Book Review: “Red Curtains” by Leanna Sain

In her introduction, Leanna Sain advises her readers to “Get ready to enjoy [their] first bowl of GRITS.” Not “… stone-ground dried hominy … I’m referring to the acronym for Girls-Raised-in-the-South … main characters who are strong, creative, successful Southern women … ”

Cleo Davis lived with her great aunt Patricia in Savannah, Georgia, after her parents died in a car accident when she was age nine. Patricia, a genteel Southern lady who “feared wagging tongues,” publicly doted on Cleo. Privately, she was a “tyrant, pure and simple” who never missed a chance to spite the girl. Fortunately, Minnie, the housekeeper, and Tobias, the chauffeur, became Cleo’s “family.”

Cleo expected to be dumped onto the street when her aunt died; instead, in yet another act of sham charity, Patricia left her the house and funds to maintain the property. Though Cleo is now an adult, Minnie is still loving, protective, and strict, even more so when Cleo is evasive about her late-night ventures.

As the story opens, Cleo, a senior at the Savannah College of Art and Design, receives an assignment to produce paintings that tell a story. A loner because of “nearly debilitating shyness,” Cleo worries about finding her subject until she spots a homeless woman ceremoniously sprinkling glitter around a sycamore tree in Forsyth Park. Fifty years earlier Lily Telfair-Gordon, the homeless woman, had split with her fiancé after her sister Rose reported seeing him with another woman. After Rose died in a car accident, Lily “disappeared” into Savannah’s homeless population declaring, “If they can’t get close, they won’t hurt you.”

Lily wears a long, dark coat over multiple layers of clothing, and a two-tailed neon green and pink jester’s hat adorned with bells. She talks to herself, preaches to strangers, and has only one friend. People obligingly give the “crazy woman” a wide berth. In reality Lily is street smart and “always on the alert,” which is why she notices Cleo following her.

After an exhausting chase to test Cleo’s mettle, Lily spews out her “quirky sayings” so rapidly that Cleo wonders if she is schizophrenic. Impressed that the girl stands her ground, Lily agrees to pose for Cleo’s art project.

Lily soon reveals that she saw a man murdered on the night before the third homeless man was pulled from the Savannah River. Since murders of homeless people are investigated only when a “police shooting” is involved, she seeks Cleo’s help.

Enter Jonas Holmes, cub reporter for the Savannah Tribune. Angered by public apathy about the murdered homeless men, Jonas requests an assignment to investigate. The “tightlipped and unapproachable” street people soon stymie his efforts. Seeing Cleo and the obviously homeless Lily in the park, Jonas “accidently” bumps into them intending to reach the homeless woman through her young and very attractive, friend.

In alternating chapters, Cleo, Lily, and Jonas present their perspectives.

As they detect a crime more treacherous and dangerous than they expected, learning to trust each other takes precedence. Cleo and Lily, responding to the other’s loneliness, build a solid friendship. Though immediately smitten with each other, Cleo and Jonas wisely defer serious commitment. Lily immediately detests Jonas and he, rightfully so, hesitates to trust a woman wearing a hat “capable of retina burning” and sprinkling glitter around parking meters.

The story plays out against the backdrop of historic Savannah. Readers familiar with the city will readily visualize Forsyth Park and the smaller parks, referred to as “squares.” The rest of us can imagine Savannah’s charm and allure through Google. The Moon River Brewery, popular with locals and tourists, and the Pirate’s House Restaurant, rife with legends about haunted basement tunnels, also provide authentic backgrounds. (Savannah has been called “America’s most haunted city.”)

Red Curtains reveals much about the problems of the city’s marginalized population. Lily says, “A street person is just as much a person as someone who lives in one of those fine, fancy houses; they’re just desperate.” She resents that she and her counterparts are “invisible” and scorned in “decent” places. She warily accepts Jonas’s invitation to dinner at the Moon River Brewery but, intimidated by the mounting hostility, Lily quietly slips away.

Jonas, the story’s social conscience, reinforces Lily’s observations and exposes further injustices as he researches for his article.

Sain’s main characters, especially Lily, are sympathetic. Her portrayal of the criminal element, for the most part, is credible enough that the reader soon realizes that Lily, Cleo, and Jonas are heading straight into the proverbial vipers’ pit. However, Sain’s editor should have corrected the misspellings, punctuation errors, and missing scene breaks constantly distracting the reader.

Overall, though, Grits Girls Minnie, Cleo, and Lily persevere until Sain’s themes of homelessness, romance, and mystery reach satisfying conclusions.

BIO: North Carolina native Leanna Sain earned her BA from the University of South Carolina and then returned, with her husband, to her beloved mountains of Western North Carolina. Her “Gate” books have stacked up numerous awards, from Foreword Magazine’s Book-of-the-Year to the Clark Cox Historical Fiction Award from the North Carolina Society of Historians. Sain’s fourth novel, WISH, is a stand-alone, young adult crossover.

Her Southern romantic suspense, or “GRIT-lit,” showcases her plot-driven method of writing that successfully rolls the styles of best-selling authors Mary Kay Andrews, Nicholas Sparks, and Jan Karon into a delightfully hybrid style that is all her own. Regional fiction lovers and readers who enjoy suspense with a magical twist will want her books.
She loves leading discussion groups and book clubs. For more information or to contact her, visit:

View from my Catio
Buddy, T.C.P.E.
(Tuxedo Cat Par Excellence)

Dear Fans and Friends:

As I read the morning paper with Mary these days, I’ve noticed that she’s chewing her Rice Krispies with more gusto than usual and muttering words like “fascism” and “civil war.” When she muttered something about “arming schools to protect students from grizzly bears,” I thought there was something added to those Rice Krispies until research proved otherwise.

After reading many of the 410,000 links produced by Googling “grizzly bears schools,” I decided that the chances of a grizzly bear invading a school to kill students were zero. I read very few of the 2,480,000 links produced by searching on “guns, schools, shootings” because the sadness was overwhelming.

I read enough, however, to conclude that a person who enters a school with guns, unless authorized by the law, has a 100% chance of killing students.

My conclusions: 1) if this person is so worried about grizzly bears attacking students, she should provide protection for students on their way to and from school, 2) if she really cares about student safety, she should work to make sure that people who intend to kill anyone shouldn’t be able to get guns in the first place,* and 3) as a Michigan resident, what the hell does she know about grizzly bears who haven’t inhabited her state since the post-glacial age, about 20,000 years ago. Currently, only black bears inhabit Michigan.

*Before you get your knickers in a knot, I am not promoting absolute gun control. I would just like to see a compromise between the two extremes for the sake and safety of everyone.

Purrs and cream,
The Buds

Written by Mary Ickes