A Spell of Rowans is an emotionally charged book about child abuse, the generational trauma, and the healing of adults still dealing with the pain. This contemporary novel about magic, murder, and blackmail is now available as a pre-order at Amazon!
What genre is this book, and what readers would enjoy it?
Readers who love the contemporary magic found in Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic; the books of Sarah Addison Allen such as Garden Spells and First Frost; and stories about relationships like those in The Keeper of Lost Things (Ruth Hogan); as well as Gail Honeyman’s heroine, Eleanor Oliphant, will enjoy A Spell of Rowans.
Set in Grimsby, a typical American small town, the relationships of a girl-returned-home and the boy-left-behind play out with a murder mystery among the pages in a fresh new take of these beloved tropes. Add the magical abilities of the Rowans to bewitch, manipulate feelings, and to know the secret history of any object, and you’ll find modern magic on almost every page.
An emotional rollercoaster of a book
I started writing Rowans after I had finished Price of a Rose, a Beauty and Beast retelling. However, these books are poles apart on content and theme. From Rose, with a clean and sweet romance, it swings to a tale of Rowans trying to cope with an abusive past.
The writing journey for this book began when I was sorting through some old vintage photos, and one of my mother took hold of my imagination. We have been estranged for over ten years, and as I looked at her face a lot of mixed emotions swept through me. What did that face tell me in that moment?
By the end of the week, I had 20,000 words written on this new story I had no plans on writing. What happened to these three Rowan siblings came pouring out, and within a month the book was mostly done, breaking records for my writing speed.
By the time I got my draft back from my editor, I discovered my mother died a few days before Mother’s Day. It was a peaceful passing in her sleep, and for that I’m glad. But it did strike a strange note with me. I had begun A Spell of Rowans because of a photo of her, and the book was completed just as her life ended.
What of my personal trauma is told in the book?
One thing I’ve learned to be true is that when a family is dysfunctional they share a key trait: keep the family together by forbidding any discussion of what happens within the family. There is them (outsiders), and us. This makes an ideal situation for hiding all sorts of secrets and for a great book.
I know that once the book is published, it will be natural to ask me how much of what I’ve written about the Rowan family applies to my family. The answer is all of it, and none of it.
The deep feelings I have about being raised by a father who had periodic rages, and a mother who gave hurtful criticism while withholding her support, are all real. No matter our childhood, our pain can be similar. We all have suffered in some way as we made our way through life. I think that is why there are certain parts of the book which made my husband, my editor, and alpha readers gasp and even cry.
In the book, all the feelings are authentic. I have seen my brothers dragged up the stairs before I hid under the bed in an attempt to try to escape the reality of their beating. I have dealt with a mother who was self-absorbed to such a degree that she rejected her own daughters when they didn’t comply with her demands. I have one sister, but many brothers, one of which I am particularly close to (and who will probably dislike this book, seeing it as dirty linen being aired).
I have experienced all the sibling bonds and feelings inherent in the position: Philippa, the oldest who tries to protect the younger children; Victoria, who feels the burden of guilt because of what she did and didn’t do; and Liam, who’s unique nature makes him a target that can’t easily cope with the pain.
What is not my experience is the extent Rachel Rowan abuses her three children. I won’t give spoilers, but an intense scene between Rachel and Liam as a child is brutal. While that incident never happened in my life, I channeled my knowledge of violent, egotistical parents to write this scene. It makes what happened to Liam feel devastatingly real.
How much pain is in A Spell of Rowans?
By this time, you may be asking yourself, can I read this book? Or will it be too horrific?
There is emotional pain in the book, but it is not gratuitous. It serves a purpose, and most of it is remembered through flashbacks. On a scale of 1-10, I’d probably grade it a 6/7 in trauma. Because violence in books is so common nowadays, most average readers would consider this relatively mild. But I do want to make it clear that this book is written for adults and is not a YA book by any means.
Also, if child abuse and assault (a rape that is not completed) trigger you, it would be best to pass on this book. I understand why some of my readers (especially of my sweet and clean romances) wouldn’t want to read Rowans. On the other hand, if you loved Wicked Wolves of Windsor you will adore this book.
While some passages may make you cry, this book is about the arc of getting to a place of healing, and the end is immensely satisfying.
A Learning Disabled character in Liam, Vic’s brother
Liam became a favorite character of many of the readers of the first draft of Rowans. The youngest of three and the only brother, he’s never been accepted fully by people outside the family. He’s also a character who appears odd due to his talents. The question of him being learning disabled, possibly autistic, is raised through the course of the book.
In Rowans, I wanted to showcase a character who perhaps doesn’t fit the idea of average, but is immensely lovable and can be respected as being his own person. And Liam really wins over the reader because he is the blunt, honest person we all wish we could be.
As my oldest has gone to a school for ADHD/ADD kids, I’ve been around many who were outside the accepted box. As the parent to two children, both learning disabled, I’ve battled school administrations and fought for them with doctors and counselors. Both now have attended college and have obtained degrees, something some in the educational field thought would never happen.
I’m pleased to bring Liam to life in this book, and doubly pleased that he’s been met with such love and acceptance from readers.
Summary of A Spell of Rowans, a contemporary Magical Realism novel
Raised by a narcissistic mother, the Rowan children’s magical talents were twisted to fit her needs. When Rachel dies, her children must confront the past to have a future.
Rachel Rowan could sniff out secrets and her antique shop, Rosemary Thyme, was a front to torment the residents of Grimsby. When she dies, her children are faced with the deadly fallout of blackmail, murder, and magic.
Victoria, whose empathic talent knows everyone’s hidden feelings; Philippa, whose glamour can bewitch; and Liam, the brother who touches objects to reveal their secrets, all find themselves in danger.
When her autistic brother is arrested, Vic needs to discover the truth to set him free.
A successful art restorer in the big city, Vic’s made a career of ignoring her past and hiding her strange powers. But with Rachel’s death, she must gamble away her secrets to face down forces determined to destroy her and her siblings.
And that hometown boy she dumped way back? He’s in Grimsby, and knows the truth about her.
Suitable for 18+, contains scenes of childhood trauma and adult abuse.
CLICK TO READ THE FIRST CHAPTER
A Spell of Rowans
My brush was finishing the left nostril of the Madonna when the call came. From practice, I ignored the ringing and smoothly completed the stroke on the board. Painted in the late 15th century, the portrait’s age demanded respect, even from a modern device.
I stepped back from the painting and examined my restoration work with a critical eye. Nice. I turned off the lamp.
I was cleaning my brushes when the phone rang for the third time. Wiping my hands on a towel, I tapped the phone, putting my sister on the speakerphone to hear her announcement.
The cutting of the bond between myself and my mother early this morning had woken me from a dead sleep. I thought I was past the need for confirmation but found myself asking, “It was around 1:30, wasn’t it?”
“Yes.” There was a pause before Philippa said, her voice breaking, “Ding dong.”
I couldn’t agree more. Indeed, the witch was dead. I asked Philippa, “What’s the plan?”
My older sister was a big planner. I imagine she had a spreadsheet in her head of what she would do once our mother died. It’s not like she hadn’t had time to plan: our parent broke her hip a couple of months ago, and her decline had been steady. Her long desired death was not exactly an unexpected event.
“How soon can you get here? There are things we need to discuss as a family and not on the phone.”
“I’ll come this evening via train.”
“You sure? What about the crowds? Wouldn’t a rental car be better?”
“It’s fine. A crowd is anonymous. I’ll be okay. Besides, I let my driver’s license expire.”
Phillipa let big-sister exasperation leak into her voice. “Really, Vic? What if you needed an ID?” When I didn’t respond to her chastisement, she gave an aggrieved sigh. “Will you stay at the house?”
“Liam refuses to go inside.”
My brother had a talent for psychometry, reading objects by touching them. I could only imagine how uncomfortable he would feel within the family home. However, a house empty of people presented no danger to my talent. I only needed to keep the right doors closed.
My mind was on death, both past and present, so Phillipa’s next words jarred me out of my abstraction. “Will work give you any trouble?”
“During the summer? For the death of a family member? No trouble at all.”
When I called to ask for time off, my boss at the university was all caring concern. That didn’t surprise me. Tony was a soft jelly type of man who remembered his staff’s birthdays and always let them have a half-day on the Friday before a holiday weekend.
Whenever I had to be in the same room with him, his emotions were like being stuck in marshmallow-goo. I tried to keep as much physical distance as I could between us; I didn’t want to get attached to niceness. It was messy.
“Take as much time as you need. Losing a parent is hard.”
Was it? Probably for normal people with average parents, it was. For now, I was still assessing my own psychic damage. I probed that lost emotional connection, like a tongue touching where a tooth was suddenly missing. Eventually, I would get used to the sensation of loss. Life continued. That I knew.
For now, though, I was feeling lightheaded, floaty, from the relief of Rachel Rowan’s death. Tony’s voice on the other side of the phone startled me.
“Where should we send flowers?”
“I’ll let you know when I get the details.”
Ha! Flowers? He should send a bouquet of Vervain and Dill. But for all of Tony’s historical knowledge, he wouldn’t get a reference to plants traditionally used to ward off witches.
I asked him, “What about the Madonna? Do you want me to return her to the university?”
“Your studio is secure and covered by insurance. It would be safer there, for now. I have my hands full here with an emergency fumigation. Some idiot brought in a cardboard box from outside, and now everyone is seeing bugs.”
My studio, where I worked by myself, far from people, was indeed secure. It had a security system probably better than the university.
“I’ll keep you updated about my plans by email,” I told him.
Taking a train was a calculated risk. I chose a time when it would be crowded with people all rushing to get home from work. Their tired minds were on getting dinner.
Being around groups of people muddled their emotional output. My empath abilities felt it only as white noise.
I watched the scenery passing by. The train was already out of the city, passing through the suburbs. It was all achingly familiar.
That dead link between myself and my mother gave me the eerie feeling I had forgotten something.
I hadn’t. That was the problem. I hadn’t forgotten a damn thing.
At each stop, more passengers got off, heading to enjoy their ordinary lives. This line would eventually take me to Grimsby. It was the last stop before the train returned.
Tired from my interrupted sleep last night, my head started to nod. My forehead pressed against the cool glass of the window, and to the rocking of the train, I fell asleep.
I was in the water, drowning. I flailed with my hands upward, trying to grip something, anything. A hand pushed my head back down, down under the surface. As I opened my mouth to scream, the weedy-stinking lake water smothered my unborn cries.
I awoke with a start, choking, my heart pounding from fright. Still panicked from my recurring dream, the voice made me stare at its owner.
“Pleasant dream, Vic?”
The carriage was now empty except for myself and a man sitting opposite, nearest to the aisle. A face I had known once, softer, more lively, and dearly fond. Now his features held the neutral stillness of the experienced hunter, as it gave me an assessing evaluation from stony eyes.
Even if I didn’t recognize him, the blank emotional wall that refused my talent entrance gave him away. I had only met one person in my life who was a blank to my powers: Reed Easton.
Like I didn’t have enough ghosts from the past. Some of what I felt must have shown on my face. For he said in a voice deeper than I remembered, “Not pleased to see me, old friend?”
“Good evening, Reed.”
He gave a gracious nod of his head as if he was royalty acknowledging a peasant. I wondered how long Reed had sat there watching me sleep? Was that creepy or romantic? Knowing how we had parted fifteen years ago, my guess veered towards unsettling. And dangerous.
As if he had read my thoughts, he asked, “Returning to Grimsby after all these years?”
I might not be able to read his emotions, but I had a long experience matching feelings to faces and words. Even being empathetically-blind, I could see he still held a grudge about how we parted. That was another surprise. I had no regrets over burning that bridge. I was a talented bridge-burner, and I learned long ago: never look back to see what damage the fire did.
Suddenly, I became aware of how wrinkled my shirt was. How wearing the most paint-stained but comfortable jeans from my closet did not exactly scream, “look at how successful I am without you in my life.”
I pulled the sympathy card. “My mother died.”
“Ding dong, huh?”
Considering my mother’s reputation in Grimsby, I had already figured the turnout for any memorial service wouldn’t be numerous. But with Reed’s words, I wondered. Maybe a crowd of Grimsby residents, all holding pitchforks, would storm the house, wanting confirmation that the witch was dead. As well as her spawn.
“Your sister seems to be doing well.”
“Yes, she is.”
I wondered how much longer before we pulled into the Grimsby station? Maybe I could excuse myself and hide in the bathroom?
I tried not to wince at him mentioning my brother. Liam was not faring well. He had his reasons, but I wasn’t sharing them. I said politely, “He’s fine.”
Reed gave a small chuckle that I remembered all too well. “Still hiding the truth, Vic?”
I saw the silhouette of the town’s water tower against the setting sun. Good, not much more of this before we would pull into the station. I reminded myself I could react like an ordinary human being. Pretend.
I asked pleasantly, keeping my voice level, “Your family?”
“Fine,” he said, with a smile that was sarcastic, acknowledging the game we played.
The adult version of his face had no softness, only angles. Reed, once a star athlete on the high school swim team, was still lean and muscular. He wore crisp jeans, sharply pressed, a light blue jacket, and an Oxford shirt with the top button undone. It all fitted with immaculate tailoring. Well. Hm.
The train stopped. I practically jumped from my seat and grabbed my bag from under the seat. I slung the strap over my shoulder, and with eyes downcast, said, “It was nice seeing you after all this time—”
With the sudden speed of a cat, Reed blocked my exit with his arm. He bent to me, his breath on my ear softly fluttering my hair. I shivered.
“Was it nice? Seeing me?” he asked.
I kept my eyes forward, looking straight through the glass to the platform beyond. Freedom was so close. When I didn’t answer, he pulled back, his light jacket flaring open in the movement.
I shoved the door open as fast as possible. As I hurried away, I wondered why my old high school boyfriend would be wearing a gun.
END OF CHAPTER ONE
Enjoy the angst on my Rowan’s Spotify Playlist
A Spell of Rowans is a full length novel with a contemporary Magical Realism setting.
Enjoy the Spotify Playlist (some songs suggested by my Facebook Fan group).