Michael Weems

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BY Michael Weems • POSTED ON Feb. 12, 2021

A young woman experiences supernatural horticulture in small-town Texas.

Weems’ novel starts off on a normal enough, albeit sordid, note: In the town of Foxglove, Texas, young Ruth Gonzalez’s mother, referred to only as “Mom,” begins a secret affair with her former high school boyfriend, Dale Roberts (Ruth: “His name still tastes like vomit in my mouth whenever I speak it”), while Ruth’s father is out of town. What followed has become known as “the Incident.” Overcome with remorse, Mom broke off her affair with Dale. But Dale returned to their house later, drunk, and shot her to death, severely injuring Ruth with an errant gunshot through her head. (“Numerous bridges of my brain were either damaged or wholly disconnected, but instant death was not a result,” she deadpans. “I called that a win.”) In the wake of the Incident, Ruth’s life changes dramatically. In addition to the fact that her brain “did some rewiring,” her long-haul trucker father decides to get a local job so they can spend more time together. One priority is to leave their murder-haunted house. They take the groundskeeper’s property at the local cemetery, a house once occupied by an eccentric character named Eddie who compulsively knew everything about every U.S. president and claimed that the overgrown garden behind the property was peculiarly resistant to mowing or pruning. The novel is narrated from Ruth’s first-person perspective, and by this point, she’s already revealed to readers that she often hears Eddie’s president-obsessed thoughts in her head and that one of her best friends “is a dead woman named Lilith.” So, it’s no surprise when she immediately begins to feel a strange communication with the overgrown wild garden behind her new house.

Weems balances the mixture of small-town ways and supernatural happenings with an easy, seasoned confidence. The key to this success is his decision to tell the story from the immediate viewpoint of Ruth herself—and to invest her with a quirky, dark, sharply observant personality more reminiscent of a Flannery O’Connor character than of Harper Lee’s Scout. This decision allows Weems to flex his comic talents even in the grimmest moments of the plot. At one particularly dark moment at the book’s climax, for instance, Ruth spots a procession of fire ants floating together across the surface of a body of water and thinks they look “like a bunch of drunk college kids floating the Guadalupe.” The twin forces impinging on Ruth’s post-shooting life—the brainless, gossiping cruelty of her classmates (one more than others, the Emily of the book’s title) and Ruth’s own burgeoning supernatural experiences—lead her to commune not only with dead people, but also with the mysterious garden itself: “You can sleep here. Sleep in the dirt with us,” that garden voice tells her. “It’s peaceful here….You can rest while we’ll watch over you.” The narrative moves ahead at its own distinctly idiosyncratic pace, with Ruth digressing at pretty much any point she pleases. The result is entirely winning, a story that manages to be simultaneously dark and heartwarming.

A gripping, ultimately endearing supernatural tale about an odd girl and an even odder garden.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2021

ISBN: 979-8-70-818729-1

Page count: 322pp

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021



BY Michael Weems • POSTED ON Feb. 1, 2012

When a college student vacationing in Cancun is abducted, her parents turn to a friend to help find her.

After spurning the sleazy advances of an older man in a nightclub in Cancun, spring-breaking college student Taylor Woodall is abducted at gunpoint outside her hotel, and her friend is shot. Her father immediately contacts his old friend Catherine James, a smart, resourceful attorney who has long dealt with sketchy characters south of the border. After running into a dead end with the local cops, James stumbles across a street kid who may have some pertinent information, but after the two are attacked in a crowded market, she realizes she’s in over her head. She has no choice but to contact Matt, an old boyfriend who is currently working as a gun for hire, training anti-cartel soldiers deep in the jungle. Once Matt is on the scene, the pace of the investigation picks up, but, given his extreme methods, James is forced to confront some prickly moral issues if she’s going to find out exactly what happened to Taylor. Although the novel follows thriller plot conventions fairly closely, when it comes to character development, Weems makes interesting choices. James’ discomfort with Matt’s methods is well-portrayed, as she tries her best to accept using extreme violence to achieve moral ends. The action scenes are well-wrought, and the prose flows clearly for the most part, occasionally hampered by the insertion of unnecessary detail. Overall, the book’s strengths outweigh this minor weakness, and a parallel plot concerning a young Mexican girl lured into prostitution in the U.S. works well to underscore the themes of the primary plot, even if it doesn’t seem to relate to it directly.

A tightly scripted thriller with an unusually well-developed main character.    

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1469955988

Page count: 294pp

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2012



BY Michael Weems

Two youths from opposite sides of a divided kingdom unexpectedly come into power in Weems’ YA fantasy novel.

In the rigidly stratified Balkan kingdom, a boy called Zaki turns 14, his Calling Day finally come. He must travel to the great desert city of Garu to stand in the Hall of Inquiry and be tested to determine if he is Gifted or not. As a member of the Barren caste, the odds of Zaki being Gifted with magical powers are close to zero, as the Barren haven’t produced a single Gifted in over a century. But when Zaki’s time comes, unimaginable amounts of power course through his veins, establishing him as a powerful Gifted and breaking the oppressed Barren’s unlucky streak. All eyes in the kingdom are now on him, including the Gifted within the ruling Conclaveand the Uppers, the kingdom’s most powerful citizens. Up in the Northern Wilds, a young teenage girl named Emlyn gets lost while out with her sister foraging in the woods. Her misadventure leads to a staggering discovery about King Balkus, an ostensibly benign monarch on a mission to unite the world; he is the most potent Gifted in existence. Emlyn inherits enormous might, just as Zaki did on the other side of the kingdom. As Zaki and Emlyn navigate the intricacies of power and politics, their developing skills may well turn the very foundation of their world upside down. With a narrative that primarily follows Zaki and Emlyn on their parallel journeys, this meticulously crafted introduction to a new fantasy series features well-developed characters, an adventurous plot, and an interesting magic system that underscores the politics and social structure of the haves and have-nots: “He would not give her the satisfaction of his failure. He would deny them all. Here in this Hall of Inquiry, this pain and everyone watching him represented the world pushing him down. He was expected to fail. Yet he reached with every fiber of his being for the unexpected.”The mysteries and magic within this tale are sure to tantalize readers.

A promising start to a fantastical adventure.

Pub Date:

ISBN: 9798371736901

Page count: 298pp

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2023



BY Michael Weems • POSTED ON Aug. 10, 2011

At 87, Solomon “Sol” Mayfield is taken on an otherworldly journey to discover what really happened to his family.

Sol has been able to see ghosts ever since his mother and sister mysteriously disappeared when he was a child. When he dies in a nursing home in the second chapter of the novel, it’s only the beginning of his story. He’s reunited with his sister, Sarah, who reveals family secrets he was never able to learn while he was alive. The novel flashes back to 1909, when Sol was 12 and Sarah was 13. The day after Sarah’s birthday, Sol wakes up to find that his mother and sister are gone. Many in their small town of Varner Creek, Texas, assume that Sol’s mother, Annie, had finally had enough of his abusive father, Abram; others suspect foul play. Abram blamed Annie for Sarah’s Down syndrome and for trapping him in a small town by becoming pregnant at 14. Sent to live with his Aunt Emma and Uncle Colby, Sol is visited one night by what appears to be Sarah’s ghost. Is his sister dead? If so, who killed her? And what about their mother? Sol sets out to find the answers, some of which are not revealed until decades later. Weems’ story unfurls slowly, at a pace that feels consistent with life in a small Texas town. He has an impressive knack for dialect, and regional accents and idioms help bring the characters into vivid relief. Also, Sol’s self-deprecation and world-weary charm make him an instantly likable narrator. While it’s easy to get pulled into his story, the narrative sags a bit in the middle when the reader is given a thorough history of how Sol’s parents met, which doesn’t feel entirely necessary to the main story. When the final mystery is unveiled, however, the solution is sufficiently unexpected if not completely shocking.

A well-crafted balance of history and supernatural mystery.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2011

ISBN: 978-1469955759

Page count: 170pp

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2012

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