Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Caribbean Beach Reads - Island In The Clouds



I'm reviewing two great Beach Reads this week, and the first book is Island in the Clouds by Susan M. Toy

Susan writes from the perspective of a part-time resident of Bequia, which gives the book an authentic voice. 

As a frequent visitor to the island, the author's first hand knowledge of the local dialect, customs, and familiar places immediately drew me into the mystery and suspense.


Bequia
Photo Credit: Travel 2 the Caribbean

Bequia means "Island of the Clouds" in the ancient Arawak language. This beautiful tiny island in St Vincent & the Grenadines island chain is the quintessential Caribbean haven to get away from it all. 

It's the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else’s business, and the last place you would expect to find an island wide murder mystery

The intrigue starts when a property manager discovers the body of a female floating face down in the pool of a luxury villa he is overseeing. Once the identity of the victim is discovered, the investigation takes many intriguing twists and turns. 

Adding to the murder mystery, the reader is drawn into the lives of quirky expats, interesting local characters, and personal secrets someone will kill to be kept hidden.  

A good murder mystery keeps you in suspense to the end - and this book delivers - along with exposing a few salacious secrets.  

(ˆ◡ˆ) Island in the Clouds is an enjoyable fast paced read, and if you are looking for another book to add to your list of beach reads - my recommendation is add this one! It's available on Kindle and iTunes, as well as print edition


After finishing the book, I asked Susan for a brief Q&A  


Question:
In visiting Bequia, I've met many Canadians on the island, and would like to know how you settled on that particular location as your part time island home? 

We were living in Western Canada when we began taking tropical vacations to escape the winter. We first went to Hawaii  - too touristy. Then we tried Martinique - we liked the Caribbean, but Martinique wasn't  what we were looking for. 

I was working in a Calgary bookstore at the time and asked a customer, who I knew had sailed throughout the Caribbean, which island was her favorite. “Bequia!” she said, enthusiastically. 

I had an entire travel section in the bookstore to consult and couldn’t find any information at all on this island. “This is the place for us!” Dennis and I decided. 

We booked everything by snail mail and a travel agent booked our flights (however, even she didn’t know how to get us to St. Vincent – no airport in those days). So it was all kind of a magical mystery tour from start to finish. But during that 3-week visit, we caught the Bequia bug and just kept coming back every year.

Question:
While reading, I had to wonder if any of the characters were based on people you have met on the island? 

Yes ... and no. I hesitate answering this directly, because I’ve heard that many people think they are in the book - but they’re not. In fact, so many thought I was writing about them specifically that I threatened to buy and wear this T-shirt. For the most part, the characters are all me, in some way or another. 

The main character, Geoff, is definitely based on my partner, the property manager, and the gardeners and housekeepers who work for him are all prototypes. I asked two of the gardeners for name suggestions for the Rastas (I-Toe and Bongo were good names, they reasoned), and Henri-Alfred is named for an American friend’s father. This friend was the character in the novel who lives in Moonhole.  He has since passed away, but he did read an early version of “his” section of the book. However, most of the stuff is just plain made up.

And in one strange twist of art imitating life, I was drinking coffee with a friend one day down by the Belmont Walkway and “Angie” walked by, complete with long beaded-braids and English accent. I had already written that character into the novel when this happened, so you can imagine how stunned I was when Angie walked off the page and onto Bequia in real life!

Question:
What is the local reaction to the book?  

I’ve only received one direct negative comment (on the Tripadvisor Travel Forum) that the novel was “trash”. Otherwise, most reviews and comments from people who know Bequia have been very favorable. 

I did hear, second-hand, that one reader thought I had been too critical of the local police – until she was robbed. Then, her reaction to the book changed and she thought I hadn’t been critical enough.  A couple of other friends thought I had portrayed the island in a very accurate and truthful manner, and congratulated me on being brave to do so. 

There are the Bequia “wienies” and “know-it-alls” (those self-appointed Bequia authorities I mention in the novel) who don’t want the truth about this place to be told, because it might stop tourists from coming. I’ve found, though, that the exact opposite has happened - I’m hearing from readers who had never known of Bequia before, but would now like to visit the island after reading my novel.

Question:
Have you stayed or visited Moonhole? I have plenty photo's taken from the water, however I have never wanted to stop. There's something about the place that really spooks me, so I would be interested in your take.


Photo Credit: Travel 2 the Caribbean
Moonhole - Located on southern tip of Bequia

We were friends with several people who lived at Moonhole in the 90's and 00's, so we not only had tours of the area and the houses, but attended many parties (including full-moon parties) and private dinners there. 

It can be kind of spooky at night, since there is still no electricity on that part of the island - by choice. Each house generates its own power. The local people don’t like to be out that way at night, because “it full a jumbies!!” (ghosts) Our friends never saw any ghosts there, although one of their dogs was called Jumby ...

Question:
Are you currently working on ideas for another novel? 

There are three more novels in the Bequia Perspectives Series that are in various stages of completion and rewrites.  Each is told from the perspective of different people living here - tourists, locals and more ex-pats - and there are a few minor characters from Island in the Clouds who reappear in these three stories.

One Woman’s Island will be the next title published (hopefully in 2014). The main character is a Canadian woman who plans to spend six months on Bequia in order to recover from a personal tragedy. But the island, and its people, encroach on her grief and her desire for solitude, as she becomes more and more involved in the lives of the locals and ex-pats.

Author Bio:


Susan M. Toy has been a bookseller, an award-winning publishing sales representative, a literacy teacher (on Bequia), and a promoter of fellow authors and their books through her company, Alberta Books Canada. 

She is also now an author and publisher under her imprints, IslandCatEditions and IslandShorts

Through Alberta Books Canada, Susan represented authors directly, helping them find promotion for themselves and their books, seeking out new readers, and assisting them in making wise career decisions. She continues to champion many writers and authors, singing their praises online to the rest of the world. 

Susan and her partner, Dennis, first arrived on Bequia as tourists on Dec. 31, 1988. They kept returning every year, eventually bought land, built a house, and moved, lock, stock and barrel, from Calgary to Bequia  in May 1996. They always knew business opportunities would eventually arise. 

Dennis became a property manager, looking after the homes and gardens of foreigners. Susan began writing down some of the stories Dennis brought home every day. (We have since become citizens of St. Vincent & the Grenadines.)

Susan now splits her time between Canada and the Caribbean. Neither she nor Dennis has ever discovered a dead body in a pool – or anywhere!

Visit Susan's site for more info her background, along with Books, Publishing, Reading & Writing  - And, for good measure, a bit of Cooking and Eating


Perhaps Susan's book review has peaked your interest in visiting Bequia "Island in the Clouds" - Check out these travel articles


Happy Travels,
Linda