Dreaming of Water
By: A. J. Banner
Publisher: Lake Union
Publication Date: 10/10/2023
My Rating: 5 STARS ++ (ARC)
TOP BOOKS OF 2023
A woman’s investigation into her past reveals family secrets and lies in this novel of discovery, redemption, and the mutability of memory by the bestselling author of The Good Neighbor and In Another Light.
Astrid Johansen swore she would never return to Heron Bay, Washington. In that idyllic coastal town, her little sister, Nina, drowned in a reflecting pool under Astrid’s watch seventeen years ago. Though guilt has kept her away, Astrid can’t ignore her aunt Maude’s urgent plea to return. Maude claims to have found a letter that will change everything about the past.
When Astrid arrives in Heron Bay, she finds Maude unconscious, perhaps the victim of an attack. As Maude lingers in a coma, Astrid uncovers alarming evidence that Nina’s drowning that tragic night was no accident. But in a town rife with secrets and in a family still fractured by grief, who knows the truth?
Astrid’s investigation leads her down a trail of dark memories, lies, and betrayals that will shatter her perception of everyone she thought she knew―even herself.
About the Author
A. J. Banner is the bestselling author of In Another Light, The Poison Garden, After Nightfall, The Twilight Wife, and The Good Neighbor. Banner grew up sneaking books from her parents’ library, reading Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, and other masters of mystery. She received degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. Born in India and raised in North America, Banner lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and five rescued cats. For more information, visit www.ajbanner.com
Exceptional Authors. Standout Books. Elevator Talk.
INTRIGUING QUESTIONS. INQUIRING READERS WANT TO KNOW
Behind the Book and the author
with bestselling author A. J. Banner
Behind the Book
Welcome to the October #AuthorElevatorSeries. We are honored to have back with us again bestselling author (a fan favorite) A. J. Banner with her highly anticipated literary, psychological suspense (with this dreamy cover), DREAMING OF WATER.
Welcome, Anjali! Before we dive into your latest book, you have some fascinating news to share. Congratulations!
Q. If readers have not heard—share a little about the film based on your middle-grade novel, LOOKING FOR BAPU.
A.J. Thank you! Yes, the middle-grade novel that I wrote under my real name, Anjali Banerjee, has been made into an independent feature film, ANU, by filmmaker Sudeshna Sen. ANU opened with two sold-out shows at the Seattle International Film Festival, and is now streaming on several online platforms including Amazon Prime Video, and will be showing at The Chicago South Asian Film Festival in September and at the Roxy Theatre in Bremerton, Washington in November. Sudeshna Sen and her cast and crew did a beautiful job of bringing the story to life and transforming the book into film.
From local filmmaker Sudeshna Sen comes this touching coming-of-age story about a South Asian-American 12-year-old who believes her recently passed grandfather may be coming back as the holy reincarnation of Siddhartha.
Movie trailer YouTube
Q. Give us your best ELEVATOR PITCH for Dreaming of Water.
A.J. A forensic document examiner seeks hidden letters that could hold the key to what really happened when her sister drowned 17 years ago in a shallow reflecting pool. Was the child’s death an accident, as everyone believed, or was she murdered?
Q. DESCRIBE your novel in three words or less.
A.J. Lyrical, atmospheric, redemptive.
Q. SETTING: Tell us more about the book setting, Heron Bay, and why you selected it.
A.J. I’ve always loved the mystical forests of the Pacific Northwest. I wanted to set the novel in a wild place away from the city, where a child could wander into the woods and drown in a reflecting pool without an adult around to save her… or so we believe. Heron Bay is a warm summer destination but a cold, windy place in winter. The forests and rugged beaches provide a built-in atmosphere for a novel where a woman investigates the past and uncovers secrets and lies.
Q. VINTAGE TYPEWRITERS: Everyone following you on social media knows your love of vintage typewriters and collections. You incorporate them in the novel as an integral part of your storyline. There are so many fascinating parts of a typewriter and how they are related surrounding the mystery in the novel. How much fun was this writing? Please, tell us more!
A.J. Readers may not know that I actually typed many first-draft pages of this novel on my collection of vintage typewriters. Each brand and model is unique, with a particular history and typing “feel.” Each machine has its own “fingerprint” and can be identified by various characteristics, like the imprint of the ink on paper, for example. The letters are on the type slugs, which imprint ink on paper when the typist presses a key. The type slugs are soldered to the ends of the type bars. The particular parts of the machine, and the unique imprints that the letters make on the paper, are essential to the plot in Dreaming of Water.
Each manual typewriter also has one particular typeface or “font.” I love finding typewriters with rare typefaces like cursive or italics. The typewriter in the book is a black portable Corona “flat top,” the mini grand piano of typewriters, manufactured circa 1935. The typeface is standard pica, the most common typeface with 10 characters per inch. My Corona flat tops are among my favorite machines, and they’re beautiful.
I consulted with typewriter repair experts while writing the novel, to make sure I had my facts straight. Paul Lundy of Bremerton Office Machine Company, here on the Olympic Peninsula, has a wealth of knowledge, as does Matt McCormack, owner of Ace Typewriter & Equipment Co. in Portland, Oregon. Matt learned his profession from his father, who opened the shop in 1961.
Q. LETTER WRITING/FORENSICS: To tie in with the typewriters, your main character, Astrid, is a court-qualified forensic document examiner. She authenticates handwritten letters, signatures, and typewritten samples, as seen in the book. Plus, Aunt Maude was a head librarian and often encountered rare finds (letters, books, etc.) I find this very intriguing!
Please share with us more about your research into forensics, analysis, medical, and typewriter maintenance, tying this all together.
A.J. I interviewed Kathy Carlson, CQDE, CFDE (Court Qualified Document Examiner and Certified Forensic Document Examiner), as research for this book, and I also read up on the profession. Of course, it takes years and a lot of study actually to become a forensic document examiner, but I had to learn enough to try to make Astrid believable as a CFDE. Ms. Carlson was incredibly helpful! I found her stories about specific cases to be quite illuminating and fascinating.
Also, I interviewed my friend Fran Matera, RN, MSN, TCRN, for details about how medics would respond to a drowning. My friend Amy Camp, a former police detective, informed me about the types of questions the sheriff would ask Astrid about her sister’s drowning, and the clues that might be left at the scene. Without guidance from these professionals and typewriter experts, I would’ve made a big mess of the story!
Q. LITERARY: While reading Dreaming of Water, I got The Great Gatsby vibes, a favorite classic I mentioned in my review. Dreaming of Water is a captivating blend of literary, historical, psychological, mystery, whodunit, suspense, domestic, crime, forensics, and thriller, crossing many genres as is the classic.
Did you think of the classic when writing? Did you set out to cross this many genres intentionally, or did it just fall into place? Do you have a favorite genre?
A.J. Your review made my year! What a great honor to have my work compared to The Great Gatsby! Honestly, I was not thinking of any other books while writing, as I was so deeply involved in trying to get the story to work. In the first draft, I set the entire first half of the book in the past, when Astrid’s sister died. The second half of the book is set in the present. I ended up completely restructuring the book, pulling certain plot threads, and expanding others. The mechanics and logistics of the story consumed me. I didn’t consciously set out to cross genres, but I’m glad I did!
I don’t have a favorite genre, but I love emotional, atmospheric literary novels with surprising twists, and I like to learn something new when I read a novel.
Q. BOOK CLUBS: Dreaming of Water is ideal for book clubs and discussions. Will you include a reader’s guide in the final book or on your website?
A.J. What a good idea! I’ll post a reader’s guide on my website soon!
THANK YOU, Anjali. Readers, continue reading below for more up close and personal from A.J.!
Behind The Author
FAVORITE THING ABOUT WHERE YOU RESIDE?
I love the ocean, the rugged beaches, the mountains, the islands, the wild places, the national and state parks, and the antique shops in the Pacific Northwest. I can walk the beach, take photos of otters, harbor seals, and the occasional whale, and sometimes I’m the only human out there. Wait, that was more than one thing! Oh well.
YOUR FAVORITE VINTAGE TYPEWRITER, AND WHY?
A question meant just for me! Two of my smoothest types are my 1955 forest green Halda Portable made by Facit in Sweden, and my Facit T2, a larger desktop machine with a rare italics typeface, also made in Sweden circa 1965. The snappy but easy typing action makes the Facit machines a pleasure to use. I also enjoy typing on many other typewriters, but these are maybe two of my best!
Give me a bright morning anytime! I feel most optimistic and creative in the morning when I’m drinking my Peet’s coffee and writing in my journal with a fountain pen. Anything is possible in the morning. I also write in the morning and do my administrative work in the afternoon.
These days, I love typing letters to my “type pals,” typewriter enthusiasts around the world who enjoy keeping snail mail alive. Typing is a relaxing, percussive activity similar to playing piano, which I also love. I’ve been playing piano on and off for many years.
FAVORITE HOLIDAY OR SEASON?
Autumn is my favorite season in the Pacific Northwest, the perfect time for planting trees and shrubs. The days are cool, and the rains return, but we still have plenty of sunshine. The pollen levels decrease in fall, but we still have many beautiful flowers in bloom.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WISH READERS KNEW ABOUT YOU?
I wish readers understood how difficult it is to learn the craft of writing fiction, how writers have to work very hard at revising a manuscript just to make the story flow at all, and how it can take months or years to produce a novel that appears to read smoothly and efficiently. To get to that place, I constantly fret, add and discard scenes, rethink the storyline, and generally panic about every detail. So while this is something about me, personally, it might also be true for other writers. We work really hard in a profession that gives us no promises, no guarantees. We do it because we love it.
IF YOU WERE GRANTED 3 MONTHS OF UNINTERRUPTED WRITING TIME—WHERE WOULD IT BE?
I would choose a cabin in the woods, on the side of a mountain on the Olympic Peninsula, surrounded by nature but with a view of the sea and access to one of the vast, protected beaches that are part of a marine sanctuary.
WHICH DO YOU ENJOY WRITING MORE: DIALOGUE OR INTERNAL THOUGHTS?
I’m an internal thought person, for sure! I need to work on creating natural dialogue. If I had my choice, I would probably write an entire book in internal thoughts. But that wouldn’t be any fun for the reader!
DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE WRITING?
I listen to music without words in English. While writing, I can listen to any instrumental music or music with lyrics in a language I don’t understand. Otherwise, the words in the song interfere with my thoughts. Generally, though, I like quiet while I’m writing.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM? (Or would you prefer none of them?)
I would prefer not to be on social media. To be honest, I find social media distracting and often upsetting, We’re bombarded with too many images, too much information, and the platforms try to monopolize our attention. Instead of scrolling through a social media feed, I need to be doing research and writing books. In my dream world, I connect with my readers via book signings, emails, or letters. I miss the days when I received real letters in the mail from readers!
HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU WRITTEN?
I’ve had nine books published under my real name, Anjali Banerjee, and Dreaming of Water will be my sixth published book as A. J. Banner. However, I’ve written a few manuscripts that never saw the light of day, thank goodness! I’m hard at work on two more projects.
ONE BIT OF ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE AN INSPIRING AUTHOR?
To an aspiring author, I would say, respect the craft. I view writing as a lifelong learning process. I love improving my writing, learning from other authors, editors, and readers, and I understand that it takes a lifetime to become a writer. We have to read a lot, write a lot, and expect to fail repeatedly. I’ve heard aspiring writers say, “When I have time, I’m going to write a book.” You have to start now. It’s not just a matter of finding the time. You have to find the time over and over again to learn and read and practice, all your life, nearly every day.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED FOR?
Compassion for animals. Touching lives and making them a bit better through my books or a kind word.
AT WHAT AGE DID YOU CONSIDER BECOMING A WRITER?
I’m pretty sure I was around seven years old, reading Enid Blyton mysteries, C. S. Lewis books, and crafting my own stories on a toy typewriter.
THE CRAZIEST THING YOU HAVE EVER DONE FOR BOOK RESEARCH?
Well, I don’t know if it’s crazy, but it was fascinating. With a friend, I toured our county coroner’s office, learned about his job, and visited the morgue.
IF YOU WERE NOT A WRITER, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR IDEAL CAREER?
I would be an historian, I think, discovering and interpreting old personal diaries, discovering new ways of viewing our past, and I would also study the history of the way we’ve treated each other and the other species of the planet.
IF YOU WERE GRANTED ONE WISH, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I wish that humans would extend compassion and freedom to other sentient beings. We are only one of at least eight million species on Earth, but humans have profoundly altered every aspect of life here. We have a responsibility to protect the environment and extend compassion to the other species with whom we share the planet.
Thank you, Anjali, for spending time with us today. Insightful and fascinating—one of my favorite Elevator Interviews!
Readers, pick up a copy of this beautiful book! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
“It’s a rare and delicious treat to pick up a book and know from the very start that you’re in the hands of a master. Dreaming of Water is a fast-paced tale, moody and rife with secrets, layered with family and betrayals, loss and love, all wrapped in Banner’s clean, polished prose. Book club fiction at its best.”
―Barbara O’Neal, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids
“Dreaming of Water is a gripping, emotional tale of a family torn apart by tragedy, secrets, and an unsolved mystery that holds everyone hostage in grief. Both heart-wrenching and suspenseful, it’s a masterfully written novel about love, betrayal, and ultimately letting go and moving on. Readers will be captivated by the unexpected twists and turns along the way as the central character unravels the truth, and they will be touched by the novel’s immensely satisfying conclusion.”
―Julianne MacLean, author of These Tangled Vines and Beyond the Moonlit Sea
“A. J. Banner’s Dreaming of Water is a quick-paced, hold-your-breath psychological suspense that’s as riveting as it is emotional. A master of twists and turns, I never know where Banner’s stories will go, which makes them that much more thrilling. It’s why she’s always a must-read for me.”
– Kerry Lonsdale, Wall Street Journal & Washington Post bestselling author of Last Summer and No More Words
“Rich in sensory detail, taut with family secrets and absolutely thrumming with suspense.”
—Joy Jordan-Lake, bestselling author of Under a Gilded Moon and A Bend of Light
Master storyteller and a long-time favorite author, A.J. Banner, returns following In Another Light with her latest highly anticipated psychological fiction DREAMING OF WATER —an intricately plotted and captivating tale of long-buried family secrets as the past and present collide.
An engrossing literary mystery—as mysterious and dreamy as its stunning cover. Top 5 thrillers for 2023, thus far!
The author grabs readers immediately with the breathtaking prologue—a confession. Someone is holding someone underwater—a drowning.
Set in the picturesque Pacific Northwest in fictional Heron Bay, we meet Astrid. She is on her way to Aunt Maude's house. As a child, she and her parents had closed their home in Seattle and spent every summer in coastal Heron Bay, three hours away.
They stayed with Aunt Maude, her mother, Rose, her father, and her three-year-old baby sister, Nina, who drowned in a shallow reflecting pool along the trails near a stone garden and a complex maze bordering a magical forest.
She was supposed to be babysitting while her parents were at a party at the neighbors. But she had come back home. Her little sister had a habit of running off to explore the gardens. A freak accident, or was it? The family had never revisited Heron Bay since the tragedy. Her parents divorced shortly after that.
Rose was the younger sister of Aunt Maude. The beautiful and mysterious Rose spent her nights dancing at parties in the neighbor's mansion on the hill, which required Astrid to babysit Nina.
This is the first time Astrid has been back in seventeen years. Astrid lives and works in San Ramon, California. She spends her days peering through a microscope or magnifier, searching documents for signs of anomalies.
She also has an ex-husband Trent that wanted children. She did not after the horrific drowning. She kept this a secret. He is now marrying her best friend, Leona.
The purpose for returning to Heron Bay was an urgent request from Aunt Maude, now seventy. She had found a typewritten letter. She sounded as though this was of the utmost importance. The signature was handwritten, and in a letter, she said, would change everything they believed about the past.
The hidden secrets. Maude stated they must meet in person. The typewriter was there, and the letter was in a safe place. Did this have something to do with her sister's drowning long ago? Was there foul play that the investigators did not discover?
Heron Bay was the source of sorrow, a town haunted by its tragic past. A place that reminds her of her lost little sister. Astrid was introverted, a reader, and moody. Nina was outgoing, easygoing, sociable, photogenic, and sweet-natured. She has so much guilt due to the death of her sister.
Aunt Maude worked as a head librarian before her retirement; she was an avid reader, a lovely lady with beautiful gardens, twelve years older than her sister Rose. Her husband, Raj, died of a heart attack when Astrid was six.
On the north side of the property, there was a meandering path through the woods leading up to the grand mansion on the bluff a quarter mile away, where the Michaels family spent summers and threw raucous parties. A low stone wall surrounds its ocean-front patio.
As a young teen, Astrid had a crush on Julian Michaels when she was a teen. He was the son, a 22 yr old university student at home for the summer. He was now a successful novelist and lived on San Juan Island, a ferry ride away from his parents, Beatrice and Verne. A fashionable well-to-do couple. His son, a high school student, often stays with his grandparents.
The pool (the scene of the crime) stood at the edge of the Michaels' property. Now the pool sits empty.
When Maude and Astrid last spoke by phone, the voicemail ended abruptly with a loud noise, and upon arrival at the house, Maude had fallen and ended up in a coma.
Maude had listed Astrid as next of kin and no children. So how is she supposed to solve this urgent mystery that can change the past when she does not know where the letter is or the typewriter she was referring to?
What was the meaning of her cryptic message? Now in a coma, she cannot ask her; however, Astrid feels there is a sense of urgency if someone attempted to harm her aunt, she may also be in danger. Was it a fall, or did someone push her?
The ongoing mystery begins as she tries to solve the puzzle with the help of the local sheriff, Conor, a friend of Astrid's back in high school—the closer she gets to the truth, the more danger she is in.
Did someone drown her little sister, and if so, who and what was the motive? How far will they go to keep their secrets?
I loved DREAMING OF WATER! What a beautiful cover, atmospheric, vivid setting, lush descriptions, lyrical prose, well-developed characters—and an intense riveting mystery suspense whodunit.
Everyone that follows A.J. on social media knows of her love of vintage typewriters and collections. In the novel, she brilliantly incorporates elements of vintage typewriters as an integral part of the storyline. There are so many fascinating parts of a typewriter and how they are related surrounding the mystery in the novel.
As a clever tie-in with the typewriters, the main character, Astrid, is a court-qualified forensic document examiner. She authenticates antique handwritten letters, signatures, and typewritten samples, as seen in the book. Plus, Aunt Maude was a head librarian and often encountered rare finds (notes, books, etc.)
I thoroughly enjoyed the fascinating forensics, letter-writing analysis, and antique typewriters. Banner ratchets up the tension masterfully with many twists and suspects. The narrative is infused with just enough intrigue to keep the pages turning to a satisfying conclusion.
In addition, while reading DREAMING OF WATER, I got The Great Gatsby vibes, a favorite classic. From the grand mansion adjacent to Maude's house, the atmospheric setting, the wealthy residents, the glamorous parties of the rich, the scandal, the affairs, the pool, the drowning, the jealousy and envy, the elaborate grounds, and the mystery and intrigue.
DREAMING OF WATER is a superb blending of literary, historical, psychological, mystery, whodunit, crime, forensics, suspense, domestic, and thriller— crossing many genres like the classic. I love this mix of genres full of twists and suspects.
In her enthralling novels of literary suspense, A. J. Banner writes stories of emotion set in lush atmospheric landscapes that entice the senses. With DREAMING OF WATER, she masterfully infuses the past and the present, creating her most lyrical work yet.
The author's mastery of eerily atmospheric and richly intricate plots is fully displayed with the deliciously menacing and mysterious tale of greed, guilt, betrayal, revenge, loss, love, redemption, and second chances. It is blended with clever antique letter writing, typewriters, and signature analysis to assist in solving this mystery puzzle of what happened years ago in a drowning of a child during an elaborate party.
Highly recommend all her books! Fans of authors Carol Goodman, Ruth Ware, Joyce Maynard, and Lisa Jewell will find much to like here.
Stay tuned for my #AuthorElevatorSeries Q&A with A.J. coming October, where we go behind the scenes of the book and this multi-talented author!
Get this fall gem on your TBR list!
@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks
Pub Date: Oct 10, 2023
My Rating: 5 Stars++
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