Category: books

A chat with novelist Catherine West

Today I’m happy to have as my guest, fellow novelist Catherine West to talk about her new book, WHERE HOPE BEGINS, which hits bookstore shelves tomorrow! Make sure you read to the end to see how to get in on the giveaway of a physical copy. Catherine writes women’s fiction for Harper Collins Christian Publishing and lives on the island of Bermuda. “We’re a British Colony, and I have to say, though I am biased,” Catherine says, “Bermuda is one of the most beautiful places in the world!” She’s married to a pediatrician, and they have two grown children, a son-in law, and soon to be daughter-in-law, and one adorable granddaughter. Their son and his fiancé are currently planning their 2019 wedding. And their third child, she says, is a border collie named Noah.

SUSAN: Welcome to blog, Catherine! How about we start with you telling us a bit about WHERE HOPE BEGINS?

CATHERINE: I would love to! This novel is really about so many things, grief and coping with loss, learning how to live through the unbearable, but it’s also about grace and love and forgiveness, and of course, hope. It’s the story of grace in the midst of brokenness, pointing us to the miracles that await when we look beyond our own expectations.The story deals with some heavy topics, adultery, loss of a child, suicide. Actually, this was a story I didn’t want to write. I really had little experience with any of the situations my characters have to deal with. But the story came to me one night, so clearly and vividly, that I felt very strongly it was something I had to write. And as soon as I began, the words flowed without stopping until I reached the end. It was weird. I’ve never had a writing experience like that before, and I doubt I will again. Just as I was getting near the end of the first draft, I got news that really clinched my belief that God had a purpose for this book. We found out that very close friends of ours were going to be separating. And shortly after that, another couple, same story. I knew then that I was writing this book for a reason, and any doubt I had about it fell away.

SUSAN: Those are some heavy issues! What made you decide to tackle them all in this particular story?

CATHERINE: While it’s true that there is a lot of heartache in the story, there’s also a lot of healing. Savannah’s journey is not easy, but it’s also filled with sweet and funny moments. There is laughter here, and the people she meets along the way are well worth the extra tissues one may need!

SUSAN: That’s good to hear! What would you say the story is about, in a nutshell?

CATHERINE: Savannah Barrington has always found solace at her parents’ lake house in the Berkshires, and it’s the place that she runs to when her husband of over twenty years leaves her. Though her world is shaken, and the future uncertain, she finds hope through an old woman’s wisdom, a little girl’s laughter, and a man who’s willing to risk his own heart to prove to Savannah that she is worthy of love. But soon, Savannah is given a challenge that she can’t run away from. Forgiving the unforgivable. Amidst the ancient gardens and musty bookstores of the small town she’s sought refuge in, she must reconcile with the grief that haunts her, the God pursuing her, and the wounds of the past that might be healed after all.

SUSAN: Do you have a favorite character in this novel?

CATHERINE: Of course, I think the obvious choice is Brock Chandler, but I’m going to say his great-aunt Clarice wins this one for me. She was probably the biggest surprise and she fairly stepped off the page from the moment she opened her front door to Savannah. I love her wisdom and truth-telling. I feel like she’d give the best hugs. We all need someone in our lives who’s not afraid to tell us the truth, even when it hurts. Clarice was just the person Savannah needed at that point in her life. I really had so much fun watching her character spring to life.

SUSAN: Your most recent novels have focused on the human family and all the dynamics that make up those relationships. Can you tell us a bit about why that theme resonates with you?

CATHERINE: While I have written romance in the past, I’m really most comfortable with family drama. Families can be so complicated. It’s really amazing to me that you can have all these people related by blood, yet all so very different. But the familial bond often, not always, overrides those differences. I love writing what I call “reality fiction.” Digging deep into those tough topics that we often want to ignore or brush aside because sometimes it’s too difficult. But life is hard. All of us are faced with struggles and situations that seem insurmountable. I think it’s really important to acknowledge that, and to realize that even in our darkest hours, we are never really alone. We are loved and cared for by an amazing God who will never abandon us. That’s really the crux of each story I write. While the faith message may be subtle, I don’t believe it’s one that can be ignored. Without hope, we have nothing. And that’s what I like my characters to eventually come around to. Most of them do.

SUSAN: I love that! “Without hope, we have nothing.” So what’s it like living on an island in the middle of the Atlantic?

CATHERINE: It’s different. I was born and raised on Bermuda, so it’s really home to me. We’re just a short flight from most major cities – Boston, New York, Atlanta, Toronto –  so it’s quite easy to travel, and I do, a lot. Bermuda is a relatively peaceful place. Our roads are small and the speed limit is 20 mph, though of course one rarely drives at that speed. It is beautiful, with turquoise waters, pink sand (it is actually, due to the coral reefs we have surrounding us), and flowers blooming all year long. There’s a quiet pace to life here that you won’t find in many places. We have no shopping malls or chain stores like Starbucks (sadly); most people do outdoorsy stuff like tennis and sailing and other water sports. We have great golf courses. And of course, the very best thing, no snow!!

SUSAN: Yes, I’ve done the snow thing. I know what you mean about living where there’s snow and where there isn’t. I miss the gently falling stuff, the bridal-white vistas, the sparkling beauty of snow in moonlight, but I don’t miss the black ice, the shoveling and the temps! Before we say goodbye, do you have any advice for aspiring authors out there?

CATHERINE: I think the biggest thing is to realize that there is much work to be done. I always stress how important it is to really hone your craft. Read all the books. Go to conferences and learn from others. Be teachable. I think we’re constantly learning, no matter what we’re focused on, writing, art, music, there’s always something new to uncover. Writing is a solitary occupation, and while it’s tempting (at least for me) to ferret away in your little hobbit hole, try and get out and meet people! Make friends with like-minded crazy people and you’ll have a community for life. It’s so important to have that support. Most of all, if you truly believe this is your calling, the path that God has set you on, don’t let go of that. It can be very discouraging to receive rejections when you’ve poured so much of yourself into something, but they’re all part of the process. Learn from them. And keep going. If it’s your dream, don’t give that up. You’ll get there!

SUSAN: Thanks stopping by, Catherine! Readers, if you would like to get your name in on the drawing (US winners only, sorry!) just answer this question and your name’s in the hat: Have you ever been to Bermuda? What did you like best about it? And if you haven’t, what do you think you’d like best about island living. Comment before midnight PST on Thursday, May 24. A winner will be announced on Friday. If you want stay connected to Catherine on Facebook, here is her author’s page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/702332983287917/

Have a great week everyone!

New from Katie Ganshert!

Dear friends, I am so happy to have fellow author Katie Ganshert in the bloghouse today. We’re going to be talking about her brand new nove, NO ONE EVER ASKED, which releases today! Make sure to read to the end so you can see how to enter the drawing for a copy of this timely novel. (So sorry that we can  only accommodate a winner with a US mailing address.)

SM: So, Katie. What is this book about in a nutshell?

KG: NO ONE EVER ASKED is a story about three very different women whose lives are brought together when an impoverished school district loses its accreditation and the affluent community of Crystal Ridge has no choice but to open their school doors. Camille Gray is the wife of a corporate executive, mother of three, and a long-standing PTO chairwoman. Jen Covington is a newly adoptive mom who’s struggling with a happily-ever-after so much more difficult than she anticipated. And Anaya Jones is the first woman in her family to graduate college and a brand new teacher at Crystal Ridge’s top elementary school, unprepared for the powder-keg situation she’s stepped into. It’s a story that explores the implicit bias impacting American society, and asks the ultimate question: What does it mean to be human?

SM: I love ultimate questions! I love it when they appear in subtle sentences in great novels. If someone asked you what does it mean to be human, how would you answer?

KG: Oh, man. There’s a myriad of answers to that question! I think in the context of this book, I would have two answers: to be human means to be made in the image of God. Which means that all of us–no matter our beliefs, our lifestyle choices, our political affiliations–have intrinsic value, and deserved to be treated as such. I would also say that to be human means to be complex, and that complexity is irrevocably shaped by our unique experiences.

SM: The book starts out with the startling observation that at the turn of the 21st century, education for black students was more segregated than in 1968. Wow. Tell us more.

KG: I did a lot of research for this book, probably more than all my others combined. Part of my research involved putting together a comprehensive timeline of events regarding school integration. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like that opening statement could possibly be true. 1968 was only eight short years after Ruby Bridges became the first African American child to integrate a white southern elementary school—an act that received so much violent backlash among white people that young Ms. Bridges had to be escorted into the building by U.S. marshals. But when you look at the entire chain of events, from Brown v. Board to now, it slowly becomes understandable. You can see how a string of policies and decisions have led to the situation we find ourselves in currently. I wanted to pull some of those timeline events into the story, even if only in a small way. So they show up as bites of information throughout, complimenting various plot points in the novel.

SM: One of your main characters adopts a girl from Liberia. Is your own adoption experience as a transracial family similar to Jen’s?

KG: a lot of similarities, and a lot of differences as well. We adopted our daughter when she was a couple months shy of three, which isn’t the same as adopting a seven-year old. Our daughter also has some very unique special needs, which make our stories quite different. A lot of the struggles Jen has with Jubilee (her daughter) aren’t the same struggles I’ve had with my daughter. What absolutely is similar, is the fact that we both struggled. I think this is true for many parents who adopt internationally—especially when that adoption takes a painfully long time. For so long, you are fervently praying for and dreaming about this child you don’t actually know. And then one day, this child you loved so desperately from afar is up close and personal, under your roof, and you are essentially strangers. Not only that, they are grieving the loss of so much, with very real trauma in their past, and that trauma doesn’t manifest itself in pleasant, lovely ways. There’s often this sense of guilt, too, because God just answered one of your most desperate prayers, so you should be filled with gratitude, right? And your story is so inspiring to the people on the outside looking in. But for most families, attachment takes time. It’s something you have to fight for. The days, weeks, months afterward can be very isolating. This is the piece of Jen’s story that is similar to my own. As well as the struggles that come with being a white mother to a black daughter—such as the learning curve that comes with hair care, or the desperation one feels to give their child mirrors (people in their life who look like them). Representation is so important. As a trans-racial family, you become quickly aware of how segregated we still are as a society.

SM: What does the title refer to in terms of the story (if it’s not a spoiler, of course)? What is it that no one ever asked and why does that matter?

KG: It’s a little bit of a spoiler. I’d rather the reader discover this as they read. I’ll just say that one character references the title first, but it’s not the last time the title is referenced. And when it’s referenced again, the title takes on a deeper meaning – or at least a broader one.

SM: What did you learn about yourself or others while writing this book?

KG: This story really brought home to me the fact that no one person, myself included, is all one thing or the other. All of us are complex people with complex histories and experiences, which indelibly shape the way we look at ourselves, others, and the world around us. I also learned that racism runs deep in the fabric of our society, and if we’re ever going to honestly address that, we have to be willing to listen to perspectives and experiences that are unfamiliar and different from our own.

SM: What do you hope your readers will come away with after reading NO ONE EVER ASKED?

KG: I don’t think there’s any one message I want readers to take away with them as much as I just want hearts to be impacted. I hope the last page of NO ONE EVER ASKED will find hearts softer than the first. I hope eyes will be opened, defensiveness will crumble, and ears more willing to listen.

SM: So what do you think people need to see more clearly and be more willing to listen to? What needs to change for that to happen?

KG: I think people need to see racial injustice more clearly, and I think they need to be more willing to listen to voices that haven’t historically been listened to (black voices, female voices, any voice that has been shoved off to the margins). I think we need to get more intentional, and humble. We need to set down our defensiveness. We need to be willing to consider that just because something isn’t a reality for us, doesn’t mean it’s not a reality for others. We also need to stop villainizing the “other”, whoever that “other” may be.

Susan here. Thanks, Katie, for a great interview! Readers, if you want  to keep in step with Katie, you can subscribe to her Stay in the Loop email list for all the latest news, as well as exclusive giveaways. You can sign up on Katie’s website, www.katieganshert.com.

And now for the giveaway! Just leave a comment below about why the premise of this book interests you and your name goes in the hat for a randomly-drawn winner of NO ONE EVER ASKED. Just be sure to comment before 11 AM Pacific on Friday. That’s when I will have random.org draw a winner. And just before we go, here’s a fabulous book trailer that sheds more light on Katie’s book and why she wrote it and why we should all read it:

Why you shouldn’t balk at e-book prices

I was talking with someone I barely knew recently about how much a typical hardcover costs and the comparative price of any book’s digital version. She commented that paying $12.99 for the e-version of a hardcover novel that retails in print for $26.99 seems unfair. After all, there is no paper or ink involved. No shipping costs. No physical cost at all, was her point. What is the thirteen dollars for?

I know this person hadn’t thought this through when she asked, which is why I didn’t pounce on the obvious; that the thirteen dollars is a tiny, very tiny, part of my bi-annual paycheck. Writing books is what I do for a living. The thirteen dollars (of which I only get a percentage) is for me so that I can eat, pay my mortgage, wear clothes, and put gas in my car – all the things this same person does with the money she gets in her paycheck.

What I said instead though, is also true. The thirteen dollars you spend on any e-book of a hardcover, I told her, is for the eight hours of amazing, gripping, suspenseful, or insightful entertainment it gives you, depending on the genre of the book. Thirteen dollars buys you one movie ticket for two hours of the same kind of ride but then it’s over, I said. You walk out of the theater and own nothing but the memory of having watched it. That e-book that you buy for the same thirteen dollars provides four times the hours of pleasure and, hey, you get to keep it and read it again. Or share with a friend. That thirteen-dollar movie ticket works out to about $6.50 cents an hour for the experience. The e-book at the same price is closer to $1.62 for the joy it gives you. You read an e-book, and you’re paying only $1.62 an hour for its author to whisk you away. And again, the traditionally published author gets only a portion of that.

So when you think about it, both the print version of a book and its e-version are bargains. Bargains! Buy a $26 hardback, read it for eight hours and you’ve only paid $3.25 an hour for that experience. If you read the book again, you’ll pay only $1.13 an hour for the escape into those pages.

What else can you buy for $26 or $13 and get eight hours of delight that you can re-experience as many times as you want?

I suppose you could buy a couple Frisbees and some hula hoops or a board game, but just think about the creative effort that goes into writing a book – it takes me a year or longer to write one – compared to the effort that goes into manufacturing a toy off the assembly line that looks just like the one before it and the one after it.

Books are uniquely unique. They are written by individual people who often write instead of doing some other job.

Books are tickets and passports to other times and places where you get to experience other lives.

And for that e-book that contains no paper and ink, it’s all for the bargain price of $1.62 an hour. Pretty amazing when you stop to think about it. And everyone should, I think. Stop and think about it.

Live on Facebook March 6!

Hey folks! Just wanted to let you know I will be a live guest (you know what I mean!) on the awesome Facebook readers group GREAT THOUGHTS GREAT READERS page on Tuesday, March 6, at 4:45 PST/7:45 EST and we will be broadcasting from my favorite indie bookstore in lovely La Jolla, California, Warwicks.

It’s super easy to be a part of the live event, no matter where you live, if you’re already on Facebook. Just join the Great Thoughts Great Readers community of nearly 4,000 booklovers just like you. Click on the link above (or this one) and ask to join and next thing you know, you’re part of the tribe.  There’s always great booktalk on GTGR, and fabulous interviews, insights from other readers and book suggestions for your next read. It’s a group of both readers and authors, so there’s great connections to be made with your favorite writers, and then of course, there are events like this one.

I will be joined by GTGR’s Bianca O’Brien and we will chat about my newest, AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN, and answering your questions. Would love to have you be there.  Any questions, just shout them out in the comments. Have a lovely rest of the week!

A great book I can’t recommend

When a book makes me cry, and I confess that it doesn’t happen very often – probably because as a storyteller I’m too aware that I’m reading a story that isn’t real – I know I’m under the spell of a master writer, and that the story will stay within my being long after I’ve read it. (Note: This is especially true if that book involves a dog that dies. I was brought to traumatized sobs after reading Old Yeller #neveragain as an adolescent and I still tear up when I think of The Art of Racing in the Rain, which I read long after reaching adulthood and still wept like baby.)

Usually when I read a book that makes me cry – when the characters are so real that their troubles seem just as real – I recommend it right and left. As in, “You’ve GOT to read this book!”

I was emotionally and deliciously ruined by reading The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling’s not-Hogwart’s book for adults. She had me loving every flawed character so much that I wanted to hold each one close – and there many in this ensemble cast – and tell them, “I see your pain. I see where it hurts, where no one else does.”

But I can’t recommend it.

This is not a Harry Potter book. I heard the voice of Harry Potter’s creator – that devastatingly skilled voice – and I felt again I was in the presence of a demigod of the art of story. But I repeat, this is not a Harry Potter book.

I admit I have a meter that bends toward not-so-raw content. I don’t like excessive profanity in a book – lots of it here – nor explicit bedroom stuff – too descriptive in these pages for me. I listened to this novel on audio (The narrator is amazing. Truly. I’ve never listened to an audio book featuring an extensive mixed-gender cast that was as brilliantly presented as this one, with the possible exception of Louise Penny’s narrator) so the language was perhaps even more raw to me because I was hearing it. And I pressed the forward button a couple times when the sexual content was too graphic.

To each his or her own, of course, but too much of anything is too much.

And yet the characters, the premise, the richness of the rest of the prose. The emotional impact. This story was unforgettable. I will remember it always. But I will always remember the excess, too.

It is an amazing book. A magnificent five-star story that I cannot recommend.

Make of that what you will.

I am still trying to figure that out myself. Would love to hear your thoughts…

p.s.
A movie has been made, a fact I was unaware of until this morning. Here is the trailer. It looks like the film version has muddled with plot -as film versions of books often do – but here is the trailer if you want to take a peek:

Love in a time of war

The best Mondays are the ones with book  giveaways tucked inside them! I am so pleased to have as my guest today fellow San Diegan and author Jeanne Dickson and to give away the CD audio version of her new novel, Grounded Hearts. Here is a WW2 story I’m pretty sure you haven’t heard yet! The story is set in Ireland, which was neutral during WW2, something I hadn’t known. It’s also a love story about a young widow who takes in a downed Allied Forces pilot at great personal risk. I loved this book and I think you will, too. Read through my Q and A with Jeanne to see how you can get in on the drawing.

Q: Welcome, Jeanne! Let’s start out with where you came up with the idea for Grounded Hearts.

A: I got the idea from my father. He was stationed in England during World War II. Issued a weekend pass, he decided to fly to the U.S. Army base in Northern Ireland, and then visit family who lived nearby. Once there, he borrowed a bicycle and peddled across the border into Eire, “Free Ireland.” A few minutes into his ride, a member of the Garda, the Irish National Police, stopped him. The officer told him to turn his army jacket inside out, or he’d have to arrest him as a combatant and send him to the K-Lines internment camp. My father did as directed and continued on his way without further incident, which was fortunate because 240 soldiers from both sides of the conflict faced internment in Ireland during the war.

Q: How did you go about the research?

A: I started with family stories and childhood memories of living in Ireland. From there, I searched for books on World War II Ireland—there are only a few. And of course, I combed the Internet.

Q: What were some or a couple of the most interesting things you learned about Ireland during WW2?

A: The rules of Irish internment surprised me. Internees received day passes to visit the local towns if they agreed to return at night, and if they also promised they wouldn’t attempt to escape. If an internee escaped while on leave, once back at their home base in Britain, they’d be promptly returned to camp in Ireland, or they’d face a court marshal in England. However, at night, it was the internee’s duty to try and escape. Go figure. Apparently, the Irish guards only had blanks in their guns. Should someone try to escape, the Irish government didn’t want anyone hurt.

Q: Will there be more books with any of these characters?

A: I would love to write Dr. Juliet Mann’s story. She’s complicated and flawed. After blotching her assignment in Grounded Hearts, she’s given another chance to redeem herself, but the mock engagement to an Anglo-Irish earl has Juliet wanting to shoot him almost as much as she does the enemy.

Q: What has the writing process been like for you?

A: Very long! Many almost published moments, and then dashed back to the ranks of the unpublished. But all along, I’ve studied and improved my craft and never stopped writing and submitting.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring novelists?

A: Get connected with a writing community. The friendships you make will see you through days of pain and moments of joy. And keep studying the craft. There are no shortcuts. It will probably take longer than you think to be happily published, but hang in there, and don’t give up.

Q: What’s next on the horizon for you?

A: I’m working on a new manuscript, a contemporary romance this time, set in Ireland, and I’m waiting for news on a couple of submissions. The process continues, and I love what I do.

Susan here! Thanks for being my guest on the blog today, folks! To get in on the drawing below for the CD audio version of this lovely book (the narrator has a lovely Irish lilt to her voice!) just comment below with one reason why you love a love story. A winner will be drawn randomly on Friday, so get your comment in by midnight Pacific time on Thursday, Aug 31.

Have a great week everyone!

 

 

 

Revisiting an old tale

Some time ago, my first group of novels went out of print and the rights to them were returned to me. Over the last few years I’ve had new covers made (the original artwork for those first covers belonged to the publishing house) and I’ve put half a dozen back out there on Kindle Select as e-books. These long-ago first books, on which I cut my teeth as a novelist, were written for the inspirational market, which just means the characters had an encounter of some kind with the Divine or divine themes, and their lives were never the same, but in a good way.

The funny thing about going back over the text of a book I wrote a decade or more ago, is I realize how much I have grown in my skills and abilities as a novelist. The way I wrote a book ten years ago is not the way I write a book now. The quirky things I did then, like having the characters say each other’s names to each other as though they might forget who they’re speaking to if they don’t begin the next line of dialog with the other person’s name, and the embarrassing over-use of words like very and actually and just. Yikes. I’m happy to say I’ve thankfully outgrown those bad habits. I also apparently had a perplexing aversion to contractions. All those I ams and we cannots and she should haves that sound so much better as I’m and we can’t and she should’ve are little fixes that I am grateful for the chance to make as I get these story files ready for their resurrected lives back in the book world.

I’m not changing anything in terms of the story itself; it just seems like the story as it was told when I mined it out of me needs to basically stay the same. I feel like I owe that much to that younger version of me, who wanted to be a novelist and gave it her best with the skills she had at the time. But the little technical and stylistic things that don’t change the story, but rather how the story sounds when it falls on the ear, those little bits are definitely getting a once-over.

Today, I am working ON A SEAHORSE IN THE THAMES, which first saw the light of day in 2006. The lovely new cover (which I adore) is the handiwork of my madly talented daughter-in-law. It’s kind of a slow process, looking at eleven-year-old sentences and changing as little as possible while making it as lyrical as a book with my name on it needs to be for me to let out in the wild again.

Sometimes I wonder what the literary greats would have done if they could’ve had back those first novels and been allowed to rework the magic. Would they have done it? Would we want them to?  I think this might be the reason I don’t ever read a book of mine after it’s published, and I’ve author friends who feel the same. The itch to keep working at the sentences would aggravate us too much. And when a novel’s still in print there’s not much likelihood we’ll have the chance to change anything larger than a typo here and there.

There’s a quote by Paul Valery that I’ve always liked about what it’s like to write and release. “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” Like the poets, at some point we novelists have to turn the book over to the printers and walk away.

Unless, of course, it comes back to you… 🙂

A book called wonderful

As I type this blog post I am reminded that some of you reading may have entered the drawing for the three books I was giving away. Random.org picked the winner and it’s number 38, which was Lynn. Congrats, Lynn! Thanks to all who entered. There will be another giveaway of another new book by a friend of mine in the coming weeks, so stay tuned folks.

Last night I finished Fredrik Backman’s A MAN CALLED OVE – finally.  It had been recommended to me so many times. My own book club just read it but I was on a writing deadline then and had to be a flunkatoid and skip out on the gathering to discuss. But the stars finally aligned perfectly and I got to it. What a great book, for so many reasons, including its architecture.

I didn’t know too much about the story going into it. I actually prefer diving into a book that the masses love in just such a way. I want to be as surprised as were those first readers, who devoured it, and then were the first to start telling everyone, “You’ve got to read this book.” All I knew was everyone was telling me how wonderful it was. I wisely didn’t ask to be told all the details of what it was about. I did hear a bit about its premise when it was chosen for my book club, but it was the barest minimum and I asked no questions.

I won’t spoil it for any of you who haven’t read it either. I will paste a bit from the back cover just to clue you in on its vibe, although I haven’t read a book quite like this one before:

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

It’s a book that affirms life and all that makes living so wonderful, even though to live fully is to fully experience love and loss. To love someone is what makes you human and not a beast. I know it’s been made into a movie – I haven’t seen it yet – but please do yourself a favor and read the book first. These characters are ones to cherish; they’re the kind to inhabit your heart and soul before you see them on a screen. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And now I must add Fredrik Backman’s BEARTOWN and MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY to my TBR tower. I hear they are also wonderful.

Have a nice weekend, everyone.

Friday giveaway!

Seems like I spend a lot of blog time (or a little, depending on how you look at it) apologizing for not spending time on the blog. Surely you know that saying, “Time flies.” This is what we say when the reality of something we meant to do and haven’t done comes crashing in on top of us and we can’t come up with a good excuse other than it’s the fault of time! Ha!

Well today, in addition to my sheepish “How did that month go by so fast?” I’ve got some books to give away; a nice little trio of novels that I was privileged to read before they were published so as to provide an endorsement. A thank-you copy of the book in its final, release-day form is always sent and I am realizing I need to pass along books I’ve already read for two reasons: One, they deserve to be read, not just sit on my crowded shelves. Two: I’ve got crowded shelves.

So, one lucky commenter, drawn by random.org, will be the winner of these books, all of which I was happy to write blurbs for.  All you need to do is comment below by next Thursday, noon PST, so that I can announce a winner a week from today in a rare moment when I actually remember it’s Friday and I need to feed the blog.  Here’s a little it about each one:

THE FEATHERED BONE by Julie Cantrell is a tear-jerker to be sure, but it’s masterfully written. Julie’s the New York Times bestselling author of INTO THE FREE, which came out a few years ago and won all kinds of awards. Not only is Julie a powerful wordsmith, she’s one of the nicest people on the planet. This story takes the reader to pre-Katrina New Orleans in the point-of-view of a mother on a school field trip where her daughter’s best friend goes missing. As the search continues for this girl, the storm that changed the way we all think about hurricanes slams into the South. The back cover says, “Set amidst the murky parishes of rural Louisiana and told through the eyes of two women who confront the darkest corners of humanity with quiet and unbreakable faith, The Feathered Bone is Julie Cantrell’s master portrait of love in a fallen world.”

THE GOOD AT HEART by Ursula Werner is a WW2 novel that gets its title from one of Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s most memorable lines from her diary: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” If you’ve ever wondered what it must have been like for German civilians torn between love for their country and doing what is right, here’s a story that imagines such a moral dilemma for one family. This novel is based on Ursula’s discoveries about her own great-grandfather. It’s part love story, part suspense, and part family saga. I said of it in my blurb on the back cover, “…a compelling tale of ordinary people living in extraordinarily complex and character-defining times. Poignant and moving…”

YOU WERE HERE by Gian Sardar is a debut novel full of intrigue and delicious suspense. It’s a dual time-periods tale with an “ill-fated love triangle in the past and a horrifying crime in the present.” It’s the kind of book with twists and turns and that sense of deja vu that reminds one of not just, “I’ve been here before,” but “I’ve been here before and something bad happened.” One endorser wrote, “A nail-biting thriller, a tragic love story from the past, a very contemporary romance, a genuinely scary ghost story with a full-out gothic finale that would make Edgar Allan Poe sit up and applaud…Completely original and relentlessly engaging.”

So there you have it! Just say hello below or scold me for being such a stingy blogger or tell me what you’ve been reading and you’re in the drawing. Have a great weekend, folks. May it be filled with books and sunshine and happy thoughts.

Coming your way in February 2018

Words don’t adequately express how much I LOVE the cover for this new book of mine which will be released into the wild on February 6, 2018. Under the Canopy of Heaven will be my first hardcover; a little detail that has me feeling excited and nervous and elated all at the same time. It’s also the first book of mine in 10 years to feature only a historical time and place. But you know what? It’s the way the book needed to be. I didn’t want to force a contemporary overlay where a second story wasn’t needed just to stay in the dual-time periods lane. I think you will agree when you read it. And I really am so anxious for you to read it.

I had the rare and wonderful opportunity when I was in NYC last week to meet the graphic designer who created this cover. Her name is Colleen and she deserves the kudos for her work here. Thank you, Colleen. You are brilliant.

This story is about a family — a father and mother and their three daughters ages 15, 12, and 7 — who move to Philadelphia in early 1918 when the dad becomes heir-apparent to his uncle’s very successful undertaking business. They have no idea within months of their arrival that the Spanish Flu will also arrive in Philadelphia. Told in alternating chapters by this mother and the daughters, the story reveals what the deadliest pandemic in history was like, not just for the wife and children of a newly trained undertaker, but for Philadelphia, America, and the world.

Swann Fountain in Logan Square as it is today. This photo was taken by me a couple days ago. It was placed here in 1924.

I will be telling you more about his book in the coming months, but for now I want to share with you a photograph from last week’s research trip to Philadelphia as I wrapped up the last edits. The fountain at right, which was erected just a few years after the Spanish Flu pandemic, and which sits in beautiful Logan Square (one of William Penn’s planned green spaces from back in colonial times) is the fountain you see on the cover. The young woman represents one of the daughters — Maggie —  in 1925, when Part Two of the book takes place. The butterfly motif shows up here and there in the pages of the story because they are the perfect example of the beauty and frailty and preciousness of life.

I love those little butterflies on the cover, and the delicious font, and the framing with the Gates of Paradise and especially the golden color palette that makes it seem your hand would come away warm if it you laid your palm across the book.

I’m hoping you love this story when you finally get the chance to read it. I won’t lie. The story might make you cry. Probably will. But it’s a story that in the end celebrates the resiliency of the human spirit and the power of love to carry us when we cannot carry ourselves. There will be more on this later, I promise. For now, though, I would love to hear what you think so far. Thoughts?