Secret Keepers: A Novel [NOOK Book]


At age seventy-two, Emma Hanley plans to escape small-town Palmetto, South Carolina, and travel the globe. But when her fickle husband dies in undignified circumstances, Emma finds herself juggling the needs of her adult children. Her once free-spirited daughter Dora turns to compulsive shopping and a controlling husband to forget her wayward past. Her son Bobby still lives with her, afflicted with an illness that robbed him of his childhood promise.

When Dora's old flame Jake ...

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Secret Keepers: A Novel

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At age seventy-two, Emma Hanley plans to escape small-town Palmetto, South Carolina, and travel the globe. But when her fickle husband dies in undignified circumstances, Emma finds herself juggling the needs of her adult children. Her once free-spirited daughter Dora turns to compulsive shopping and a controlling husband to forget her wayward past. Her son Bobby still lives with her, afflicted with an illness that robbed him of his childhood promise.

When Dora's old flame Jake Cary returns to Palmetto with a broken heart and a gift for gardening, the town becomes filled with mysterious, potent botanicals and memories long forgotten. Soon enough, Jake and his ragtag group of helpers begin to unearth the secrets that have divided the Hanleys for decades.

Written with the warmth of Lee Smith and the magical touch of Alice Hoffman, Secret Keepers is a beguiling second novel by the acclaimed author of The Garden Angel.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In her second novel, Friddle (The Garden Angel) returns to the family plot for the surprising story of a dysfunctional Southern family, a long-buried secret and the possibility of redemption. Aging housewife Emma Hanley lives in Palmetto, S.C., but dreams of traveling the world; unfortunately, her long-planned European vacation must be postponed when her erstwhile husband up and dies after his regular Saturday coffee klatch with a gaggle of female admirers. Left alone, Emma must learn to deal one-on-one with her mentally troubled son Bobby, born-again daughter Dora and the ghost of son Will, who was killed in Vietnam. While her family goes to pieces, Emma lets her yard go to seed; enter gardener Jake Cary, Dora's old flame, whose efforts to cultivate Emma's garden soon spill into her family life. With fluid prose and telling details, Friddle deftly captures the downward pull of the past and the Southern penchant for mythmaking; transcending the easy stereotypes of Southern dysfunctional family sagas, Friddle's clan is a genuinely quirky lot with its own unlikely ideas of happiness. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
"Beguiling . . . A poignant and reassuring tale of regret and redemption."—Booklist


"With fluid prose and telling details, Friddle deftly captures the downward pull of the past and the Southern penchant for mythmaking."—Publishers Weekly


"A beguiling debut novel. Friddle . . . handles the juxtaposition of two highly eccentric cultures—small-town Southern society and small-college English department—with a light, quirky touch that keeps the story moving along and steadily entertaining."—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"A comic delight . . . Winning characters and piquant wit, with an underpinning of graciousness: a standout."—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429994903
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2009
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 396,544
  • File size: 313 KB

Meet the Author

Mindy Friddle received the Individual Artist Fellowship in Prose from the South Carolina Arts Commission for 2008--2009. A master gardener, she lives in Greenville, South Carolina. Secret Keepers is her second novel.

Mindy Friddle received the Individual Artist Fellowship in Prose from the South Carolina Arts Commission for 2008-2009. A master gardener, she lives in Greenville, South Carolina.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The town had moved the Confederate Monument from the square to the gates of Springforth Cemetery some twenty years after the War of Northern Aggression, and General Robert E. Lee— who stood atop the mossy marble with a scowl— had never quite recovered. The general was listing, slowly sinking in the boggy soil, his finger pointing no longer at the ghostly Union brigade ahead, but just down and to the left, toward the new Ideal Laundry Factory, as if to demand extra starch. The stony glare of the good general was the last thing Emma Hanley’s grandfather saw as he sat at his mahogany desk in his office, pondering a lost factory— foreclosure by some outfit up North was imminent— and an astonishing sweep of bad investments. As he swallowed the muzzle of a Colt .45, William McCann peered at the general, who seemed to look back at him approvingly, a kinship that comes from being beaten down by Yankees.

William McCann’s self- inflicted gunshot on that brilliant spring day in 1908 made a mess of things. But then, he never did have a head for business. In those days, a man was born with his fortune, and occasionally he increased it, but he never lost it. And McCann, who’d never quite cottoned to the textile industry, had managed to lose everything, as his widow, Josephine, quickly discovered. The tree- lined estate in town went first, the family’s seasonal residences next— the seaside place in Charleston, the summer bungalow in the Blue Ridge Mountains— everything inside them auctioned off, crated, and shipped down to the pickle forks and finger bowls, how could they?

They could; they did. The wealthy in Palmetto had little sympathy for downfall brought about by a gentleman’s folly. Travel lust, for example. Seduced by the lure of far- flung jungles, perilous crags, and shimmering deserts, McCann had, for some time, been obsessed by exotic botanicals. He fancied himself a plant hunter— ignoring his failing business and leaving behind his wife, Josephine, for months at a time, appeasing her with promises of civilized travel fit for a woman upon his return.

A pity, many in the town noted, that shortly before her husband’s unfortunate firearm accident— for that is what the family thereafter referred to it as, an accident, a man simply cleaning his gun— Josephine McCann had already sent a steamer trunk to Paris, in preparation for a season with her daughter, Angeline, on the Continent. That voyage was canceled, the trunk recalled. Without means, the McCann women found themselves stuck in Palmetto, South Carolina.

The financial snarl untangled, the fortune unspooled, and the McCann women’s property shrank to a dot on the map, to a single address: Amaranth— a staid Victorian at the edge of town, built on a whim a decade previously, on land McCann had purchased purely for its rich, well- drained soil, fierce fecundity, and eastern light.

At Amaranth, the widow Josephine insisted decorum remain. Linen napkins, yellowed as old teeth, were used at all meals, as well as a few remaining pieces of silverware, the handles heavy as guns. In time, daughter Angeline— who had not been a debutante, having lost that privilege along with other trappings— settled for a young soldier as a husband, a doughboy. The poor soul lost his mind on the battlefields of France and never found it again. Angeline moved from her brief newlywed venture back into Amaranth with her mother. Six months later, Emma arrived, born into a house hold of women pining for escape, who continued to insist they were trapped in a decidedly lower station in life, a station from which there was no leaving the town, at least not in any sort of civilized fashion.

But that was going to change, finally. For on this unseasonably warm April morning nearly eight de cades after her grandfather’s firearm mishap, Emma Hanley, seventy- two, found herself just days away from embarking on a journey of a lifetime. The Trip, as her husband, Harold, referred to it— often while rolling his eyes— a cruise to Europe.

That was the year spring rushed through the town, barely stopping. By April, a morning stroll produced clammy sweat at the nape of one’s neck— a sure sign of an approaching brutal summer. But this harbinger of a merciless season did not overly concern the people of Palmetto, as it would have years before, back when a cruel season made airless lint- filled mills suffocating, left crops dead, farmers unpaid, and children unfed. Now, there was central air, office jobs, and grocery stores. Cable television brought news all day and all night— reports that the Berlin Wall might soon fall, rumors the Japanese were buying up Hawaii, hotel by hotel. There was a rosy- cheeked president well into his seventh decade for whom Emma Hanley did not much care, though she did find some use for him: When Harold protested that Emma and he were too old to take the Trip, she reminded her husband that the Leader of the Free World— a man for whom Harold had twice voted— was even older.

That was the spring when Emma’s life took a dramatically new course, and it all started that Saturday morning in April 1987, a day when Emma was happier than she’d been in years— studying her itinerary, wondering about comfortable shoes and all- weather cloaks, peering at her husband across the stack of maps and Fodor’s Guides on the dining room table, nodding pleasantly as he announced he would soon be heading to the Biscuit Basket for his daily coffee klatch. For in the last few weeks, travel plans had brought to the Hanley marriage an unexpected spirit of compromise. Nowadays, when Harold sucked his teeth or stayed too long at his breakfasts, all Emma had to do was think of the Trip, and a thrill like harp strings would thrum inside her, and she would be happy again.

"Look here at this mess," Harold said now, holding up the morning newspaper. "No respect for the dead." Emma glanced up from the brochure she was reading on converting foreign currency. CEMETERY VANDALS STRIKE AGAIN! the headline on the front page of the metto Newseamed, and there was a picture of the general himself— festooned with toilet paper and what appeared to be Hawaiian leis, looking, appropriately enough, drunk and rakish. Behind the statue, streamers drooped over the rusty iron spires of Springforth. Harold studied the article. When he read silently, his lips moved. "Says here, kids done it," he said. "Teenagers and their parties." He shook his head.

"Perhaps someone at town hall will remember now to fix the memorial," Emma said cheerfully. There had been talk about repairing the Confederate Monument for years, and restoring the cemetery, and doing something with the old mill and all the rest, but then the town would forget, and nothing happened. It was as if the people of Palmetto just stopped seeing the statues, the shuttered cotton mills, the vandalized graveyards. They drove right by, sealed behind their tinted car windows, sipping their travel mugs, nodding their heads to music. Even the McCann saga had apparently been wiped from the town’s memory. Although the old cotton factory— with the McCann name fading on the brick— remained, and there was still a McCann side street and, for a short time, a shopping center with the name, no one except Emma herself and her friends Miss Gibble and Lila Day associated the McCann name with lost fortune or with penniless women lamenting their strangled fate. Come to think of it, Emma reflected now, perhaps the town’s collective amnesia wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

"Gonna be a hot one today," Harold said, reading aloud now the detailed weather forecast— complete with humidity levels and wind directions— in that halting way that set Emma’s teeth on edge. Tripshe thought, the Trip.

She smiled. "Good, it will be nice to get away. They say that London is cool this time of year."

Harold grunted in agreement. He remained a reluctant traveler. Now that they had a little savings and an abundance of time, he had finally agreed to venture overseas because, as Emma reminded him, he owed her this favor. He owed her because de cades of installing appliances meant Harold had spent years in women’s kitchens, which led to having coffee with them, or iced tea and a slice of pound cake, accompanied by long talks and she didn’t know what all. She didn’t care to speculate. Oh, Harold had cultivated himself quite a following in Palmetto, all right, though Emma had never put her foot down. Well, perhaps a few times, many years before: knock- down drag- outs that ended with seething anger, threats of leaving, a violent clashing, damp sheets, and, nine months later, a child. Three of these battles had names: Will, Dora, and Bobby.

"More coffee?" she asked.

"I’ll get some Sanka later." He put on his jacket. "Sure you’re not coming?" "Not with all the things I’ve got left to do." It was part of the Hanleys’ new unspoken agreement: He

would pretend to demand Emma come along to his morning coffee klatch with all those adoring widow women as vigorously as she would decline. With the Trip on the horizon, Emma was perfectly happy to send him off to the Biscuit Basket, and he knew it. Her interests remained elsewhere: across the Atlantic, where, according to their itinerary, they would be within a week at the dazzling Dutch Capital of Amsterdam with its quaint, cobbled streets, steeply gabled merchants’ houses, and famous museums and galleries. Yes, thought Emma, after thirty- seven years of marriage, she and Harold were enjoying some well- earned equilibrium, at least temporarily. A regular cease- fire. For what was marriage but a treaty between two warring little nations, a congress of conflicting desires and wills?

"There is one little thing, before you go," she said.

"What’s that?" He stood at the door in the black jogging pants he’d taken to wearing these days. His tan Windbreaker was zipped, the baseball cap pulled down, hiding his eyes. He was waiting to be dismissed. It was twenty after eight. In ten minutes, he’d be out the door. You could set your watch by him. Emma’s husband was a man who’d established times for everything— bedtimes, meals, and bowel movements. Daylight saving time presented a quandary every six months in the Hanley house hold, until Harold, with a shot of prune juice and a stack of Reader’s Digests, reset himself. Try to drag a man like that across the ocean and to a different time zone.

"Could you help get my old trunk down from the attic?" she asked.

Ah, the travel trunk. One of the few possessions Emma had brought to her marriage.

When she’d met Harold, Emma had still been living at Amaranth. It was a rooming house by then, run by Mrs. Leonard Anderson, a jowly and coarse woman whose meaty arms waggled as she beat eggs; she was glad to have a fine lady like Emma as a tenant, quiet and minding her own business among the cacophony of boisterous, drunken fools who swarmed the place.

While there were respectable rooming houses in the town for maiden ladies in 1950, Amaranth wasn’t one of them. But how could Emma leave? That place was a kind of purgatory, a parallel world that both tortured and flattered her with memories of better times. The chandelier in the foyer, stripped of its crystals, blinked dimly and swung in crooked, precarious arcs. The strips of torn cabbage rose wallpaper in the hallway waved vaguely in the drafts of cold air. The red carpet, trod upon by steel- toed work boots, offered a pink threadbare path up the stairs.

Emma had been teaching the lower grades for nearly a decade by then. Her grandmother was long gone, her mother, with whom she’d shared one drafty room on the second floor, had been dead all of six weeks, and Emma found some comfort in going through her grandmother’s travel trunk daily, sorting her grandfather’s botanical sketches. She’d kept the trunk since she was a young thing, cherishing it like a hope chest. Instead of putting away linens and finery for an impending marriage— prospects were too dim for that— Emma had stuffed the steamer with magazines, a crumpled atlas or two, and a bundle of vintage postcards from Rome, Paris, and London that she’d happened upon once at a flea market. And there was also the small, sad worn wad of money that her grandmother had stashed there for an emergency, an occasion that, Emma reflected, not only had arrived, but also, for a very long time, never stopped.

In those weeks after her mother died, Emma checked the train schedules every Tuesday, taking along her emergency fund, zipped in the side pocket of her satin- lined pocketbook. A one- way ticket could take her very far, indeed. Once, she even approached the station ticket window, close enough to see the bearded, weary man there talking on the black phone while eating his lunch, close enough to see the nervous, timid red- headed woman reflected back in the glass.

And then came the morning Emma heard an awful clatter from downstairs, and Mrs. Anderson’s hearty laughter, too. Emma closed the trunk, locked her door, and ventured downstairs to the kitchen to find out what all the racket was about, the clanging and shouts. There was a new stove being put in. The other one just upped and quit on me, Mrs. Anderson told her, no telling how old. The previous stove, white enamel, heavy as God, sat upended in the corner, its doors and pipes amputated and discarded in a pile, and it hurt Emma to look at it, to remember the legions of Christmas turkeys and Easter hams her grandmother had once cooked in it. Then, from behind the new stove, Harold Hanley stood up, plaster dust smeared across one cheek, a sheen of sweat glistening on his forehead, HAL stitched over one pocket of his tight dun- colored work shirt. His gaze fell on Emma, and he nodded politely, but he left those yellow eyes on her face, the heat of him shone on her and she was so alone, like freezing to death, numb and half- dead for so long— she hadn’t realized how lonely! And scared? Lord, she was scared, her mother not cold in her grave, and Emma herself hibernating. There were combed grooves in his black hair. Hair oil! Only the lower- class men wore hair oil, only the workers. The room spun and left her weak-kneed, till Mrs. Anderson hobbled over with a dinette chair and said, You sit down here. Girl, you look right peaked.

And so it was that Emma found herself courted, quite suddenly engaged, and scolded by Miss Gibble, her supervising teacher, who taught the upper grades. Upon news of Emma’s unlikely suitor and imminent betrothal, Miss Gibble pulled Emma aside. "You’ll be bored to tears, with your mind," Miss Gibble warned. "What on earth will you talk about with that man?"

Talk? Talk didn’t have much to do with it. Instead, Emma’s impending marriage had to do with the certain spot on the nape of her neck that Harold Hanley had discovered. Yes, there were those who said she was marrying beneath her, settling for an unschooled appliance repairman who did not even have his high school diploma. But there were those who thought the reverse, too, that Harold Hanley was marrying an old maid teacher when he could have had a levelheaded girl better at doing things like pickling peaches or ironing sheets and scrubbing the kitchen floor with Old Dutch.

"You’re not settling down. You’re just settling," Miss Gibble chided, before she turned to clap the erasers over a trash can. "Now you’ll never leave this town."

And what does ol’ dried- up Eleanor Gibble know about loving anyway? Harold had asked later, after Emma had shared her best friend’s misgivings with him. Back when Emma still shared such thoughts with Harold. What does that one know about loving?

Miss Gibble did indeed know about loving, since she’d lost her fiancé, a pilot from Mississippi, when he was shot down over Germany in the war. He’d been a blond, handsome man with enormous red protruding ears, whose smiling photograph and lock of hair stayed in a heavy gold locket tucked behind the starched white muslin of Miss Gibble’s blouse. Occasionally, Miss Gibble would open the locket and gaze down at the diminutive grinning face there before slowly closing the cover again, as if it were the lid of a tiny coffin. I shall always be a miss, insisted Miss Gibble to the teaching faculty after the funeral. None of this silly talk about how there will be others. For there will be no one else.

Shortly after her marriage, Emma used the emergency fund from her travel trunk to finance a used 1949 Chevy pickup, officially launching Hanley’s Appliance Repair. She and Harold moved into their ’50s split- level that was all the rage then, a spec house that went cheap when the builder went broke. By then, Emma was expecting, and couldn’t lift anything heavier than a teacup. They’d hardly had any furniture anyway. As for the travel trunk, it was relegated to the attic, until this day, when Emma persuaded Harold to finally lug it down.

The trunk, battered and filthy, sat now in the sunny corner of their kitchen like a mysterious stranger soaking up warmth and company.

Harold looked warily at it from the corner of his eye while he drank a glass of water at the sink, as if he still didn’t believe her claims that, no, she didn’t plan to take that old thing on the Trip. What Emma had in mind was finding her grandmother’s travel journal. She was certain it was in there somewhere, and wouldn’t that be something? To take it along on the Trip. But she kept that wish to herself. There was no use appealing to Harold’s nostalgic side, for Emma suspected her husband did not have one. The past did not much concern a man who was content to live in the present, whose retirement days offered him so much fun.

"Maybe I should make Bobby get out a little this morning," Harold said now from behind her. "On the Trip, he’s going to have to get used to doing things he don’t like."

"Well, you can try, I suppose," she said, playing along. By pretending to insist their son accompany him, Harold was clearly assuaging his own guilt about escaping to the Biscuit Basket.

"Bobby?" he called. "You sure you don’t feel like a walk?"

There was no reply from the living room, just the antic whirs and boing boing sounds of morning cartoons and the smoke from Bobby’s unfiltered Camels.


"No," came the groggy response.

Harold met her eyes, then shook his head, sadder than usual. "Well, I tried."

"Don’t worry," Emma said now. "He’s going to have to get out with us this afternoon." After a beat, she said, "Shoe shopping, Harold. Don’t tell me you forgot?"

Puzzlement did a funny little dance across his features, until resignation took hold. "No. No, I didn’t forget. Guess I’ll pick up the medicine at the drugstore on the way back this morning. Reckon you better call and check to make sure they got it ready?"

"All right."

"The extra, too," he said.

The medicine for the trip is what he meant. Bobby’s pills. The extra dose to help Bobby calm down and sleep. Was it a rebuke, Harold’s reminder about Bobby’s need for extra medicine? Perhaps. Taking Bobby along on the Trip wouldn’t be easy. But they couldn’t very well leave him behind with Dora.

Dora would insist on taking Bobby to that new church over at the Crossroads shopping center. All that talk of demons fleeing, saints suffering, and Jesus appearing just ignited Bobby’s own delusions. For days after his last visit, when Emma asked Bobby to do something as simple as taking out the garbage, she found herself competing with the voices of John the Baptist and Saint Paul. And the saints always won out.

"Yes, I’ll call the pharmacy." Emma said. "I’ll see to it they have the extras ready. You’re walking?"

Silly question. Harold always walked to his breakfasts. Somehow, even in sweatpants and Windbreaker and cap, he was fine-looking. Yes, she’d have to give him that. He was slim, without the paunch most men his age acquired. And he had his own teeth and drove at night. Quite a commodity.

"I suppose Betty will be at breakfast?" she couldn’t resist asking. "And the McCormick sisters?"

"Yeah, I reckon Betty and them will be there."

"I believe she mentioned that last night. When I ran into her at Winn- Dixie. Funny— Betty didn’t know about the Trip. I promised we’d send her a postcard."

Harold adjusted his cap in the hall mirror.

The evening before, when Emma had encountered Betty Snodgrass hovering over the cucumbers in the produce aisle, Betty had practically purred, Oh, your husband, that Hal Hanley, he just tickles me no end! And Betty, whose arthritic hip gave her a gimpy sway like a drunken dancer, and whose thin lips shone like cellophane— lip gloss at her age!— whispered, in her smoker’s rasp, He keeps us in stitches. Just a darling. Emma chuckled in a way she hoped resembled fondness before reminding Betty in an offhand way that she was just frantic planning their golden honeymoon, as Harold liked to call it. Emma had made that part up, of course. Harold would never call their impending trip a golden honeymoon, but a little lie like that was worth it just to see Betty’s crestfallen expression.

The truth was, Emma now lacked the patience to converse with Betty or Velma Scranton or the McCormick twins about double- coupon days and the senior citizen booth at the flea market. The McCormick sisters still dressed as if they were young things, rouged and clad in polka dots and heels, sopping up sausage biscuits and milk gravy, their dentures clacking. Velma claimed she was retired from the textile industry, though Emma knew she’d spent thirty years sewing the crotch seam in dungarees. Not one of them was interested in the Eiffel Tower or Stonehenge or the Royal Tulip Garden; they had made that perfectly clear. Hal’s Gals, people called them.

"I guess I better get a move on," Harold said now. The stove clock read eight thirty.

"You go on," Emma said, thereby releasing him. To the Biscuit Basket and your fans, she stopped herself from adding. "I’m sure they’ll be waiting."

He stepped out on the front porch and turned to close the door behind him, not bothering to hide the delight and anticipation on his face as he finally headed out.

It never occurred to Emma he might not return.

Excerpted from Secret Keepers by Mindy Friddle.Copyright © 2009 by Mindy Friddle.
Published by St. Martin’s Press.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Reading Group Guide


In the garden this morning I found larkspur and zinnias sprouting in the tomato bed. Last summer's Love-Lies-Bleeding went rogue, too, self-seeding among the squash and peppers. I find such strange bedfellows enchanting. I'm working with nature here, so I'm open to surprises. I like to see what happens. That's pretty much how I approach writing novels. I like to see what happens. What are these characters up to now? I love it when they surprise me. I started Secret Keepers with an image of Emma Hanley, gazing at a family portrait, stuck in her hometown. Like George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, she yearns to flee. Just when it looks like she might get her wish, her husband heads off to his morning coffee klatch with a gaggle of adoring widow women, and . . . well, Emma's dream of travel is stymied. Again. And then she has her hands full juggling the demands of her adult children. Things get really prickly when a motley group of gardeners, the Blooming Idiots, unearth some strange botanicals and the Hanley family's secrets. Nature, it turns out, is a major character in Secret Keepers. In the course of the novel -- through regret, broken hearts, and grief -- humor winds like a flowering vine. Publishers Weekly says the Hanley clan, "is a genuinely quirky lot with its own unlikely ideas of happiness." Strange bedfellows, indeed.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2013

    great read need more like this.

    I read a lot but this was about my town a i really enjoyed this.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Secret Keepers

    First off I have to say how much I love this cover! I love anything vintage and having to do with gardening, not that I am a great gardener. This book begs to be read on a front porch or in a garden gazebo while drinking a glass of sweet tea. It is a quiet southern fiction book about a family coming to terms with changes in their lives. We meet Emma Hanley who at age 72, is getting ready to take of on a trip of a lifetime with her husband, Harold and mentally ill son, Bobby. Her husband has an accident that takes his life and changes Emma's life. Her daughter, Dora and her husband, Donny have very different plans for Harold's funeral but Emma has her mind set and does things the way she sees fit. Of course this starts a family battle. Donny and Dora belong to a very zealous church set up in a mall built on property once belonging to Emma's grandfather. I can't say how many times I found myself laughing at the shenanigans that go on in this mall where all the stores are involved around the church. When Jake, Dora's high school sweetheart decides to open up his own landscaping business in town things get very interesting. Soon he realizes he needs help and hires an unlikely bunch of characters; Gordon, a homeless veteran, Kyle, Emma's rebellious grandson who hates his parents and Bobby. Soon secret, magical plants and lifetime secrets are revealed. If you enjoy southern fiction and dysfunctional quirky families then I think you will enjoy this book. There is a nice balance between the story and a hint of magic that is not overdone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2009

    Must read this witty, delightful book!!

    Mindy Friddle has truly created a beautifully-written, engaging novel that is rich with drama, humor and whimsy. This charming tale begins with elderly Emma Hanley postponing her dream, a European cruise, following the untimely death of her husband. She quickly finds herself entangled in the problems of her adult children. A town native returns and starts his own landscape/yard maintenance business. He assembles a crew of misfits and they begin planting a mysterious, magical flower all over town. In the end, not only does the gardener save the Hanleys' yard and garden, but he is able to save the Hanleys themselves. Ms. Friddle is an extraordinary storyteller! She has brilliantly created a delectable cast of amusing, endearing characters, who thoroughly entertained me from start to finish. The added touch of magic embellished the story nicely. I absolutely loved this page-turner and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you grab a copy and get reading!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 7, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Another Winner for Friddle!

    I loved the Garden Angel and hoped Friddle's second book would be as good! I was not disappointed. The character development and story line keep me reading to find out what would happen next. If you want a good book to escape the problems of today this is certainly it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Filled with pathos and eccentricity, readers will enjoy the misadventures of the SECRET KEEPERS

    In Palmetto, South Carolina, septuagenarian Emma Hanley plans to see the world. However, she has to put on hold her tour when her spouse Harold suddenly dies while having coffee with his female admirers. Emma has no time to consider her loss as her adult children need her and make demands on her.------------

    She is the sole caretaker of Bobby whose illness left him mentally incapable of caring for himself. Dora has turned to religion, compulsive shopping and a martinet spouse. Even Will, who died decades ago in Vietnam, seems to haunt his mom. Dora's former lover from her hippie days Jake Cary comes home to mend a broken heart and fix gardens like that on the neglected estate of Emma's late grandfather Amaranth and indirectly people too so they flourish.---------

    On the surface, SECRET KEEPERS seems like the zillionth southern dynasty saga, but is actually much more as Mindy Friddle looks at how the present turns the past into a family mythos in which facts are irrelevant. Each of the key players in the hamlet extended family including the late patriarch, grandfather and Will seem like real persons with each one possessing a personalized definition of what heaven on earth would be to them; however that denotation is always out of reach. Filled with pathos and eccentricity, readers will enjoy the misadventures of the SECRET KEEPERS.------------------

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2013

    Highly Recommend.

    Very interesting story. Enjoy it very much.

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  • Posted August 31, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An okay read, didn't peak until the end.

    I had high hopes for Secret Keepers. I'm not ashamed to admit I judge books by their covers and this one is fabulous. The synopsis uses words like "wayward past," and "old flame," and "mysterious, potent botanicals and resurgent memories." Sounds good right? Unfortunately Secret Keepers didn't really find its true potential until the last third of the book, at which point it was nearly over.

    Secret Keepers circles around Emma Hanley and her children. Told in alternating past/present snippets, we learn that Emma's ancestor had a penchant for gardening with foreign plants; her oldest son died in a war; her other son hears voices and sees people who aren't there; her daughter Dora was once wayward and lost until she became found by a religious zealot; and Dora's teenage son Kyle is trying to balance his father's religious demands with dreams of his own. Then Dora's old flame comes back to town, stirs stuff up, and all hell breaks loose. So much potential, just not a stellar execution.

    Secret Keepers plods along until the end when things get fanciful and dramatic and one whiff of a flower sends people reeling in memory to their favorite places and times. It seems like it was trying to be magical realism, but took to long to figure that out. In general, I am left feeling underwhelmed and slightly disappointed that it didn't peak until the end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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