Magic in the Backyard by Kellie Elmore

This is the second post in this week’s three-part series of new and self-published authors.  You can visit Kellie at

Magic in the Backyard, Kellie Elmore

Winter Goose Publishing, 131 pages

ISBN 9780985154820

Kellie Elmore moved to southern Tennessee when she was eight years old and has called it home ever since.  It’s the sort of place where kids play on tire swings while their mothers bake pies in houses with honeysuckle around the door.  In the summer, families gather on the porch to watch the fireflies twinkle in the night sky.  The pace of life is slow, the ties that bind run deep, and there’s love everywhere you look.  In Magic in the Backyard, Elmore has created a series of poetic sketches that shares her affection for southern Tennessee with readers everywhere.

From the title poem:

“She tells the pages a story that’s hers,

and makes her backyard magic with words.

Painting fairies and princes, from flowers and trees,

penning perfection, with grass-stained knees.”

Rich with atmosphere, Magic in the Backyard invites the reader into a beautiful daydream of country drives, tumbleweed and lazy summer afternoons.  It’s the perfect book to take with you to the cottage or the beach, or to open in your own backyard to escape for a few hours to the tranquility of southern Tennessee.

I’ll leave you with a few lines from “Twilight from the Tire Swing:”

“The sounds of twilight fade in.  Cicadas and/

the hum of the world fade out.  Silence, melting/

onto my ears, and all that remains is a velvet sky/

and the glow of her nightlight bathing the leaves.”

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Up, Back and Away by Kim Velk

Over the next three days, I’m posting short reviews for excellent work by self-published or new authors.  The first is Up, Back, and Away by Kim Velk, whom you can visit at or

Up, Back and Away, Kim Velk

Self-published, 343 pages

ISBN 9781481873475

With his heart thudding in his chest, Miles McTavish looked down AshburtonMountain in Vermont and knew that there was no turning back.  He perched gingerly on his vintage bicycle atop English Boy Trail carrying a note for a girl from a different time and a rock that could take him where he needed to go.  He pushed off, flying down the mountain, and as he made his way towards Birch Gate, he felt a branch clip his forehead, causing him to tumble.  Everything went black.  When he came to, Miles McTavish was in England, and the year was 1928.

Up, Back and Away tells the story of a wealthy fifteen-year old Texan boy who travels nearly a hundred years back in time to uncover a hidden truth and to rescue a girl who doesn’t belong.  Along the way, he makes friends, tries to stay out of trouble, and works hard to learn the culture and customs of British country life while cleaning out fireplaces and dismantling stone walls.

Up, Back and Away is a well-told tale of time travel and adventure, reminiscent in theme and style of such classics as Moonfleet, Tom’s Midnight Garden, Around the World in 80 days, and The Prince and the Pauper.  This is a story to be savoured by teens and adults alike.

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Reading Frenzy

No post this week.  I’m reading through a half dozen or so promising works by new authors and will post some mini-reviews next week.  Enjoy the summer sunshine and I’ll see you soon.



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Unless by Carol Shields

Unless, Carol Shields

Random House Canada, 321 pages

ISBN 0679311793

At forty-three, Reta Winters has settled into a groove of happy living. She lives in a big Ontario farmhouse with her doctor husband, their three daughters, and a greedy Golden Retriever named Pet. When the girls are at school, she writes, mostly English translations of the French feminist Danielle Westerman, who was one of her professors years ago. More recently, however, she has tried her hand at writing novels and has enjoyed some critical acclaim.

And then one awful Saturday morning, Reta’s family gets a phone call.  The town librarian has spotted Norah, the daughter who is away at university, sitting on a street corner in Toronto, holding a cardboard sign that says “Goodness.” Norah’s hair is matted, she is grubby, and she refuses to speak. More importantly, she refuses to come home. She has left her boyfriend, dropped out of school, and has dedicated herself to some sort of inner quest for goodness that can only be achieved by sitting on the corner of Bloor and Bathurst.  Reta’s happiness is shattered, and she applies her newly broken self to understanding her troubled, searching daughter.

A celebration of language and a brilliant examination of goodness, greatness, and a woman’s place in the world, Unless continues in the tradition established by Simone de Beauvoir’s Les Belles Images.

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The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer
Riverhead Books, 468 pages
ISBN 9781594488399

Summer camp gives kids the chance to try out a brand-new identity with new friends in a new place, if only for a week or two before returning home. For fifteen year old Julie Jacobson of the very suburban Cindy Drive in Underhill, New York, an arts camp in the Berkshires allows her to step into the cosmopolitan world of New York City teenagers who discuss the merits of Anais Nin and dream of big futures. Julie, now Jules, transforms into a wry aspiring actress in a circle of cultured, ambitious friends who refer to themselves as The Interestings, and when she climbs into her mother’s green Dodge for the long ride home, nothing is more important to Jules than becoming worthy of the name.

The Interestings follows Jules and her friends from that first summer at Spirit-in-the-Woods camp through the remainder of their adolescence and their twenties to their fully established adult lives in New York City. Ethan, who drew and imagined his way out of his parents’ unhappy marriage, first fell in love with Jules but eventually married Ash. The combination of his talent and her connections led to a syndicated television show and success beyond their adolescent dreams. Although she is wildly happy for her two best friends, Jules needs a glass of wine before she can read their annual Christmas letter. It’s not that she has a bad life – she has a solid career in social work and is married to a kindhearted ultrasound technician – but she and Dennis struggle to pay the rent on their tiny apartment. And more than that, her life is fulfilling but perhaps not quite sophisticated enough to be an Interesting. The other three friends have found that their claim to the title, though solid, came at too high a price.

The Interestings is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Wolitzer has taken a long, hard look at the concept of the quest for success and explored its effects on integrity, happiness, and personal relationships. A must-read for those who enjoyed Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger.

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Every Happy Family by Dede Crane

Every Happy Family, Dede Crane
Coteau Books, 247 pages
ISBN 9781550505481

On Sunday mornings, Jill makes a large pot of coffee, calls her mother, and contemplates the change and stress that have crept into the household unnoticed. It’s clear that the Wrights are at some sort of turning point; the days of Jill, Les and their three kids living peacefully under the same roof are coming to an end. Les and his sister are focused on finding their birth mother, Quinn is despondent after a breakup with his first serious girlfriend, and Beau desperately wants to spend his last two years of high school away from home. Then Jill receives a letter from Pema’s Tibetan birth mother, explaining that her situation is finally stable enough to invite Pema to join them at home in Nepal. And when she calls her mother to talk about this last problem, she discovers that her mother is taking in unsuitable boarders and is growing fuzzy about practical details. Jill finds it all overwhelming, and for the first time, she will be required to sit back and watch her family handle their personal crises without her guiding hand.

Every Happy Family follows Jill, Les, Quinn, Beau and Pema as they respond to their issues and live with the consequences. Tolstoy once observed that happy families are all alike, and that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Reflective and engaging, Crane explores individual unhappinesses in a largely functional, happy suburban family, focusing particularly on the conflicting needs of freedom and belonging. This work will strongly appeal to readers of Alice Munro, Sandra Birdsell, and David Bergen.

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Vineyard Library

Letizia at Reading, Interrupted posted this lovely image, which I thought I’d share here:

Vineyard Library.

via Vineyard Library.

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