Reader Reviews

In “Sister Blackberry,” Newman displays the true writer’s gift of capturing a complete locale, with its sights, sounds and the struggles of its people. Rayes County is so tangible that as a reader you feel that you could live there for a time and can return to it again and again.

– Lois Mills, Corbin, Ky.



“Sister Blackberry is a novel about coming to terms with difference. It is peopled with unforgettable characters reminiscent of the high days of the Southern literary Renaissance. In the pages of Sister Blackberry, we meet strong women characters, men who abuse their women, men who are good to their women, grandaughters who love their Mamaw but tend to question the tall tales she tells in the name of love. The story that drives Sister Blackberry is enough to make other writers who witness it positively green with envy that Newman, a former journalist and editor, got there first. In my view, Melissa Newman is the freshest talent since Carson McCullers.”
– Dr. Sonya Jones
Honors Program, The University of Kentucky
Professor of English and Interdisciplinary Studies, Allegheny College
(early retirement, 2000)


In Sister Blackberry, Melissa Newman will transport you back to your Hometown, USA where family secrets and strained relationships span generations.  But as we all know, time exposes the truth and so it does in Rayes County— but not before you become emotionally involved with its characters and their lives.  Through her first novel, Newman gives us a glimpse into Rayes County and the how life changes over several decades; yet stays the same, much like it does in most small towns.  A spellbinding read that will pull you back to your hometown and the family secrets that you hold dear!

– Betty Mae Hodges, Author of The Red Can


“Melissa Newman is an author waiting to be discovered. Sister Blackberry is a movie waiting to be made.”
Dr. Joe Beavon, 12/14/09


“Melissa Newman’s new book, Sister Blackberry, is an engrossing tale of life, family, connections and continuity spanning three generations of women, one with a dark secret and a past that won’t stay buried.”
– Roberta Taylor


Sister Blackberry is a great read–moving and captivating! I loved this book! It’s plot is like no other that I have read before. I can hardly wait to read the next Newman novel. – Glenda Schilt


A complex story of mother love, superstition, fear and how a woman comes to terms with her life and the cloud that hung over it. If you enjoy stories that are different with well defined characters, you will enjoy talented author Melissa Newman’s well told tale of Sister Blackberry.
In the 1930′s a self-proclaimed preacher and his help drew a mixed crowd to their church and ministered to them with a strong dose of superstition. They practiced a faith of intolerance and rejection of outside contact, a cult in the making.
The wife of one of the members was friends with a nonmember neighbor. Both women were expecting and the children were born at the same time, with different outcomes. Both births brought trajedy and deep sorrow.
The two babies were raised as sisters but fate stepped in and one left home to find a new life. Her return many years later, brought out the story of their origins and found a time to heal.
This is a story that will have you wanting to know what happened to the characters and how they dealt with life’s troubles. Recommended for any reader who enjoys tales of life with people that are realistic and have human failings, yet they can feel joy and learn from their troubles.
Enjoy. I sure did.
– Anne K. Edwards 11/15/09


Two women both expecting at the same time, best friends, both Christians, different denomations.

Viola Garland was a Baptist and Janie Cole was a Pentecostal .Although Viola did not believe in the things that went on in Janie’s church that did not keep her from being friends with her. Janie’s husband Bick did not want her around Viola, claiming she was not a Christian because she did not believe their way. The self proclaimed preacher had drawn quite a vast congregation to his fold and was feeding them a strong mix of superstitions and was told to have no contact with those outside their faith. This was the beginnings of a cult. When time for Janie to have her baby, the preacher Brother Caslin was to deliver it. He delivered all the babies in the church family and his wife attended the births as the midwife. When both had their babies the same night, Viola was alone and her baby died. Trying to make it to Janie’s house she seen something strange going on and a baby crying. Janie had delivered her baby and the midwife was trying to kill it. Why would this be happening, What is so wrong that they had to destroy a tiny baby. Sneaking in the barn picking up the baby and fleeing with her, this then begins a life of deceit and deception and deep suspense.

This then is a story that begins in the year 1936 and follows through to the present time of a mother, her two daughters down to the great grandchildren. A life of fears, superstitions and of findings ones way in this world.

Viola Garland now eighty-seven years old has lived with this secret for sixty years. As she has gone through the death of her husband, her one daughter and son in law its time to make a clean break and tell her granddaughters the whole truth of the story. When the story comes out, they will see how through all the lies and deceit, it will either bring the family closer or tear it further apart. How the families are all tied together. Two babies raised as sisters but fate drove them apart.

As I started to read this book, I found it so compelling I could not put it down and finished it in one day. If you enjoy stories that deal with family life, and the problems that can infiltrate into each other’s lives and a have a dark cloud hanging over their heads, then Melissa Newman’s book “Sister Blackberry” is a must read. The characters are well defined and there is not one character that outshines the other. This book reminded me of watching a made for TV Saga movie. Highly recommended.
– Read in November, 2009, Reviewed by Lynn 11/21/09


Sister Blackberry captured my heart from the first sentence. I did not want it to end. I felt that I knew each of these people and moreover, had lived and loved with them. The book really captures the great lengths that women, an in particular mountain women, will go to protect their family. Thank you so much for a beautiful story.

– Nora Liford, Pineville, Kentucky


Sister Blackberry is a mesmerizing story.I began reading late one night and time seemed to pause until I regretfully finished the last page before dawn’s first light. Opening this tome is akin to opening a window on the lives of familiar people, it is very realistic and draws the reader in effortlessly. Not since Silas House’s Clay’s Quilt have I enjoyed a book so much, and both my wife and I anxiously await House of Cleaving. Thank You, Melissa.

– Vicky and Randy Saunders, Barbourville, Kentucky


Sister Blackberry is an intriguing story of how life takes twists and turns when we least expect it. The transition from present to past and past to present as the story unfolds keeps the reader enthralled to find out what will happen next. Keep writing Melissa!

– Katy Jones, Corbin, Kentucky


I first heard about Sister Blackberry when a friend of mine loaned me the book and said it is a must read. I must say she is absolutely right. From the moment I picked up the novel, it was all I wanted to do is to keep reading. I loved the way the story unfolded, giving me just enough information to want me to know more.

Besides the fact that the book is a great read, it also appealed to me as a great work of literature that does what novels should do and helps the readers understand more about themselves by learning about the problems of others….Definitely one of the best new novels I have read in the last few years….Can’t wait for House of Cleaving….I’ll see you at your signing in Flatwoods, Ky on Saturday 19th. Can’t wait to meet you.

-Larry G. Day, Flatwoods, Kentucky

A Note to Readers

Just a Short Hiatus ... More Novels to Come

While Growing Up Wilder was my last novel, it will certainly not be my final. I have two outlines just dying to escape from my desk drawer and I often have to apologetically shove them back in when I find they have made it to the surface time and again.

I am currently working toward completing my doctorate degree (I am all but dissertation, folks!) and I am tangled up in research that uses storytelling and social media as a way to increase hope levels for individuals and entire communities.

This research is allowing me to focus on solving a problem within Kentucky's Appalachia - negative stereotypes.

Readers, please be patient. I will return to fiction shortly. Until then, please continue to share Sister Blackberry, House of Cleaving and Growing Up Wilder with your friends and family.

As always, I welcome your notes and messages.