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Debut Novel by Susan Beckman Zurenda – Special Event August 5 at the Lake Lure Inn

Publisher’s Weekly Review

In Zurenda’s beautifully crafted debut, a young woman unexpectedly withdraws from her senior year of college in 1978 and returns to her hometown in South Carolina. The reasons Delia Green has “exiled herself at home” in Green Branch, S.C., come to light through details about her childhood spent growing up across the street from her first cousin, Eli Winfield.

The cousins are both three when, in 1959, Eli swallows lye his father has left unattended. Returning from a long hospitalization, he becomes the target of brutal bullying by neighborhood boys, torments that Delia, his fiercely protective companion, keeps secret at his insistence. Eli is healthy, handsome, and reckless by the time the cousins reach adolescence in the 1970s, and they gradually realize they are attracted to each other. Pulling back from emotions they know are taboo, they attend separate colleges. Through letters and on visits to Eli’s squalid off-campus house, Delia watches helplessly as Eli’s life spirals out of control from drug use. The novel’s sensitive but grounded voice seamlessly integrates Gothic elements, the cousins’ emotional arcs, and the shifting cultural landscape. Insightful and assured, Zurenda’s haunting coming-of-age story should appeal to fans of nuanced and atmospheric Southern fiction. Agent: Marly Rusoff, Marly Rusoff Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Susan Beckham Zurenda. Mercer Univ, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-0-88146-737-6


Mark the Date

Susan will be the featured author at a “Books and Bites” luncheon sponsored by the Friends of the Mountain Branch Library at Lake Lure Inn on August 5, 2020.

The event will begin with a  “meet and greet” at 11:00 am, and the topic of my talk will be “The Small-town South in the 60’s” in relation to circumstances and conflicts in Bells for Eli. Participants can register for the luncheon through the library at 828-287-6392 or in person at the Mountain Branch Library (2771 Memorial Hwy, Lake Lure), currently open from 10am-4pm, Monday-Friday. 

Selected as a Winter 2020 Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, a spring reading pick in Deep South Magazine, a summer reading pick in such publications as  the Charleston City PaperCharlotte Observer, and Raleigh News and Observer, Bells for Eli is inspired by a real-life first cousin’s tragic childhood accident in the late 1950’s. The novel explores how one misstep changes the trajectory of a young boy’s life and creates immense conflict in the lives of those around him in a time and place of supposed innocence in the small-town South of the 60’s and 70’s. 



Reviews and articles on Bells for Eli

 “It’s only in our weakest moments that we find out what strengths we have, and in Eli and Delila’s tale, family and loyalty are the motivation to persevere and overcome major obstacles.” 

Deep South Magazine (Bells for Eli chosen as one of 11 spring 2020 reading picks.)

“The novel’s sensitive but grounded voice seamlessly integrates Gothic elements, the cousins’ emotional arcs, and the shifting cultural landscape. Insightful and assured, Zurenda’s haunting coming-of-age story should appeal to fans of nuanced and atmospheric Southern fiction.”  Publisher’s Weekly

“There is hardly anything I enjoy more than discovering a truly uniquely talented author. So you can imagine my excitement in discovering Susan Beckham Zurenda. She is a brilliant writer and to make it even better a brilliant southern writer. . . . For me reading this story was like going home. I knew this town, knew these people, knew this world. Zurenda spoke to me in a way few authors have in the past.  . . . .Mark down her name – Susan Beckham Zurenda. You are going to hear a lot more from her and about her.”                            By Jackie K. Cooper, Book Reviews by Jackie K. Cooper


“Zurenda’s book is well-written, with believable, sympathetic characters, . . . a faithful representation of recent history in our society that kept me interested and engaged in Bells for Eli from beginning to end.”         Book Loons


“Bells For Eli is a triumphant debut brimming with captivating characters and Southern charm. Author Susan Beckham Zurenda writes powerful and clear prose that pulls the reader inside small-town South Carolina, fifty plus years ago, and tells the story of Adeline Green and her coming of age experiences with friendship, love and the powerful bond she has with her cousin, Eli. Zurenda’s ability to create a truly authentic and vivid backdrop to such a heart-felt story is something readers will enjoy on every page.”        By Jonathan Herbert, Gasparilla Magazine, March 2020


“If you’re looking for titles to add to your spring reading list, Bells for Eli, the debut novel by Susan Zurenda, should definitely be at the top.” By Julie Flanagan, Grandstrand Magazine


“I was immediately transported back in time to the significant cultural challenges of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and how many survived those times, and some did not. And I could feel the heat as Zurenda described a small-town South Carolina summer with no air-conditioning and dusty front porches. . . . .Delia brought her story alive, just for me.”   By Meredith M. Deal, Paisley Magazine


 “[Bells for Eli] is deeply moving, troubling, and gloriously poetic. It brings to life small town South Carolina during the 1960s and 70s in a gorgeous and profound tale of the heart’s competing destinies. . . Zurenda knows her characters well and shares her understanding with harrowing honesty. . . . A terrific multi-generational tale.”     By Philip K.Jason, Southern Literary Review


Zurenda’s emphasis on the power of words — to both hurt and heal — is poignantly portrayed in Bells for Eli.   By Tina Chambers, Chapter 16 (Humanities Tennessee)


“Bells for Eli is, indeed, as one early reader says, ‘a memorable, atmospheric novel of love, friendship, and bonds that surpass all reason.’ I couldn’t have said it better myself, so I won’t.”  By Wally Wood, Bookpleasures 


Bells for Eli  is a lyrical and tender exploration of the relationship between cousins drawn together through tragedy in a love forbidden by social constraints and a family whose secrets must stay hidden.  Bookreporter


 “Readers would do well to pick up Bells for Eli. Indeed, I was thrilled to discover that there are still novels that offer such depth of story and strength of character, without any sense of being high-brow.  . . . The gentle power of this novel completely surprised me. It’s a solid 5 star book. Do read.”    By Long and Short Reviews; April 2020 “Book of the Month” selection

Bells for Eli is a captivating coming of age novel that tackles subjects like bullying, forbidden romance, love, and acceptance.  . . .The story is fascinating in its light and darkness.”                By Siobhain Perez,  Living My Best Book Life Reviews

The author writes a descriptive and engrossing gothic novel that will appeal to anyone who reads it. I highly recommend it!   By Kathleen Kelly, Celtic Lady Reviews

“Susan Beckham Zurenda’s writing is skillful, so much so you may think you are reading a classic. There’s tragedy for each of the cousins, and hope after the despair. I absolutely adored this emotional book and its authentic, lovable characters, and it was a reading experience I cherished.”     By Jennifer at Tar Heel Reader


“[Bells for Eli] is at turns heartwarming and tragic. Good pacing reveals the events that brought Delia to 1978 and a pivotal point in her life. This novel of an unbreakable bond and genuine love between Delia and Eli is a moving and worthwhile read.   By Janice Ottersbert at Historical Novel Society  

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