About Mae Clair

Hi, I'm Mae Clair, an author who writes tales of mystery and suspense, flavored with folklore. In addition to writing, I'm an avid reader who loves discussing books and anything writing related. I'm also passionate about cryptozoology, legends, and cats!

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney #domensticthriller

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

This book was on my NetGalley radar, but despite submitting a request, I wasn’t approved for an ARC. The blurb sucked me in the first time I read it, so it was a no brainer to purchase the book when I didn’t get approved for an ARC. Hey, it happens. Rejection aside, I’m thoroughly jazzed I followed through on this one. Below is my five-star review.

BOOK BLURB:

Things have been wrong with Mr and Mrs Wright for a long time. When Adam and Amelia win a weekend away to Scotland, it might be just what their marriage needs. Self-confessed workaholic and screenwriter Adam Wright has lived with face blindness his whole life. He can’t recognize friends or family, or even his own wife.  

Every anniversary the couple exchange traditional gifts–paper, cotton, pottery, tin–and each year Adam’s wife writes him a letter that she never lets him read. Until now. They both know this weekend will make or break their marriage, but they didn’t randomly win this trip. One of them is lying, and someone doesn’t want them to live happily ever after.

Ten years of marriage. Ten years of secrets. And an anniversary they will never forget.

Rock Paper Scissors is the latest exciting domestic thriller from the queen of the killer twist, New York Times bestselling author Alice Feeney.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What a twisty, atmospheric, and haunting read! Amelia and Adam are a married couple who take a trip to a converted old chapel in a remote area of Scotland. Right from the start, the reader knows their marriage is in trouble, hanging by a thread. Adam is a workaholic screenwriter who suffers from facial blindness—he can’t see or remember people’s faces, including that of his wife. I won’t reiterate the rest of the blurb but will say this book twists and turns in ways I never saw coming. The chapel is wonderfully eerie with an old supernatural history, locked doors, a creepy wine cellar, unheated rooms, and a crumbling bell tower. The remote location is made even more ominous for its winter setting and raging snowstorm.

Chapters alternate between Amelia and Adam, and another woman, Robin, a recluse in a small cottage nearby. There are also letters that Adam’s wife writes to him every year on their anniversary, and a unique spin on the game of rock, paper, scissors. This is one of those books where it’s difficult to say much without giving away spoilers. I will say that I was mesmerized from start to finish, gobsmacked by the twists, and enamored of the creepy, snowbound setting. I read late into the night to finish it, then found it disturbing, haunting, and utterly satisfying. What a winner!

BOOK REVIEW TUESDAY: Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline, Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason Down

Warm and cozy window seat with cushions and a opened book, light through vintage shutters, rustic style home decor. Small cat on window seat, along with coffee cup by pillow, Words Book Review Tuesday superimposed over image

Happy last week of September! How the heck did we get here so fast? Hubby and I just came off a week’s vacation at the beach. It was wonderful, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. Check out below to see what happens when you eat too much seafood. Fortunately, I was able to walk it off the next day, thanks to a Goodyear tire, LOL!

I have two book reviews today, both 5-star novels, so I’m excited to share them. Here we go!

BOOK BLURB:

Allie Garvey is heading home to the funeral of a childhood friend. Allie is not only grief-stricken, she’s full of dread. Because going home means seeing the other two people with whom she shares an unbearable secret.

Twenty years earlier, a horrific incident shattered the lives of five teenagers, including Allie. Drinking and partying in the woods, they played a dangerous prank that went tragically wrong, turning deadly. The teenagers kept what happened a secret, believing that getting caught would be the worst thing that could happen. But time has taught Allie otherwise. Not getting caught was far worse.

Allie has been haunted for two decades by what she and the others did, and by the fact that she never told a soul. The dark secret has eaten away at her, distancing her from everyone she loves, including her husband. Because she wasn’t punished by the law, Allie has punished herself, and it’s a life sentence.

Now, Allie stands on the precipice of losing everything. She’s ready for a reckoning, determined to learn how the prank went so horribly wrong. She digs to unearth the truth, but reaches a shocking conclusion that she never saw coming–and neither will the reader.

A deeply emotional examination of family, marriage, and the true nature of justice, Someone Knows is Lisa Scottoline’s most powerful novel to date. Startling, page-turning, and with an ending that’s impossible to forget, this is a tour de force by a beloved author at the top of her game.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Allie returns to her hometown, twenty years after a calamity that altered her life. As fifteen-year-old, she and a group of friends played a prank that resulted in a tragic death. Crippled by grief, she has been going through the motions of living, not even able to tell her husband what happened that dreadful night.

When one of the friends who were with her dies unexpectedly, Allie returns home to attend the funeral. It forces her to come face to face with the others. She wants to dig for the truth of how the prank could have gone so horribly wrong, but not everyone feels the same, including someone who wants silence kept at all costs.

The book is divided into two sections, the first devoted to Allie’s past. When she makes a discovery in the woods, she becomes part of a small circle of teens whose lives will be altered by the find. There are multiple POVs, a good six to seven, which covers the teens and several adults. At the start, it can be a little daunting to keep track of the characters and how they relate to each other. Narration is third person, each chapter headed by the character sharing events. As someone who enjoys books with multiple narrators, I was able to settle in rather quickly.

The second half of the book is set in the present, twenty years after the tragedy. There are several characters I really felt for, especially Larry, Allie’s husband. Of special note, the scenes in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey were so vividly written, I felt like I was there, swallowed by pitch-black darkness and fleeing through the woods. The twists at the end were not any I saw coming. I thought I had the “who” figured out but was proven wrong.

If you enjoy a good domestic thriller that puts family and friendships under a microscope this story is perfect. Excellent character development, polished writing, and a supensful ending.

BOOK BLURB:

ONE ICONIC FAMILY. ONE SUMMER OF SECRETS. THE DAZZLING SPIRIT OF 1970S CALIFORNIA.

For Jackie Pierce, everything changed the summer of 1979, when she spent three months of infinite freedom at her bohemian uncle’s sprawling estate on the California coast. As musicians, artists, and free spirits gathered at The Sandcastle for the season in pursuit of inspiration and communal living, Jackie and her cousin Willa fell into a fast friendship, testing their limits along the rocky beach and in the wild woods… until the summer abruptly ended in tragedy, and Willa silently slipped away into the night.

Twenty years later, Jackie unexpectedly inherits The Sandcastle and returns to the iconic estate for a short visit to ready it for sale. But she reluctantly extends her stay when she learns that, before her death, her estranged aunt had promised an up-and-coming producer he could record a tribute album to her late uncle at the property’s studio. As her musical guests bring the place to life again with their sun-drenched beach days and late-night bonfires, Jackie begins to notice startling parallels to that summer long ago. And when a piece of the past resurfaces and sparks new questions about Willa’s disappearance, Jackie must discover if the dark secret she’s kept ever since is even the truth at all.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is an enjoyable novel that explores families and friendships. Seventeen-year-old Jackie Pierce spends one magical summer at the bohemian estate of her uncle, a legendary folk singer. There, among the free-spirits, creative thinkers, and musicians who come and go, she meets her cousin Willa. Though opposites in many ways, the girls form a fast and deep friendship.

I loved scenes of them exploring beaches, collecting sea glass, or wandering nighttime woods. The author brings the magic of summer and teen years beautifully to life. The descriptions are so vivid it’s easy to get lost in them. But something happens at the end of that enchanted summer that causes Willa to disappear.

Twenty years later, Jackie inherits her uncle’s estate (called the Sandcastle) and returns to the property with the intent of preparing it for sale. Her plans take a detour when a music producer, his crew, and musicians show up to record a tribute album to her uncle.

The dual timelines of the novel are set in 1979 and 1999. I was more partial to the chapters set in the past—perhaps because of the hippie-like atmosphere of the Sandcastle and the assortment of colorful characters who populated it. There’s also the sense of nostalgia evoked by summer magic in a year I remember well.

This is a “quiet” book which moves at a slow pace. It isn’t even until the last quarter of the novel that events surrounding Willa’s disappearance gradually unfold. The strength of the story lies in its summer vibes and the amazing friendship between the girls. I was a little disappointed in the actual “mystery” but loved the ending. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5 for review purposes.

The Beach is Calling…

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Hi, friends. Just a quick note to let you know I’m going to be offline for the coming week. Hubby and I are headed to the beach for vacation, our first since the pandemic struck. I’ll miss your posts while I’m sunning on the sand, but I’m looking forward to the down time–reading on the beach, cocktails at sunset, and dinners overlooking the ocean.

I’ll catch up with everyone when I get back. In the meantime, have an awesome week, and I’ll catch you on the other side!

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling #gothicfiction #historicalfantasy

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

Happy hump day! Today, I have a difficult three-star review to share. I often think these are the hardest to write, because the book had good points and those that came up short. Half of this story held me mesmerized. The other half… not so much. See what you think.

BOOK BLURB:

From the Bram Stoker-nominated author of The Luminous Dead comes a gothic fantasy horror–The Death of Jane Lawrence.

“Intense and amazing! It’s like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell meets Mexican Gothic meets Crimson Peak.” —BookRiot

Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town. 

Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him. By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to. 

Set in a dark-mirror version of post-war England, Caitlin Starling crafts a new kind of gothic horror from the bones of the beloved canon. This Crimson Peak-inspired story assembles, then upends, every expectation set in place by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca, and will leave readers shaken, desperate to begin again as soon as they are finished.

“Don’t read this one alone at night; Caitlin Starling has done it again. Unsettling, atmospheric, and downright brutal at times, The Death of Jane Lawrence will continue to haunt you long after you leave Lindridge Hall…if the house lets you leave, that is.” —Genevieve Gornichec, author of The Witch’s Heart

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for my ARC.

I loved the first quarter of this book. Jane is an intelligent, sensible woman who proposes a marriage of convenience to Dr. Augustine Lawrence. Although he declines at first, the two soon come to a business arrangement of how the marriage will be conducted. He has certain ground rules involving his family estate, Lindridge Hall, and Jane agrees to his terms.

What starts out as a beautifully Gothic and atmospheric read morphs into a convoluted plot of dark spirits, superstition, and ritual magic.

All of those would normally result in a stellar read for me, but the execution and underlying threads fizzled. On the plus side, the characters of Jane and Augustine are well developed and the awkwardness of their relationship, especially at the beginning, held me enthralled.

Secrets abound, especially as related to Lindridge Hall, a locked cellar door, rituals, and Augustine’s past. The writing is descriptive and dense, beautiful language that needs to be savored. After Jane is introduced to Augustine’s colleagues, who form a magical cult, the plot gets messy.

There are moments of surgical gore, plenty of metaphysical posturing, and a chapter near the end that borders on the abstract. The final conclusion was fantastic, but the path to reach that point was muddled and overly long. I’m sure many readers will enjoy this book for its dark imagery, odd alternate reality, and Gothic feel. This is one that comes down to a matter of preference.

Cover Reveal: Things Old and Forgotten by Mae Clair #speculativefiction #magicalrealism #legends

Hello, friends! I usually reserve Thursday posts for guest authors, but today I’m rolling out exciting news of my own!

I have a new release dropping on October 4th. It’s my first in a while, and my first collection of short stories. Things Old and Forgotten is slightly different than my usual genre of mystery and suspense, but keeps with my love for the unusual and imaginative. I’m delighted to share the cover and blurb today.


BOOK BLURB:

A man keeping King Arthur’s dream of Camelot alive.
A Robin Hood battling in a drastically different Sherwood.
A young man facing eternity in the desert.
A genteel southern lady besting a powerful order of genies.
A woman meeting her father decades after his death.

These are but a few of the intriguing tales waiting to be discovered in Things Old and Forgotten. Prepare to be transported to realms of folklore and legend, where magic and wonder linger around every corner, and fantastic possibilities are limited only by imagination.


Thanks for joining me for the cover reveal and I hope you’ll keep Things Old and Forgotten on your reading radar!

Book Review Tuesday: Solstice Retribution by Judi Lynn, The Dime Museum Murders by Daniel Stashower #muddyriver #harryhoudini

Warm and cozy window seat with cushions and a opened book, light through vintage shutters, rustic style home decor. Small cat on window seat, along with coffee cup by pillow, Words Book Review Tuesday superimposed over image

Happy Tuesday, and happy September! If you reside in the U.S. or Canada, I hope you enjoyed your long Labor Day weekend. Today, I have two books to share. I’ve been a fan of Judy Lynn’s Muddy River series since book one–a cozy, sometimes not so cozy mystery series that combines supernatural elements with a cast of intriguing preternatural characters. I also discovered a new series starring a man who has long fascinated me–Harry Houdini. See below.

BOOK BLURB:

Hester’s close friend, Carlotta, has gone to a witches’ solstice festival with Jason, the young neighbor she took under her wing. When she learned that he had cancer, she sent him to Hester and Raven to be “changed.” He chose to become an owl shifter, but is still very new at being a supernatural, so she wants to introduce him to her witch friends. The festival is close to Muddy River, so Carlotta plans on stopping to visit Hester after the ceremonies are finished.

But Jason calls Hester to tell her that Carlotta has disappeared, so have two other witches, and Hester suspects foul play. She and Raven race to the isolated, wooded area, only to find a dead body near the parking area. Not Carlotta’s. Once they start seriously looking for Hester’s friend, they discover that someone has come to the ceremonies that honor Hecate with plans of revenge that date back to the witch trials at Salem. Hester’s family died there, and she thought she knew the truth. But she was wrong.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Another entertaining story in this wonderful collection that combines mystery with the supernatural. Hester is a powerful witch who heads her coven in Muddy River—a community of shapeshifters, vampires, witches, fae and other supernatural creatures and beings. Raven, her mate, is a fire-demon and the Enforcer for their town. In this tale, they travel to a nearby area where a solstice celebration among witches is taking place. Unfortunately, it also includes murder. Not one, but multiple victims.

As Hester and Raven dig deeper into motive and suspects, Hester’s own past during the Salem witch hunts come into play. For long-time fans of the series, we learn a bit more about her background, but this is easily read as a standalone. There are numerous potential suspects, a number of whom I loathed. The mystery is nicely contained until the end with the motive something I would never have suspected. Even Hester’s ocelot familiar, Claws, has moments to shine.

There are several new characters, some whom I suspect will settle in Muddy River. As an added bonus, there’s also a short Yuletide story at the end of the book that acts as an introduction to Jason, one of the secondary characters in the tale. All around, a thoroughly engaging story.

BOOK BLURB:

Harry Houdini and his brother, Dash, are called to solve the murder of a toy tycoon in this first locked room mystery starring the legendary real-life magicians
 
New York City, 1897: Young escapologist Harry Houdini is struggling to get the recognition he craves from the ruthless entertainment industry. But when toy tycoon Branford Wintour is found murdered in his Fifth Avenue mansion, detectives call upon Houdini to help solve this mysterious crime, ushering in a new era of Houdini’s career: amateur sleuth.
 
When Harry and his brother Dash reach the scene of the murder, they discover Wintour was found dead in a room that was locked from the inside out—the result of a cruel magic trick. Together, the brothers Houdini launch their first ever investigation, venturing into the bizarre world of rare curios and the collectors who will pay any price to own them.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The first book in the Harry Houdini mystery series, this certainly kept me entertained. Harry is still struggling for recognition as an escape artist, assisted in his act by his wife, Bess, and brother Dash. It’s Harry and Dash who become involved in solving the murder of a toy tycoon. The two brothers play off each other well, and the author portrays Houdini in a manner that rings true. I loved the 1897 setting and definitely plan on reading other books in this series.

Guest Author Thursday: Sue Rovens with Rage #suspense #crimethriller

red quill pen on a piece of old parchment paper, with an ink well with words Welcome Guest in script

Welcome to another Guest Author Thursday. Today, I’m delighted to feature Sue Rovens, who has brought along her latest release, Rage, in addition to an intriguing post about her characters and plots. Personally, I’m a huge fan of character-driven fiction. Check out Sue’s post then drop her some thoughts in the comments.

Take it away, Sue!


Thank you so much, Mae, for having me as a guest. The opportunity is most appreciated!

Anyone who prefers suspense over hardcore horror/gore should find my books to their liking. My characters are people who have faults, problems, and at times, heavy baggage. I don’t shy away from polarizing issues and taboo topics. However, at the same time, I don’t glorify these facets. The people in my stories are as “real” as those we meet everyday (or read about in the papers). The various situations I put them in is what drives the narrative.

Rage, my newest novel, follows two main characters – Wilbur Weston and Lyndsay Yager. Wilbur is a depressed and bitter man who hates the world almost as much as himself. Lyndsay is his therapist who is a train wreck of an alcoholic on the brink of divorce.

While Rage casts a dark shadow over itself, the reader will discover the characters’ reasoning for the choices they make – both good and bad. It’s a suspenseful tale full of hurt and desperate people who see themselves as doing what they must – righting their wrongs.

Rage comes in at 232 pages and is available in paperback and in Kindle format from Amazon.

BOOK BLURB:

Weston Cross is a bullied and abused man who wants nothing more than to escape from his agonizing mental anguish and excruciating misery. After a harrowing brush with death, he discovers a better way to twist his depression and self-despair into something different…something sinister.

Lindsay Yager, the therapist assigned to help Weston with his internal battles, is fighting her own demons. On the verge of a nasty divorce, she finds solace at the bottom of a bottle. Her anger and vitriol take no prisoners, even when lives are at stake – including her own.

Depression sets the stage, but RAGE will have the final say.

AUTHOR BIO:

Sue Rovens is an indie suspense/horror author who hails from Normal, Illinois. She has written four novels and two books of short horror stories.

Track 9, her second novel, snagged a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly (May 2018), her short story, “Coming Over”, from her book, In a Corner, Darkly (Volume 1) was turned into a screenplay and short student indie film by the theater department of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and another short story, “When the Earth Bled”, won 2nd place in the Support Indie Authors short story contest earlier this year. Her two most recent books (Buried and Rage) are under Plump Toad Press.

Sue owns a blog (suerovens.com) which includes interviews with authors, musicians, podcasters, and artists. She is an Executive Producer for an indie (short) horror film which is currently in production called “Let’s Do Things that Make Us Happy”. Sue is also a co-host and story writer for the new horror podcast, Ye Olde Terror Inn.

Sue is a member of The Chicago Writers Association and the Alliance for Independent Authors (ALLi).

Blog: https://suerovens.com | Email: srovens@yahoo.com

I also want to let your readers know that I interview authors (and artists and musicians) of ALL genres and professional levels. Currently, I have 179 author interviews, as well as a handful of music folks and artistic people.

Everything is done through email and on YOUR schedule/timeframe. If you are interested in being a part of the Meet & Greet (author interviews), Spotlight (artists), and/or Flipside (music folks), please send me a quick email. ALL are welcome on my blog. Thanks!


What a nice invitation. Not only has Sue brought her latest release to share, but also an opportunity for all creative sorts out there. I hope you’ll reach out to her—and don’t forget to hop over to AMAZON to pick up your copy of Rage!

Book Review Tuesday: If the Light Escapes by Brenda Marie Smith #dystopian #postapocalyptic

Warm and cozy window seat with cushions and a opened book, light through vintage shutters, rustic style home decor. Small cat on window seat, along with coffee cup by pillow, Words Book Review Tuesday superimposed over image

Last week it was my pleasure to host Brenda Marie Smith, the author of If the Light Escapes, with a riveting look at her life living off the grid in a hippie commune. If you missed that post, you can find it HERE. After reading it, you’ll understand why she has the perfect background to write a post apocalyptic novel. Today, I’m pleased to present my five star review. On a side note, I was honored to be asked to provide a cover blurb for the book. Isn’t that cover striking?

BOOK BLURB:

“Gritty and powerful… takes the reader on an emotionally charged and adrenaline-fueled journey that lingers long after the last page is read.”
—Mae Clair, author of the Point Pleasant series and the Hode’s Hill series

The standalone sequel to IF DARKNESS TAKES US

A solar electromagnetic pulse has fried the US grid. Now, northern lights are in Texas—three thousand miles farther south than where they belong. The universe won’t stop screwing with eighteen-year-old Keno Simms. All that’s left for him and his broken family is farming their Austin subdivision, trying to eke out a living on poor soil in the scorching heat. Keno’s one solace is his love for Alma, who has her own secret sorrows. When he gets her pregnant, he vows to keep her alive no matter what. Yet armed marauders and nature itself collude against him, forcing him to make choices that rip at his conscience. If the Light Escapes is post-apocalyptic science fiction set in a near-future reality, a coming-of-age story told in the voice of a heroic teen who’s forced into manhood too soon.

“Brenda Marie Smith stuns a gain with the breathtaking sequel to her debut. With her skill for detail and character, Smith captivates us with Keno’s kindness and humanity while also exploring the capacity for violence that lurks within all of us.”
—Aden Polydoros, author of THE CITY BEAUTIFUL

“IF THE LIGHT ESCAPES is a rich coming-of-age story about the legacy of family, infused with hopefulness and humanity.”
—Laura Creedle, author of THE LOVE LETTERS OF ABELARD AND LILY

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Picking up where book one left off, If the Light Escapes is a powerful and emotional read. With Bea, the central character from book one no longer able to lead her family and their neighborhood, Keno, her eighteen-year-old grandson finds himself shouldering most of the burden. Time has passed since the sun sent an enormous pulsar flare to Earth, knocking out power and throwing humanity back decades, if not centuries. Creature comforts are gone, medicine comes down to home remedies, food amounts to what can be grown or hunted, and the greatest danger comes from human predators.

This is not a typical apocalyptic read. The story takes place in a single small neighborhood and close vicinity. The author tells a gritty and emotional tale, brutal yet gilded with hope. The emotions the characters experience are heart-wrenching. Particularly Keno who’s forced to make tough decisions, including judgements about members of his own family. What he faces and experiences forever change boy to man.

The last half of the book left me wrung out, both emotionally, and from the adrenaline-fueled closing. The story is grim in many ways, but it speaks to the souls of the characters. A break-down, and at the same time, a reinforcement of humanity. There is no gloss on how people react. When called for, the author shows us all the ugliness inherent with the need to protect loved ones. Also of note are the descriptions. From living in a time when you shower in the rain, plant, tend gardens and ration supplies, the experiences are brought to life with vivid and forceful prose.

A thoroughly engaging novel that will make you appreciate the many comforts of home—including being able to curl up with your Kindle to read this compelling story!

Trigger warnings: Language

Guest Author Thursday: Brenda Marie Smith, If the Light Escapes #newrelease #dystopian #postapocalyptic

red quill pen on a piece of old parchment paper, with an ink well with words Welcome Guest in script

I’m delighted to welcome Brenda Marie Smith back to my blog with another riveting post about her years of living off the grid in a commune. She has the perfect background to write post-apocalyptic fiction. I positively loved her novel, If Darkness Takes Us, so when she offered me an ARC of the follow-up, If the Light Escapes, I jumped at the chance.

I was honored when she asked me to write a cover blurb for the book. And wow–what a stellar cover! Look for my review on this fantastic novel next week. In the meantime, check out Brenda’s amazing post below!


Living Communally
By Brenda Marie Smith

While living off the grid in the Ozark Mountains in the 1970s, my ex-husband and I read the book Hey Beatnik! about a hippie community in Tennessee called The Farm. They were vegans before there was a term for it, they offered free midwifery services, and they even pledged to raise your child if you didn’t want it. The group followed a spiritual creed—a fusion of the common threads that run through most religions—love, compassion, and keeping a clean mind. We needed to see it; we took off for southern middle Tennessee.

book cover for Hey Beatnik!

Farm folks were amazingly friendly, which was scary for me as a shy twenty-one-year-old who’d been living in the woods for years. But they were genuinely kind. Full beards, long hair, bright clothing—much of it held together with multi-colored patchwork. They had 1,700 acres of woods and farmland, with creeks and springs and wells, horses and tractors, a free store, a soy dairy, a canning kitchen, and scads of housing made from old school buses and army field tents stretched across wooden frames.

There were pink-cheeked kids and babies and pregnant women everywhere, a greenhouse under construction, a coin-free laundromat, a mill with workers covered in flour, and acres upon acres of soybeans, sorghum, tomatoes, and more. The smell of woodsmoke permeated the air, and when you walked the dirt roads, everyone greeted you.

My youngest son Jared (J.D.) going back to his roots in 2018, visiting a school bus still on The Farm.

People mediated in the meadow on Sunday mornings, finishing it off with a harmonious OM. Couples were often married afterwards. They had a spiritual leader, Stephen Gaskin, who pulled the group together with his charisma, but who outlived that role over time.

We wanted to join up, but we had to go back to Arkansas first. I got pregnant that winter, as though all the pregnancies we’d witnessed had rubbed off on me.

We moved to The Farm in March 1975 and “soaked” for weeks—a kind of probationary membership before making a final commitment. At the end of that period, we gathered at the gatehouse with other soakers, signed a “Vow of Poverty,” and turned over our meager cash plus the keys to our truck, which went to the motor pool to be shared.

We moved into a tent house on Hickory Hill. Our bedroom had East Indian print curtains for interior walls and a platform bed with foam on top. We lived with two other couples, fairly far from where most of the community resided. We wanted it that way. We were too shy to live close to so many people. We carried our water from a creek down the hill—probably not the cleanest, but we didn’t know.

For a few months, it was sheer, heady adventure—working in the hot beds growing sweet potato slips, starting tomato and pepper plants, building compost and working it into the soil, hiking up Hickory Hill to make dinner by kerosene light, maybe play music with neighbors.

My ex and I with our babies, Aaron and Jared, in our school bus bed where Jared was born.

But The Farm was short on money and food. Sometimes we ran out of flour, other times salt. We seldom had cooking oil, but more often had margarine and sugar, home-canned tomatoes and pickled eggplant. The only foods we could count on having were soybeans and soy flour, which we made into not-so-tasty soy souffle. We baked small sweet potatoes to carry around to eat for energy.  But I was pregnant, and I couldn’t eat a bite of soybeans without instant nausea. Years later I learned that I’m allergic to soybeans.

I was given peanuts to shell, roast, and take to the mill to become peanut butter. People who went to town sneaked me candy bars with nuts and boxes of crackers to get me through. The midwives checked me regularly, and the local doctor pronounced me in good health, just a little too thin.

All this may sound crazy, but we were intense idealists, trying to create a more sustainable lifestyle, believing that our voluntary peasantry would help the world’s poor. But the Farm was located in a disadvantaged part of Tennessee, which lacked in ways to earn sufficient money to support twelve hundred hippies.

A construction crew, tree-planting crew, and farmhands worked outside The Farm for money. Our farming crew sold produce and farmed nearby land as well as ours, but they had to run up debt to do it, and the depleted soil wouldn’t yield enough to feed us all. We had to buy bulk food, plus cloth diapers for the dozen or so babies being born each month.

The food situation improved when we started a satellite Farm in Florida and shipped home mass quantities of fruits and veggies. My first son was delivered by midwives in October 1975, my second son fifteen months later. I had difficulties with the second birth but was well cared for at a nearby hospital.

Eventually, we got water delivered to barrels outside our houses with gravity-fed plumbing to our kitchen sinks. A few doctors joined our ranks and trained a crew of EMTs. A system of governance was established, and tent houses gradually became regular homes.

A typical day as a new mother on The Farm: Wake up twice per night to nurse the baby and feed the wood heater. Rise at dawn for breakfast. Pack up and head to work, one baby strapped to my front, the other on my back, diaper bag and lunch in tow. If a car passed, hitch a ride. If not, walk a mile to the farming crew office in the tractor barn to do bookkeeping while tending babies. Head home in late afternoon to pick up food from the store and make dinner. Once a week, haul enormous bags of laundry a mile to the laundromat, where it could take all night to get your clothes clean. Lug them home wet and hang them to dry.

Other typical days: take turns babysitting, where two moms would tend eight or ten babies, lining them up in highchairs to eat, lining them up to change diapers, chasing toddlers all day. Other days, cook for the masses, making bread, tortillas, and tofu from scratch. Or be a farmer or bookkeeper or caregiver. Learn midwifery; work in the solar electronics lab, or for Plenty, our charity.

Each of the few thousand people who cycled through the Farm over the years has a separate story to tell. I think of it fondly. I made dozens of lifelong friends. My kids, now in their forties, have friends they’ve known since birth. I overcame my shyness and learned to cooperate in households as large as forty people with dozens of kids underfoot, sharing all we had.  I never mastered tie-dye, but I can braid hair like a boss.

A sign on a truck on The Farm in 2018

My allergies in the Tennessee woods gave me recurring bronchitis. We tried several satellite Farms, ending up manufacturing tofu salad in Austin, Texas, where we had indoor plumbing and no dusty roads.

In the mid-1980s, the Farm underwent a “change-over” and switched from being a collective—where all money was thrown into the pot—to a cooperative—where each family pays its share. Hundreds of people couldn’t do that in rural Tennessee and moved away. The population decreased from near-2,000 at its peak to a few hundred, and the satellites shut down. But the Farm is now celebrating its 50th anniversary, its debts are paid, the roads are paved, and second and third generation families have made it their home. Co-ops actually work; collectives not so much.

And I have a rich vein of experience to draw from in my writing. I often think I should write about the Farm, but others have written fine nonfiction accounts, and the place and its human relationships were so complex that there’s no earthly way to do it justice.

I think I’ll write a fictional story based on limited aspects of communal living. Guru of the Ozarks has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

black and white photo of commune members, author on right with her children

(Me on far right with braids, holding my baby, who’s cut off, my other son in front of me)

In 2018 when they were in their early forties, my sons Aaron and Jared (J.D.)—lifelong vegetarians—took a trip back to their roots to visit the Farm. They sent me almost 200 photos while there and called me while visiting old friends. Everyone was so happy to see what fine young men they had become. And I couldn’t help but cry.

My sons J.D. and Aaron visiting The Farm in 2018.

Thank you, Mae Clair, for your monumental kindnesses and for hosting me on your blog.


Did that post leave as astounded as I am? Brenda has led quite the colorful and intriguing life. Her background is just perfect for her dystopian series. Today, I am happy to share book two, If the Light Escapes.

BOOK BLURB:

“Gritty and powerful… takes the reader on an emotionally charged and adrenaline-fueled journey that lingers long after the last page is read.”
—Mae Clair, author of the Point Pleasant series and the Hode’s Hill series

The standalone sequel to IF DARKNESS TAKES US

A solar electromagnetic pulse has fried the US grid. Now, northern lights are in Texas—three thousand miles farther south than where they belong. The universe won’t stop screwing with eighteen-year-old Keno Simms. All that’s left for him and his broken family is farming their Austin subdivision, trying to eke out a living on poor soil in the scorching heat. Keno’s one solace is his love for Alma, who has her own secret sorrows. When he gets her pregnant, he vows to keep her alive no matter what. Yet armed marauders and nature itself collude against him, forcing him to make choices that rip at his conscience. If the Light Escapes is post-apocalyptic science fiction set in a near-future reality, a coming-of-age story told in the voice of a heroic teen who’s forced into manhood too soon.

“Brenda Marie Smith stuns a gain with the breathtaking sequel to her debut. With her skill for detail and character, Smith captivates us with Keno’s kindness and humanity while also exploring the capacity for violence that lurks within all of us.”
—Aden Polydoros, author of THE CITY BEAUTIFUL

“IF THE LIGHT ESCAPES is a rich coming-of-age story about the legacy of family, infused with hopefulness and humanity.”
—Laura Creedle, author of THE LOVE LETTERS OF ABELARD AND LILY

PURCHASE FROM AMAZON

Author, Brenda Marie Smith

BRENDA MARIE SMITH lived off the grid for many years in a farming collective where her sons were delivered by midwives. She’s done community activism, managed student housing co-ops, produced concerts to raise money for causes, done massive quantities of bookkeeping, and raised a small herd of teenage boys. Brenda is attracted to stories where everyday characters transcend their limitations to find their inner heroism. She and her husband reside in a grid-connected, solar-powered home in South Austin, Texas. They have more grown kids and grandkids than they can count.


Connect with Brenda at the following haunts:
Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | Goodreads | YouTube
| BookBub


Thanks for visiting with me and Brenda today. I hope you enjoyed her post as much as I did, and will drop her some thoughts in the comments below. Remember to check back next week for my review of If the Light Escapes (hint: it involves lots of stars)!

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: Bloodless by Preston and Child #supernaturalthriller #pendergast

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

Oh boy, oh, boy, oh boy! Once a year, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child make it possible for readers to escape into the dangerous and eerie world of Special Agent Aloysuis Pendergast, a highly unorthodox FBI agent who specializes in unusual cases. If you’ve followed my blog for a while you know I’m crazy-mad about this series and, most especially, Pendergast. Needless to say, I devoured the latest release, Bloodless. The only down side of finishing this enthralling book is now I have to wait a year until a new release!

BOOK BLURB:

Agent Pendergast faces his most unexpected challenge yet when bloodless bodies begin to appear in Savannah, GA, in this installment of a #1 New York Times bestselling series.

A fabulous heist:

On the evening of November 24, 1971, D. B. Cooper hijacked Flight 305—Portland to Seattle—with a fake bomb, collected a ransom of $200,000, and then parachuted from the rear of the plane, disappearing into the night…and into history.

A brutal crime steeped in legend and malevolence:
Fifty years later, Agent Pendergast takes on a bizarre and gruesome case: in the ghost-haunted city of Savannah, Georgia, bodies are found with no blood left in their veins—sowing panic and reviving whispered tales of the infamous Savannah Vampire.

A case like no other:
As the mystery rises along with the body count, Pendergast and his partner, Agent Coldmoon, race to understand how—or if—these murders are connected to the only unsolved skyjacking in American history. Together, they uncover not just the answer…but an unearthly evil beyond all imagining.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Combining the mystery of D. B. Cooper with a series of odd murders in which the victims are drained of blood? Only Preston & Child could pull off a plot like that, and they do it exceptionally well in the twentieth outing for FBI Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast. If you’ve never read a Pendergast novel, Bloodless is written in such a way that you can go into it fresh without worrying about what came before.

Pendergast and his sometimes partner, Coldmoon, are diverted to Savannah, Georgia, accompanied by Pendergast’s ward, Constance Greene. Call me a happy camper as other than Corrie Swanson (who now stars with Nora Kelly in their own series), Coldmoon and Constance are my favorite supporting characters.

The haunted setting is perfect for a story that includes an unethical ghost-hunting reality TV host, a slimy politician, and an eccentric wealthy woman who lives in isolation on the upper floor of a luxury hotel. There’s also a collection of local law enforcement for Pendergast and Coldmoon to interact with. I particularly loved Delaplane, the Savannah commander who gets to shine in her own right.

The book starts out with a slow build of eerie killings, then explodes in the last half as all hell breaks loose. The story is so different than any that have preceded it—downright bizarre—I had to pause for a day to examine how I felt about it. I stayed up reading past bedtime on a work night just because I had to know how it ended.

It’s near impossible to put the book down once the action really kicks in and pieces begin to slot into place. The pace is frantic, and the descriptions vividly portrayed. This is another five-star read in a series that never grows stale and features one of the most unique characters in modern fiction. I can’t wait for the next Pendergast adventure—especially with the hint provided in the closing chapter of what is to come. One of my top reads of 2021!