Strength of character and overcoming hardship to discover better times ahead are the central themes of three delightful new fiction releases that will warm the heart.

Gabriel Clarke was born to be on “The River”—his father and grandfather were whitewater guides who appreciated all the subtle nuances and moods of the Whitefire River, deep in the Colorado Rockies. But when he was five, Gabriel’s world was ripped asunder when his father’s attempt to save a kayaker went horribly wrong. After moving to live with his mother in Cairo, Kansas, fun-loving Gabriel becomes insecure and withdrawn. Years later, a job with a rafting company offers Gabriel the opportunity to reconnect in full—not only with The River, but also with his past—but only if he has the strength of character to move beyond his anger and childhood pain.

Michael Neale’s The River gently sweeps readers along like a leaf in a current as Gabriel struggles with beginning a new life after a terrible loss. Throughout this artfully crafted story is a genuine sense of The River as a force of nature to be reckoned with, respected and learned from.

LOVE, ITALIAN-STYLE
Charming and smoothly paced, The Girl in the Glass recreates the feeling of walking the streets of Florence, Italy, and is populated with warm, generous-hearted characters. Thirty-year-old Meg Pomeroy has a good job as an editor for a travel guide publisher, yet travels very little. She clings to the hope that her financially irresponsible father will make good on his promise to take her to Florence. When he finally appears to be following through, and then fails spectacularly, Meg swallows her disappointment and decides to go to Florence alone. She meets up with two of her publishing connections: author and tour guide Sofia Borelli, and photographer Lorenzo. Meg has been trying to publish Sofia’s short stories, based on the life of Sofia’s ancestor, Nora, and she has worked on projects with Lorenzo and his sister for several years. Now that she and Lorenzo have met, Meg can’t help but respond to his infectious charm. But is what she feels for Lorenzo the real deal or a travel romance?

Susan Meissner, author of The Shape of Mercy and A Sound Among the Trees, maintains a smooth pace and believable dialogue throughout—even if Meg seems a little old-fashioned. Sofia’s story is even more interesting as the painful truths of her life reveal a vulnerable, broken woman struggling to come to terms with a traumatic past.

SOUTHERN STRENGTH
Michael Morris spins an excellent yarn about a Deep South community circa World War I in Man in the Blue Moon. As a young woman, Ella Wallace was a promising art student looking forward to furthering her studies in France—but that was before she became infatuated with the charismatic, free-spending Harlan. Eighteen weary years later, Ella is disillusioned and raising three boys alone after Harlan ran away to escape his debts. Local banker Clive Gillespie can’t wait to get his hands on her piece of Florida property, which contains a natural spring with reputed healing powers, and Ella is on the verge of foreclosure when she receives notice that a clock has been delivered for her. When Ella and her boys unpack the crate, it isn’t a clock they discover but a man: Lanier Stillis, a distant cousin of Harlan, hiding from his ex-in-laws. And this is only the first of the surprises Lanier brings.

Morris encapsulates the hypocrisy, pettiness, greed and outright meanness that are often a part of small-town life, yet his story manages to avoid being too dark or depressing despite the bad things that happen to some of its characters. Don’t miss this thoughtful, poignant tale of love, loss and redemption steeped in the heat and natural beauty of the Deep South.

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