefully be in the air come Sunday night. I am all packed and ready, so what to do? Read! I am reading my book club’s selection, Memories of Glass by Melanie Dobson, right now. After that comes The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery. Amanda Cox is a new-to-me author, and I look forward to reading this book.

Here’s the first line:

Sarah nudged aside last night’s puddle of clothes with her bare foot, the exposed designer label sticking out a bit too much.

Present Day.

After tragedy plunges her into grief and unresolved anger, Sarah Ashby returns to her childhood home determined to finally follow her long-denied dream of running Old Depot Grocery alongside her mother and grandmother. But when she arrives, her mother, Rosemary, announces to her that the store is closing. Sarah and her grandmother, Glory Ann, make a pact to save the store, but Rosemary has worked her entire life to make sure her daughter never follows in her footsteps. She has her reasons — but she’ll certainly never reveal the real one.

1965.

Glory Ann confesses to her family that she’s pregnant with her deceased fiancé’s baby. Pressured into a marriage of convenience with a shopkeeper to preserve the family reputation, Glory Ann vows never to love again. But some promises are not as easily kept as she imagined.

This dual-timeline story from Amanda Cox deftly explores the complexity of a mother-daughter dynamic, the way the secrets we keep shape our lives and the lives of others, and the healing power of telling the truth.

Before becoming a stay-at-home parent, Amanda Cox spent her time counseling children, families, and individuals through life’s challenging moments. Now she uses those same skills to develop layered characters and stories, bringing them on a journey of hope and healing. A journey she hopes her readers experience in their own lives as they read.

A few of her favorite things are the sanctuary of the great outdoors, the feeling of pen on paper, the sound of her children’s laughter, and exploring new places with her husband of 15 years. (Oh, let’s not forget good fiction and good coffee. She’s addicted to both.) You can stay connected with her latest writing updates at http://www.amandacoxwrites.com. You can find her on social media by searching Amanda Cox Writes.

First Line Friday — Stars of Alabama

3 Sep

A friend of mine loaned me a book yesterday that has been on my radar for a while — Stars of Alabama by Sean Dietrich aka Sean of The South. I’m looking forward to reading it, though I have no idea when that will be. 😉 I’m thinking it will make a great surprise selection for my book club.

Here’s the first line:

Paul Folger listened to Louisville bark.

One child preacher traveling across the plains.

One young woman with a mysterious touch.

Two old friends, their baby, and their bloodhound.

And all the stars that shine above them.

When fifteen-year-old Marigold becomes pregnant amid the Great Depression, she is rejected by her family and forced to fend for herself. And when she loses her baby in the forest, her whole world turns upside down. She’s even more distraught upon discovering she has an inexplicable power that makes her both beautiful and terrifying—and something of a local legend.

Meanwhile, migrant workers Vern and Paul discover a violet-eyed baby and take it upon themselves to care for her. The men soon pair up with a widow and her two children, and the misfit family finds its way in fits and starts toward taking care of each other.

As survival brings one family together, a young boy finds himself with nary a friend to his name as the dust storms rage across Kansas. Fourteen-year-old Coot, a child preacher with a prodigy’s memory, is on the run with thousands of stolen dollars—and the only thing he’s sure of is that Mobile, Alabama, is his destination.

As the years pass and a world war looms, these stories intertwine in surprising ways, reminding us that when the dust clears, we can still see the stars.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist, novelist, and creator of the blog and podcast, “Sean of the South.” Known for his commentary on life in the American South, his work has appeared in Newsweek, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, the Tallahassee Democrat, the Birmingham News, Alabama Living, and he has authored thirteen books.

First Line Friday — Woman in Shadow

27 Aug

Happy Friday! One of my favorite authors, Carrie Stuart Parks, released a new novel this summer — Woman in Shadow. I downloaded it from NetGalley, and I really need to find time to read it. If you have read it, please let me know why I should move it to the top of the old TBR stack. It won’t take much convincing 😉 .

Here are the first two lines:

Why are those dogs barking? I pointed across the wooden picnic table toward two obviously upset canines yelping nearby.

A woman off the grid.

Darby Graham thinks she’s on a much-needed vacation in remote Idaho to relax. But before she even arrives at the ranch, an earthquake strikes. Then a barn on the edge of town is engulfed in flames and strange problems at the ranch begin to escalate, and Darby finds herself immersed in a chilling mystery.

A town on fire.

More fires erupt around town, and a serial arsonist sends taunting letters to the press after each. As a forensic linguist, this is Darby’s area of expertise . . . but the scars her work has caused her are also the reason she’s trying to escape her life.

A growing darkness.

As the shadows continue moving in, pieces of the town around her come into sharper focus. To make it out alive, Darby must decide if she can trust the one man who sees her clearly.

Carrie Stuart Parks is an award winning artist, writer, speaker, and law enforcement instructor. A Certified Forensic Artist, she met her husband, Rick, in the romantic hallways of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Together they formed a dynamic and successful team in their fine and forensic art, working on major national and international cases and creating exquisite watercolors and stone carvings. They travel internationally, teaching forensic art to a variety of participants: from the Secret Service to the FBI, from large law enforcement agencies to the smallest two-man departments in their one-week classes. They are the largest instructors of forensic art in the world. Carrie has won numerous awards for her innovative teaching methods and general career excellence and is a signature member of the Idaho Watercolor Society.

Carrie’s Gwen Marcey series chronicles a forensic artist from Montana and is loosely based on Carrie’s forensic cases. She began her fiction writing career while battling breast cancer. Mentored by NY Times bestselling author, Frank Peretti, Carrie’s debut novel, along with her subsequent novels, have been met with critical acclaim. 

First Line Friday — The Barrister And The Letter of Marque

20 Aug

Happy Friday — it’s been a soggy and muggy week with Fred’s journey through the usually sunny South. But I am looking forward to some better conditions as I travel to my cabin in the mountains. Hopefully a lot of reading is on the horizon too!

This week I am featuring The Barrister And The Letter of Marque by Todd M. Johnson. I have loved his contemporary suspense, and this Regency-era mystery is up my alley too. Here’s the first line —

Early evening shadows blanketed the study lit only by desk candles and a sputtering fire in the hearth.

As a barrister in 1818 London, William Snopes has witnessed firsthand the danger of only the wealthy having their voices heard, and he’s a strong advocate who defends the poorer classes against the powerful. That changes the day a struggling heiress, Lady Madeleine Jameson, arrives at his door.

In a last-ditch effort to save her faltering estate, Lady Jameson invested in a merchant brig, the Padget. The ship was granted a rare privilege by the king’s regent: a Letter of Marque authorizing the captain to seize the cargo of French traders operating illegally in the Indian Sea. Yet when the Padget returns to London, her crew is met by soldiers ready to take possession of their goods and arrest the captain for piracy. And the Letter—the sole proof his actions were legal—has mysteriously vanished.

Moved by the lady’s distress, intrigued by the Letter, and goaded by an opposing solicitor, Snopes takes the case. But as he delves deeper into the mystery, he learns that the forces arrayed against Lady Jameson, and now himself, are even more perilous than he’d imagined.

Todd M. Johnson is the author of three legal thrillers: The Deposit Slip (2012), Critical Reaction(2013), and Fatal Trust (2017), and The Barrister and the Letter of Marque (2021), his first foray into historical mystery. He has been a practicing attorney for over 30 years, specializing as a trial lawyer. A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Minnesota Law School, he also taught for two years as adjunct professor of International Law and served as a US diplomat in Hong Kong. He lives outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and daughter.

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First Line Friday — The Lady in Residence

13 Aug

Happy Friday! Today I am featuring a book I read several months ago. If you are looking for mystery, history, and a bit of a chilling thrill, check out The Lady in Residence by Allison Pittman. Part of the Doors to The Past series from Barbour, its dual timeline connects in an unputdownable manner.

Here’s the first line —

The tour ended where it began — in the courtyard of the Alamo, the fortress bathed in white light, flags snapping in the night sky.

Visit historic American landmarks through the Doors to the Past series. History and today collide in stories full of mystery, intrigue, faith, and romance.

Young widow Hedda Krause checks into the Menger Hotel in 1915 with a trunk full of dresses, a case full of jewels, and enough cash to pay for a two-month stay, which she hopes will be long enough to meet, charm, and attach herself to a new, rich husband. Her plans are derailed when a ghostly apparition lures her into a long, dark hallway, and Hedda returns to her room to find her precious jewelry has been stolen. She falls immediately under a cloud of suspicion with her haunting tale, but true ghost enthusiasts bring her expensive pieces of jewelry in an attempt to lure the ghost to appear again.

In 2017, Dini Blackstone is a fifth-generation magician, who performs at private parties, but she also gives ghost walk tours, narrating the more tragic historical events of San Antonio with familial affection. Above all, her favorite is the tale of Hedda Krause who, in Dini’s estimation, succeeded in perpetrating the world’s longest con, dying old and wealthy from her ghost story. But then Dini meets Quinn Carmichael, great-great-grandson of the detective who originally investigated Hedda’s case, who’s come to the Alamo City with a box full of clues that might lead to Hedda’s exoneration. Can Dini see another side of the story that is worthy of God’s grace?

Allison Pittman is the author of more than a dozen critically acclaimed novels and a four-time Christy finalist — twice for her Sister Wife series, once for All for A Story from her take on the Roaring Twenties and most recently for the critically acclaimed The Seamstresswhich takes a cameo character from the Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities and flourishes her to life amidst the French Revolution. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, blissfully sharing an empty nest with her husband, Mike.

Connect with her on Facebook (Allison Pittman Author), Twitter (@allisonkpittman) or her website, allisonkpittman.com.

First Line Friday — Under The Bayou Moon

6 Aug

With her debut novel Missing Isaac, Valerie Fraser Luesse became a must-read author. Each successive book has been a treat. I am excited to feature the first line of her latest book, Under The Bayou Moon. Can’t wait to read it!

Here’s the first line:

Raphe Broussard was just a boy when he first saw it — glimpsed it, at least.

Restless with the familiarity of her Alabama home, Ellie Fields accepts a teaching job in a tiny Louisiana town deep in bayou country. Though rightfully suspicious of outsiders, who have threatened both their language and their culture, most of the people in tiny Bernadette, Louisiana, come to appreciate the young and idealistic schoolteacher as a boon to the town. She’s soon teaching just about everyone–and coming up against opposition from both the school board and a politician with ulterior motives.

Acclimating to a whole new world, Ellie meets a lonely but intriguing Cajun fisherman named Raphe who introduces her to the legendary white alligator that haunts these waters. Raphe and Ellie have barely found their way to each other when a huge bounty is offered for the elusive gator, bringing about a shocking turn of events that will test their love and their will to right a terrible wrong.

A master of the Southern novel, Valerie Fraser Luesse invites you to enter the sultry swamps of Louisiana in a story that illuminates the struggle for the heart and soul of the bayou.

Valerie Fraser Luesse is the author of four novels set in the South: Christy Award winner Missing Isaac (2018), Almost Home (2019), The Key to Everything (2020), and the upcoming Under the Bayou Moon (August 2021), all published by Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. An award-winning magazine writer, Luesse is perhaps best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she wrote major pieces on the Mississippi Delta, Acadian Louisiana, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on the recovering Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, photographed by Mark Sandlin, won the 2009 Travel Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society. Luesse earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Auburn University and Baylor University, respectively. She is a native of Harpersville, Alabama, and lives in Birmingham, where she is the senior travel editor for Southern Living. Find her online at valeriefraserluesse.com; facebook.com/valeriefraserluessebooks; bakerpublishinggroup.com; bookbub.com/authors/valerie-fraser-luesse; and goodreads.com

First Line Friday — The Messenger of Magnolia Street

30 Jul

Happy Friday! Today I am featuring a relatively old book (2006), but one I just acquired. I read The Miracle of Mercy Land by River Jordan about 10 years ago and loved it! I recently became aware another of her novels, The Messenger of Magnolia Street, in one of my FB reader groups. Intrigued, I quickly ordered a copy. And wonder of wonders, what arrived in my book mail was a signed edition! Woo hoo! So now it resides on my shelf with 2 distinctions — TBR and author signed. Have you read this novel? I’d love to know what you thought.

Here are the first two lines:

God is walking through Shibboleth, rummaging through the pockets of his memory, the distant past and the near future. The people of Shibboleth are sleeping, unaware of his presence or that he is considering them and their present circumstances.

The Messenger of Magnolia Street tells the haunting story of three childhood friends who reunite to fight the unnamed presence that is slowly draining their beloved town of goodness and light. Nehemiah Trust fled his hometown of Shibboleth twelve years ago, after the death of his mother. Now chief of staff for a powerful senator, Nehemiah has washed his hands of Shibboleth. But one night his older brother Billy and childhood friend Trice appear at his front door. Something is wrong, they tell him. Nehemiah is needed back home.

This mesmerizing novel of love awakened, purpose abandoned, and legacy reclaimed begins as slow and easy as a southern Sunday, but as the town of Shibboleth begins to sense the approaching darkness, the three friends must race against time to save the lifeblood of the place they call home. The solution requires a willingness to sacrifice everything.


River Jordan began her writing career as a playwright. Ms. Jordan’s first novel, The Gin Girl (Livingston Press, 2003), has garnered such high praise as “This author writes with a hard bitten confidence comparable to Ernest Hemingway. And yet, in the Southern tradition of William Faulkner, she can knit together sentences that can take your breath.” Kirkus Reviews described her second novel, The Messenger of Magnolia Street, as “a beautifully written atmospheric tale.” It was applauded as “a tale of wonder” by Southern Living, who chose the novel as their Selects feature for March 2006, and described by other reviewers as ” a riveting, magical mystery” and “a remarkable book.” Her third novel, Saints In Limbo has been painted by some of the finest fiction voices of today as “a lyrical and relentlessly beautiful book,” and “a wise, funny, joyful and deadly serious book, written with a poet’s multilayered sense of metaphor and meter and a page-turning sense of urgency,” and reported by Paste Magazine as “a southern gothic masterpiece.” 

Her fourth novel, The Miracle of Mercy Land, arrives on September 7, 2010. Her first non-fiction work, Praying for Strangers, An Adventure of the Human Spirit was published by Penguin/Berkley April 5, 2011.  Her latest work, Confessions of a Christian Mystic arrived from Faith Words/Hachette April 2, 2019. 

Ms. Jordan teaches and speaks around the country on “The Power of Story”, an hosts Clearstory Radio from Nashville. She is currently at work completing a new mystery novel set in Nashville. When not traveling, speaking or teaching River watches the stars come out from her front porch on the hill, and wonders about all things mystically, divine.

First Line Friday — The Nature of Small Birds

23 Jul

Happy Friday everyone! I am so excited to share the first line of Susie Finkbeiner‘s newest novel, The Nature of Small Birds. I have never met a Finkbeiner book I haven’t loved and am sure this one will be just as great. Have you read it yet? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Here’s the first line:

No matter how the world has changed over the course of my life, somehow crayons still smell the way they did when I was a kid.

In 1975, three thousand children were airlifted out of Saigon to be adopted into Western homes. When Mindy, one of those children, announces her plans to return to Vietnam to find her birth mother, her loving adopted family is suddenly thrown back to the events surrounding her unconventional arrival in their lives.

Though her father supports Mindy’s desire to meet her family of origin, he struggles privately with an unsettling fear that he’ll lose the daughter he’s poured his heart into. Mindy’s mother undergoes the emotional rollercoaster inherent in the adoption of a child from a war-torn country, discovering the joy hidden amid the difficulties. And Mindy’s sister helps her sort through relics that whisper of the effect the trauma of war has had on their family–but also speak of the beauty of overcoming.

Told through three strong voices in three compelling timelines, The Nature of Small Birds is a hopeful story that explores the meaning of family far beyond genetic code.

Susie Finkbeiner is a story junkie. Always has been and always will be. It seems it’s a congenital condition, one she’s quite fond of.

After decades of reading everything she could get her hands on (except for See the Eel, a book assigned to her while in first grade, a book she declared was unfit for her book-snob eyes), Susie realized that she wanted to write stories of her own. She began with epics about horses and kittens (but never, ever eels). 

It takes years to grow a writer and after decades of work, Susie realized (with much gnashing of teeth and tears) that she was a novelist. In order to learn how to write novels, she read eclectically and adventurously (she may never swim with sharks, but the lady will jump into nearly any story). After reading the work of Lisa Samson, Patti Hill, and Bonnie Grove she realized that there was room for a writer like her in Christian fiction.

Her first novels Paint Chips (2013) and My Mother’s Chamomile (2014) have contemporary settings. While she loved those stories and especially the characters, Susie felt the pull toward historical fiction.

When she read Into the Free by Julie Cantrell she knew she wanted to write historical stories with a side of spunk, grit, and vulnerability. Susie is also greatly inspired by the work of Jocelyn Green, Rachel McMillan, and Tracy Groot.

A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl (2015), Finkbeiner’s bestselling historical set in 1930s Oklahoma, has been compared to the work of John Steinbeck and Harper Lee (which flatters Susie’s socks off). Pearl’s story continues with A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression (2017) and A Song of Home: A Novel of the Swing Era (2018). 

What does she have planned after that? More stories, of course. She’s a junkie. She couldn’t quit if she wanted to.

First Line Friday — The Thin Man

9 Jul

Happy Friday! I am currently on a biographical novel listening binge. I have two more novels to go and then I will be on to my next personal challenge — classic mystery. The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammet is already on my Audible shelf (it’s included with my membership). Can’t wait to join Nick and Nora in solving crime.

Here’s the first line:

I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on Fifty-second Street, waiting on Nora to finish her Christmas shopping, when a girl got up from the table where she had been sitting with three other people and came over to me.

The Thin Man introduces Nick and Nora Charles, New York’s coolest crime-solving couple. Nick retired from detecting after his wife inherited a tidy sum, but six years later a pretty blonde spies him at a speakeasy and asks for his help finding her father, an eccentric inventor who was once Nick’s client.  

Nick can no more resist the case than a morning cocktail or a good fight, and soon he and Nora are caught in a complicated web of confused identities and cold-blooded murder.

Samuel Dashiell Hammett was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories. He was also a screenwriter and political activist. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, the Continental Op and the comic strip character Secret Agent X-9.

First Line Friday — The Boy Who Danced with Rabbits

18 Jun

Happy Friday! We have been visiting the North Georgia mountains since our daughter attended college there 10 years ago. We were so excited when we acquired a cabin in those hills. Now we have a newer house that, while still nestled in the wooded hills, is a bit more suited to a future retirement home. 😉 With vivid sunsets, mountain views, waterfall hikes, and an abundance of flora and fauna, we love our time there. My husband discovered a book set in those hills and hollers set during the settlement of the area. The area in which our home is situated is Choestoe, or land of the dancing rabbits. Don’t you just love it! 🙂 J. R. Collins, a native of the area, has penned an award winner in The Boy Who Danced with Rabbits. My husband has already read it and is on to the next in the series. It is now waiting on me.

Here is the first line:

I am the last of my time and kind.

Irish settlers homestead the Southern Appalachian Mountains of 1815. 

The Collins family were early settlers to their Appalachian home at the base of Ben’s Knob Mountain. The native Cherokee welcomed them for the most part, some would not. They never got comfortable with the new immigrants from foreign lands invading their home. Hostilities were common in some areas, sought after peace was found in others. It was a time of change for all involved. 

Jebediah Collins, and his best friend Wolf, a full blood Cherokee Indian of the same age, are raised to manhood during this time of change. They live in a valley called Choestoe. This is a Cherokee name which means, the land where rabbits dance. It is a most beautiful place in among the big ridges that surround it. Spiritual as the Indians believed it. Many of those that settled in Choestoe became close friends with the Cherokee. Some even married into each others families and had children. It became the way for many. Jeb’s family, too.

The old growth forest that covered the mountains when Jeb and Wolf were growing up provided the perfect environment for two curious mountain boys. The adventures they spawn during their travels become legend. Whether they are saving an injured slave running for her life through the woods, fending off battle hardened Indian warriors, following a black mountain cat through the mountains for purpose, or dealing with the sudden loss of loved ones, Jeb and Wolf live on through it all. Growing and maturing with each separate adventure or circumstance. 

The story is told by Jebediah Collins when he is aged ninety years. All his friends have made their journey across the Great River to be with the ancestors. Jeb knows he will soon follow, but before his time comes to join friends and family, he wants to tell his story to all that will listen. A story of growing up when life was lived in complete freedom destined by the Will of God. A time when two adventurous mountain boys learned about life, love, and loss, in a land where the rabbits dance.

Rooted in ancestral heritage, JR Collins grew up in the Appalachian valley of Choestoe. Home of his ancestors and family since the late 18th century. An outdoors-man, trained by his father to respect home and the tradition of faith and family, watched as the invasion of progress took his sacred mountain existence. The stories of times forgotten sparked at a young age and he found himself with a need to pass on tradition, to some extent, to the next generation. Married and raising teenage twins, strengthened by a desire for his children to understand the efforts of family, that bought them the right to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Southern Appalachian Mountains.