Tag Archives: Fiction

New Review of Katie, Bar the Door

The following review by senior reviewer Diane Donovan just appeared in the November issue of MBR Bookwatch:

It’s rare that the title of a book proves original and compelling in and of itself, but Katie, Bar the Door is such a creation. It will appeal to readers of modern women’s fiction with its astute story of Katie Thompson, a first-person story which captives not only by its title, but in its first few lines: “I felt as though I were being driven to a sentencing, not my wedding.”

Katie harbors big dreams for her future which do not embrace the conventional paths others around her believe she should follow.

In the opening lines of her story, she and Ritchie have eloped, and are to be married without benefit of ceremony. The couple has known each other since childhood. Forbidden from embarking on this relationship by a strict mother who caught them necking, Katie’s taken the step into sexuality, and is the driving force behind insisting that they now marry.

The reason, however, isn’t for love. It’s because of lack of options: “Even if I got to a phone and reached my mother, I wasn’t sure she’d take me back. She had forbidden my relationship with Ritchie over a year ago after she caught us necking and told me that, in God’s eyes, I was as guilty as if I’d slept with him. Defying her low opinion of me, I had clung stubbornly to my virginity until we ran away, surrendering it then only because of the promise that I’d be Mrs. Richard Pelletier in the morning – and because Ritchie’s rage at being asked to wait one more day was too menacing to defy. Now that the deed was done, according to the stringent doctrines of my mother and my church, my only chance to redeem myself was to marry the partner of my lust.”

As Katie faces domestic violence, being a runaway from her family and faith, and reviews dead-end roads and future options, readers journey alongside her as she faces a series of men who become bosses, lovers, and potential protectors, unified in their desire to control her in some way.

Even her professor, Dr. Peter Taylor, becomes entangled in Katie’s life and dreams as she moves from a history student in his class to something more.

Katie rewrote a history paper when she realized that her facts and sources were outdated. Can she rewrite her life?

Ruth Hull Chatlien crafts a vivid story of abuse, growth, repression, and changing perceptions and attitudes as she documents a young woman’s journey to self-empowerment and self-realization.

As the story moves full circle to embrace the relationships between mother and daughter and generations of belief, readers receive an engrossing examination of how past memories and experiences transform into future changes and new possibilities.

Katie, Bar the Door takes no simple paths in exploring these revelations. It provides many twists and surprises that will delight readers interested in a moving story of a young woman’s dreams, misconceptions, and growth. It will appeal to those interested in emotional trauma, recovery, and transformation, as well as in evocative women’s fictional writings.

You can order it here.

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Sunday Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In this week before Halloween, I’ve decided to post a review for a book I read a few months ago: Mexican Gothic. Set in the 1950s, the novel takes a classic gothic plot line but transports it to Mexico—a young woman travels to a mysterious house and uncovers a secret horror that ends up threatening her life and freedom.

Noemí Tabada is a popular and charming debutante in the highest levels of Mexican society, known for her beautiful clothes and many admirers. When her recently married cousin Catalina sends a letter home describing bizarre and dangerous happenings in her new husband’s family estate, Noemí’s father sends her on a mission to see if Catalina is losing her mind. When she first arrives, Noemí has a difficult time finding anything wrong, except that no one wants to let her spend time alone with the cousin she came to see.

Of course, things don’t stop there. Noemí begins to have terrible nightmares and to suspect that something is very, very wrong beneath the surface. I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil the book’s effect.

To be honest, when I read it, I struggled with my reaction to this novel. Parts of it are incredibly disturbing and distasteful, but … that’s kind of the point. In the end, I came to see it as an exploration of the survival instinct. On the one hand is one person’s deformed survival instinct, grown bloated, diseased, and parasitical, which fuels all the weirdness. On the other hand is the main character’s strong but still-within-the-bounds-of-reason survival instinct, fueled by courage, love, and her own indomitable will. I’m glad I read it, but the last section of the novel is not for the faint of heart.

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Filed under Book Reviews, fiction, Gothic, Historical fiction

Sunday Review: The Medicus Series

Today, rather than reviewing one book, I’m going to talk about the Medicus series of historical mysteries by Ruth Downie, set in the Roman Empire in the second century of the common era. We first meet Gaius Petraius Ruso, a physician (or medicus) from Gaul, when he is assigned to a legion in Britannia. Ruso is a wry, unassuming man who just wants to earn a decent living to help out his family in Gaul, left in debt after his father dies, and to forget his failed marriage to a woman who had far more ambition than he does and regarded him with scorn for not rising faster in his career. He hopes working at a routine institutional job will give him the time he needs to focus on compiling a medical guide that will salvage his finances and reputation—as well as helping other physicians.

Life in Britannia quickly proves more complicated and dangerous than Ruso anticipates. His soft heart leads him to purchase a blonde slave girl with an unpronounceable British name from her abusive master with the intention of saving her severely injured arm. Thus we are introduced to the second main character, quickly rechristened Tilla.

When young women at a local bar near the military outpost start turning up dead, Ruso somehow ends up investigating the crimes. This in turn gives him a reputation as a detective that he dearly wants to disavow but which follows him throughout the course of the series, disrupting his plans to be just a good doctor.

As does Tilla, who evolves from a distrustful housekeeper with no domestic skills to Ruso’s partner in more ways than one. She views every injustice with sharp indignation, and she has a knack for annoying the authorities and going her own headstrong way, further injecting chaos into the life of the man she lives with.

The series meanders to Ruso’s family home in Gaul and even to imperial Rome but always seems to come back to Britannia, touring some of the ancient high spots such as Hadrian’s wall (then under construction) and Aquae Sulis (now known as Bath).

The stories are fast reads, and humor makes up a large part of every book. Downie’s use of eccentric characters to people her world reminds me a bit of Dickens. Some of the most memorable of those characters are recurring. Life in the ancient Roman empire is depicted in vivid but not overwhelming detail. Most importantly, by the time I reached the third or fourth book, I found myself missing Ruso and Tilla between reads. To me, that is always the sign of a good series.

Read the books in order to avoid confusion and to be able to follow the characters’ development:

Terra Incognita
Persona Non Grata
Caveat Emptor
Semper Fidelis
Tabula Raza
Vita Brevis
Prima Facie (a novella, rather than a novel)
Memento Mori

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Sunday Review: Chasing the Wind by C.C. Humphreys

This is like a cross between one of those early movie serials—all action and peril—and a historical novel set between the world wars. The heroine is a risk-taking, cigarette-smoking, whiskey-drinking, adventure-loving aviatrix who flees America after her father is killed, leaving her with a mountain of debt she can’t repay. 

Her adventures take her to Africa, Spain, the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and aboard the Hindenburg on its fateful voyage—and along the way she encounters smugglers, art forgers, saboteurs, Nazis, and her family’s arch enemy. 

Don’t expect a serious portrayal of the politics of Europe in the late 1930s. But if you’re in the mood for a fast-paced, fun romp on the order of Raiders of the Lost Ark, this is the book for you.

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Sunday Review: The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

Although I am a longtime fan of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache series, over the last few years I’ve felt less enthusiastic about some of the books. I know that it’s very hard to keep a series fresh, but the pivot to having several plots about massive conspiracies didn’t appeal to me as much as her earlier work. (Your mileage may vary.)

With this novel, I think Penny struck a better balance. First, it’s set back in Three Pines, so we get to catch up with the cast of eccentric characters there. Second, the issues she explores juxtapose a debate over policies that would have national significance with the moral cost to individuals of participating in or fighting against those policies. (I am being deliberately vague to avoid spoilers.) Several characters come face to face with shadowy things hidden in their own psychological depths—reasons for their behavior that they would prefer not to admit. This isn’t unusual in a Louise Penny novel, but I found these revelations particularly poignant. 

This is one series I strongly recommend reading in publication order. And I do still recommend it. Because of this latest installment, I am looking forward again to the next Gamache book. 

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A Visit with Anna Belfrage

I did a guest post on Anna Belfrage’s blog yesterday. We became acquainted on social media through our network of historical novelists. To read the post, you can click here.

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Release Day: Katie, Bar the Door

cover of Katie, Bar the Door

Today is publication day for my third novel—Katie, Bar the Door, a work of contemporary women’s fiction.

You can order the book in Kindle or paperback here: https://bit.ly/order_KBtD (The Kindle is live now; the paperback will be up in a day or two.)

Summary: From a childhood of parental loss, religious repression, and sexual shaming, Katie Thompson suffers deep wounds and persistent self-doubt. Her desire to find meaning through education and a career is threatened by those who push her to conform to a more traditional path. In her desperate search for love, Katie makes disastrous choices about men, leading her to the brink of self-destruction. Her journey through Katie, Bar the Door is the universal quest for healing and hope as she struggles to save herself and her dreams.


“The full circle of love, loss, and forgiveness left me with a great deal of hope and heart-swell.”—Kelly Fumiko Weiss, Windy City Reviews

“An admirable literary feat”—Jodi Daynard, The Midwife’s Revolt

“Tackles the cost of secrets and silence in this raw yet tender coming-of-age story”—Pat Wahler, I Am Mrs. Jesse James

“A gut-punching, white-knuckled labyrinthine tale of Katie’s tormented, guilt-ridden passions”—Nina Romano, The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley

“Manages to offer the reader both deep psychological insight and a page-turning narrative”—Barbara Monier, The Rocky Orchard

Radio Interview with Susan Wingate

To mark the book launch, I was interviewed toady on blog talk radio by the fabulous Susan Wingate. Click on the image to go to the interview.

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Review of Katie, Bar the Door by Windy City Reviews

I’m very pleased to share that my novel Katie, Bar the Door—which is coming out Wednesday, September 22—was just reviewed by Kelly Fumiko Weiss for Windy City Reviews. You can read the full review here.

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Author Interview

I was interviewed by author Pat Wahler today here. Check it out.

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Sunday Review: The Fourteenth of September by Rita Dragonette

According to family lore, one of my older brothers had the wrong date on his birth certificate. The nuns wrote down the next date instead and refused to believe my mother when she pointed it out. Whether that story is true or not, I have long been intrigued by the idea that someone’s chances of dying in Vietnam might have been determined by a clerical error.

I kept remembering that as I listened to this novel. It doesn’t deal with such a mistake, but it does examine how the draft lottery was an arbitrary gamble that the government played with people’s lives. The book focuses on Judy Talton, a college sophomore in 1969 whose mother pressured her into enlisting in the army in exchange for college tuition and a nursing degree. But after her first year in the program, Judy begins to have qualms about the Vietnam War, so she embarks on a careful plan to determine exactly what she believes. Since only one other student on campus knows about her military commitment, she decides to “go undercover” and join a group of freaks (AKA hippies) who oppose the war and are increasingly vocal about it.

Judy quest to resolve her crisis of conscience is complicated by conflicts among various student groups, an attraction to one of the freak leaders, a friendship with a young man who shares the same birth date as hers (causing her to identify with his anxiety over the lottery), a trip to Washington to participate in the largest protest the government had ever seen (at least until then), the mounting tensions over the pending first draft lottery, the explosive news of the Kent State shootings, and the constant fear that either the army or her new friends will discover the double life she is leading.

I enjoyed the book. I’m 8-10 years younger than that generation, so I wasn’t very aware of the explosive events of 1969 at the time, and it was enlightening to live it through Judy’s perspective. There were times I felt that I wanted more descriptions of setting; the book was inside Judy’s head a lot of the time, and I could have done with more concrete details.

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