Her Sister’s Shoes, book review + giveaway

Her Sister's Shoes, book review + giveawayA contemporary women’s novel that explores and proves the healing power of family.

Her Sister’s Shoes by Ashley Farley

About this book: (from the publisher) Set in the South Carolina Lowcountry and packed with Southern charm and memorable characters, Her Sister’s Shoes is the story of three sisters—Samantha, Jackie, and Faith—who struggle to balance the demands of career and family while remaining true to themselves.

Samantha Sweeney has always been the glue that holds her family together, their go-to girl for love and support. When an ATV accident leaves her teenage son in a wheelchair, she loses her carefully constructed self-control. In the after-gloom of her dreaded fiftieth birthday and the discovery of her husband’s infidelity, Jackie realizes she must reconnect with her former self to find the happiness she needs to move forward. Faith lacks the courage to stand up to her abusive husband. She turns to her sisters for help, placing all their lives at risk.

In the midst of their individual challenges, the Sweeney sisters must cope with their mother’s mental decline. Is Lovie in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, or is her odd behavior normal for a woman her age? No one, including Lovie, understands her obsession with a rusty key she wears around her neck.

About the author: (from Amazon) Ashley Farley is a wife and mother of two college-aged children. She grew up in the salty marshes of South Carolina, but now lives in Richmond, Virginia, a city she loves for its history and traditions. After her brother died in 1999 of an accidental overdose, she turned to writing as a way of releasing her pent-up emotions. She wrote SAVING BEN in honor of Neal, the boy she worshipped, the man she could not save. SAVING BEN is not a memoir, but a story about the special bond between siblings. When she’s not working on her next novel, she can be found book blogging at www.chroniclesofavidreaders.com.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Women’s Fiction

Why I read this book: As an iRead reviewer

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for some language and mature content.

Reminds me of…novels of Patti Callahan Henry and Marybeth Whalen

Will especially appeal to… fans of Dorothea Benton Frank

This story matters because…it celebrates the healing power of family

My take: I tend to gravitate toward novels like this one with an ensemble cast, in which each character carries an equal part of the story. I like to see how an author will weave these individual strands into one whole tapestry, each character’s strengths and weaknesses compelling her to join forces with the others until they all, ultimately, find healing and happiness. Her Sister’s Shoes certainly has all of this, and its evocative Lowcountry setting contributes to its summer-reading appeal.

While technically a well-put-together story with the gravitas I enjoy, it lacked the nuance of character and plot development I prefer. This was most often revealed in dialogue. Of course, this reflects my own taste and may not strike others the same way. Because of its setting and subject matter, many would consider Her Sister’s Shoes an appealing, relatively clean beach read.

To see what other reviewers are saying, click here.

Thanks to iRead Book Tours and the author for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words:

To enter the giveaway: a Rafflecopter giveaway

To connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

The Medea Complex, spotlight + giveaway

The Medea Complex, spotlight + giveawayThe mind can conceive of darker crimes than murder…

The Medea Complex by Rachel Florence Roberts

About this book: A deep and riveting psychological thriller inspired by true events of the Victorian era, The Medea Complex explores the nature of the human psyche: what possesses us, what drives us, and how love, passion, and hope for the future can drive us to insanity.

1885. Anne Stanbury wakes up in a strange bed, having been kidnapped from her home. As the panic settles in, she realizes she has been committed to a lunatic asylum, deemed insane and therefore unfit to stand trial for an unspeakable crime. But all is not as it seems….

Edgar Stanbury, her husband as well as a grieving father, is torn between helping his confined wife recover her sanity and seeking revenge for his ruined life. But Anne’s future rests wholly in the hands of Dr. George Savage, chief medical officer of Bethlem Royal Hospital.

The Medea Complex is the darkly compelling story of a lunatic, a lie, and a The Medea Complex, spotlight + giveawayshocking revelation that elucidates the difference between madness and evil….

About the author: Rachel Florence Roberts was born in Liverpool. She was inspired to write The Medea Complex after suffering with postnatal depression, following the birth of her son. The Medea Complex is inspired by true events that occurred towards the end of the 19th century, and is Rachel’s first novel.

Genre: Fiction/Historical/Thriller


Your chance to win: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Blog tour: 

Jenn’s Bookshelves

Kritters Ramblings

A Dream Within a Dream

Note: This spotlight does not imply a review or endorsement of The Medea Complex, a copy of which was provided me by the publisher.

Tiny Little Thing, book review

Tiny Little Thing, book reviewA collision of political ambition and secrets of the heart.

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams

About this book: In the summer of 1966, Christina Hardcastle—“Tiny” to her illustrious family—stands on the brink of a breathtaking future. Of the three Schuyler sisters, she’s the one raised to marry a man destined for leadership, and with her elegance and impeccable style, she presents a perfect camera-ready image in the dawning age of television politics. Together she and her husband, Frank, make the ultimate power couple: intelligent, rich, and impossibly attractive. It seems nothing can stop Frank from rising to national office, and he’s got his sights set on a senate seat in November.

But as the season gets underway at the family estate on Cape Cod, three unwelcome visitors appear in Tiny’s perfect life: her volatile sister Pepper, an envelope containing incriminating photograph, and the intimidating figure of Frank’s cousin Vietnam-war hero Caspian, who knows more about Tiny’s rich inner life than anyone else. As she struggles to maintain the glossy façade on which the Hardcastle family’s ambitions are built, Tiny begins to suspect that Frank is hiding a reckless entanglement of his own…one that may unravel both her own ordered life and her husband’s promising career.

About the author: Beatriz Williams is the New York Times-bestselling author of The Secret Life of Violet Grant, A Hundred Summers, and Overseas. She lives with her husband and children in Connecticut.

Genre: Fiction/General

First impressions: The elegant cover provides the perfect teaser for this sophisticated tale. And first pages? Hook, line, and sinker.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R for profanity and mature content

Reminds me of…The Widow Waltz

Will especially appeal to… fans of Elin Hilderbrand

This story matters because…it reminds us that sometimes the price is not worth paying…no matter what the prize.

My take: It may say tiny in the title, but there’s nothing small about this book. Quite to the contrary, it’s bursting with big personalities, big secrets, big twists, and one big, fat, whopper of an ending.

I was grabbed from the start by the author’s whip-smart voice and her deft hand at narration. Williams proves herself to be a master storyteller who knows how to structure a story to wring maximum tension from every page. Each scene raised fresh questions I could hardly wait to see answered. And some of those answers I never saw coming.

Reading a Beatriz Williams novel, I’ve discovered, is like watching a movie in 3-D. Each carefully chosen detail, every impeccably crafted phrase combines to elicit the utmost pop from every scene.

From start to finish, Tiny Little Thing is a terribly sophisticated (read also: very worldly) novel brimming with fascinating, multifaceted characters, whether you choose to love ’em or hate ’em–or sometimes both. The plot twists kept me riveted to the end, and I turned the last page satisfied, yet longing for more.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: This novel surprised me in so many ways, from unexpected word choices to emotional impact. What novel have you read recently that took you by surprise?

Paying Attention to Accidental Connections by novelist Jennifer Scott

Paying Attention to Accidental Connections by novelist Jennifer ScottPaying Attention to Accidental Connections
Guest post by Jennifer Scott

In my latest novel, Second Chance Friends, Karen, Melinda, and Joanna are each at a diner on the day a bus loses control and crashes into the car of newlywed couple, Michael and Maddie Routh. The women do not know each other, and each is there to heal her own heart. Karen is drinking coffee and wondering what to do about her troubled adult son. Melinda is downing an impossibly huge breakfast to drown out her guilt over her duplicitous morning routine. And Joanna is hiding from the world.

But each woman’s life is changed that day, as they try to help the injured young couple on the lawn of the diner.

They don’t know it at the time, but their lives have intertwined.

It’s only after an accidental second meeting at the diner that they realize that, while they may appear to be three very different women, they have many things in common, not the least of which is that they now have a common goal: to help Maddie Routh put the pieces of her life back together.

I’ve always been fascinated with connections. When, how, and why we connect. Chance meetings that turn out to be serendipitous. Perfect matches that end up being anything but perfect. Déjà vu that starts a lifelong conversation. Acts of kindness that bump lives into different, better paths.

Connection is so important. If we aren’t going to connect, then what are we here for, exactly? If we aren’t to make a difference, then what’s the point?

But connection is also hard. It requires understanding. Vulnerability. Patience. Work. And work isn’t always necessarily fun.

Ultimately, Karen, Melinda, and Joanna are glad they put in that work and cultivated that understanding and allowed that vulnerability and exercised that patience. They’ve become important in each other’s lives in ways they could have never imagined. But they had to be open to that accidental connection first. They had to see an opportunity and walk toward it. They had to be aware of ways they could impact the lives of others through connection.

I think that’s what we all have to do, really, if we are to make a difference in this world.

About this book: (from the publisher) Karen, Melinda, and Joanna have never met until the morning they witness an accidentPaying Attention to Accidental Connections by novelist Jennifer Scott outside a local diner—and rush to help.

As a single mom whose sweet-faced boy has become a misguided young man, Karen immediately sets aside her own concerns and moves into action. Emergency first responder Melinda also calmly steps up to the plate, as she does every day; no one would ever suspect the insecurity that threatens her marriage to the man she loves. And blond, beautiful, bohemian Joanna is hiding—from her friends, her family, and, most important, herself. Yet she’s first on the scene.

The accident leaves another, mother to be, Maddie, crushed by grief. But rather than retreat, Karen, Melinda, and Joanna open their arms and hearts. During the next nine months they’ll return to the diner over and over. They’ll come to find Maddie. They’ll end up finding themselves—learning what it means to be a mother, lover, wife, and friend. By reaching out and holding on, these four women will unite to show us life can be transformed at the most surprising moments.

About the author: Jennifer Scott is the national bestselling, award-winning author of Second Chance Friends, The Accidental Book Club, and The Sister Season. Her acclaimed YA novels under a pseudonym, Jennifer Brown, have been selected as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a VOYA Perfect Ten, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

The 30 Day Praise Challenge for Parents, book review + giveaway

The 30 Day Praise Challenge for Parents, book review + giveawayPraising God builds strong families.

The 30 Day Praise Challenge for Parents by Becky Harling

About this book: (from the publisher) One of the most powerful ways to love your kids may surprise you: develop a habit of praising God. In The 30 Day Praise Challenge for Parents, Becky Harling invites you to praise God for twenty minutes a day for one month. You’ll be amazed at how praising God:

  • Quiets your anxiety about your kids
  • Provides a shelter of protection over your family
  • Breaks the chains of generational sin
  • Deepens your children’s faith
  • Strengthens your own spiritual life

Arranged topically, this book includes a list of selected songs and creative ideas for continuing the habit of praise throughout your parenting journey.

About the author: Becky Harling is a sought-after speaker and the author of several books. She has a degree in biblical literature, and her experience as a missionary, women’s ministries director, and breast cancer survivor bring depth to her message. Becky’s husband, Steve, is a pastor at Foothills Community Church in Arvada, Colorado. Becky and Steve have four grown children and five grandchildren. She can be found online at BeckyHarling.com.

Genre: Non-fiction/Religion/Christian Life/Family

Why I read this book: As a Blog Spot reviewer

Will especially appeal to… parents who want more for both their children and their prayer life–perhaps especially those who feel anxious or discouraged for their children.

This book matters because…(as the author says) “praising God isn’t just some glib hallelujah when finances are prospering, your health is flourishing, and your family is thriving. Praising God is an intentional declaration of faith that exalts God above your life circumstances.” All of which is, ultimately, tremendously liberating.

My take: There aren’t many books that have made my heart sing in quite the same way this one did…does. What is laid out here is, quite simply, a fantastic idea.

Who doesn’t need praise? Everyone appreciates it, I think, if they’re honest–and that includes God Himself, strange as that may seem. And while I’m sure there are amazing theological reasons to explain why He desires our praise, the truth is–praising God changes us.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

Parenting, however…well, much of parenting is not very beautiful. Not always, anyway. It’s often in-the-trenches, messy, complicated. Our kids make mistakes–many of them. So do we–possibly more. Which is why we so need forgiveness and grace. But it’s also why we need to spend time reading God’s Word, learning from Him, seeking His guidance–and why above all else, we need to praise Him. No matter what.

I was first introduced to the concept of praising God as an intentional form of prayer when I joined Moms in Prayer International (formerly Moms in Touch) for a season. There I learned how freeing and soul-filling the act of praise can become. Because it so reminds us of Who God is and what He can do. That His power is unbounded. It takes our eyes off ourselves, our kids, our problems, and places them on the One in control. Everything looks different when seen through the lens of praise. Problems appear smaller. Answers seem likely. Hope abounds.

I loved this little book for all its practical and transforming ideas. If you too are looking for encouragement in parenting, I urge you to give The 30 Day Praise Challenge for Parents a try.

Thanks to the Blythe Daniels Agency and David C. Cook for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: Just in time for Father’s Day! Thanks to the Blythe Daniels Agency, I’m happy to be able to offer a print copy of The 30 Day Praise Challenge to one of my readers. Enter here:  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jaded, book review

Jaded, book reviewTheir small-town church wants them apart, but God has other plans.

Jaded by Varina Denman

About this book: (from the publisher) As a child, Ruthie was shunned by the local congregation. Thirteen years later, Ruthie’s heart begins to stir when an attractive single preacher arrives. But their relationship is bitterly opposed—unearthing a string of secrets which threaten to turn the church, the town, and her world upside-down.

Jaded is the rare novel that is both love story between a woman and man … and God and His church. Plunging deep into the waters of shame, forgiveness and restoration, it will resonate with every woman who’s experienced a loss of heart … and a thirst for hope.

About the author: (from her website) An avid reader and blogger, Varina Denman enjoys writing fiction about Christian women and the unique struggles they face. She seems to have a knack for describing small town life, and is currently working on the three-book Mended Heart Series. The first book in the series, Jaded, won the 2013 ACFW Genesis contest for romance.

Varina attended three Texas universities over a span of five years, majoring in four subjects and earning zero degrees. However, she can now boast sixteen years as a home educator, volunteering in the local cooperative where she has taught numerous subjects including creative writing and literature.

Even though Varina has spoken at ladies’ retreats and taught women’s Bible classes, she finds the greatest fulfillment facilitating prayer groups. She lives in Burleson, Texas, where she helps with Family Ministry in her home congregation. Varina is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and North Texas Christian Writers.

She is represented by Jessica Kirkland of The Blythe Daniel Agency.

For more random trivia, check out this post: Fascinating Facts About V.V. Denman

Genre: Fiction/Christian/Romance

Why I read this book: As a Blog Spot reviewer

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: G

Reminds me of… shades of The Outcast

Will especially appeal to… those familiar with the idiosyncrasies of small-town life

This story matters because…it reminds us that God offers hope for healing, no matter what the hurt.

My take: Award-winning Jaded is the first in Varina Denman’s Mended Hearts series, introducing us to complex characters grappling with real-life issues. Denman’s prose is unadorned, her message quite explicit. I appreciated her treatment of a sensitive subject (wounding by the church) that hits home for many–far too many, unfortunately, both inside and outside the church. It’s an important and very real topic, and I’m happy to see it addressed fairly in novels like this one.

I personally prefer more nuance in my fiction–more subtlety of dialogue and turns of plot, more implicit messaging–and also a faster pace. This one’s pretty thick (400 pages–definitely on the long side for inspirational fiction), and by the time I finished, I concluded that about a quarter might have been trimmed for a tighter story. My opinion, of course.

I did find this a somewhat difficult read in that I spent most of the last half wanting to smack a someone or two. A few of these someones were meant to elicit that reaction. But others were the good guys who just weren’t listening. Either that, or they were being exceptionally tunnel-visioned or naive. Which, on the one hand, built tension–as it was supposed to. But it was to such a degree that it frustrated me and made me sympathize less with those characters, bringing them down in my estimation.

I will say that those who have actually lived in small towns (I have not) may not have the same issues with this book that I did. It could be that since I can’t deeply relate to some of the issues, certain idiosyncrasies stretched my credibility. I have a hard time accepting that so many honest, good-hearted people would actually behave in such narrow-minded ways. Would an entire church really allow itself to be so thoroughly ruled by the ill-informed decisions of only three men? I suppose so. I found it hard to swallow–but then, maybe I’m the one being naive.

All in all, I believe Jaded–with its appealing characters and small-town setting–will find its most enthusiastic readers among those who like inspirational fiction that contains strong, overt messages. Who don’t mind a bit of preaching mixed in with their fiction.

Thanks to The Blog Spot and David C. Cook for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: Have you been hurt by the church? You don’t have to answer that question here. But I want you to know that if you would answer yes, you’re not alone. I will also tell you that I count myself among that number. On her website, Varina Denman blogs beautifully about this sensitive subject, recognizing the hurt and offering hope for healing. I encourage you to check out her Church Hurt blog posts here.

Spotlight on Romance + 3 Giveaways

Spotlight on Romance + 3 GiveawaysTwenty-five years ago today I snagged myself a husband. So what better time to celebrate romance?

Thus, two events to honor the occasion. First, I’m throwing the spotlight on One-Minute Romance for Couples, a very cute, pocket-sized book by inspirational speaker and writer Grace Fox. I’ll be tucking this one in my carry-on when we leave for Ireland in a few weeks, providing the perfect convo-starter for all those in-between moments that accompany international travel. Not that, after twenty-five years, we need much help finding something to talk about. But still. Nice to have someone help you think outside the box.

Second, it’s giveaway time. To celebrate the day, I’m giving away three romance novels. All you have to do is to tell me in a comment which one(s) you’d like to win, and your name will be entered in a drawing for that title. Choose one, two, or all three.

So good luck, and viva la romance!

One-Minute Romance for Couples by Grace Fox.

About this book: A romance that lasts starts with good communication. But one nationwide survey indicated that most married couples spend only three or four minutes a day in meaningful conversation.

Do you sometimes wonder what to talk about? Do you ever feel as if you know all there is to know about each other? Would you like to go deeper but need some help knowing where to start? Whether you’re just getting to know each other or have been married for decades, this pocket-size trove of short, open-ended questions is sure to spark fun and meaningful conversations that will help you connect on many levels.

  • “One of the first things that attracted me to you was…”
  • “If you had a bucket list, what would be three of the top things on it?”
  • “Describe a teacher or coach who made a positive impact on your life.”

About the author: Grace Fox is an international speaker at women’s events, a popular radio and television guest, and the author of several books, including Tuck-Me-In Talks with Your Little Ones. Grace and her husband, Gene, are co-directors of International Messengers Canada, a missions organization. You can connect with her online at GraceFox.com.

And now for the giveaways… (for more about the book, click its image)

Spotlight on Romance + 3 GiveawaysSpotlight on Romance + 3 GiveawaysSpotlight on Romance + 3 Giveaways







After words: What’s your best advice for keeping romance alive? Me, I recommend date nights. In 25 years (well, 28 if you include the three before we married), we’ve hardly missed a Friday night date. I know of no better way that to stay interested in and connected with each other.

Don’t forget to tell me, too, which book you’d like to win. :)

The Hummingbird’s Cage, book review + giveaway

The Hummingbird's Cage, book review + giveawayWhen all is lost, she must find herself…

The Hummingbird’s Cage by Tamara Dietrich

About this book: (from the publisher) Everyone in Wheeler, New Mexico, thinks Joanna leads the perfect life: the quiet, contented housewife of a dashing deputy sheriff, raising a beautiful young daughter, Laurel. But Joanna’s reality is nothing like her facade. Behind closed doors, she lives in constant fear of her husband. She’s been trapped for so long, escape seems impossible—until a stranger offers her the help she needs to flee….

On the run, Joanna and Laurel stumble upon the small town of Morro, a charming and magical village that seems to exist out of time and place. There a farmer and his wife offer her sanctuary, and soon, between the comfort of her new home and blossoming friendships, Joanna’s soul begins to heal, easing the wounds of a decade of abuse.

But her past—and her husband—aren’t so easy to escape. Unwilling to live in fear any longer, Joanna must summon a strength she never knew she had to fight back and forge a new life for her daughter and herself….

About the author: Tamara Dietrich was born in Germany to a U.S. military family and raised in the Appalachian town of Cumberland, Maryland. She earned a degree in English/creative writing from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and launched into journalism. Chasing a newspaper career, she has lived in New Mexico (twice), Maine, upstate New York, Arizona and, now, Virginia. She has won dozens of journalism awards for news reporting, feature writing, and opinion columns. She now lives in Smithfield in a colonial cottage that predates the Revolution. She has a grown son, a dog, three cats, and an English cottage garden.

Genre: Fiction/General

First impressions: A winsome cover and hook first pages. Off to a fast start.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for occasional profanity and depictions of domestic violence.

Reminds me of… The Accidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers and The Shack by Wm. Paul Young

This story matters because… it’s about taking chances, embracing hope, and discovering the courage to find your way.

My take: I claim a mixed reaction to this one. On the one hand, I was completely drawn in by this story’s gripping beginning, which describes in harrowing detail the abusive life Joanna has fallen prey to. Despite the grim details, the author maintains a light touch, and she possesses a clean, clear writing style that is a pleasure to read. Her characters are complex and original, and she delivers one very big, imaginative twist early on.

I continued to enjoy the story for some time after Joanna and her daughter find refuge from the storm of their lives. But then, my interest began to wane. While the author does a good job of supporting her premise, it all became too fantastical for me. Or maybe, more accurately, I didn’t buy into this particular, New Age-y fantasy.

I’m also conflicted about the conclusion. To me, it didn’t keep to the moral high ground and for that reason left me feeling disappointed. It is, however, as dramatic and intense as you might wish to find. All in all, the author’s ability to weave a compelling story never wanes. The Hummingbird’s Cage is an interesting tale with plenty of moral lessons, but probably not for everyone.

Thanks to NAL Accent for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: Did you ever read The Shack? Most readers seemed to either love it or…not. How about you?

For your chance to win a copy of The Hummingbird’s Cage, enter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Q&A with Randy Susan Meyers, author of Accidents of Marriage + giveaway

Q&A with Randy Susan Meyers, author of Accidents of Marriage + giveaway

Almost a year ago, I reviewed Accidents of Marriage, a heartrending, fascinating novel, one that’s perfect for book clubs because it contains so much grit and so many complex characters that it’s guaranteed to spur lively discussion. You can read my complete review here.

As of yesterday, Accidents of Marriage is available in paperback. And to mark the occasion, I’m pleased to offer both a giveaway and an interview with its author, Randy Susan Meyers.

Q&A with Randy Susan Meyers

Can you tell us a bit about the book and the relationship between the characters?

Accidents of Marriage asks what is the toll of emotional abuse on a family. It’s an account of life inside a marriage that seems fine to the outside world, an account of emotional abuse, traumatic injury, and how a seeming accident is really the culmination of years of ignored trouble. It’s the story of an unexpected gift of clarity making the difference between living in hell and salvation.

For Madeline Illica, the love of her husband Ben is her greatest blessing and biggest curse. Brilliant, handsome and charming, Ben could turn into a raging bull when crossed—and despite her training as a social worker Maddy was never sure what would cross him. She kept a fragile peace by vacillating between tiptoeing around him and asserting herself for the sake of their three children, until a rainy drive to work when Ben’s temper gets the best of him, and the consequences leave Maddy in the hospital, fighting for her life.

Accidents of Marriage, alternating among the perspectives of Maddy, Ben, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Emma, takes us up Q&A with Randy Susan Meyers, author of Accidents of Marriage + giveawayclose into the relationships between all family members. The children, lost in the shuffle, grasp for sources of comfort, including the (to them) mysterious traditions of their Jewish and Catholic grandparents. Emma and her grandparents provide the only stability for the younger children when their mother is in the hospital. Ben alternates between guilt and glimmers of his need to change, and Maddy is simply trying to live.  Accidents of Marriage reveals the challenges of family, faith, and forgiveness.

How many different titles did you experiment with before deciding on Accidents of Marriage?

My first working title was A Thousand Suppers (which comes from a line in the book, but ultimately made no sense out of context.) The title I used when I presented it to my editor was simply Maddy & Ben. After many long sessions with poetry books, anagrams of words, and other methods that I use, I came up with Accidents of Marriage.

How has working with batterers and victims of domestic violence influenced your writings?

Working with batterers taught me far more than I can put in a paragraph, but here is my version of the most important take-away: Never underestimate the hatred some men have of women. Never think that people (other than the truly damaged)  ‘snap’. If they chose to find it, people can access at least a sliver of decision-making. We have agency. We do not choose to hit and scream at our bosses. We choose to hit and scream at people in our homes. The hierarchy of power always comes into play.

Women (and men) do not choose abusive people as their loves—they pick the charming folks they meet in the beginning of a relationship. There might be signs to look out for, but abusers keep those traits in check until the relationship has solidified, when breaking up is more difficult.

There is not a black and white line between being abusive and not being abusive. There is a continuum of behavior, and most of us fall on the wrong side of the best behavior at some point—whether is be yelling, silent treatment, or some other hurtful conduct. Learning that this can be controlled is a job for everyone.

Batterers can change; we can all change our behaviors, but most often we choose not to do the difficult work that change requires. This is something I hope I bring to my writing.

Can you discuss the role of Maddy and Ben’s daughter in the book?

Emma is an average teenager who is thrown into very un-average circumstances. She becomes the stand-in mother, a role she takes on without credit or even being noticed. She is also the keeper of secrets, an impossible position for her to take on. In every stage of her family’s trauma, she is the silent absorber, who ultimately will break or find strength.

How did you portray someone with a traumatic brain injury so well?

I did an enormous amount of study. Luckily I find medical research fascinating. My shelves are crammed with memoirs of those with TBI and caretakers of those with TBI, workbooks for those with TBI, and medical texts—as well as spending time online reading medical information for those in the field and information for those affected by brain injury. I had someone in the field read the novel and am also lucky enough to have a doctor in my writer’s group.

Did you have any say in choosing the cover for the book?

Yes! The final cover was the fourth one presented. It was tough finding the right ‘mood’ for the cover, but I was very pleased with the final version. Of course, most authors (including me) would love to actually design the cover, but my guess is our final products would not be the graphic success we imagine.

What made you choose a car crash as the tragic turning point between Ben and Maddy?

Abusive and bullying behavior very often plays out in driving. Road rage is a real problem on our motorways and seemed the logical vehicle for demonstrating how Ben’s bad choices result in devastating consequences.

Parts of this story make the reader begin to empathize with Ben. Why did you choose to do this?

I don’t believe books that present characters as all good or all bad can adequately capture life’s totality or experiences. It’s important for me to tap into how we are all the stars of our own show and how we often convince ourselves why it is ‘okay’ to act in awful ways.  Ben is not all bad, despite doing awful and bad things. The question I explore about Ben (among others) is can he change? Is he, are we, capable of change, and if so, how does will and can that change manifest?

Is Maddy modeled after anyone that you know?

Maddy is modeled after about a thousand people I know—including myself and my friends and family. Most of us have some Maddy in us, at least at some point. We close our eyes to the worst, or we use drugs or alcohol or food or something else to tamp down our feelings. We live in a maelstrom of problems and pretend it’s all okay. We deny and lie to ourselves. Until we can’t anymore.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Accidents of Marriage?

Abusive behavior is wrong, whether it is physical, emotional, verbal or any other type of hurtful behavior. It overwhelms a family. Raising children with verbal and emotional violence is harmful and the ramifications last forever.

Most important, we can control our behavior.

But, most of all, I hope readers take a page-turning story from my book. I don’t write to lecture; I write to tell the stories that mesmerize me, and thus, I hope, fascinate others.

After words: There have been many novels written in recent years that focus on domestic abuse. Nicole Baart’s The Beautiful Daughters comes to mind, as well as Tamara Dietrich’s The Hummingbird’s Cage, up for review this Friday. Can you name others?

For your chance to win a print copy of The Accidents of Marriage, enter here:

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When Story Inspires Real Life, by novelist Heather Woodhaven

On Why Story Matters by novelist Heather Woodhaven

Friends, today I’m pleased to welcome novelist Heather Woodhaven to Story Matters. In addition to writing books, Heather is an adventurer, having earned her pilot’s license, ridden a hot air balloon over the safari lands of Kenya, assisted in engineering a medical laser in a Haitian mission, para-sailed over Caribbean seas, lived through an accidental detour onto an Aspen black diamond ski trail, and snorkeled among stingrays before becoming a mother of three and wife of one. (Wow. I’m out of breath just reading about it.)

Now Heather spends her days celebrating laughter, adding to her impressive list of embarrassing moments, and raising a family of aspiring comedians who perform nightly at her table. She channels her love for adventure into writing characters who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances–whether running for their lives or battling the insanities of life.

I’m delighted that Heather has offered to share her thoughts on story and why it matters, as well as her most recent novel, The Secret Life of Book Club.

When Story Inspires Real Life by Heather Woodhaven

Your blog title says it all, Katherine. Story matters. I’m pretty sure the first book I ever read on my own was The Monster At the End of This Book.  Anyone remember that one?

Oh, how I loved Grover (still do). Not only did it make me sit on the edge of my bed, a little afraid, but it also made me laugh hysterically. (And inspired me to spend hours practicing my Grover impression.)

Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, The Mandie Series quickly replaced the picture books. I loved the adventure story brought my life. And, as a reader, I grew most frustrated with characters when they didn’t attack a problem. For instance, it drove me crazy that Trixie and Jim didn’t express their feelings. (Now as a mother of teenage daughters, I’m just fine with that!)

My book choices changed with age and situation, but the result remained: whenever I closed a novel I felt inspired to do something. Whether to renew my focus on relationships or follow a dream, a good story prompted me to enjoy my own life to the fullest. Once I’m invested in a novel, there’s a vulnerability that follows. Inevitably, I examine my own current situations.

A few years back, when I moved to a new town, I joined some book clubs. And we seemed to naturally gravitate to books about women who struggled even as they started a club/pact/adventure and had great epiphanies. At the end of each book, I heard the same longing from the women in my book club. As our kids were growing into teenagers, our identities changed, dreams reawakened, and we all wrestled with transition in varying degrees.

That’s what inspired The Secret Life of Book Club.  The novel revolves around four mothers in a book club who decide to start living like they have their own stories to discover. And they’re all challenged to do something, to seize the day.

Just as in real life, sometimes that means opening your eyes to what’s right in front of you.

After words: What recent books have inspired you to do something? Even if it’s only a change in thought or perspective–that counts!

As it happens, Heather’s novel, The Secret Life of Book Club, is on sale this week for 99 cents. Grab your copy here. You can also find Heather online on Facebook and Twitter.