Alice at Heart

Alice at Heart

Deborah Smith

$14.95 January 2002
ISBN 0-9673035-2-4

Forget everything you believe about mermaids. And about mermen. The glamorous, web-footed Water People of the sultry Georgia coast transform a shy young woman into one of their own.

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  • Winner of the prestigious Silver Award for small press novels from Foreword Magazine
  • Reader's Guide

Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Shy, charming, peculiar, and web-toed, Alice Riley has suffered for years at the hands of her dead mother's self-righteous family, while she hides a bevy of secret abilities. When Alice rescues a drowning child, her amazing talents are exposed. Alice can remain underwater for extraordinary periods of time, and she can locate submerged objects through some type of natural sonar ability.

Her new fame/notoriety puts Alice in the national news, amidst allegations that she has somehow faked or manipulated the rescue for her own glory. Alice is trapped and desperate until three amazing older women arrive in her hometown. They are the regal and flamboyant Bonavendier sisters--dignified Lilith, acerbic Mara, and whimsical Pearl--of Sainte's Point Island, their ancestral home off the coast of Georgia. They've read Alice's story in the news and are convinced that she is their long-lost (and much younger) half sister, conceived in a reckless seduction their elderly father confessed to before he died.

Like Alice, the Bonavendier sisters have webbed toes and certain amazing abilities, though none of them have Alice's marked talent for finding things underwater. Alice is no oddity to them. They explain that--like them--she is descended from a mermaid.



Source: Library Journal

Reclusive, wary, and known locally as Odd Alice, orphaned Alice Riley has always known she was different; but it isn't until she saves a child from drowning by using her phenomenal underwater abilities and links minds with drowning salvage diver Griffin Randolf and saves him, too, that her half-sisters learn of her existence, and she discovers how special she and Griffin really are. Old secrets, revenge, and passion fuel this compelling, intricately plotted story of love, trust, and acceptance, which successfully straddles the line between romance and fantasy and should appeal to fans of both genres.

Recalling Susan Krinard's werewolf romances, Smith's new work nicely sets the stage for her projected romantic fantasy series, "Water Lilies." Smith (On Bear Mountain) is a respected writer of romances and other types of fiction and lives in Dahlonega, GA.

Source: Old Book Barn Gazette

At 34, Alice Riley is an oddity in the small mountain community where her deceased mother's family treats her as an outcast. Her hair grows at a rapid pace, the cold doesn't bother her, she can stay underwater for great lengths of time, and she has webbing between her toes. Feeling a greater affinity with water than land, she's become a recluse in her secluded cabin by the lake. All of that changes when she rescues the governor's granddaughter from drowning.

The publicity surrounding this heroic act draws the attention of the beautiful, unusual Bonavendier sisters. Believing that Alice may be their long-lost half-sister, they leave their mansion on Saintes Point Island off the coast of Georgia to find out. After enlightening Alice about who her father was and what they knew of her mother, who committed suicide just days after she was born, Alice decides to uncover the entire truth surrounding her birth, her roots and why her oddities are just common nature to the Bonavendier family.

Alice's quest also puts her in direct contact with the man she's seen in her mind and in her dreams - Griffin Randolph. The Randolphs (land lovers) and the Bonavendiers (people of the sea) have had a love-hate relationship for generations. It's now time for matters to be resolved and past secrets to be revealed, and Alice and Griffin on the keys.

This mesmerizing, mystical story will have you totally captivated from first page to last. Ms. Smith's writing is poetic and lyrical as she weaves the magical legends of merpeople into a modern-day tale of love, acceptance and redemption. The innovative technique of having Alice's views in first person and then shifting to third person for the other characters is very effective. And what a supporting cast - they are all excellent, as is the entire book. Can you tell I loved it!? It's a classic!

Source: Scribe's World Reviews
Reviewer: Michael L. Thal

A Reviewer's Choice pick

Deborah Smith's novel, ALICE AT HEART, portrays the life of Alice Riley, a woman who has suffered at the hands of her mother's self-righteous family. Alice, a thirty-four year old woman, is undaunted by the cold, has webbing between her toes, and seems more at home in the water than on land. We witness an act of bravery. Alice risks her anonymity by saving a child from drowning. Unknown to the heroine, the child is the governor's granddaughter.

We are drawn deeper into the plot when Alice is recognized by her community for heroism. The Bonavendier women who claim to be her half sisters also confront her. Alice, raised in the mountains, begins her trek to the shores of Georgia to discover her roots, the reason for her mother's suicide, and to meet the man she has only met in her mind's eye.

Smith uses Alice's voice throughout the book. But when she shifts the focus to other characters, ennoble Lilith, caustic Mara, and whimsical Pearl, Alice's half-sisters, or the aquatic entrepreneur, Griffin Randolph, the author employs the third person, providing an effective technique that further captivates our attention.

ALICE AT HEART is the story of a love-hate relationship between two families, the land loving Randolphs and the people of the sea, the Bonavendiers. Only Alice and Griffin have the potential of mending the chasm that separates them.

Deborah Smith sparks our interest with the existence of mermaids. She teases us with facts interspersed in the novel with a final climax that makes this fantasy love story an essential book to read. Readers are interested in quality writing, a gripping plot, and characters that we care for. This is the essence of this breath taking novel, ALICE AT HEART. I guarantee that it will win over yours.

Reviewer: Susan Scribner

In her first novel for BelleBooks, Deborah Smith creates an enthralling fantasy romance that is one part Alice Hoffman and one part Luanne Rice, but is unmistakably defined by Smith's own unique Southern style. Start clicking that mouse button now and order Alice at Heart, either directly from the small publishing company Smith formed with several other Southern romance writers, or from your favorite on-line bookstore. You won't want to miss one of the best books of 2002. From the charming Maxfield Parish cover painting to the appendix, it's a near-perfect reading experience.
In her small Georgia mountain town, Alice Riley stands out as a classic ugly duckling. She even has webbed toes, as well as hair that grows faster than she can cut it, a fondness for oily tuna fish, and an ability to swim underwater for hours at a time.

When she rescues a small child from drowning, her family and neighbors are suspicious instead of grateful. But just as Alice faces exile from her home, three strange and beautiful women appear. They claim to be Alice's long-lost sisters, the Bonavendiers, and they implore Alice to join them at their coastal island mansion. The secret they impart, however, is just too much for "Odd Alice” to accept. She's a mermaid - or, to be more technically correct, a Water Person.

Distrustful after years of being tormented because of her oddities, Alice is sure these women who claim to be her relatives are crazy. If she's a mermaid, where is her tail? Confused and wary, she sends them away. But eventually Alice is drawn to the Bonavendiers' island, where she learns the truth about herself from strong, honorable Lilith, sweet but slightly dotty Pearl and bitter, beautiful Mara. Alice slowly gains self-confidence as she rejoices in her discoveries, but she also learns to take the bitter with the sweet. The family history has had its share of tragedies, and her own conception was clouded in sadness. Of course, every good fantasy has its prince - in this case, Griffin Randolph, the charismatic man whom Alice first encounters through a psychic connection during her infamous underwater rescue. Griffin could be her true love, but he also could break her heart because of his hatred for Lilith and her sisters. To avoid more tragedy, Alice must use her newfound abilities to save these strange but wonderful people who claim to love her.

Alice at Heart is the best kind of fantasy - an alternate reality so well-conceived that it's easy to imagine it being possible, that your own dreary, ordinary life could be replaced by a new one in which you could swim with dolphins, dress divinely, seduce men at will and have special telepathic powers. Deborah Smith goes overboard to make the mermaid world a real one, with Lilith Bonavendier offering historical and cultural background throughout the book, and a helpful appendix that provides more detail about the different clans of Water People. Smith combines traditional myths about mermaids with some fanciful additions of her own, and warns readers slyly that the Bonavendiers are mermaids who also happen to be Southern belles - "gilding the magnolia, as it were.” In other words, these women are spoiled, beautiful and strong - a force to be reckoned with.

Smith's lyrical, spellbinding prose is enriched by characters who are both larger than life and yet very familiar in their human frailties. Alice's transformation from downtrodden outcast to proud mermaid is joyous and poignant. All of the three sisters have lessons to teach Alice (some impart them with more grace than others) and the male characters, who pale slightly in comparison to the Bonavendiers, are both heroic and tragic. I wish the narrative relied a little bit less on the Big Secret, but there are reasons why neither Alice nor Griffin are ready to learn the truth about their respective parents until they are at peace with who they are, separately and together.

The book's 300 pages, comprised of Alice's first person narrative and third person point of view from Lilith and Griffin, fly by quickly. I could have easily read twice as many pages about these fascinating characters. The good news is that Alice at Heart is only Book One of Smith's Waterlilies Series. I hope she's hard at work on Book Two because I can't wait to return to this graceful, lovely fantasy world.

Source: Heartland Reviews
Reviewer: Bob Spear

Alice at Heart is a modern romantic fantasy by a NYTs bestseller. The author has left the confines of a major publisher to go with the nurturing of a high quality small southern publisher. This story is of a young lady who has always been different and thereby shunned by her extended family and community. Little do her detractors realize how different she is until she is collected by her own people, the merfolk of the Georgia coast. There she finds family, love, and responsibility in abundance.

This is an ugly duckling style of story with all that goes with coming of age and discovering you are not only different, you're not alone. The author tells the tale in a poignant manner, making the reader want to stand up and cheer for the protagonist. She really handles character, dialogue, and setting well. The plot keeps teasing and surprising until the end. This may have been a book intended for women, but I enjoyed it a lot. We rated it five hearts.




The Old Ones are all wayward women with tales behind them, you might say--luring ordinary men to mate and meander and occasionally drown. Those Old Ones give us, their halfling descendents, a lurid reputation but also great charm, and we had best remember to use both wisely. By nature, you see, we are very hard to believe in, but very easy to love.


We are all bodies of water, guarding the mystery of our depths, but some of us have more to guard than others. I've never known quite who I am, but worse than that, I've never known quite what I am.

This morning I stood naked beside the icy waters of Lake Riley, high in the Appalachians of north Georgia, above the fall line where the tame Atlanta winters end and the freezing wild mountain winters begin. A mile away, in my dead mother's hometown, Riley, people were just breaking the ice on their gravel roads and barnyards and church lots and sidewalks, stomping the mountain bedrock before little stores with mom-and-pop names, most of which belong to heavy-footed Rileys. But there I was, alone as always, Odd Alice, the daughter of a reckless young mother and an unknown father who passed along some very strange traits. I had slipped out to the lake from my secluded cabin for my morning swim. Doing the impossible.

I should freeze to death, but I don't. It is February, with a high of about twenty-five degrees, and the lake has an apron of ice like the white iris on a dark eye, narrowing my peculiar view of the deep world beneath. I should fear its dangers, but I don't. Water is the only element in my life I trust fully and completely. I stood there in the cold dawn as usual, not even shivering.

As I stretched and filled my body with frigid air, I looked out over the icy mountain world and heard a thin trickle of sound. It stroked the frosty branches of tall fir trees so far around a bend in the lake my ears shouldn't be able to recognize it if I were like anyone else. The sound was a child screaming. And then I heard a splash.

I dived into the cold, safe water, deep into the heart of the lake, faster than anyone imagines a person can maneuver, fluting the currents with the iridescent webbing between my bare toes, able to go farther, deeper, quicker, and for much, much longer in that netherworld than any human being possibly can. Across the lake, down twenty feet, then thirty, then forty. Into the darkness of a world I love.

I've never had a vision before and never wanted to. But there he was--not the very real child whose scream I had heard, but a man, or the illusion of one. He was so vivid in my mind's eye, floating in front of me as if he were flesh and blood. He was clothed in a diver's wet suit, torn and bloody. His dark eyes, half-open and dreaming of death, were set in a handsome, determined face. He gagged and fought. I felt his pain, his fear, his confusion. Yet I knew he could live if he wanted to. The oxygen had not failed in his lungs; he had failed to believe in it.

No, no, no, I sang out. Breathe.

He looked straight at me, and a kind of wonder appeared on his face, infusing him. He understood. He breathed.

And for the first time in my life, I wasn't alone.

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The sexy, raucous merfolk are back as one of their most tart-tongued socialites sets out to make over a frumpy children's book author who doesn't realize she's a mermaid at heart.

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