Shadow Days and Making Amends by Melinda Clayton: Reviews

MakingAmendsI’ve been catching up on a little reading over the last few weeks, and I wanted to share my thoughts on two excellent stories by Melinda Clayton. Full disclosure: Melinda is a fellow IU minion, but I began reading and enjoying her books before she signed on.

Making Amends

Making Amends is a standalone story, just released. I’m a sucker for a good, broken character seeking redemption, or at least trying to do damage control and move on. And Melinda Clayton brings it, with heart and compassion and the depth of understanding she undoubtedly brings from her background as a psychotherapist.

I stayed up way too late for several nights in a row reading Making Amends because I needed to know what happened next. The characters are full and heartbreakingly real, heartbreakingly broken and doing the best they can to pull it all together. I fell hard for Ben, a man on the edges of Alzheimer’s, lucid enough at times to understand and plan for what he’ll be losing, including his tender, funny, loving relationship with his wife, Von. I felt their conflict, their sorrow, their hope, their stolen moments. To tell too much would spoil this well-crafted, well-paced story, but I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a deep, thoughtful story about attempting to build a meaningful life out of the broken pieces.

Shadow Days

This is the fourth book in the Cedar Hollow Series. After three stories that focused on several residents of the town at various points in history, what I found really interesting was looking at Cedar Hollow from an outsider’s point of view—not a child returning, but a complete stranger. On the first anniversary of her husband’s death, Emily Holt flees the Florida home where she sees Greg everywhere she looks and ends up broken down, literally and figuratively, just outside of Cedar Hollow. I like the back and forth of what Emily makes of the town…and what they make of her.

But like that saying, “Wherever you go, there you are,” she can’t run too far from her memories, or the secrets she’s been keeping from her children.

Appalachian Justice, the first book in the series, is still by far my favorite, but this was an interesting spin, a visit with old friends, and a psychological plot line about mental illness that hit very close to home for me. A definite yes for Cedar Hollow and Melinda Clayton fans.

Entangled Thorns by Melinda Clayton: Book Review

Entangled-Thorns-Melinda-Clayton-207x300By accident I started reading Melinda Clayton’s Cedar Hollow series out of order, but it didn’t reduce the experience for me in the slightest. After the well-defined characters, what I like most about this series is how the sense of place becomes a character as well. It feels especially powerful in Entangled Thorns. I can almost smell Rugged Creek and feel the shock of the cold water and hear the whine of the mosquitoes. The vegetation, the land, the very humidity in the air…I can practically taste it. And yet it doesn’t become overwhelming or feel like too much detail. I know when I start highlighting passages on my Kindle about the quality of the sunsets or the texture of the night skies, it’s something I’ll be hard pressed to put down.  Continue reading

Appalachian Justice by Melinda Clayton: a review

ImageLet me tell you about this book. First I need to tell you that Melinda Clayton is a fellow minion at Indies Unlimited. But I’m certain I would have picked up this book regardless, because the subject and the description intrigued me, and I’d heard about her writing talent. I also read a discussion about Appalachian Justice before I read it, mostly concerning the dialect used. Dialect is dicey in fiction. There’s a fine tightrope act between “not enough” and “Jar Jar Binks.” (No offense meant to Star Wars fans.) But dialect can come off a little strong and alienate a reader, sometimes because it can be difficult to understand, sometimes because it can touch a stereotypical nerve. And, I admit that when I started reading Appalachian Justice, it took me a bit to get into the West Virginia dialect used in first person by the main character, Billy May Platte. But after a while, I grew comfortable with her manner of speaking and grew to love her for her quiet strength and authenticity.

The events of the story are not always pretty, but neither is real life, and the author does a fine job portraying these “broken” characters, laying out who they are through their dialogue and actions and allowing the reader to have empathy. I felt so strongly for these characters, the ones who were trying to get on with their lives after some horrifying experiences, the ones just trying do good and right old wrongs, some only going by the limited information they were able to glean from each other. I loved how Ms. Clayton handled Billy May’s sexuality: it was just a fact of the character’s life, although very realistically for the time period and the community, other characters saw it as a threat.

Appalachian Justice is a great example of how a skilled writer can bend writing “rules” and make it work. Ms. Clayton mixes first and third person, employs multiple points of view even for minor characters, goes back and forth in time, and it all works, in my opinion, to give the reader a full context for the core drama that runs through the story. I love how the story builds in tension and how the author metes it out, pulling me in deeper and deeper until I had to stay up far past my bedtime to see how it all came together. Once I got hooked I had a hard time putting this down. Now I’m on the hunt for Melinda Clayton’s other books.