Your Summer Reading List Featuring Virginia Authors

Written by Shayda Windle

One of Hunt Country’s most unique aspects is its people, who live behind the closed doors of quaint farmhouses. From CIA operatives to Olympic equestrian riders, Fortune 500 heirs, and congressional leaders, many of them reside here, all with numerous stories to tell. It’s here, outside the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge mountains, where creativity is born and fascinating stories from all over the world come alive. 

We thought there was no better time to spotlight a few of Hunt Country’s local authors and books to add to your summer reading list. Whether you’re looking for something to entertain your kids, or recipes for your summer barbecue to keep your guests coming back for more, we’ve found a title for you. Here’s our round-up of the best books by local authors. There’s no better time than the summer to curl up with a good book … or five. 

Photo by Jennifer Gray.

“The Wayward Spy” by Susan Ouellette

One of our top picks for this summer is local author Susan Ouellette’s debut novel, “The Wayward Spy.” This thrilling page-turner is centered around Maggie Jenkins, a young woman who lives a seemingly normal life with her CIA operative fiancé. Little does Maggie know that her last encounter with her fiancé would be their final one. 

When she is informed about her fiancé’s murder during his last mission in Tbilisi, Georgia, grief-stricken Maggie stops at nothing to uncover her fiancé’s true cause of death. Determined to unravel the truth, Maggie flies to Georgia to discover who killed Steve and find out who the real traitor is. Ouellette’s writing is interesting and fast-paced with relatable characters like Maggie who is sharp, determined, and a passionate protagonist in a plot that’s reminiscent of the Bourne series. 

Ouellette, an ex-CIA analyst herself and international relations expert, conceived the character Maggie Jenkins, during her work in the U.S. Capitol. Perhaps more importantly, this book is most relatable for those who have experienced or known anyone in the real-world field of intelligence. “The Wayward Spy” leaves readers looking for more to come and hoping for a sequel.

The novel is now available for purchase through ComCat books or Amazon

Author of “The Wayward Spy,” Sue Ouellette

“Farm Girl in the City: Of Food and Love” by Bonnie McDaniel

Bonnie McDaniel’s background in farm to table cooking is a result of her upbringing in the small town of Ocala, Florida, in the Tucker Hill section, where every Sunday supper was about gathering with family. McDaniel grew up in town and her grandparents had a farm on the outskirts where they raised sugar cane, fruit and nut trees, vegetables, and livestock — all of which were used to feed a family of six children. It was on Tucker Hill that McDaniel learned how to cultivate the right vegetables to go with just about any type of food, and the essential tools needed to make these must-have recipes for family get-togethers. 

In her book, McDaniel writes, “My grandmother was an example of how to create good food through love,” which she captures through her traditional southern recipes that have a modern, healthy twist, using simple ingredients from the garden. The book is beautifully photographed with recipes and gardening tips, created with simplicity in mind. From breakfast to dinner, there’s a little something for everyone, like her grandmother’s sweet potato pie, homemade peach butter, and McDaniel’s personal favorite — shrimp and grits.

 Her recipes are so good, in fact, that her lobster mac ‘n cheese landed her a spot on the Today Show with Al Roker. In 2016, McDaniel was nominated for the Today Show’s Turkey Trot Surprise by her friend, Maimah Karmo, who McDaniel nurtured for many years at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, following Karmo’s diagnosis of breast cancer at the age of 32. 

Today, McDaniel is focused on her company, Tucker Hill Home, where she specializes in landscape design to create gardens for clients that reflect timeless value based upon a philosophy that “home” is not where you exist, but rather where you live. Her cookbook, “Farm Girl in the City: Of Food and Love” can be purchased at Crème de La Crème in Middleburg or online

Bonnie McDaniel, author of “Farm Girl in the City: Of Food and Love”

“Paving Paradise” by J. Harris Anderson

“Paving Paradise’’ is John Harris Anderson’s third installment from his Paradise Gap books, a group of stories centered around fictional characters from Virginia’s Crutchfield County where life revolves around fox hunting traditions. His latest novel is an adventurous story about Myrna Billington, a struggling actress who comes back from Hollywood to her hometown of Crutchfield County, in an attempt to flee a shady loan shark to whom she is indebted. Myrna hopes selling her share of the family’s estate will save her from the predicament she’s found herself in, but the prospective buyer plans to build a major resort that will forever change the area’s rural nature. Her brother, Thumper Billington, is a proprietor of the historic property. Myrna’s attempts in convincing Thumper to allow her to sell her share of the estate leads to deceptive antics between family and the threat of personal ruin for Thumper and those he cares about.

Anderson’s inspiration for “Paving Paradise” came from his experiences 25 years ago watching the rural town of Haymarket come close to turning into a Disney resort. At the time, Disney was looking for an area to build a resort with an established local tourist base. Anderson tells us he was living in Prince William County at the time, and the horse community was the forefront of the project. 

“The seed was planted back then,” he says about inspiration for the story. “I wanted to write a story about a large commercial development that would have a significant adverse effect on the rural community in the fictional county I’ve created; hence the concept ‘Paving Paradise,’ with homage to the lyrics of the Joni Mitchell song, ‘Big Yellow Taxi.’”

Anderson, born and raised in Virginia around horses, spent much of his youth in and around the barns of Fairfax County, during a period when horse riding was much more available to the public. Anderson had a horseback riding club when he was in high school, but didn’t come across foxhunting until the ‘90s, when a friend urged him to give it a shot. Once he did, he “was hooked” and it’s been a central force in his life ever since.

These experiences are what inspired him to use his Mensa-gifted talent to start on his first book, “The Prophet of Paradise,” which was published in 2013. Anderson tells us, “‘The Prophet of Paradise’ is a magical realism story, centered around the character Ryman McKendrick, who believes he’s been sent a vision from St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunters, to start the Church of Foxhunting. 

“Adventures and deceptive antics ensue around the village of Paradise Gap and throughout the fox hunting community, as not everyone is supportive of the movement, and one mysterious critic sends increasingly threatening messages,” Anderson says.

The book was so well received that Anderson started on his second Paradise Gap novel, “The Foxhunter’s Guide to Life and Love,” a humorous book reminiscent of Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements,” but with a foxhunting twist to it. Main character Thumper Billington believes that life is about “the chase,” and as such, enumerates the seven principles of the foxhunter model: primal urges, pageantry, preparation, practice, patience, persistence, and payoff. Throughout the book, Thumper illustrates these principles through a series of stories and lessons from his life to show how anyone can use those principles to get more out of life and relationships.

Anderson’s books vary in their approach, but include similar themes with characters in the foxhunting circuit and their interactions with each other. Ultimately, Anderson’s books are for just about anyone. You certainly don’t have to be a foxhunter to enjoy a good story, but foxhunting adds a bit of color to the overall themes of his novels.

Today, Anderson says he shares “a modest farm in Virginia hunt country with my wife Ellen, two dogs, one cat, and four horses.” 

“I’ve served as a foxhunting field leader, whipper-in, and racecourse outrider,” he says. “My connection to country life and all things equine is strengthened by my role as managing editor for In & Around Horse Country, a national publication covering a variety of equine-related topics.”

Anderson’s books are available on Amazon, both print and eBook. Horse Country Saddlery available via print in Warrenton, Virginia. Find more details about the books at bluecardinalpress.com.

John Harris Anderson, author of “Paving Paradise”

“Being Elephant – How it Feels to Be Jumbo” by Norman J. Reid

This whimsical children’s book is for elephant lovers of all ages. After a trip to Africa where author Norman J. Reid experienced the majestic nature of safaris in Botswana and Kenya, he was so inspired that he took to pen and paper and began writing. 

“I was so overcome with emotion and excitement about the experience that I felt I needed to put my thoughts on paper,” he says. “I wrote a number of things, thinking that at some point I would publish them as a book. Most were short essays, but a couple were poems.  I showed this poem to my wife and she saw the possibilities as a children’s picture book.”

J. Norman Reid, author of “Being Elephant: What it Means to be Jumbo.”

With stanzas like “Beware of the plodding elephant, as on its way it goes; You dare not step in front of it unless you want flat toes,” Reid tells the story of the unique traits of elephants he observed during his time in Africa. The 41-page book is fully illustrated with photographs taken by Reid in the wild in Kenya and Botswana. 

“The book weaves an intriguing tale of what it’s like to live the free life of a jumbo in the remaining unspoiled land of their birth,” Reid says. “The result is a feast for the eyes and a treat for the imagination.” 

Reid has published several other books, including books on photography, woodworking, and even a murder mystery. Readers can learn more about his endeavors at CobblerMtnPress.com. “Being Elephant – How it Feels to be Jumbo” book is available for purchase on Amazon

“Tales from the Barn Aisle” by Sarah Hickner

“Tales from the Barn Aisle” is a quick, fun read by our very own Middleburg Life contributor Sarah Hickner. A self-proclaimed “horse obsessed girl” from the deep south, Hickner’s love of horses inspired her to begin writing her favorite stories from her moments spent with them.

Hickner’s debut book goes into some of her funniest stories as a horse owner and rider, like her very first experience riding. When Hickner finds out that her Aunt Sadie’s daughter has a horse, she immediately begs her father to give her a chance to ride it. 

“Books had taught me the basics of riding: pull back to stop, pull the right rein to go right, left rein to go left, and squeeze my legs together to go forward,” she writes. But it wasn’t until “incessant kissing and a kick” that she was able to get the horse moving. Hickner hilariously recalls the experience being “like a four-year old driving a Power Wheels car.”

Sarah Hickner, 

Her early experiences with horses only deepened her love of thoroughbreds. After high school, Hickner decided to leave her home in Mississippi for a new adventure in Louisville, Kentucky, where she galloped racehorses on the track during college. 

Hickner recalls her move from Mississippi to Kentucky, with her horse Gideon in the trailer. She and her mom decide to take a stop at a gas station. Thinking Gideon must be as exhausted as they were, she let him out of the trailer. Little did she know how hard it would be to get him back in the trailer, attracting the awkward attention of onlookers. Trying everything from tempting him with treats to having her mother push him from behind while she pulled him in front, the show went on for much longer than anticipated, until Gideon finally decided to give in and “calmly walked up the ramp.”

This endearing book is something that any animal lover can relate to and the lengths you must go in order to follow what you love. Hickner’s book recently made the number one bestseller list under the “equestrian sports” section on Amazon. Locals and tourists alike can also purchase Hickner’s book at Second Chapter Books in Middleburg. ML

Published in the May 2021 issue of Middleburg Life.