Washington state authors Julie Christine Johnson, Laurel Saville, Kristin von Kreisler and Elizabeth Boyle have published four new novels perfect for a bit of backyard escape reading.
In four new books, Washington state novelists take their readers to faraway places, with stories set in France, the Adirondack forests, and a charming, imaginary “Gamble Island” here in the Northwest. There’s time travel, murder, suspense, romance and most of the Seven Deadly Sins in one form or another. Time to reach for a coffee, put your feet up, and open some pages that may fill a bit of the “Downton Abbey gap” that yawns before us.
“In Another Life” by Julie Christine Johnson. (Sourcebooks Landmark, 358 pp., $14.99)
The first novel from Washington state resident Julie Christine Johnson, “In Another Life” moves back and forth between present-day Languedoc in southern France and the year 1208, when the Cathars (a sect considered heretical by the Catholic Church) were under constant threat of inquisition and extinction.
Grieving for her husband, a 21st-century competitive cyclist who was killed in a French race, the beautiful, bilingual Lia finds herself bridging two eras 800 years apart. “There are spirits here in Languedoc — spirits from another time whose stories are part of mine,” she tells a man who has himself been a time traveler “cursed with eternal rebirth.”
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Falling in love with Raoul, another man from the past, Lia must decide whether to help him return to the 13th century and the family he had thought was killed eight centuries earlier.
Johnson’s novel, which has been compared to the time-traveling “Outlander” series, is considerably more gauzy about the process of exit and entrance between past and present. The soul of Lia’s husband, she believes, was taken from this world at the same time Raoul’s was released into the present.
How this happens, and how a contemporary storage room can suddenly undergo an “inexplicable transformation” into a passageway between worlds, is not clear. But what makes “In Another Life” work is the strong emotional core, the sense of place, the historical suspense and the characterization that makes the reader root for Lia even when you don’t understand her.
“North of Here,” by Laurel Saville (Lake Union Publishing, 258 pp., $14.95).
Four major characters living in the “Daks” (the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York) interact in this novel of loss, hope and betrayals. Miranda, a sheltered 23-year-old flattened by family tragedies, seeks refuge with the loyal and reliable handyman Dix (who is more than he seems to be).
Though the two appear to be happy, Miranda is still depressed and vulnerable — susceptible to the wiles of the charismatic but amoral cult leader Darius. He exploits the guileless Miranda and draws her into his sleazy commune, though Dix realizes that “there was something false and fragile in her newfound clarity.” Sally — a down-to-earth social worker with problems of her own — tries to intervene.
Just as important as the four major characters is a fifth element: the deep forests of the Adirondacks, full of wildlife, where an abandoned house can be invaded and overcome by nature until it becomes part of the forest again. Saville’s evocation of this place is masterly.
“Earnest” by Kristin von Kreisler(Kensington Books, 292 pp., $15).
Earnest is a dog — specifically, a lovable yellow Labrador retriever, adopted from a shelter by Anna and her boyfriend, Jeff. They’re all residents of the fictitious Gamble Island (the author lives on Bainbridge, and her details of island life ring true). Both Anna and Jeff are about 35, and Anna is hoping Earnest will give them a “trial run at parenting.”
She’s also hoping her flower shop will prosper enough to allow them to buy its rented premises — the Victorian gingerbread house once owned by her late grandmother. But the couple’s happiness falls apart when Anna discovers Jeff’s involvement in a project to develop the house commercially, and just then, the house’s faulty wiring causes a fire that jeopardizes Anna’s shop.
The resulting mess of recriminations and separations bewilders poor Earnest, who doesn’t understand why his beloved humans aren’t together. Dog lovers will adore this beleaguered Lab, who only wants to preside over a united household in his favorite “library lion” pose.
“The Knave of Hearts” by Elizabeth Boyle.(Avon Books, 384 pp., $7.99).
The 20th romance by this Seattle writer is set in Regency England, where the social and marital aspirations of Lavinia Tempest are quashed when this disaster-prone debutante inadvertently knocks over most of polite society while dancing at the august Almack’s assembly rooms. Her handsome and well-connected partner on that occasion, the rakish Mr. Rowland, subsequently wagers that he can turn Lavinia into one of the gems of society. And as other suitors come forward, of course he discovers that this gem should be his and his alone.
Part of the fun of reading category Regencies is knowing the rules and the inevitable outcome — lord wins lady (and vice versa) — and Boyle gives readers an entertaining journey.