The Cherry Cola Book Club - By Ashton Lee


My creation of the Cherico, Mississippi, universe would not have been possible without the help and advice of so many friends, professionals, and family members. I must begin with my superb agents, Christina Hogrebe and Meg Ruley, of the Jane Rotrosen Agency, who matched me up with John Scognamiglio of Kensington Books. John makes the editor-author relationship a seamless one.

Next, I owe a great deal to my aunt, Abigail Jenkins Healy, for rounding up and certifying a number of delicious Southern dishes for the recipe section at the back of the book. These dishes appear in the plot, and I thought it would be a homey touch to allow readers to experience these dishes themselves.

Many librarians have contributed to this novel with their encouragement and factual input. Among them: Susan Cas-sagne, Marianne Raley, Deb Mitchell, Catherine Nathan, Jennifer Smith, Lesa Holstine, Regina Cooper, Susan Delmas, Judy Clark, Jackie Warfield, Derek Schaaf, Alice Shands, the staff of St. Mary Parish Library, in Franklin, Louisiana, Larie Myers, and Angelle Deshoutelles.

Many thanks also to Jerry Seaman for his fishing lure lessons, which I trust I learned well. And to my many Facebook followers at, I have appreciated your comments and support more than you know.


Books versus Bulldozers

Maura Beth Mayhew shut her sky blue eyes and let the unsettling words that had just been thrown her way sink in for a few tense moments. When she finally opened them, she flipped her whiskey-colored curls defiantly at Councilman Durden Sparks and his two underlings seated at the other end of the meeting room table. Their only distinction was their nicknames—as in “Chunky” Badham, who had not missed many meals along the way, and “Gopher Joe” Martin, the consummate “yes man” if ever there was one. Colorful monikers aside, Maura Beth had no intention of letting any of them roll over her with those bulldozers they kept on romancing as if they were the secret to unlocking the universe.

“You actually think the citizens of Cherico are going to stand for this?” she said, her voice trembling noticeably as the stress crept into her face.

Councilman Sparks flashed his matinee idol eyes and prominent white teeth—the source of his ongoing popularity with many female voters—and leaned toward the town’s pretty young librarian of six years standing. “Miz Mayhew,” he began, “don’t panic. This won’t happen tomorrow. We’ll give you up until our budget approval at the end of November to rev up that library of yours. Use the next five months to show this Council why we should continue to fund it in lieu of other, more beneficial projects such as our proposed Cherico Industrial Park.”

Maura Beth had her response at the ready. “Interesting that you call it my library, now that you don’t think it has any value. Or maybe you never did.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” he answered, nodding her way. “I remember when I was eight years old and I wanted to participate in summer reading like some of my classmates were doing. They were getting blue ribbons for finishing a certain number of books, and that got my competitive juices flowing. I asked my mother if I could sign up, and I’ll never forget how she rambled on about it. She described The Cherico Library as a burden for the taxpayers and told me that the librarian at the time, Miz Annie Scott, did nothing all day but read her favorite novels and try to get in good with all the wealthy families so she could wangle donations. Mom believed it was no coincidence that their children were the ones that always got the ribbons and that I could make much better use of my time playing sports and getting good grades. So that’s what I did.”

The shock clearly showed on Maura Beth’s face. “I had no idea you had such a jaundiced view of the library. But you actually think that grading that tract of glorified cow pasture on the north end of town will pay dividends for Cherico?”

“We’re not flying by the seat of our pants here. We’ve commissioned a study,” he answered, brandishing a thin bound volume in the process. “We believe several viable companies would locate here if we prepare the land for them properly. That would bring jobs to our struggling little community. It would mean growth for us in this stagnant economy.”

Well, there it was. The broken record of the current crop of local politicians who had gotten re-elected to office in Cherico, Mississippi, two years ago in the fall