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Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel
by Linda Bennett Pennell
Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel tells a story of lives unfolding in different centuries, but linked and irrevocably altered by a series of murders in 1930.
Lake City, Florida, June, 1930: Al Capone checks in for an unusually long stay at the Blanche Hotel, a nice enough joint for an insignificant little whistle stop. The following night, young Jack Blevins witnesses a body being dumped heralding the summer of violence to come. One-by-one, people controlling county vice activities swing from KKK ropes. No moonshine distributor, gaming operator, or brothel madam, black or white, is safe from the Klan’s self-righteous vigilantism. Jack’s older sister Meg, a waitress at the Blanche, and her fiancé, a sheriff’s deputy, discover reasons to believe the lynchings are cover for a much larger ambition than simply ridding the county of vice. Someone, possibly backed by Capone, has secret plans for filling the voids created by the killings. But as the body count grows and crosses burn, they come to realize this knowledge may get all of them killed.
Gainesville, Florida, August, 2011: Liz Reams, an up and coming young academic specializing in the history of American crime, impulsively moves across the continent to follow a man who convinces her of his devotion yet refuses to say the three simple words I love you. Despite entreaties of friends and family, she is attracted to edginess and a certain type of glamour in her men, both living and historical. Her personal life is an emotional roller coaster, but her career options suddenly blossom beyond all expectation, creating a very different type of stress. To deal with it all, Liz loses herself in her professional passion, original research into the life and times of her favorite bad boy, Al Capone. What she discovers about 1930’s summer of violence, and herself in the process, leaves her reeling at first and then changed forever.
“Jack Blevins, where have you been? It’s after midnight.” Meg grabbed her little brother’s arm and pulled him through her bedroom window. “If Daddy finds out, he’ll skin you alive.”
“Well, he ain’t gonna lests you tell him.” Jack hit the floor with a thump. “Man, I’m glad to be home.”
Meg’s eyebrows rose. “That’s sure new. Mama says you stay gone as much as you can get away with these days.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Jack kicked at the edge of the rag rug beside his sister’s bed. “If I’d known you was coming home, I’d of stayed around.”
“Nice to know you haven’t gone completely wild.”
Jack grinned at Meg and winked. “Not yet, but you never know. It could happen any day now. At least that’s what Mama says.” As he picked a thorn out of his elbow, he became quietly thoughtful. His words turned halting when he spoke again. “Meg, you ain’t gonna believe what me and Zeke seen at the sinkhole.”
I have to say this was an unexpected surprise but a really good one. It was such an interesting premise and well executed. You get to experience two time periods in this book – today and back in the 1930′s. In the current day, a woman, Liz, is trying to figure out her own life and discover what really happened in 1930 when Al Capone stayed at this little out of the way hotel. As she is digging up information she discovers so much more about what happened back then. You get to go back in time to meet two unlikely young friends (Zeke and Jack) for the times and an eighteen year old girl (Meg). You get to see and experience life in the ’30′s through their eyes. You will feel like you’re there.
I loved this story. I loved reading about the kids in the 1930′s and all that they were dealing with – the racism, the kkk, their daily lives, the hard work and just trying to survive. I also loved coming back to now and reading about the different, drastically different, issues that Liz was dealing with in today’s time. It is a story about discovering oneself, friendship, the difference of how things were handled in the 30′s versus now, life vs death and what that means in relation to the time periods. This story will keep you reading, it is so interesting. Jack and Zeke are such loveable characters – you just want to mother them, I loved their adventurous nature however it did get them into things they couldn’t get out of. Meg and Liz, were of different times but in some ways struggling with some similar issues. The characters were so well done that I latched onto them and wanted to know where their journey was going to end up. It’s a fascinating read. The way the author wrote this story made it so easy to get a visual of the characters, the setting and just life in general – you could feel yourself in the ’30′s, living what they were living and you could feel yourself in the present time, living what Liz was living. I highly recommend it.
I have been in love with the past for as long as I can remember. Anything with a history, whether shabby or majestic, recent or ancient, instantly draws me in. I suppose it comes from being part of a large extended family that spanned several generations. Long summer afternoons on my grandmother’s porch or winter evenings gathered around her fireplace were filled with stories both entertaining and poignant. Of course being set in the South, those stories were also peopled by some very interesting characters, some of whom have found their way into my work.
As for my venture in writing, it has allowed me to reinvent myself. We humans are truly multifaceted creatures, but unfortunately we tend to sort and categorize each other into neat, easily understood packages that rarely reveal the whole person. Perhaps you, too, want to step out of the box in which you find yourself. I encourage you to look at the possibilities and imagine. Be filled with childlike wonder in your mental wanderings. Envision what might be, not simply what is. Let us never forget, all good fiction begins when someone says to herself or himself, “Let’s pretend.”
I reside in the Houston area with one sweet husband, one German Shorthaired Pointer who thinks she’s a little girl, and one striped yellow cat who knows she’s queen of the house.
Favorite quote regarding my professional passion: “History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up.” Voltaire
Buy link: http://amzn.to/16qq3k5
An Author’s Journey Through Reading to Writing
1. When did you start reading?
I was a late bloomer when it came to reading. In truth, every mistake that could have been made with a child’s early education was made with mine; consequently, I got off to a rough start. My parents read stories and books to me, so as a five-year-old in first grade, I knew how stories were supposed to go. To this day, I can still remember my confusion with the first page of the first pre-primer in the old Dick, Jane, Sally, Spot, and Puff Scott-Foresman “see and say” reading series. Sally sat on a hooked rug beside an open closet door putting on her daddy’s overshoes. The single word under the picture was “Look!” No “said Jane.” No additional clues as to why we should look or where we should look, for that matter. The connection between the word “look” and the picture was lost on me. I wanted to know who was demanding that we look and why. No one had an adequate answer. It didn’t help that my teacher had absolutely no clue how to teach beginning literacy. Is it any wonder that I grew up to be a professional reading specialist who worked with students with reading difficulties?
2. What was the first book you remember reading?
I remember going to the town library one summer when I must have been in 7th or 8th grade and checking out a historical romance. The librarian helped me select the book and assured me I would like it and boy did I! It was a story in the Evangeline vein. I remember being horrified when the heroine gave birth during a flood because they had to put the bedposts’ feet in buckets of water to keep colonies of ants off the labouring mother. Did you know ants leave their mounds and form floating islands with their own bodies during floods? Me either, until I read it in that book. Sadly, I have no idea what its title is.
3. What attracted you to or got you started reading?
Gothic romances and mysteries set me on the road to being a voracious reader. I loved the drama, being immersed in another era, trying to solve the mystery before the reveal at then end…all of it sparked my imagination and allowed me to travel to distant lands and other times.
4. What was the first book that had a real ‘wow’ factor for you?
There were two: Victoria Holt’s first novel, Mistress of Mellyn and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Erye.
5. What genres (topics) have you read? Was there any progression to the genres you’ve read over the years? Did you start in one genre and then discover others the older you got? i.e. scifi and then romance, then paranormal, then espionage….
With me it wasn’t so much a genre, as the setting that attracted me. If it was set in any period in England prior to 1950, I was instantly hooked, as long as the writing was good and the research was impeccable.
6. Who are your favorite authors and when did you start following them?
I started with the Gothic romances as a young adolescent, then moved on to family sagas like R. F. Delderfield’s God is an Englishman, all of Agatha Christie’s and Dorothy L. Sayer’s mystery novels, all of Daphany du Maurier’s novels, most of M. M. Kaye’s novels, all of Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfeal series, many of Anne Perry’s Thomas and Chalotte Pitt and Inspector Monk novels, most of P.D. James’s novels, a lot of Maive Benchy and Rosemunde Pilcher, most of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series… I am very much a lover of mysteries and am an Anglophile. I suppose my all time favourite book, while set in medieval France, would have to be Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose – murder, religion, medieval church politics, romance, and detection. What more could one want?
7. What genre(s) or topics do you read today?
Now, I tend to read mysteries, women’s fiction, historical fiction, and the occasional literary novel. I also enjoy political biography, history, and expatriate memoirs like Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence.
8. What do you like in a story? What does it have to have to grab you?
I want a story to make me think, keep me guessing, transport me to another place and/or time, introduce me to likeable characters – if all are present, all the better!
9. What got you started with writing? And how long have you been writing?
I have been writing fiction for about five years. After years of professional expository writing, I wanted to spread my wings. Writing fiction is a lot more fun because it lets one’s creativity flow and gives a freedom that professional writing can’t.
10. What do you like to write about?
We Southerners tend to take history very seriously and I am no exception. I really enjoy writing historical fiction set primarily in the South or about Southerners. I get lost in the research and chase details until they reveal themselves to their fullest. I also like to write strong female protagonists who are usually ahead of their time.
11. What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a WWII romantic suspense, as yet untitled, set in Casablanca in 1943. And no, Rick’s American Bar does not appear in the story. The main characters are an OSS officer and an army nurse. I’m learning a lot about desert warfare and WWII era espionage!
12. What inspired the plot for your current novel?
I thought I would originally write about a stateside romance between a WWII pilot-in-training and a nurse, but it just wasn’t doing anything for me. When a real WWII pilot with whom I was corresponding mentioned having been stationed in Casablanca, my imagination soared!
13. Anything else you’d like to share?
Nothing personal, but I would like to speak those writers who are not yet published. Do not give up and do not become discouraged. Find a good group of like-minded folks as critique partners and work together toward your mutual success. In many ways, this is the best time to be an author in the history of publishing. The important thing to do is to find what works for YOU!
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