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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars

on April 13, 2017
I learned of this book through corresponding with its author, Irene Ziegler, who is also a playwright and a movie, television and stage actor. I expected to have to tell her I liked it in the way I give thanks for a gift of a new necktie to hang among my dozens, “Oh boy! This is great. It’s just what I needed!”

What a delightful surprise! As usual I will avoid spoilers except as to things the reader learns in the early going. The central characters are Annie Barlett and the central Florida town of DeLeon (based on the author’s childhood home of DeLand). Annie and her troubled sister, Leigh, return to their childhood home upon the death of their father, Ed, whose murder has been charged to his girlfriend, Della. Annie’s doubts about the guilt of Della lead to the unraveling small town secrets.

Zeigler’s experience as an actor and playwright shine through. Much of the story and the development of characters are revealed through dialog. Descriptive passages also shine but the narrative drive comes from dialog. I’m sure in any creative writing class students are told, “Don’t tell readers who she is. Show them who she is.” Too often authors forget this maxim. Zeigler has an ear and uses it.

Ashes to Water is framed as a murder mystery and works on that level but I found myself in no hurry to get to the end. I also could not put it down. It’s the body-strewn journey, the evocation of time and place, the fully-realized characters, and the emotional depth that are its pleasures. The deepest mystery is why this book was not a best-seller or optioned for film. I urge you to read it in the strongest terms.
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on July 20, 2010
Ashes to Water was first on my 2010 summer reading list. I highly recommend it and particularly to those who have memories of an undeveloped Florida. I hated it when my schedule dictated time away from the story and its people. Ziegler paints the landscape and faces of DeLeon beautifully and she textures Annie's crisis with twists and turns that are unpredictable. If you like reading novels that take your imagination by surprise, then Ashes to Water is a must read!
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on July 15, 2010
I thought I would read this novel in chunks of time...a little one day...a little more on another. I ended up reading it in one day and was annoyed at any moment in the day that I was interrupted. It was a wonderful journey.
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on July 20, 2013
Incredibly well written!
Multiple plots!
Great characters!
Fast paced!

The type of book that you don't want it to end!
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on April 2, 2011
"Ashes to Water" by Irene Ziegler is a fictional mystery which takes place in pre-Disney Florida. This is a very atmospheric novel involving a small town murder and a resolute woman intending on cracking the mystery.

Annie Bartlett returns to her home, DeLeon, FL to bury her murdered father. Annie also confronts the woman who is charged with his murder, her dad's future wife. Annie realizes something is not right and fights for the woman's acquittal - only to find out that there are several strong forces in the small town, including her own sister, who are very interested in a guilty verdict.

Even though "Ashes to Water" by Rene Ziegler is suppose to be a murder/mystery book, the charm is the small town portrait and its inhabitants. As in any small town there are secrets, betrayals and events which slowly, and not so slowly, unfold.

At the beginning I was a bit overwhelmed by all the new characters, but reading further I found myself engaged in small town politics and enjoying the large cast of the inhabitants. There is the assortment of odd folks that make up the backbone of any small town, a town hero, dangerous boyfriends, a tough judge and a Miccosukee Indian developer which, to be honest, I liked and disliked at the same time.
And none of these are even the protagonist.

Ms. Ziegler handles her cast very well, they are all complex and well written; she sprinkles the narrative with wonderful lyrical prose which gives atmosphere to the story. The book was fun to read and the rising body count leading to the grand finale left me to wonder if anyone will stay alive in this small town at the last page.

A good, entertaining and smart read.
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VINE VOICEon November 28, 2010
Annie Bartlett has returned to her hometown and the memories she fled from years ago. She received a call that her father, Ed, has been murdered and his current girlfriend has been charged. Annie and her sister, Leigh, grew up in a household full of anger and recrimination. Her father was a serial adulterer and her mother, a nurse, committed suicide when the girls were still young.

Leigh grew up to be the girl she thought her father was attracted to as she attempted to get his attention. Flitting from man to man, her beauty her weapon, she has become mired in addiction and a dead-end life. Annie took a different route. She rejected everything about her upbringing and left town the minute she could get enough money to do so. She has carved out a good life for herself, engaged to a man she loves and has a career as a photographer.

Now both girls are back and trying to make sense of what has occurred to their father. Did the girlfriend kill him over another woman as the police believe? Or were the other tensions in town involved? There is an arsonist at large and Ed seemed to know something about that. Then there is the struggle between developers who wanted Ed's lakeside house and the people in town who were fighting against having their area changed from a sleepy lakeside town to a major tourist area replete with casinos and the crime and changes that brings. Can Annie find out what has happened before the town pulls her back into her former life and the heartbreak it brought? Will the truths she learns as she struggles to find out what has occurred help her also make sense of her upbringing?

Irene Ziegler has written an engaging mystery. Her characters are complex and the plot twists and turns satisfactorily. In addition to the mystery, there are themes of past issues resolution, conflict between development and tradition, and the struggle of characters to move past what was done to them as children and to become strong, independent adults. This book is recommended for mystery lovers.
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VINE VOICEon August 25, 2010
Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Ashes to Water is an intriguing and intensely woven story that will captivate its reader, from the first page to the last. Though this is Ms. Ziegler's first full-length novel, she crafts her story like a veteran author with several books under their belt. Ripe with ghosts, secrets, thrills and mystery, Ashes to Water is a story guaranteed to appeal to a vast audience and leave them yearning for more when the final words are read.

Multidimensional characterization is a main force in Ashes to Water, I feel, and the development of these characters, as well as the suspenseful plot and continuous questions make this a very solid read. I really enjoyed the main character of Annie and the internal struggle that she goes through with feelings of guilt about her father and the ongoing "visits" that she incurs with her long deceased mother. Annie's sister Leigh has found herself in an incredibly undesirable position as her life has spiraled out of control and is on the brink of self-destruction. Another character that I found myself drawn to was the supposed murderer, Annie's father's girlfriend, Della. She had a wonderful presence about her and a sassiness that was hard to resist.

With a lyrical writing style, dynamic dialog and incredible creativity and talent, Irene Ziegler brings Ashes to Water to life for the reader, in a seamless and unforgettable way. I can't stress enough how captivated I was by this story, the characters and the marvelous setting. I highly recommend Ashes to Water to anyone looking for a story that will take them to another place and truly become absorbed within the pages and character's lives.
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VINE VOICEon August 24, 2010
Why I read this book: I was offered the book as one I might like from TLC Book Tours. When I read the description it really sounded like something I would like so I signed up.

How is the book driven: Primarily character in my opinion. The main event, Annie's father's death has already happened and the book is about the characters and Annie's investigation into the death of her father.

My Thoughts: Simply amazing. Ms. Ziegler does a wonderful job weaving several story lines together. When I first started reading it, I wasn't sure where it was going. I couldn't see how the storylines would work together. But they do and masterfully so. This has to be one of my favorite books this year. It's a little dark, it's suspenseful, the characters are intriguing and Ms. Ziegler paced the book beautifully keeping me hooked and wanting to turn the page.

The characters were interesting and all different. Annie and Leigh, the two sisters are as different as night and day and make for great contrasts through the book. Eugene is an interesting addition as well as Kingfisher, who is the man you love to hate. The sheriff and of course Della. The characters seem to encompass all the typical people in small-town life without feeling cliched.

The plot is great and suspenseful while developing the characters well as it goes along. All-in-all, Ms. Ziegler did a wonderful job with this book and I look forward to checking out Rules of the Lake which is also about Annie soon. If you enjoy a southern gothic feel to your suspense or if you just enjoy great character-driven suspense, then this is the book for you.

My Rating: 4.75/5.0
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on September 12, 2010
I loved Irene Ziegler's Ashes to Water for many reasons. It's a tightly crafted page-turner with a murder mystery at its center, as well as an intricate and rich small-town drama, with a large cast of characters whose relationships walk that uncomfortable line between familiar and inbred. The writing is smart, accessible, richly detailed, and occasionally darkly witty. It is cinematic, with vivid characters and dialogue that make me wish I knew someone in the movie biz I could pitch this to. But one of the most satisfying parts of the read for me was that I finally got to spend time again with Annie Bartlett.

In 1999, Ziegler published Rules of the Lake, and it quickly became one of my favorite short story collections. It was there that I first met Annie Bartlett, her sister Leigh, and their parents, Ed and Helen. For the past 10 years, I have missed the Bartletts terribly--especially Annie and Leigh, two characters who, while individually engaging, also give us a pitch-perfect sisterly relationship, one filled with both tension and love. (In Rules, we meet Annie and Leigh as children in the early 60s of Central Florida; Ashes to Water joins them in 1981 when they meet there to deal with and explore the circumstances surrounding their father's murder.) The adult versions of Annie and Leigh make perfect sense given what we've been shown of their childhoods--but they also surprise us.

It was so, so gratifying to not only see some minor characters from Rules move center stage, but also to hear echoes of the short stories, expertly woven into Ashes, appearing as characters' memories providing insights into their motivations, and as background to important plot points. While the whodunit aspect of Ashes is totally entertaining and engrossing, I think to cast this only as a murder mystery sells the book--and Ziegler's talent and nascent oeuvre--short. Sure, we want to know who killed Ed Bartlett, but Ashes is also the story of Annie and her drowned mother, a relationship explored movingly in Rules through the metaphors of mermaids and breathing underwater--a theme that bubbles to the surface in Ashes. Widow Lake, which in Rules is a place of imagined childhood mystery, becomes the site of true mystery in Ashes. Annie's childhood friend, Petey Duncan, who appears as a stuttering and skittish neighbor in the short story The Raft, is now the quite grown-up lawyer in Ashes charged with defending the woman accused of killing Ed Bartlett. Even one of my favorite minor characters from Rules, the prissy and annoying Pamela Hooks, makes a cameo appearance in Ashes, as a neighbor who comes to welcome Annie back to her hometown of DeLeon, though viewed through Annie's now adult and more sympathetic eyes. (If you remember Pamela from Rules, you'll appreciate that she grew up to be a track-suit wearing pusher of megavitaman products.)

And perhaps most powerfully, Ashes continues the story of the metamorphosis of Central Florida, from its pre-Disney days of innocent and magical tourist attractions like alligator farms and Cyprus Gardens, through the commercialization of the Seminole Indian culture, to the over-development and relentless paving over of Old Florida. Rules of the Lake opened my eyes to a Florida that is increasingly more difficult to find amid the Epcots, WalMarts, HolyLand Experiences, Hooters, and Bahama Breezes. Reading these works, we feel not only Annie's love for her hometown and Widow Lake, but her sadness as she chronicles the changing landscape around her. It's a perfect metaphor for what's happening to Annie herself over the course of the books. In Rules the changes are melancholy and wistful; in Ashes they are violent, and the impending death of Old Florida is reflected in the disintegration of relationships, in unseemly competition for land, and in literal deaths (this is, still, a murder mystery).

Both Ziegler's short stories and her novel display her considerable talent for various narrative styles. She writes incredibly evocative lyrical passages (especially about the land, and Annie's relationship with water), insightful interior monologues, and cracker-jack dialogue that--as I've mentioned--is ripe for adaptation to script form. I thought of True Blood (without the vampires), The X-Files (without the aliens), Blue Velvet (without the little people) and Blood Simple (without Frances McDormand, though actually, she'd make a fabulous Della Shiflett, Ed Bartlett's accused girlfriend).

I would strongly suggest picking up both Rules and Ashes. Whether you read them chronologically or not, the two offer a rich interweaving of lives and stories. I hope Ziegler continues to explore the world of Annie Bartlett, but I hope we don't have to wait another ten years.
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on July 21, 2010
Ashes to Water is the first novel by the author of the really good short story collection The Rules of the Lake, from 1999. While Ashes is billed as a murder mystery, to me the book is less an orthodox whodunit than a character-driven portrait of a small Floridian town seething with intrigue, secret passions, betrayal, and of course, a murder that acts as the catalyst for all the often-violent events that subsequently unfold. At first the novel seemed perhaps overstuffed with incident and an abundance of characters - this is supposed to be a simple murder mystery, right? - but as I read further I found myself enjoying the large cast of these small town denizens, settling into Ashes as one settles into one of Stephen King small town tales, or one of those sweeping family sagas like the Thorn Birds; on top of that, Ashes, true to its locale, has a distinct Southern Gothic feel, which is always welcome. Ziegler's tale never loses its momentum or its mystery, and she handles her cast well; her often larger-than-life characterizations still carry the breath of true life (particularly her heroine Annie), and she sprinkles her story with quite beautiful little moments of prose poetry; though she has written (by her own description) a page-turning beach read, Ziegler still makes sure to show off her literary chops. As it should be - a Good Read can still be smart and Ashes to Water is a smart Good Read.
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