Their lives were shaped by poverty as harsh as the Schuylkill County winter.
Their deaths would have gone unnoticed, except for the strangeness of their ends.
Carmela Valente hadn't known the three women, yet she was compelled to travel across country to try to explain their deaths.
What she found were the dark, missing pieces of herself...
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I walked into the kitchen to the area where the three elderly sisters were found, next to the massive black and chrome wood burning stove. I remembered was their neighbor Carl Fenster said, 'they was holdin' hands'.
I pulled my jacket closer about me. I could still feel an unverving presence. Even the air was unexpectedly chillier.
The lump in my throat had swollen. I turned around quickly. Whatever or whoever had stood behind me was gone.
Victoria Dark, author of Dangerous to Love
Decades of tangled lives and dark secrets fill this wonderfully complex novel with depth and texture and emotion. Brava, Ms. Di Bella Barles, well done!
Kathy Boswell, Managing Editor, The Best Reviews
This highly emotional dark novel brought tears to my eyes and took me on a roller coaster ride of a read! I couldn't wait to see how this book ended.
Sara Williams, author of The Don Juan Con and The Serenoa Scandal.
A woman journeys to a backwater Pennsylvania coal town to investigate the triple suicide of elderly sisters. Life in Pine Grove Haven might be lived on the small scale but emotions run deep as the coal seams that provide a meager living. Carmela Valente quickly befriends the townspeople who trust her with their secrets. The tragedies these people suffered,Valente soon learns, are similar to her own. Her journey becomes a healing experience not only for herself but for her new friends as well. Here's a novel you won't want to miss, with a cast of crotchety characters full of pithy insights.
Beautifully Written, Dark Novel reviewed by Mayra Calvani
They Was Holdin' Hands is an unusual, beautifully written novel which combines elements of mystery and literary fiction.
The story begins when the protagonist, an aspiring writer named Carmela Valente, reads by chance an intriguing article on the Seattle Times about three old women who mysteriously died huddled together by a wood-burning stove in the kitchen of their rural farmhouse in the small mining community of Pine Grove Haven, PA. Carmela soon becomes obsessed by the incident, so much so that she decides to go to the mining town to investigate. The idea of writing a novel based on the incident propels her. Of course, the demure, reserved people of Pine Grove Haven aren't exactly thrilled by her visit. The town holds dark secrets, secrets that parallel Carmela's own disturbing childhood. As the secrets of the town and the mystery of the old women's deaths are gradually revealed, so are Carmela's deeply hidden memories. In this sense, this is a dark novel about self discovery and about the grim, and often contradictory, realities of human nature.
The story is told in the first person through the view point of the protagonist, and the author uses a technique that is not common nowadays in fiction; the protagonist is never quoted in the dialogue, but instead she's always paraphrased, as in this example:
"I confessed to him that I still didn t know what it was I wanted, but I hoped I would know in a day or two. I asked him if he felt the deaths were accidental."
This technique brings a quiet, old-fashioned storytelling quality to the novel, reminiscent of 19th century novelists.
There are other beautiful passages in the novel, some with lyrical yet simple, vivid images:
"I brushed away the snow from a concrete bench and sat down. The day was clear. No heavy, bleak clouds blocked the sun's welcome gift. I watched as the melting rivulets of snow slid down the gravestones like tears."
This is a novel that will please those readers of mystery who look beyond the usual commercial literature. The two interwoven storylines are deftly crafted and the dialogue sparkles with authenticity. The author has a flair for characterization. In sum, this is an excellently written novel and one I m very pleased to have read.
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Reader Reviews for "They Was Holdin' Hands"