~~~~ Reviews from my jumbled perspective. ~~~~
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**Not all lists are updated
**I apologize for the poor grammar in the earlier book reviews.
I have a pair of favorite characters from my book Every Hill and Mountain. Brother Greenfield, a preacher in a small southern Illinois church, is a minor character, but he grew into something very special to me. He is a huge man (I pictured Dennis Haysbert, the “Allstate Guy”) the descendent of slaves who used to work the salt mine in Equality. Yes, you heard me right—slaves in the free state of Illinois.
Miss Granger, a parallel minor character, is an eccentric, elderly woman who lives alone in a creepy old mansion that sits in isolation on Hickory Hill. I thought of Dickens’ Miss Havisham when I created her. Like Miss Havisham, Miss Granger is locked in the past. Only in this case, it’s not the wrong that was done to her that torments her, but the wrong her family did to others. She is a descendent of the man who owned the salt mine and the slaves who worked it. She is figuratively bound by chains of guilt and shame over what went on up on the third floor of her mansion.
In contrast, Brother Greenfield who has every reason to be resentful of the white citizens of Equality, Miss Granger most of all, is a man who has been redeemed and made whole. He holds no grudges but lovingly and kindly ministers to the tortured woman. God is just waiting for Miss Granger to accept His forgiveness and love, and we leave with the sense that she’ll finally do just that.
Writing about such characters was an opportunity to preach the Gospel to myself. Miss Granger reminded me that “there is now, therefore, no condemnation” and I am free! And Brother Greenfield reminded me to love my enemies.
Do you laugh and cry while writing your books?
Yes, I get so involved with my characters that I can’t help but be moved by their successes and travails. I get such a big kick out of what they say and do. Abby’s boyfriend John in particular makes me laugh. He’s such a guy. I found myself quite disgusted by Abby’s roommate’s fiancé. And I cried for Brother Greenfield’s Uncle Henry, who came into town for a Coca Cola for his 89th birthday but got nervous as the afternoon wore on, remembering a time in the not too distant past when it was illegal for blacks to be out and about in town after sundown.
I’m continually surprised by how my characters develop, which is to say, of course, that I’m surprised to find what’s inside my head waiting to come out. I’ve determined that nothing in life is wasted or unimportant, especially for a writer.
Do you write about places you have lived?
All four of my books are set in or near locations I have lived. I was born the next town over from the setting of Every Hill and Mountain. I grew up a couple of miles from the setting of Time and Again. The setting of Unclaimed Legacy is just a few more miles away from that. The fourth book in the series, Once Again, is set in Monroe County, Illinois, where my husband and I now live.
Have you traveled to do research for your books?
I have thoroughly enjoyed researching the southern Illinois history that went into my first four novels. It’s a region rich with possibilities, and I have several other ideas for stories. I did revisit Equality, Shawneetown, and other far southern towns to gather information and soak up atmosphere for Every Hill and Mountain. But, other than that I haven’t actually had to travel for my books. I just dug around in my head for memories. I do hope to travel to Scotland one day soon (a lifelong dream) for another book that’s been brewing for quite some time. We’ll see.
Are you sad to end a series and leave the characters behind?
I was so sad, as were a number of my fans, that I decided to turn my Time and Again trilogy into a series. I just released Once Again, a novella that continues the history-mystery adventures with the amazing computer software that allows Abby and her friends to rewind and fast-forward the lives of people from long ago. But this time, 11-year-old Merri from the original trilogy is now an adult and the main character. She uses the software to “time-surf” back for the information she needs for her genealogy consulting business. She never knows what she’ll uncover while she’s rummaging around in other people’s family trees.
I have several new adventures on tap for Merri over the next couple of years. Meanwhile, I’m venturing into new territory with a contemporary romance due this spring and a historical romance next winter.
Abby Thomas needed to choose a summer service project. With teaching in her future she chose to tutor a young girl for the summer. Her excitement was not met in the same way. Young Merredith didn’t seem to care about anything. She didn’t take care of herself and Abby allowed her physical appearance and bad attitude to rule her opinion of Merredith as well. As Abby gets to know the girl she sees the underlying circumstances that have caused Merredith to be like she is. Such as moving from Chicago to this hick town of only a few homes, if you could even call it a town.
After meeting young Michael and Mrs Arnold, an older neighbor woman, an interest in what Miles Station use to be like opens up into an adventure. Especially when they discovered the home Merredith’s mother inherited belonged to the founder of the town, Colonel Jonathon Miles. When they realize they can see his daughter, Charlotte Miles, on a computer program, learning history becomes an exciting past time.
I found this to be an easy flowing book where the characters and town came to life. It was one of those books for me that was hard to put down, “just one more page” type books. It is so special to watch Merredith as she comes out of her shell and the friendship they give to Michael. The history they learn as they go back in time was put in such a way that I found myself sitting there ‘watching’ the Douglas/Lincoln debate, seeing the difference in the candidates clothing and speeches from the author’s description. Deborah’s writing brought out the emotions for me as well….whether a smile or tears. Much of the story was built on true facts. I’m looking forward to the next book, Unclaimed Legacy.
Abby and Merri return for another adventure with the mysterious time-surfing software that seems to bring out the “soul” of a house. This time it’s the old Victorian they are house sitting that belongs to John’s cousin Lucy. Up to this point John didn’t believe Abby and Merri when they would tell him about their adventures to old time Miles Station but now that the program has been uploaded to his laptop and he’s seeing it with his own eyes….well let’s just say for some people seeing is believing. Although Abby would have liked for John to believe her without proof.
On this trip we are in Alton, Illinois and we meet eighty-five year old twin sisters, Beulah Mae and Eulah Mae. As our sleuths try and help the Old Dears with their family tree they run into information that isn’t so good. A bad apple on one of the branches.
Deborah Heal tells the story with a mystery to solve, humorous events and some tear jerking moments. She also leaves you with some interesting history facts. You may want to read book 1, Time and Again: Charlotte of Miles Station, to know the whole story about their first time-surfing adventures and how Abby, Merri, Michael and John meet.
Those who have read Time and Again and Unclaimed Legacy know that Abby Thomas is a college student on a summer service project with 11-year-old Merri. And they know that the summer is not going the way Abby had expected—but in a good way. For one thing, she meets a very nice guy named John Roberts. And for another, she discovers a strange computer program called Beautiful House that lets her fast-forward and rewind life. Not her own, of course, but those of the people who lived in Merri’s old house. And the Old Dears’ old house, and…well, any old house.
And since the program worked so well for the Old Dears’ family tree project, Abby’s college roommate Kate hopes it will help her find out more about her ancestor Ned Greenfield. And Kate’s fiancé Ryan thinks the program has lucrative commercial potential.
Abby and John reluctantly agree to help Kate, but only on the condition that she and Ryan promise to keep the program a secret, because if it fell into the wrong hands…well, no one wants Big Brother invading their privacy.
The two couples take a trip to the tiny town of Equality, set in the hills of southern Illinois and the breath-taking Shawnee National Forest. According to Kate’s research, Ned Greenfield was born there at a place called Hickory Hill.
The mayor, police chief, and townspeople are hospitable and helpful—until the topic of Hickory Hill comes up. They seem determined to keep them away, telling them, “There’s nothing there for you to see.”
Eventually they find Hickory Hill on their own—both the mansion and the lonely hill it sits upon. Built in 1834, Hickory Hill stands sentinel over Half Moon Salt Mine where the original owner John Granger accumulated his blood-tainted fortune.
Abby and her friends meet Miss Granger, Hickory Hill’s current eccentric owner, and they eventually get the chance to time-surf there. Their shocking discovery on the third floor concerning Kate’s ancestor Ned Greenfield is almost too much to bear. What they learn sends them racing to the opposite end of the state to find the missing link in Kate’s family tree. And there they are reminded that God is in the business of redemption—that one day he’ll make all things new.
Spending the night in an old attic on Halloween, should have been creepy. But for Merri Randall, it is a night for miracles. When she discovers that the Beautiful House program is working again after fifteen years, she’s given the chance to say goodbye to the “Old Dears” one last time.
Now that she’s an adult, Merri realizes the computer program is even more amazing than she had thought when she was eleven. The ability to watch history unfold could be of unimaginable value to her work as a history professor and genealogy consultant.
But would she be able to keep the program safe? The ramifications of such power are terrifying, because if the government ever got its hands on it, Uncle Sam could make Big Brother look like a kindly Wal-Mart greeter in comparison.
Abby’s colleague Brett Garrison would like to be more than just friends, but Merri has a strict policy against dating other faculty members. Even good-looking ones with dimples. Besides, with Abby and John’s marriage setting the standard, no man yet has measured up.
But when Brett asks Merri to help his aunt with the Garrison family tree she decides the possible gains are worth the risks—to the computer program and to her heart.
The house this time is not actually a house at all, just the ruins of the blockhouse fort the Garrison family built in 1788 as protection from attacking Indians. Only a portion of the stone foundation remains, but it’s enough to launch Beautiful Houses into what Merri calls “amazing mode.”
Watching the fort’s history unfold is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Her report to Brett’s Aunt Nelda is full of the family’s heroic deeds. But to keep the program secret, Merri can’t reveal everything she discovered. Like that Nelda inherited her literary talent from her great (x15) grandmother Isabelle. Or that Brett inherited his good looks from his great (x15) grandfather James.