Blog Book Tour | “On the Rocks” (Book One of the #WillaCather and Edith Lewis Mysteries) by Sue Hallgarth

Posted Wednesday, 18 October, 2017 by jorielov , , , 3 Comments

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Acquired Book By: I have been hosting for Poetic Book Tours for a few years now, where I am finding myself encouraged to seek out collections of poetry or incredible fiction being published through Small Trade publishers and presses. I have an Indie spirit and mentality as a writer and I appreciate finding authors who are writing creative works through Indie resources as I find Indies have a special spirit about them. It is a joy to work with Poetic Book Tours for their resilience in seeking out voices in Literature which others might overlook and thereby, increasing my own awareness of these beautiful lyrical voices in the craft.

When I realised this was the first ‘book’ in a series, I requested to receive the first book in order to understand the continuity and flow between the lead characters within the second installment. It is a personal preference of mine to read series ‘in order’ and I was blessed I could start this one at the beginning! I received a complimentary copy of “On the Rocks” direct from the publicist of Sue Hallgarth in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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Why I wanted to read the Willa Cather & Edith Lewis Mysteries:

I am unsure when I first stumbled across ‘living persons’ being amateur sleuths in Mysteries & stories of Suspense – however, ever since I was first smitten by the idea, I have taken to these kinds of stories like a duck to water! I only vaguely ‘knew of’ Willa Cather – she’s the kind of woman you might hear about in literary circles as her own legacy of stories has quite the following. However, in regards to her personal life or the adventures she had as an novelist – these are the missing gaps in my knowledge! If anything, I knew her ‘in name only’ rather than of having a biographical sketch of an idea about her person.

This is one reason I am drawn into Biographical Fiction stories – generally speaking, I lean on the branch of ‘Historical Fiction’ to chart my course through time whilst alighting in the footsteps of either novelists (such as the Brontés) or well-known figureheads (such as Eleanor Roosevelt) whilst feeling a bit attached to some of the dexterities of creative muses (such as the Jane Austen Mysteries). Throughout each story I pick up to read, I am drawn closer to the ‘person’ who lived the life either being re-transmitted through a portion of their own living hours or re-identified in a different lifestyle altogether! It makes for a fascinating jaunt through time, history and known fact!

I hadn’t fused to mind ‘where’ the story was set – coming into fuller knowledge as I sat down to read the novel, I realised it was hugged close to the Canadian Maritimes – specifically the region of the Bay of Fundy and the Fundy Isles. This is an especially lovely area where artists, artisans, writers and other creatives have found a renewing peace to create in this part of the world where life is laid back & the natural scenery etches out its own inspiration to the creator. The Bay of Fundy in recent years is a bit better known due to a hard-won battle to secure the sanctity of the waters in the North Atlantic by the conjoined efforts of the Americans, Canadians & Passamaquoddy Indians.

Realising this connection, when it came time to ‘step forward’ into Ms Hallgarth’s vision for the series, I was more than ready to lay pause on her prose and feel absorbed into this area of the Northern Hemisphere where the lights like to dance, ice meets the sea and where there is an enchantment of wonderment lit over the land. It was then, I realised I was supposed to read this series!

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Blog Book Tour | “On the Rocks” (Book One of the #WillaCather and Edith Lewis Mysteries) by Sue HallgarthOn the Rocks
Subtitle: A Willa Cather & Edith Lewis Mystery
by Sue Hallgarth
Source: Publicist via Poetic Book Tours

The year is 1929 and Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Willa Cather and her partner Edith Lewis are summering on Grand Manan, an island in the Bay of Fundy. In their cottage’s sparsely-furnished attic room, Cather is at work writing Shadows on the Rock, her tenth novel. Edith is painting watercolors from the cliffs two hundred feet above the rising tides of Whale Cove.

Out of the corner of her eye, Edith sees a body plunge from the edge of a cliff to the rocks below…. Solving the mystery, first-time novelist Sue Hallgarth’s intimate view of village politics and the goings-on of two women’s communities long lost to history is also a suspenseful and surprising crime novel. Hallgarth draws the reader into a unique retreat and an inside glimpse of the lives of a great American novelist and her talented life partner.

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to Riffle

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ISBN: 978-0985520007

Genres: Amateur Detective, Biographical Fiction, Cosy Historical Mystery, Crime Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction


Published by Arbor Farm Press

on 13th January, 2013

Format: Paperback Edition

Pages: 262

Published By: Arbor Farm Press

Available Formats: Paperback & Ebook

The Willa Cather & Edith Lewis Mysteries:

On the Rocks (Willa Cather & Edith Lewis Mysteries) by Sue HallgarthDeath Comes (Willa Cather & Edith Lewis Mysteries) by Sue Hallgarth

Book One: On the Rocks

Book Two: Death Comes (Synopsis)

Converse via: #WillaCather + #CosyMysteries

About Sue Hallgarth

Sue Hallgarth

Sue Hallgarth is former English professor. She has written scholarly articles on Willa Cather and Edith Lewis, and Death Comes is her second book of fiction featuring the two of them. Her first book in the series On The Rocks, set in 1929 on the island of Grand Manan in New Brunswick, Canada. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico.

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On how this series was inspired and how Ms Hallgarth conceived it:

It is a bit of a habit I picked up in 6th grade – SQ3R – a way of processing information with the empathsis being on how you process ‘what your reading’. If you were to ask me what this acronym stands for I’d have better luck telling you what the initials stood for a classmate of mine (same year) who went by the three letters which stood for his full given name! Suffice it to say, some habits die hard and of the merits of the exercise this technique is meant to give you (trivia for thought: it wasn’t an English teacher who taught this to me; it was my Social-Science teacher) what I held onto the most is how you’re meant to go front to back glossing through what is inside of the work your reading – checking for front page inclusions (ie. maps, legends, indexes, content notices, notes or acknowledgments by authors, etc) and end of the book exclusives (ie. the Appendixes or where modern publishing likes to put most of the forementiond ‘front end’ inclusions!)

It is here – where I found the Afterword and the Acknowledgment sections Hallgarth left for us to find. In the Afterword, I read it as a ‘foreword’ nod towards what I was about to step forward into as a way of anchouring myself into the process Ms Hallgarth took to create this series but also, if I was lucky to read about the ‘back-story’ of what inspired her to tell the stories I was about to read! I love noodling out back-stories – for every writer, there is an equally delish back-story about how they came across their subject, chose to ferret out the narrative and of the steps they took to become more fully encased inside their subject’s follies. In this instance, it was lovely reading about Ms Hallgarth’s travels to Grand Manan!

As I was reading through this note to the reader, I was noticing a few distinctive things about how Hallgarth relates to the reader themself – she has a speaking voice even in her written version of herself; which means to say, I felt I could ‘listen’ to what she was saying rather than reading it with my own eyes. Her presence is strong and her way of relating what excites her as an author was a true blessing as I love finding out these small details which knit the literary tapestries together. Hers was a map of specific dates and events – some of which became altered to tell the story in a time-line which suited her best but mostly, it was how women in the early Nineteen Hundreds found themselves on the extraordinary advantage of taking holiday and leave from their hectic work lives to stay ‘away’ at women’s only retreat colonies where women could feel more at ease in their spirit, whilst taking in the local scene or wildlife or in Cather’s case, finding a sweet spot to allow herself to disappear into her writerly muse.

In this regard, I was slightly jealous of her finding such a place – as that is one disadvantage I think most of us have who write – finding a way to hit the ‘pause’ button on ‘life’ long enough to ‘listen’ to our internal muse & feel a freedom of ‘running with our instincts’ as we settle into the world we’ve started to create and fully realise its boundaries therein. Where we can feel like we’ve stepped outside of ourselves and of our lives to such an extent, we live and breathe the world we’ve created with wholesome authenticity. It sounded to me I share something else in common with Cather: I’m a think-writer, meaning I am not always creating a story by writing down it’s bones but it is percolating in my mind’s eye until I find it flowing onto paper. It’s a unique gift to have within you – the story-tellers muse.

What was further unique is how the colonies were nearly always divided into partners and halves; meaning, for each colony there were more women paired off than there were groups of friends. Further still, each of the women who owned property at these places listed their property as inheritance to their nieces. Almost as if they were all of one mind and heart about how to preserve what they had and of the legacy of finding freedom together. I can see why re-tracing ‘where’ they were on Grand Manan was particularly important to the writing of this series.

My Review of On the Rocks:

Edith arrives first – her observational notations on gulls in flight offer a fond glimpse into how I’m not the only one who likes to contemplate our aerial companions! Her perspective also grounds us ‘where’ she is at the moment she’s seen – she’s just off the coast of what is known as ‘Downeast’ Maine – specifically by a city known for it’s grain mustard and a revitalisation of it’s community identity through the Arts: Eastport. To the starboard side of the towne, you will happily see you’re only a stone’s throw from the Fundy Isles and this part of where Edith & Willa’s story is uniquely set. This part of the North Atlantic has it’s own pulse and tone – life is not lived in the same fashion as elsewhere nor does the world touch this part of the world with the same fierce fire. Here, is a place where time is not measured in hours but in how far you’ve come to create a piece you’re working on whilst celebrating the journey you’ve taken to funnel your creativity into something ‘new’. I could ‘see’ Edith here – the heart of a naturalist who appreciates being out-of-doors (but with dirt beneath her feet, not the unease of water) where she can feel one with the harmonic rhythm of the natural world. No wonder she appreciated the art of painting in ‘Plein Air’ fashion!

Of course, what a painter doesn’t want to interfere with their choices in both brush stroke and colour palette is the shocking realisation a man was falling to his death against the rocks below the cliff! Sadly, this is the case for Edith; once at stilled peace thinking she had caught the proper natural light and moment to capture the scene she wanted on canvas and the next, she’s catching up with the rest of the Cottage Girls gathering seaside to observe the horror awaiting them.

As we step through earlier hours, we’re treated to Fundy Isles life on the sea – where a ferry Captain (Rob) shares his experience with ferreting people to and fro Eastport to New Brunswick (as the two are within touching distance nautically speaking). On these excursions he has taken notice and stock of his passengers – including being able to deduce a bit about them, simply through their body language, demeanor and the ways in which they carry themselves. His personal passion for living here is the slower pace and the more informal approach to life where ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ is not an everyday indulgence. He has a quiet and resolute manner about himself – one which owns to the years he’s lived and one where living where he does allows him to ‘step back from the world’ to better feel alive. It’s how he shares his innermost thoughts which grants the most insight into his character.

Just to imagine a place which relies more on maritime measures of ‘time’ than a clock is a step in the right direction! Most of us live in constant reminder of how a workingman’s living is constantly cross-referenced against a ‘time clock’ – something which in ensuing years past the required educational bits starts to drag your spirit down. To constantly ‘check-in’ and ‘check-out’ based on a slotted portion of hours is enough to become wary over but to have a place which is in constant appreciation for the sea and it’s patterns of day or night seems to be a better way of ‘keeping time’. Nature has a better pace for living than we do – not everything is meant to be ‘rushed against the clock’ and adaptability to the quirks of life are definitely a must!

As we find Willa and Edith at ease talking in close company with Sabra Jane, we notice how well they fit together. They have those little nuanced exchanges, the knowing looks and the inside jokes all the same! Hallgarth not only fused research into her novel but she has somehow found a way to reveal a plausible insight into how these women interacted whilst they were alive. They felt ‘alive’ in the story but it was also how approachable you felt near them – as if Edith and Willa were being channelled directly back into existence.

Quite early-on, Hallgarth addresses how Willa approached the craft of writing – of how she owned the right to give voice and insight into the lives of men (not just of women) whilst acknowledging she has issues dealing with people who love her stories but without backing up their praise with the specifics of what moved them within the context of the stories. In other words, Willa liked to chew on something more than superficial admiration and thrived on riveting conversations which sought to ‘talk’ about something other than blind faith and the joy of being published for the sake of putting something into literary circles. She took her craft seriously but she was also humbly aware of the fact she was redefining the invisible boundaries where the ‘men’ of publishing felt women should not cross. A lot of what she is talking about is cross-relatable to today’s publishing market – where women are still defending their stories and the right to choose what inspires them to create the stories they are publishing (across genres). Ironically, I wonder what ‘they’ would have said about David E. Kelley’s ‘Ally McBeal’? As he broke gender barriers in the opposite direction! The more Willa lamented on the subject, the more I knew I would have loved to talk to her myself! She had a keen mind but it was how she understood the ‘world’ by how she re-addressed it against her own ideals and motivations is what staid with me the most!

I felt it was quite kismet Edith and Willa understood themselves well enough to know they needed to make changes in their lives ahead of ‘burn out’ from the muck of their everyday social circles. They appreciated the pace of their city life to a degree – but if they had to choose a place which instilled in of itself a calming landscape of ‘possibilities’ without the hassles of a bursting metropolis – they’d take the road less travelled. It is something which is intrinsic to each person – knowing where you are suited best and of what environ works well with your personal character of comfortability.

Edith and Willa were not just enjoying the enclave of artistic freedom of the Fundy Isles, they were appreciating the absence of the trifles of society – of all those invisible rules and modes of etiquette which can bog a person down before too long. They were equally seen on the island as women who not only had the head for their art but for rounding out a creditable argument on a variety of subjects. They held their own and they wrote their own story as they evolved. To say they were a step ahead of the curve is putting it mildly because they were living outside the reach of society – where life held it’s own pace of personal growth.

One thing I found interesting – is how Willa worried over ‘losing her literary voice’ if she were to become too fully invested in another ‘place’ and ‘setting’. One thing I have found is the more I travel and the more dialects of spoken conversation I listen too, the more inspired I am. I find ‘everything’ can become the creative fuell I need to write and compose my own literary excursions but in Willa’s case, I think she had to pull closer to the blood. She was invested in the nuance of the cultural heritage she was bourne; thereby, the Fundy Isles gave her the freedom she needed to breathe but only ‘just so’ as she was dearly close to home at the same time. Removed but not displaced to the degree of separation.

A lot of the process for Edith to muse over ‘what she witnessed’ had to do with personal reproach – of how what is ‘seen’ is not necessarily what ‘occurred’ because of how the mind and eye and heart understand what is being observed. Edith re-examines her own memories and snapshot of ‘the moment’ she saw what she saw being quite critical with herself to encourage plausible tangents of theory about what was involved; from the smallest fragment of a detail to the larger scope of how a man ‘launched’ over the side of the cliff and fell to his death. In this process you can recognise yourself – analysing over something which distresses you because where time, memory and recollection reside, so too, does the mind try to trick you out of what you remember.

As you read, the photographs which accompany the text guide, your eye towards what this part of the world ‘looks like’ on first impression. However, it is almost like your reading a personal journal (wagering it would be from Edith’s hand) with inserted photos you’d expect of a scrapbook archive of a particular time in a person’s life. In this way, the novel read with great ease – you move through the motions of visiting neighbours, tucking into conversations of (hopeful) importance to lend further clues – all whilst maintaining a bit of a directly implied revelation your sleuthing for the sake of understanding the incident at hand on a personal level.

Constable Daggett was quite the character! It wasn’t that he was inept at his job but in some ways, his efforts to solve this crime reminded me of why Inspector Valentine was hesitative to admit how helpful Father Brown was to him! Daggett, like most detectives approached the mystery through observational testimony and the collection of scant clues found almost to be disjointed from the actual ‘crime’. He went full strength down the center (so to speak) to noodle out what was going on behind the surface of things but where he failed is looking towards the ‘outside’ sphere of the same line of thought. Sometimes what is hidden in plain sight is more striking of a revelation than what is forgotten or mislaid.

His perception about American life and the rubbering effect of stalling time for digesting information about things he felt had their place and due but not to the extent of where they were elevated ran similar to my own thoughts on the same subjects. He was quite astute in his observations but even then, how if you contemplate what he was saying against the headlines of today – truly, what has changed? He was an interesting fellow – his passion for crime solving notwithstanding, it was how he observed human nature which provided the most insight into his own character.

Edith charmed me and Willa encouraged my inquisitive nature – the two of them have such an ease about their personalities. They find a companionable equality in how where one thinks about something specific, the other is ready for a follow-up remark – they are two minds which sometimes act as one, as most couples tend to claim for themselves. They knew how to get the neighbours to talk about the idle things no one suspects would mean something whilst they kept a steady eye on their own affairs, too. Their sleuthing simply fit into the background of their days; it was a welcome addition but not one which overshadowed their other interests, either! As they continued to seek answers to questions which seemed unending – you started to notice why they thrived outside the city (here: New York City). This community of Grand Manan is as quirky and humbly eccentric as all my favourite small townes in fiction (or IRL).

This was a thinking man’s mystery – the ‘mystery’ in of itself is also unique, because instead of being an isolated incident it’s a piece of a wider puzzle! I like how mysteries take on an enlarged cusp of an area’s secrets – of how whilst the reader has to stay patient to understand the different components of what is being fused together, it’s the manner of how things pull apart and are put back together in proper order which is the most exciting! For me, this mystery was wicked enjoyable if only to draw further insight into understanding the people of Grand Manan and how where they live influences their lives.

On the Cosy Mystery writing styling of Sue Hallgarth:

Such a refreshingly original setting and locale to focus on – the Fundy Isles hold their own allure and by setting this first installment at a place in the North Atlantic few might take notice of themselves, the joy of reading the novel is enhanced tenfold for the reader! I appreciated how Hallgarth introduced both setting and character – everything unfolded in a way which befits smaller communities where strangers are not common. She had a keen insight of how to balance the elements of the natural world with the distinctive lifestyles of her characters, too. It was a breathable balance where you felt a ‘part of’ the air and rooted in the spaces between the heartbeats.

The way Hallgarth paints the portrait of the island community rings true of what I know of this area myself – of where neighbours pitch in to help one another and where no one is ever left without assistance for something they’re working on. It’s the opposite of how many townes and cities function on the mainland stateside – where there are clear distinctions and disconnections amongst neighbours and community members; where each are practically living on their own ‘island’ (metaphorically speaking!).

The pace of the narrative is set in such a way to encourage you to sip tea and musefully ponder what your reading – to fully sense and feel this world, whilst allowing Willa and Edith to share the duties for how you navigate it. It’s one of those lovely immersive narratives where you can get lost in the descriptive narrative and feel as if you’ve lived half a moon in this setting. She has given all of us the chance to ‘know’ Willa Cather up close and personal – ahead of reading her stories – of peering into what was important to her and why she felt the legacy she left behind might slip past people who hadn’t realised the point behind her stories. Intuitive readers would notice and see her messages, but to the casual reader? I can see how her narratives might be glossed over for what was readily taken as the truth of what they revealled.

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Reader Interactive Question:

I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary! Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst readers who picked up the same story to read.

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{SOURCES: Cover art of “On the Rocks” and “Death Comes””, book synopsis, author biography, and the tour badge were all by Poetic Book Tours and used with permission. Tweets embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: Book Review Banner using Unsplash.com (Creative Commons Zero) Photography by Frank McKenna  and the Comment Box Banner.}

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

“I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen.” – self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • 2017 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
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Posted Wednesday, 18 October, 2017 by jorielov in #JorieLovesIndies, 20th Century, Amateur Detective, Apothecary, Art, Biographical Fiction & Non-Fiction, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host & Reviewer, Bootleggers & Smugglers, Canada, Canadian Maritimes, Compassion & Acceptance of Differences, Cosy Historical Mystery, Creative Arts, Crime Fiction, Debut Author, Debut Novel, Edith Lewis, Equality In Literature, Fundy Isles, Historical Fiction, Indie Author, Inspired By Author OR Book, Inspired by Stories, LGBTTQPlus Fiction | Non-Fiction, Literary Fiction, Naturopathic Medicine, Poetic Book Tours, Seclusion in the Natural World, Sisterhood friendships, Small Towne Fiction, Social Change, the Nineteen Hundreds, the Roaring Twenties, Village Life, Walking & Hiking Trails, Willa Cather, Women's Rights

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3 responses to “Blog Book Tour | “On the Rocks” (Book One of the #WillaCather and Edith Lewis Mysteries) by Sue Hallgarth

    • Hallo, Hallo Ms Cox,

      The gratitude is mine to give to you — I am so enraptured by this SERIES! :) I truly feel so hugged close inside the arc of the series Ms Hallgarth is creating for us to enjoy! Very immersive – it’s simply how she’s become so very attune to Willa & Edith – I cannot get over how they are literally walking up from the words themselves and feel right as rain and true as if they were sitting next to you over a cuppa tea! Such a lushly described series to be soaking inside, too — I am hoping there are at least a few more novels in the series – as I wasn’t sure if this is going to be a long one or a quartet? Whichever comes, I am thankful to you for hosting the tour – as although I found this a few years ago, I never had the proper chance to start reading it til now! Such joy I’ve had, too!!

      I’m thankful for the extra time to ruminate over ‘Death Comes’; shortly you shall see my thoughts on it as well! Til then!

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