New on the Bookshelf: The Girl from the Red Rose Motel

A Review & Invitation


September 2023 Issue


Author Susan Beckham Zurenda taught English for 33 years to college and high school students. Her debut novel, Bells for Eli, received several awards, including first place for Best First Book—Fiction in the 2021 Independent Publisher Book Awards. A life-long South Carolinian, Susan lives in Spartanburg, and we are delighted to welcome her second full-length novel, The Girl From the Red Rose Motel, to our must-read bookshelf.

As such, we would like to share Tim Bazzett’s review from Amazon, noting Susan has no personal ties to him:

The Girl From the Red Rose Motel, a novel by Susan Beckham Zurenda, is one of the best damn “potboilers” I've read in decades. And I mean that in the best, most complimentary way. If the book biz were what it was 50 years ago, this would be an instant bestseller. Alas, we live in a digital age where mindless, endless scrolling has taken the place of thoughtful reading.

To be frank, I wasn't sure this was going to be my kind of book, with its tale of a high school romance that crosses the chasms of class and race. It's 2012, and Hazel (Zell) Smalls is a beautiful, intelligent, biracial girl whose family has fallen on hard times and is living in a rundown motel in Ramsey, South Carolina, barely making ends meet. She meets Sterling Lovell, a part of the town's upper crust, whose father is a real estate investor whose holdings include the decrepit Red Rose Motel. Sterling is so taken with Zell that he dumps his wealthy longtime girlfriend, Courtney, whose father, Donovan Powell, is the pastor of a local megachurch.

The third protagonist is Angela Wilmore, their fifty-something English teacher, recently widowed, who takes a special interest in the young couple, and also becomes involved with the divorced school principal, Finley Copeland. The plot thickens with every chapter, told from these three characters alternating points of view, adding layer upon layer of their backstories, and progressing inexorably towards a rather unexpected, yet wholly believable, conclusion.

Zurenda, who was herself a high school and college English teacher for more than 30 years, knows her territory and has created some very sympathetic and utterly believable characters and a story that kept me turning pages way past my regular bedtime. I couldn't WAIT to find out what would happen next. It's that good, really! And it's a story which touches on so many important issues, too—class, racism, poverty, homelessness, abortion and more. Add a couple of very affecting love stories into the mix, too. I was quickly caught up…

“I loved it. Bravo, Mrs. Zurenda! My wife is reading it now. My very highest recommendation.” —Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir Booklover

The Girl From the Red Rose Motel is set to become a book club favorite. We are thrilled to host Susan Zurenda as our featured author as she makes Pink Magazine’s first ever “Books and Brunch Pink Partini” one of the first stops on her book launch tour. Please turn to page 4 for all the details of the event. We hope you will come to the new Corner Perk on Hilton Head Island to meet Susan, along with many other local authors and poets for this authors, books, and brunch bash.

Susan has two other tour stops in Beaufort County if you can’t attend our Books and Brunch event: Monday, September 18, 10:30 A.M. at Bluffton Library and Tuesday, September 19, 5:30 P.M. at The Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort.

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