Book Reviews

Reviews of Leanna Sain’s Books:


  • Leanna Sain’s new novel, WISH, reviewed in WNC Woman’s Magazine

    Book Review: “Wish” By Leanna Sain

    Reviewed by Mary Ickes


    Wish By Leanna Sain


    With this novel, Ms. Sain crosses over from Southern suspense or grit-lit to the young adult genre. May she be as successful in this category as with her trilogy. Gate to Nowhere (2008), her first novel, won Foreword Magazine’s Book-of-the-Year Award.  Return to Nowhere (2009) won the NCSH Fiction Award, and Magnolia Blossoms (2010) received a nomination for the Global E-book Award.

    Maddie McGuire, at age 12, lost her mother to ovarian cancer; three years later her father, Doug, according to the police report, set their home afire and shot himself.  Maddie vacillates between wondering How could he have done such a cruel thing?  and certainty that her father was murdered.  She lives with Gram (Doug’s mother), a woman with the compassion of a concentration camp matron:  After two years, there should have been some sort of improvement, but the girl seemed to sink deeper and deeper into herself. Gram incessantly denounces Maddie for fabricated faults, including laziness for trying to sleep in on Saturday mornings, and slovenliness if room inspections reveal the slightest disorder.

    Transferring from an enormous high school, where she disappeared into the crowd, to St. Vincent’s, with 400 students, escalates Maddie’s vulnerability.  But Laura Ingram, her new friend, convinces Maddie that her only hope of outwitting Gram is pretending to rebound.  Laura is right on!  While watching Maddie, wearing a goofy reindeer sweater, race off for Christmas shopping with Laura, Gram had indeed been speechless, for once. At Macy’s Five Twelves Believe-Meter, Maddie wishes to see her father again.  Though she knew her wish was foolish, the Disappointment changed to despair, the deep-down kind, out of sight.

    A few days later, Maddie discovers, in her father’s papers, a list of twenty-three names, including her mother’s.  She concludes that all were cancer patients who died within weeks or months of her mother.  Cancer kills people everyday within weeks or months of someone else, so why compile a list of these particular patients?  Convinced that she finally has a tangible clue leading to her father’s murderer, Maddie seeks someone with the legal authority to investigate further.  Her prospects are dismal: Joe Peretti, her father’s partner and a close family friend, deserted her after the funeral; and she instinctively distrusts Doug’s friend, Detective Anne Benston-Harris.  Investigating separately, they discover that a depraved and mercenary mind preyed on the twenty-three cancer patients.

    Ignoring her father’s admonition to always trust her gut feeling, Maddie finds herself woven into a web of intrigue and danger beyond anything she could have imagined.

    As Maddie matures from a girl making foolish wishes to a young woman fighting for her life, she proves herself an admirable heroine in Ms. Sain’s first young adult novel.

    Leanna Sain lives on Miracle Hill Farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband, two cats, one dog, a flock of chickens, and a herd of dairy goats.  When not writing, she keeps busy as a free-lance portrait artist, co-owner of a retail store, and an organic gardener.


  • Leanna Sain Presents, WISH, at Blue Ridge Books – The Mountaineer

    Southern author Leanna Sain will be discussing and reading from her new novel “Wish” at 3 p.m. March 22 at Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville.

    When 17 year old Maddie McGuire discovers a list consisting of 23 names —one of them, her mother; all of them, dead — she’s convinced it’s more than just a coincidence. Was her mom’s death caused by something more than cancer? Had her New York City cop dad found out? Was his “suicide” really murder? And what if the answer was “yes” to one or more of these questions? Who could she turn to for help?

    The answer comes in the most unbelievable way possible when Maddie closes her eyes and makes a wish just days before Christmas. What follows is a week-long roller-coaster ride filled with more danger-filled twists and turns than she ever could’ve imagined. But in the end, would she face the same fate as her parents?

    Though “Wish” claims a young adult audience, it’s definitely a crossover book. As a “stand alone” novel set in New York City, “Wish” is a change from Sain’s usual Southern suspense or “grit-lit,” but fans will still get the strong, sometimes-snarky characters, gripping dialogue, and vivid descriptions that they’ve come to expect from Sain’s novels.

    Sain’s first book, “Gate to Nowhere,” published in 2008, won Foreword Magazine’s Book-of-the-Year Award, as well as, the Clark Cox Historical Fiction Award from the North Carolina Society of Historians.

    The sequel, “Return to Nowhere,” published in 2009, also won the NCSH Historical Fiction Award, and was nominated for the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award. The third book of the trilogy, “Magnolia Blossoms,” published in 2010, was nominated for the Global E-book Award.

    There will be a time for questions at the close of the event at Blue Ridge Books. Books will be available for purchase.

  • WNC Woman Magazine Book Review

    CoverDec12WEB-smallBook Review

    Gate to Nowhere by Leanna Sain

    Reviewed by Mary Ickes

    Gate to Nowhere, the first book in Ms. Sain’s time-travel series, won ForeWord Magazine’s 2008 Book of the Year Award. (Foreword Magazine introduces books from small, independent, and university presses to librarians and booksellers.) Ms. Sain says, “I didn’t even know that Twilight Times, my publisher, had entered Gate to Nowhere until afterwards. I never thought that I had a chance to win — especially since this is my first book.” This past October, she received notice that Gate to Nowhere won the coveted 2012 Clark Cox Historical Fiction Award from the North Carolina Society of Historians, Inc. (These awards are presented to authors who have published a significant work of fiction based on actual historical events, places and/or individuals in North Carolina History.)

    Return to Nowhere, the second book, was nominated for the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award and Magnolia Blossoms, the final book in the series, for the Global Ebook Award. All three books concern young women steadfast in attaining their goals.

    As her story opens, city girl Emma Franklin bumps and grumps her Jeep over a deserted country road seeking an oval sign, hanging between two pillars, announcing Golden Apple Farm. Discarding her realtor’s worthless directions, she soon glimpses the pillars and sign enveloped in poison ivy. Forcing her Jeep through vines the size of her arm, Emma emerges into a long-deserted homestead. Despite the imposing house and barn, she is attracted to a gate that … had no fence attached … no semblance of a fence anywhere. Who would put a gate all by itself in the middle of a flower garden? That gate, Emma quickly learns, is the first of many mysteries.

    Not until she inherited Golden Apple Farm two weeks earlier, did Emma learn that G-Jane, her grandmother, owned 200 acres in Western North Carolina. Why did she abandon this valuable and scenic property? In the secret compartment of a desk, Emma discovers the journals of her great-great-great grandfather, Gavin Douglas MacKinlay, age twenty-five, previously of Loch Lomand, Scotland. He immigrated in 1817 to the United States and discovered gold that he invested in apple farming. To acknowledge his philanthropy, the citizens of Nowhere, in 1827, renamed their town MacKinlay and dedicated his bronze likeness in the public square. Three days later, the same people accused Gavin of vicious deeds that he never even considered, let alone committed.

    Gavin’s final entry reads: “I have an idea of who’s responsible for the mess my life has become. Tonight, I will see if my suspicion is right!”

    Finally, Emma discovers secreted in G-Jane’s Bible a note explaining that she fled because of her grandfather:
    “… farewell to my beautiful home – I will miss you. It could’ve been so different, if not for the evil in his heart.”

    Emma is further bewildered when she drives into MacKinlay the next morning for supplies and, she hopes, to make friends. Instead, everyone rudely ignores her as if she is invisible. While the grocery clerk pointedly chats with customers in front of Emma and behind her, she finds, in the magazine rack, From Nowhere to MacKinlay – a History
    of MacKinlay, North Carolina
    , by Michael Ellis MacKinlay. Rather than providing answers, Ellis (he legally dropped his last name) condemns Gavin MacKinlay, his father, as “… a ruthless dictator, rogue and womanizer, leaving several community girls as unwed mothers. “… The ill-treatment and wrath he meted out to his employees … was described with hateful detail and that apparently happened after the renaming of the town.” Since Michael Ellis is the grandfather who tormented G-Jane, he learned well from his father.

    To quell her frustration, Emma turns to the practical details of exploring her new home and settling in. After her thorough cleaning, the house’s “… woodwork glowed, seeming to radiate a warmth of its own …” Still sturdy and sound, the barn and adjacent building are obviously the legacy of a proud farmer. To her growing list of tasks, she adds rescuing the pinks, Sweet Williams, and daisies peering through jumbled weeds. Her exploration ending at the gate, Emma attacks the lock with WD-40 and the frame with swift kicks and hip shoves, all to no avail. Why, Emma wonders, is she so intimidated by a rusty old gate that should have been demolished years ago?

    A few nights later, while admiring a silvery moon’s landscape, the gate stands open, and out the door she races. Emma awakens in a pasture surrounded by grazing cows contained by the gate, shiny and new, attached to a split rail fence. Beyond the gate, stands her house in pristine condition; men painted her barn red. “Can I help ye, lad?” booms a voice from behind. Emma whirls around to face a man dressed in “… those old-fashioned farmer things that always looked too big, held up with suspenders.” He is as amazed to see that his guest is a young woman as Emma is to be there – wherever there is – but he quickly recovers, introduces himself as Gavin MacKinlay, and invites her to tea. Convinced that she needs antidepressants… anti-psychotics or anti-something … Emma manages to introduce herself and accept his invitation.

    Grace, his housekeeper – more astonished by a young lady wearing pants than mysteriously appearing in a cow pasture – serves a scrumptious tea that Emma devours. Dodging Gavin’s request for an explanation she asks for his story which, except for one crucial detail, parallels his journals. How can this kindly man be her ancestor still loathed by the town of MacKinlay and the monster in Ellis’ book? Then again, if she really has time traveled from 2004 to 1827 – she’s still not convinced – anything is possible. Assisted by Grace, Emma discovers that the gate will open again on the next full moon, giving her thirty days to solve the mystery.

    As the month passes, Grace and Gavin mentor Emma in early nineteenth-century life and she them about living in 2004, understandably beyond their comprehension. Grace begins with dressing Emma like a proper lady. Under her tutelage, Emma dons drawers; a chemise; a petticoat; a boned stay tightened by Grace; more petticoats and, finally, an elegant dress trimmed with handmade lace. She can hardly believe that the lovely lady in the mirror is her. Emma’s request for spinning lessons begins with learning the process leading up to the spinning wheel, from shearing the sheep to washing and carding the wool. Emma concludes: “Pioneer women were to be admired as much for their strength and stamina as anything else …” Grace agrees that Emma may feed the chickens – and then rolls her out of bed promptly at 5:00 a.m.

    From Gavin, Emma learns that “Ye’ve got to give back to the land. Too much taking and never any giving robs all the good out of the earth.”

    Golden Apple Farm, the epitome of harmonious self-sustainment, testifies to his sincerity. His animals, from the beef cattle who greeted Emma, to his goats, chickens, and horses are clean and healthy. Even the barn cats have “… a sleek, well-fed look.” Because he composts manure, his vegetable and herb gardens and fields of oats, hay, and corn produce abundantly. A spring house cools milk and butter and keeps root vegetables fresh during the winter. Most importantly, Gavin gives back to his workers. Practically insulted when Emma asks if they are slaves, Gavin retorts, “How could it be right for anyone to own another person? … they work for me … but they’re free to go at any time.” Emma greatly admires and respects her principled ancestor – and fears for his life.

    Gate to Nowhere, Reading Friends, reads well on various levels framed by a battle between good and evil: as a time travel fantasy, a primer in women’s historical contributions, and an agricultural treatise for our current environmental issues. And you just may find a love story along the way!

    Lest I ruin the story line of the three novels, only general plot lines are permissible. In Return to Nowhere, seventeen-year-old Charlotte can achieve her goal of becoming a doctor only by learning Cherokee green medicine, but the Cherokees have long since disappeared on the Trail of Tears. Maggie, in Magnolia Blossoms, meets the ghost of a Civil War soldier shot for desertion, but she is determined to prove his innocence. Like Emma, they time travel through the mysterious gate into eras depicted with the same penchant for historical accuracy that Ms. Sain demonstrates in Gate to Nowhere.

    Leanna Sain lives on her small organic farm nestled in the Mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband Randy, a herd of dairy goats, and a flock of happy chickens. With her youngest just off to college, she battles the empty nest syndrome by keeping very busy. She currently has a novel under a publisher’s consideration, another completed novel, and two others in varying levels of readiness.

    Please see for updates.

  • May I say this is one of the best time travel books I’ve ever read. It has suspense, romance, mystery, and enough action to keep things interesting. …an enthralling and entertaining story.” Carol Guy, author of Sins of the Past.

  • Book Review

    No matter if you’re looking for a love story, suspense, mystery or danger–this book will give you a good dose of it! The part I enjoy the most is how even the most insignificant changes in the past can make such a tremendous difference in future events and attitudes. When will the sequel be out?