Barbed Wire Heart

No stranger to the remote forests of California's Del Norte County on the Oregon border, Tess Sharpe was raised by a punk-rock mother in the area's unpopulated backwoods. Her first adult novel (after the YA novel Far from You), Barbed Wire Heart, follows the flinty, crack-shot, unschooled feminist narrator Harley McKenna through the region, as she fights to claim her place in a violent world run by her formidable father, Duke. Her mother was killed in a meth lab explosion triggered by McKenna family rival Carl Springfield, "a redneck peacock of a man in a dirty wifebeater and Wranglers... sunken cheeks and jutting bones that come only from years of tweeking."

Although the McKenna and Springfield multi-generational feud rests in an uneasy truce, it won't last. The family patriarchs are aging, and Duke has raised Harley to replace him as kingpin of the county. Carl's not buying it. Harley sees only one way out of her family fate: both Duke and Carl have to go. A soft touch for the underdog, Harley oversees the Ruby, a former motel converted into a safe house for abused women and children. Seeing the human toll from Duke's meth, opiates and heroin trade, she plans to run only the soon-to-be legal and less harmful marijuana business, and she'll arm her "rubies" to protect themselves from the violent men who upended their lives. As she says, "There is nothing stronger than a woman who's risen from the ashes of some fire a man set." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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