About the Books

Under Cedar Shades spans five generations of American women of mixed heritage and their families as their struggle to endure displacement, color discrimination, famine, war and exploitation in 19th century America. The story begins with the forced removal of the Cherokees along the Trail of Tears in 1838 and continues as many intermingle with Welch, African, Portuguese, and Scots-Irish immigrants. Family secrets abound, as a modern-day descendant presses her grandmother for answers to who she is. But her grandmother harbors a terrible secret she can neither forget nor reveal.

Though Under Cedar Shades is a work of historical fiction, much of it is based on real persons, places and events. It is a compelling tale of endurance in the face of adversity, discrimination and injustice. It draws on the Cherokee belief in the sacred nature of the cedar, which never loses its branches, even in winter. The families in this saga endure despite hardships, like the cedar that survives through freezing rain, heavy snow, and winter wind. Other trees may lose their leaves, but not the cedar.

“A multigenerational saga, comparable in characterization and narrative skill (though not in size) to the work of James Michener. . . . A fascinating and entertaining piece of historical fiction.”

(Amazon.com six-star reader review)

“Underwood does a fine job humanizing the contradictions underpinning the inception of the United States – treaties and hypocrisy, land stolen at bayonet point, slavery for some and autonomy for others. . . . Her strengths lie in evoking broad washes of ancestral time punctuated by detailed scenes of domesticity. . . . Lively characters keep pages turning at a steady tick.”

(Kirkus Discovery Reviews)

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The House of Lakshmi Chatterjee takes place on a single day in 1968. Set in Calcutta, India, it explores the mind of a young woman – an American expatriate – as she tries to come to terms with who she is in the midst of a world she could scarcely have imagined.

The narrative alternates between present and past—between her efforts to plan a party for the evening of September 29 and her memories of previous years. Despite herself, she becomes “house-mother” to a motley collection of people – including a ghost – who are drawn, for a variety of reasons, to the House of Lakshmi Chatterjee in the heart of Calcutta. Together, they represent a broad cultural spectrum – Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Tibetan Buddhist, and atheist. Even Mother Teresa gets into the act.

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This heartwarming story tells about two young women, one sighted and one blind. They live together as roommates in a small Southern college during the “peaches and cream” fifties. Helen, the sighted student reluctantly becomes reader to her blind roommate, Thelma.

What started as a hesitant duty blossomed into a deep and wonderful friendship. Helen became Thelma’s eyes, describing the world, the textures, the colors and the shadows. She lets the latter see the beauty and wonder of the world. Her rich and insightful view of life is both refreshing and sweet, making anyone believe there is beauty even in imperfections.

A letter dated June 23, 1957 — the author’s wedding day — turns up in a box of keepsakes in 2012. Written by the blind roommate as a paean to their college life together, Helen realizes she has never read the letter – and certainly never responded to it.

This realization prompts her to weave a response that is both poignant and humorous, and oftentimes, evocative. It is her long overdue response to good friend who has been so much a part of her life.

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I’ll Never Tell is a work of historical fiction set during the war years between 1941 and 1945 on the ridges and in the valleys of eastern Tennessee. Five young people from diverse backgrounds come together to tackle the mystery of a secret city — a so-called “shining city on the hill” — 59,000 acres encircled by a barbed-wire fence and guards with guns. Why were 3,000 people forced off their farmlands so that a city could be built? Why did 75,000 people pledge to keep total silence, promising “never to tell?” And why was all this foretold 40 years earlier? The novel follows Callie, Saree, Irene, Billy and Jeff as they seek answers to these and other puzzling questions.

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