Chat with Linda Hunt, author of Pilgrimage Through Loss

Chat with Linda Hunt, author of Pilgrimage Through Loss

We all have moments in life when we receive news that touches us in a way that will illuminate our lives for a long time to come. Such was the case when, 17 years ago this month, I learned that the beloved daughter of one of my most influential college professors, Linda Hunt, had been killed in a bus accident while serving people in Bolivia. Krista was a few years younger than I, and through her mother’s stories, I knew she was an extraordinary young woman–lively, lovely, and luminous in a way few young adults are. Friends, colleagues, and family mourned her death deeply. Even those like me who had never known her personally recognized Krista’s great strength of character, her action inspired by faith, and understood that our world had suffered a terrible loss. For years afterward, I would find myself remembering Krista to the point that her dedication to service–to making a hands-on difference in our hurting world–has shaped my own determination to do so.

Krista’s mother, Linda, expressed her grief in part through storytelling, including A Terrible Beauty, which recounts the journey she and her husband, Jim, made to Bolivia, retracing their daughter’s last months. You can read her fascinating story here.

More recently, Linda has gathered her experiences, and those of other parents suffering the loss of a child, into a new book: Pilgrimage through Loss: Pathways to Strength and Renewal after the Death of a Child.

Chat with Linda Hunt, author of Pilgrimage Through Loss

About this book: (from the publisher) The death of a child immerses parents into a life-long challenge of living with one of life’s most heartbreaking losses. Pilgrimage through Loss tells the story of one family’s journey, along with interviews from thirty other mothers and fathers who add their voices to the silences that often surround suffering in our ‘mourning-avoidant’ culture. Hunt illuminates the varied pathways parents eventually discover that open their lives to strength and healing. Rather than prescribing a path that will lead to recovery, Hunt encourages parents to find the pathways that work for them as they seek to engage life again with meaning and hope. Each chapter includes questions for reflection and discussion, plus recent research on grief and loss. Pilgrimage through Loss not only helps grieving parents, it also provides an insightful resource for those wanting to understand and come alongside a family in grief.

About the author: (from her bio) Co-founder and initial director of the Krista Foundation, Linda Hunt taught writing in the English department at Whitworth University for twenty years, where she also served as faculty director for their innovative Service-Learning program. A freelance writer and national speaker, her bestselling book Bold Spirit, a true story of a mother and daughter who walked across Victorian America (, received regional and national awards. She is the mother of two surviving children, grandmother to several grandchildren, and delights in friendships with Krista Colleagues. She and her husband, Jim (a Whitworth history professor), live in Spokane, Washington, where she finds gardening a source of healing and joy.

Q&A with Linda Lawrence Hunt

Linda, welcome. Please tell my readers why you wrote Pilgrimage through Loss.

After Krista died while volunteering with her husband in Bolivia, ours hearts shattered like the shards of her bus that plunged down the mountain.  A friend sent her husband Aaron (who survived the accident) words from poet Mark Doty that expressed our devastation: “How could I have been prepared for a loss the size of you?”

As an English professor, I looked for books that might help our family live with this loss. At that time there were very few that addressed specifically the death of a child.  Two important ones I valued (Paula by Isabel Allende and Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff) gave one family’s story, primarily focusing on early loss.

So I began interviewing many parents to see how they lived with creativity and strength with forever loss.  We needed insights and knew others we respected who had endured such profound loss.  The more mothers and fathers shared their journey, the more I began to believe their stories and our pilgrimage could be helpful to other parents who encounter such heartbreak.

We live in what researchers call a “mourning-avoidant” culture.  When I speak around the nation about surviving life shipwrecks and loss, I always have parents come up to me afterwards saying people expect them to “move on” in a very short time.  Pilgrimage through Loss differs from other grief books because it speaks to the lifelong arc of loss that we live with when we lose someone we deeply love. We can learn to live creatively with both sorrow and joy intertwined.  It also is non-prescriptive…just giving pathways other parents discovered proved helpful.  So, the need for Solace through Solitude might fit one person, where another parent needs the Companionship of Community.  Many of us need a little of both.

The book also includes significant research on grief (i.e., the myth of closure, and gender patterns in grief), plus luminous poetry from poets like Mary Oliver, William Stafford, and Leonard Cohen.

Chat with Linda Hunt, author of Pilgrimage Through Loss

You also wrote another book, Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America. On the surface, this book is about the remarkable journey of a courageous woman. Scratch a little deeper, however, and we find it’s really about what can happen when our stories are silenced. Please speak to this in the context of Bold Spirit.

When I first began researching Helga Estby’s story of her walk across America with her daughter on a $10,000 wager to save their family farm, I was fascinated in trying to understand whatever gave her the courage and confidence to attempt such a remarkable feat.  I had taught Women’s History, which covered the assumptions placed on women in the Victorian era, and I knew no woman had ever achieved such an accomplishment before.  The stories of their adventures across 3500 miles and the obstacles they faced and overcame grew with each new historical fact I discovered.

As I researched further (her story became the basis for my doctoral thesis), my interest expanded to a bigger question: What had caused the silencing of her story? With the death of two children from diphtheria while she was away, she returned to a family deeply angry that their mother had left, even if her reason was to save the farm and keep them together.  In that era, “good” mothers simply stayed home.  She broke from conventional norms, and this caused deep criticism.

The family shunned ANY discussion of her trip, and in her sorrow she self-silenced until late in life when she secretly wrote hundreds of pages about their adventures.  However, at her death when her daughter–one of her nine children–discovered Helga’s manuscript, she burned it. Not only did the family miss out terribly on knowing more of their remarkable mother’s life, our nation lost a chance to read an intelligent woman’s observations crossing the continent during a historical time of transition for women.

Similar silencing has happened throughout American history until fairly recently. But storytelling has more lately been encouraged by an important academic conference on Western Women’s History, which took place in 1984 in Wyoming. As scholars noted, we didn’t have the history of Chicanos, African Americans, the Japanese internment camps, or the stories of ordinary men and women who created this nation.  This “call for stories” is changing the landscape of American history, and enriching the lives of families as they learn fuller truths about each other.

Back to Pilgrimage. One thing that really stood out when I read this was the rich array of stories you share—your own, but also a plethora from those who have also suffered the loss of a child. Why is the telling of our stories so important to the healing process?

After Krista died and we began the Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship, we built a small guest retreat house called the Hearth for gatherings. One weekend I invited ten other mothers who had lost children to share their stories, especially what gestures had proved helpful in their healing. What had others done for them, and what had they done for themselves that helped them live with such loss? They all differed in the age of the child that died, causes of death, length of time since it happened. However, what they all agreed upon was they longed to hear their child’s name. “When we go to family reunions, no one wants to mention Steve in fear we might cry. It’s like he’s erased from family history.” Several mentioned how much it meant to have a friend or network where they could talk about their child and story. That’s why organizations like Compassionate Friends mean so much to some parents. Their motto is “You need not walk alone.” At their meetings, parents just share their stories with one another and many speak to how this proves key to healing on their journey.

However, for some persons, their need for more privacy means that a grief group is not ideal. They might find more meaning by writing their story in a private journal, or sharing with one trusted friend….everyone is different. What we do know is that unattended sorrow leads some persons to choices that shrink their lives, whether through unhealthy addictions, such as alcohol, shopping, even eating to mask pain. We see through veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress that burying pain rarely proves healing. We also see some persons working through grief express post-traumatic growth.

What do you hope your readers take away from your book?

After reading Pilgrimage through Loss, I hope grieving persons walk away with a deep trust in their own process and timing, plus a commitment to believe in their power to make choices toward healing. Rather than America’s pressure towards “closure,” I hope they will consider the healthy nature of continuing bonds and forever love. Who ever needs to forget one we have loved?

Thank you, Linda. It’s been such a privilege to have you here today.

After words: Have you lost a loved one and subsequently encountered a “mourning-avoidant” culture? How did this affect your grieving process? Is there anyone in your life right now who might benefit from Linda’s book?

The Sound of Glass, book review

The Sound of Glass, book reviewThe New York Times bestselling author of A Long Time Gone now explores a Southern family’s buried history, which will change the life of the woman who unearths it, secret by shattering secret.

The Sound of Glass by Karen White

About this book: (from the publisher) It has been two years since the death of Merritt Heyward’s husband, Cal, when she receives unexpected news—Cal’s family home in Beaufort, South Carolina, bequeathed by Cal’s reclusive grandmother, now belongs to Merritt.

Charting the course of an uncertain life—and feeling guilt from her husband’s tragic death—Merritt travels from her home in Maine to Beaufort, where the secrets of Cal’s unspoken-of past reside among the pluff mud and jasmine of the ancestral Heyward home on the Bluff. This unknown legacy, now Merritt’s, will change and define her as she navigates her new life—a new life complicated by the arrival of her too young stepmother and ten-year-old half-brother.

Soon, in this house of strangers, Merritt is forced into unraveling the Heyward family past as she faces her own fears and finds the healing she needs in the salt air of the Low Country.

About the author: (excerpted from her website) Karen White is a New York Times bestselling author and currently writes what she refers to as ‘grit lit’—southern women’s fiction—and has also expanded her horizons into writing a bestselling mystery series set in Charleston, South Carolina. She hails from a long line of Southerners but spent most of her growing up years in London, England and is a graduate of the American School in London. When not writing, she spends her time reading, scrapbooking, dancing, and avoiding cooking. She currently lives near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two children, and a spoiled Havanese dog (who appears in several of her books), Quincy.

Genre: Fiction/Women’s Fiction/Southern Lit

Why I read this book: Because I will read any new novel Karen White writes.

First impressions: Everything about it told me this would be another hit, from front-cover art to back-cover synopsis to hook first chapter.

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

Reminds me of… the novels of Lisa Wingate

Will especially appeal to… women looking for the ideal summer vacation read.

This story matters because…it celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the resourcefulness of unconditional love.

My take: Hang around my blog long enough and you’ll learn I’m a big fan of Karen White. She’s been called “the ultimate voice of women’s fiction.”* Yes. Truly, I consider her writing to be among the finest in contemporary fiction. She delivers consistently pitch-perfect prose, with plot lines that delve deep into real-life issues without becoming melodramatic or macabre. I’ve loved her work ever since inhaling The Memory of Water a number of summers ago. She’s one of the few novelists–along with the likes of Nicole Baart and Lisa Wingate–who manage prolific output while still maintaining excellent caliber.

All that to say, I’m delighted to report that White’s latest did not disappoint. If anything, I liked this one better than her last, which I liked a lot. Hooked from the very first line (oh, I do love a great opening line!), the story–with its layers of mystery and complexity– held me enthralled. Every one of her characters, down to the most minor, is superbly, finely drawn. But I was especially taken with Merritt. So much did I want to see her overcome her circumstances that I chafed when real-life responsibilities pulled me away from her story.

For me, the magic and beauty of White’s novels has always been not only her deep understanding of the human heart, but her lyrical expression of its mysteries. Of which, the The Sound of Glass stands out as a perfect example.

Thanks to New American Library for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

* source: Fresh Fiction

After words: With each new release by Karen White, I find myself grateful–happy that I can look forward to another outstanding read. But I’m also reminded of other novelists who have, for various reasons, stopped writing fiction. Among these I would include Linda Nichols, Melanie Wells, Bette Nordberg. Who are some novelists you miss?

At the Corner of King Street, book review + giveaway

At the Corner of King Street, book review + giveawayWhen the past and present collide…

At the Corner of King Street by Mary Ellen Taylor

About this book: The author of The Union Street Bakery presents a new novel about a woman searching for a fresh start—while unable to forget the past…

Adele “Addie” Morgan grew up in a house filled with pain and loss. Determined to live life on her own terms, Addie moves to the country and finds a job at a vineyard where she discovers stability, happiness, and—best of all—love with the kind owner, Scott.

But an unexpected call abruptly pulls Addie out of her new and improved life. Her sister has just given birth and Addie’s Aunt Grace wants her to return home to help the family—even if it means confronting things she’s tried so hard to forget.

When Addie arrives, she quickly realizes that she hasn’t truly let go of her former life, at least not completely. After making a surprising connection with her sister’s baby—and her sister’s ex-husband, Zeb—Addie must choose between her picture-perfect future with Scott and the family roots she thought she’d left behind for good…

About the author: Mary Ellen Taylor is the author of several novels, including Sweet Expectations and The  Union Street Bakery. She lives in Virginia, where she spends her spare time baking, practicing yoga, and visiting historical sites. Connect with her online at

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/General

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

Reminds me of… The Chardonnay Charade and The Merlot Murders (Wine Country Murders series by Ellen Crosby) for their Virginia wine-country settings.

This story matters because…it explores the roles and responsibilities of family.

My take: From the outset, At the Corner of King Street has a lot going for it: vivid, intriguing settings. A mix of past and present. A main character with a really big problem and a life-altering choice. A blending of drama, history, and ordinary life. And while I was at first drawn in, it soon became obvious that for a variety of reasons, this story wasn’t really doing it for me. I had a hard time relating to closed-off Addie, and her relationship with Scott, her “almost fiance,” never really clicked. The dialogue sometimes felt a bit forced, and although I usually enjoy dual, past-and-present narratives, this time the technique felt too disjointed. Additionally–and feel free to chalk this up to my personal views–I wasn’t crazy about the story line about witches; not because I can’t believe in them, but because I don’t care to see them glorified.

So, bummer–all in all, not a winner for me.

Also worth noting–this book is the first of a series, with the ending leaving the door wide open for more. Meaning that while the most  important plot threads are tied in a knot, many more (especially in the relationship arena) are left to develop in future novels in the series.

Thanks to Berkley Books for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: Berkley Books is giving away one copy of At the Corner of King Street to one of my blog’s readers. For your chance to win, continue here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Praying Upside Down, book review

Praying Upside Down, book reviewA change in perspective might be exactly what your prayer life needs.

Praying Upside Down: A creative prayer experience to transform  your time with God by Kelly O’Dell Stanley

About this book: When you talk to God, do you ever wonder if He hears? Do your prayers feel uninspired or routine? Do you sometimes feel like you don’t even know how to pray?

Try praying upside down.

Let artist and author Kelly O’Dell Stanley show you what white space, sketching, point of view, and other artistic ideas reveal to us about how to pray—and experience a deeper connection with God than ever before. Praying Upside Down will move your prayers away from the preconceived and expected, allowing you to encounter God in a brand new way. It’s a fresh chance to add passion to your prayers and notice answers you never anticipated.

Jesus was known for turning situations upside down . . . and He will do the same in your prayer life. And because God is the ultimate creator and the original artist, when you incorporate this unique approach to prayer, you will encounter more of Him.

About the author: Kelly O’Dell Stanley has had a twenty-year career in marketing and advertising. Her writing awards include first place in Inspirational Writing in the Writer’s Digest Competition, and her visual work has been included in several design anthologies. Kelly lives in Indiana with her husband, Tim, and their three children: Katie, Anna, and Bobby.

Genre: Nonfiction/Christian Life/Prayer

Why I read this book: To discover outside-the-box ideas to enhance and expand my prayer life.

Reminds me of… Framing Faith by Matt Knisely

Will especially appeal to…pray-ers of all sorts–but artists and creatives, in particular.

This story matters because… when we stretch our prayers–and thereby ourselves–we find fresh hope, inspiration, power, and purpose in our communications with God.

My take: This is, for me, a season of prayer. There is so much and so many in my life that need it right now, starting with myself and my own heart issues and the unique challenges I face. Then there’s my friend’s son and his as-yet-undiagnosed health problem. And another friend’s marriage. Also my writing, needing stamina. And my children needing–well, everything. My parents, in a phase of transition. Oh, and what about our poor, lost nation? Then there’s our suffering world. And on and on.

It’s not lost on me, either, that on this day–as I’m posting about a book on prayer–my revival-seeking church is hosting a round-the-clock, 24-hour prayer vigil.

Prayer. For every Christian, it’s a central part of our faith, this ability to talk to God. An unimaginable gift.

Why, then, do we often find it so hard?

Perhaps because, given enough time, our prayers fall into what’s comfortable and all-too-familiar. There, they begin to sound bland. Monotonous. One-dimensional.

I’ll admit–mine do. Which is why having Praying Upside Down placed in my hands was such a serendipitous thing. Okay, scratch that. It was a God thing. (Isn’t it always? Yes. That’s another thing the book reminds us of–that God is in everything. We need only the eyes to see Him.)

Using liberal amounts of Scripture to support her ideas, Kelly O’Dell Stanley has brought welcome, fresh perspective to so many of my prayers. Hers is an authentic voice for our generation, humble yet experienced, reminiscent of Shauna Niequist or Jennifer Dukes Lee. If I had to boil her book down to one point, I’d say it demonstrates how to remove “me” from the center of my prayers. Which is such a relief, really. It broadens my perspective. It offers creative, coloring-outside-the-lines suggestions that are also very practical. And so much more.

Some of the ideas I’ve put immediately into practice include praying in the white space–and, similarly, allowing white space to remain so as to allow God to talk back.

But I don’t want to give all the good stuff away. The book says it so much better than I ever could.

What I will say is this: Praying Upside Down has, quite literally, changed my prayer life for good. I know it can do the same for yours.

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

After words: Do you have a favorite time of day to pray? Me, I’m a morning person, and that’s when I do my most focused, intentional praying. But I’m learning more and more to pray in all the in-between moments–the white space, as Kelly O’Dell Stanley calls it. For a busy mom, this is an exceedingly practical suggestion. Another practice I’m finding very helpful–because it keeps me focused in a tactile way–is praying with a rosary, or prayer beads. As I grew up in the Protestant tradition, this is new to me, but it’s just one among many Catholic traditions I’ve come to appreciate. How about you? What are some of your favorite praying “tricks”?

Chat with Christine Lindsay, author of Veiled at Midnight + giveaway

Chat with Christine Lindsay, author of Veiled at Midnight + giveaway

The British empire draws to an end…but the turmoil has only just begun.

Veiled at Midnight, Book 3 of the Twilight of the British Raj series by Christine Lindsay

About this book: The Partition of India has sent millions to the roads, instigated riots as uncontrolled as wildfire…and caught up in its wake Captain Cam Fraser, his sister Miriam, and the beautiful Indian Dassah.

Cam has never been able to put Dassah from his mind, ever since they played together at the mission as children. But a British officer and the aide to the last viceroy cannot marry a poor Indian woman, can he?

For a while, Dassah believes that Cam loves her. But as the impossibility of a future with him becomes clear, what choice does she have but to run? He may hold her heart but she cannot let him break it again.

Miriam rails against the separation of the land of her birth, and as British forces prepare to leave India, she struggles. She finds purpose in teaching, in helping…but is Lieutenant Colonel Jack Sunderland her soul mate or a distraction from what God has called her to do?

About the author: Christine Lindsay was born in Ireland, and is proud of the fact that she was once patted on the head by Prince Philip when she was a baby. Her great-grandfather, and her grandfather—yes father and son—were both riveters on the building of the Titanic. Tongue in cheek, Christine states that as a family they accept no responsibility for the sinking of that infamous ship.

It was stories of her ancestors who served in the British Cavalry in Colonial India that inspired her multi-award-winning, historical series Twilight of the British Raj. Book 1 Shadowed in Silk, Book 2 Captured by Moonlight, and the final installment to that series, Veiled at Midnight.

Christine makes her home in British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada with her husband and their grown up family. Her cat Scottie is chief editor on all Christine’s books.

Chat with the author:
Chat with Christine Lindsay, author of Veiled at Midnight + giveaway

Christine, welcome! Right from the first page that dropped me into immediate action, I felt completely immersed in the world you created, that of 1940’s India. Your vivid descriptions are incomparable. From one writer to another, do tell: What’s your secret?

Thank you so much, Katherine. As for a secret—there isn’t one, really. I write the kind of stories that I enjoy reading and not what the so-called market trends indicate are selling. I love a book that gives me a really big emotional ride, so I write the things that make my heart go pitter-patter, and that’s well-drawn scenes whether they are pretty or dangerous. I also do a huge amount of research, even if I have visited the setting of my novels–such as the case in Captured by Moonlight Book 2 of my series.  I visited the south of India on a mission trip in 2010.

I believe I’ve heard somewhere that there’s a story behind the models that appear on your covers. Care to share?

One of the highlights of my life—the model on the front cover of Book 1 Shadowed in Silk is my birth-daughter Sarah. Sarah is the daughter I relinquished to adoption in 1979 when she was 3 days old. We were reunited 20 years later in 1999, but the reunion was difficult for her and painful for me. In fact I’m currently writing our nonfiction story about that and all that God taught us about Himself through that process. That book will be released November 2015. Years after our reunion, Sarah and I grew closer and she agreed to be the model for my first published book. What a delight. There’s so much more to the story though. My beloved daughter Lana posed as the model for Captured by Moonlight. Both daughters are such beauties and the pearls of my heart.

You make writing historical fiction look effortless, though of course I know it isn’t. What was your greatest challenge in writing Veiled at Midnight?

Writing a hero that starts out flawed. Captain Cam Fraser—who was only a little boy in Book 1 is now a grown man in Book 3, Veiled at Midnight. Cam has inherited the propensity to alcoholism that his natural father had in Shadowed in Silk. Cam’s father never received healing from that addiction so I really wanted to show that sobriety can come to an alcoholic if they place their faith in Christ. I’ve seen it happen in my own family and wanted to share that hope with others. But making Cam a hero to love at the start of the book had to be handled deftly, so instead of showing Cam as an alcoholic right off the bat, I showed what a true hero he really is so readers could fall in love with him like Dassah does.

The way you handled the issues of class and racial bigotry displays a deft and compassionate touch. Is there a particular reason why you chose to highlight these issues?

The issue of racism is dear to my heart for no other reason than the softness that Jesus creates in a person when He takes over our surrendered lives. I love to see the huge global family of God in all its diversity, color and culture. Christianity is not just for western parts of the world.

Veiled at Midnight is a dramatic love story set amidst tumultuous times, and it contains a strong faith element. What do you hope readers take away from it?

Each book in this series has a strong spiritual takeaway. The theme for this final book is Romans 8:38-39, that nothing–from political unrest to alcoholism–can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus. That powerful love of God—where nothing can separate us from Him—is echoed in the romantic love between Cam, an Englishman, and Dassah, the beautiful Indian woman he loves.

I love that you love a happy ending, and I felt that the way you wrapped up this novel—the last in your trilogy—was particularly masterful, in that all of the major threads were tied in a satisfying knot. But you did leave one or two minor threads dangling, while hinting at their ultimate conclusion. I like this because it left me, the reader, with the sense that the story would carry on beyond these pages. Since we know that there will no #4 of the Twilight of the British Raj series, what’s next for you?

I too love the fact that these fictional characters feel as though they have a future. While that future may never be written in a book, we as writer and readers are left to dream of a continued happy life. I guess that’s similar to hope, and hope is good for the heart.

At the moment I am finishing up that nonfiction book about the relinquishment and reunion with my birth-daughter, Sarah. That comes out November from WhiteFire Publishing. Also, from Pelican Books, I have another historical romance coming out called Sofi’s Bridge. Its release date is yet undecided.

Thank you for having me as a guest Katherine. It’s been a real joy, and I’m looking forward to giving out the complete 3-book series Twilight of the British Raj to your winner in Ebook format.

Thank you, Christine!

After words: Did you catch that? I’m delighted that Christine has offered one fortunate readers the complete 3-book series of the Twilight of the British Raj in Ebook format. Just click here to be entered to win: a Rafflecopter giveaway

You may also like to drop by Christine Lindsay’s website  or follow her on Twitter and be her friend on Pinterest     Facebook  and   Goodreads. And P.S. Purchase links for all of Christine’s books can be found on her website:

Her Name Is Rose, book review

Her Name Is Rose, book review“People used to say Iris Bowen was beautiful, what with the wild weave of her red hair, the high cheekbones, and the way she carried herself like a barefoot dancer through the streets of Ranelagh on the outskirts of Dublin city. But that was a lifetime ago.”

Her Name Is Rose by Christine Breen

About this book: In a cottage in the west of Ireland, Iris–gardener and mother to an adopted daughter, Rose–is doing her best to carry on after the death of her husband two years before. At the back of her mind is a promise she never intended to keep, until the day she gets a phone call from her doctor.

Meanwhile, nineteen-year-old Rose is a brilliant violinist at the Royal Academy in London, still grieving for her father but relishing her music and life in the city. Excited but nervous, she hums on the way to an important master class, and then suddenly finds herself missing both of her parents when the class ends in disaster.

After the doctor’s call, Iris is haunted by the promise she made to her husband–to find Rose’s birth mother, so that their daughter might still have family if anything happened to Iris. Armed only with a twenty-year-old envelope, Iris impulsively begins a journey into the past that takes her to Boston and back, with unexpected results for herself and for Rose and for both friends and strangers.

About the author: Christine Breen was born in New York and educated in Boston and Dublin, where she received a master’s in Irish literature. She is an artist, homeopath, gardener, and mother of two children. She lives in Kiltumper, Ireland, with her husband, the novelist Niall Williams, in the cottage where her grandfather was born.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/General/Women’s Fiction

Why I read this book: I liked the sound of it. Plus, as I will be soon be winging my way to Ireland, the Irish connection held particular appeal.

First impressions: I enjoyed holding this book in my hands, liked the look and feel of it: hardcover with deckle edges and hand-drawn images of flowers nestled among the pages. Its first lines drew me right into the heart of the story–exactly where I wanted to be.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13. Some profanity, otherwise quite clean.

Reminds me of… A Good Year for the Roses by Gil McNeil

Will especially appeal to… music lovers, gardeners, and those with a heart for Ireland

This story matters because…it reminds us of the miracle of grace.

My take: This was one of those rare but delightful occasions when a novel exceeded my expectations. I try not to quote other reviewers or endorsers very often, but this one from Jane Harris (Gillespie and I) is worth repeating: “It’s hard to do ‘nice,’ and Breen does it very well.”

At first, I struggled just a little to connect with what struck me as Iris’ overreaction to the news that she might have breast cancer. Maybe because I’ve had that news myself and didn’t react in quite the same way, maybe it’s because most over-40 women I know have had at least one call-back following a mammo and it’s almost always fine. In any case, Iris’ extreme measures following this news struck me as over the top.

However, this was easily forgiven–or maybe I should say, better understood–as everything else about the story swallowed me whole. I liked its easy pacing, found the setting charming, the characters appealing, and I was quite willing to follow them wherever their paths should lead. I liked the way the story kept opening up–yes, like a blossoming rose–taking new and unexpected turns with each unfurling petal. As I was reading, I had the idea to question whether this was one of those novels in which the author herself did not know all of its twists and turns, and how it would turn out…until it did. As a reader, I relished these surprises–the new characters, fresh angles, the happy wondering of how it would all fit together.

And when it finally did–like all of the rest of Her Name Is Rose, I found its conclusion surprisingly, satisfying sweet.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: In Her Name Is Rose, the two main female characters–mother and daughter–are a gardener and musician, respectively. Based solely on their interests, which character do you think you’d most likely relate to?

The Beautiful Daughters, book review

The Beautiful Daughters, book review“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” ~ St. Augustine of Hippo

The Beautiful Daughters by Nicole Baart

About this book: What if everything you believed to be true was a lie?

Adrienne Vogt and Harper Penny were closer than sisters, until the day a tragedy blew their seemingly idyllic world apart. Afraid that they got away with murder and unable to accept who they had lost—and what they had done—Harper and Adri exiled themselves from small-town Blackhawk, Iowa, and from each other. Adri ran thousands of miles away to Africa while Harper ventured down a more destructive path closer to home.

Now, five years later, both are convinced that nothing could ever coax them out of the worlds in which they’ve been living. But unexpected news from home soon pulls Adri and Harper back together, and the two cannot avoid facing their memories and guilt head-on. As they are pulled back into the tangle of their fractured relationships and the mystery of Piperhall, the sprawling estate where their lives first began to unravel, secrets and lies behind the tragic accident are laid bare. The former best friends are forced to come to terms with their shared past and search for the beauty in each other while mending the brokenness in themselves.

About the author: (excerpted from her website and other sources) Nicole Baart wants to live in a world filled with handwritten letters, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and great conversation.

A critically acclaimed novelist, Nicole’s work has been featured as a Midwest Connections book pick, nominated for a Christy Award, and earned a starred and featured review from Publishers Weekly. In 2011 she co-authored a book that debuted at #4 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Nicole is the mother of four children from four different countries. The co-founder of a non-profit organization, One Body One Hope, and a world traveler, she splits her time between her home in small town Iowa and Liberia, West Africa. Nicole’s eight novels range from romantic to suspenseful, but she is known for her artistic prose and finely drawn characters. Find out more at

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Book Club/Women’s Fiction

Why I read this book: Because I know I can count on Nicole Baart to write a novel that’s both beautiful and significant: a story that matters.

First impressions: Love at first sight. Cover art, first lines–the whole package.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13. Rare profanity and mature situations.

Reminds me of… The Last Time I Saw You by Eleanor Moran

Will especially appeal to… socially conscious women who enjoy an exquisitely rendered story.

This story matters because… as with all of Nicole’s stories, it celebrates “the triumph of the human spirit and beauty in the midst of brokenness.”*

My take:  This book was, for me, a gift–first, as an unexpected offer from the author after a serendipitous Twitter connection; but second, and more significantly, as an experience. The kind of literary experience that’s all too rare yet much sought after. The Beautiful Daughters is the kind of women’s fiction I love. Honest and true, written with such pathos that even if you can’t relate to a particular situation…you can. 

In The Beautiful Daughters, every complex character is intricately honed, and even the most unsympathetic ones ring true to life. I relished the story’s shadows and mystery, the gradual peeling back of memories and unfolding of relationships–all of which kept me turning the pages long past my bedtime. From cover to thematic premise (re-read that quote by St. Augustine…does it not stir your soul?), to *story* and setting and characters–this novel has it all.

Engrossing and multi-layered, The Beautiful Daughters was a book I could hardly put down. And weeks later, I’m still reflecting on the characters, their choices and imagined futures. Reflecting also on their real-life counterparts, wondering how I might be a part of the answer to their prayers.

I suppose this, in the end, was the greatest gift The Beautiful Daughters delivered: Hope. An understanding that while evil surely exists, so does goodness–and the confidence that when Anger and Courage unite, goodness prevails.

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

* from her bio

After words: To me, The Beautiful Daughters is a fine example of Women’s Fiction at its best–a novel written by a woman, about women, for women. But is “Women’s Fiction” a legitimate genre–or an insult? Is it a useful tag for identifying a book type and intended audience–or is it sexist? I’m a bit late to this conversation, having only recently picked up its vibes in the blogosphere. Learning that WF is now considered controversial came as a surprise. Me, I love WF. Love reading it, love writing it. I don’t feel it limits me, or the author, or the market, or puts anyone in a box. In my way of thinking, it says nothing about literary-ness or quality. But I understand many disagree. Do you?

Side by Side, book review + giveaway

Side by Side, book review + giveawayInspired by real-life events…

Side by Side by Jana Kelley

About this book: In the dusty, Islamic country of Sudan, Mia’s life collides with that of another young woman. A young Christian American mother, Mia finds more than one dark secret on the streets of Khartoum. She finds Halimah, a young, upper-class Arab student with a bright future in her family’s business whose risky and secretive decision has put her life in danger. What happens when the path of young mother intersects with that of a spunky Sudanese student? God transforms them both . . .forever.

A note from the publisher: Part of New Hope® Publishers’ contemporary missional fiction line, Side by Side opens the reader’s eyes to the life of Muslims in Sudan as well as some of the struggles that Christians face when living under Islamic law. The reader will be inspired to pray for those who are persecuted for their faith as well as pray for the salvation of those who persecute.

About the author: Jana Kelley is a Texan who hardly ever lives in Texas. Raised in Southeast Asia, Jana developed a love for cross-cultural living early in life. Her love for writing came soon after. Jana returned to Texas to attend college. She and her husband married a month after she graduated and by their second anniversary, they were living in a remote African town. Together with her husband and three boys, Jana enjoys travel and overseas living. After thirteen years in Africa and the Middle East, Jana and her family moved to Southeast Asia where they currently live.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary missional

Why I read this book: Because I wanted to learn more about what it’s like to live in an Islamic country.

Content advisories: Honest but not graphic discussion of FGM (female genital mutilation). Depictions of domestic violence. Profanity-free.

Reminds me of… Farewell, Four Waters by Kate McChord

Will especially appeal to… socially conscious and mission-minded women

This story matters because… of the compassionate way it demystifies the Muslim lifestyle and encourages authentic relationships.

My take: What I want to say first, and what I’d like most remembered, is that this is a book worth reading. Side by Side is, more than most, a novel of timeliness and relevance for today’s American Christian. Because, despite its increasing dominance in current events, the Islam religion remains veiled in mystery for most of us. Yet more and more, we are discovering Muslims as our neighbors, both in the U.S. and abroad. And this, coupled with the rise of Christian persecution worldwide, leads me to conclude that we have a responsibility, now more than ever, to educate ourselves on the Muslim faith and lifestyle.

For these reasons and more, I found Side by Side a fascinating novel, supplying a wealth of information, a myriad of details–particularly as to how Islam is experienced by both Muslim and non-Muslim women. Of course dozens such books cover these topics in non-fiction form. Novels are rarer (though I see this changing).

This story follows the lives of two young women: Mia, an idealistic American, who, with her husband and three children, has moved to Sudan; and Halimah, an intelligent teen from a devout, upper-middle class, Muslim family. For most of the novel, we follow their separate stories until they finally converge for the last bit. While the story itself is fascinating, many of the characters and conversations tend to be simplistic and one-dimensional. Mia was particularly difficult to relate to and sympathize with. I found Halimah’s character the more believable, and enjoyable, of the two.

Overall, however, it was an easy read, one that I finished it in just a few days. It struck me as a book geared for a younger audience, and for this reason I envision it as a great book for mothers and daughters (13 and up) to read together as the basis for some eye-opening conversation. It would also be a great add for any church library.

Thanks to New Hope Publishers and Litfuse Publicity for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

To see what other reviewers are saying, click here. And to enter to win a giveaway copy of Side by Side, click here.

After words: I’ve been learning much more about Islam these days, often second-hand as my husband has been educating himself on the subject. In general, he prefers to glean his information from non-fiction sources. On the whole, I prefer fiction, finding that I retain more when it’s encapsulated within story. How about you?

What I’m Into ~ May edition

What I'm Into ~ May editionI’ll begin with the truth, which is also a confession: this post is not what I intended. As I tried to write, for the life of me I could not wrestle my ideas into any kind or order. Plus, my day was slipping sideways for a lot of reasons besides this contrary post. And since I’ve committed to keep this blogging gig a side interest and not a life-consuming one, I’m now resorting to good enough. So–apologies, my friends, that this one may lack a bit of spit and polish. And flow. Instead, you’re getting a list of ten (which turns out to be eleven) just so I can get something published. So here ’tis. What I’m into this month:

My kids’ schools, our PTSAs (thank you, moms!), spaghetti dinner fundraisers, choir concerts, band concerts, and bake sales. And can I just say that I love the fact that our schools still do bake sales? Makes me believe there’s still such a thing as community. Because there is.What I'm Into ~ May edition

My boy playing drums. Whether he’s rockin’ out with the Sunday morning praise band or swingin’ it with his middle school jazz band. Doesn’t matter, I love it either way. Love him too, btw.

McFarland, USA. Best. Movie. Don’t wait for this one to come to DVD. Seriously. First film I’ve seen since I-don’t-know-when that I wanted to turn right back around and watch all over again.

What I'm Into ~ May editionBeing Irish. Yes! It explains a lot, including my longstanding desire to visit Ireland, which will be fulfilled this summer. My husband and I recently got our DNA tested to learn more about our families’ roots. Turns out we’re both about quarter Irish. Who knew?

Menchie’s. And as if their everyday awesomeness wasn’t enough, today they’re donating proceeds to help the victims of the Nepal earthquake. Yet another reason to love them.

People who give generously. To those suffering in Nepal. And to children in need around the world. Last Sunday, I had the chance to speak to my church about World Vision’s The Water Effect, helping bring clean water into communities that desperately need it. And to sponsor children, to help change how their stories will end. People responded. To those who did, have, and are–thank you.

So that’s it for me. What are you into these days?

Chat with Kim Michele Richardson, author of Liar’s Bench

Chat with Kim Michele Richardson, author of Liar's BenchIf you haven’t heard of it already, you probably will. Kim Michele Richardson’s novel debut, Liar’s Bench, has already created a stir in the literary world for its lyrical prose and haunting story. Here today to help celebrate its launch is Kim Michele herself. I’m delighted to host her on Story Matters today.

About the book: (from the publisher) The truth can change everything…

In 1972, on Mudas Summers’ seventeenth birthday, her beloved Mama, Ella, is found hanging from the rafters of their home. Most people in Peckinpaw, Kentucky, assume that Ella’s no-good husband did the deed. Others think Ella grew tired of his abuse and did it herself. Muddy is determined to find out for sure either way, especially once she finds strange papers hidden amongst her mama’s possessions.

But Peckinpaw keeps its secrets buried deep. Muddy’s almost-more-than-friend, Bobby Marshall, knows that better than most. Though he passes for white, one of his ancestors was Frannie Crow, a slave hanged a century ago on nearby Hark Hill Plantation. Adorning the town square is a seat built from Frannie’s gallows. A tribute, a relic–and a caution–it’s known as Liar’s Bench. Now, the answers Muddy seeks soon lead back to Hark Hill, to hatred and corruption that have echoed through the years–and lies she must be brave enough to confront at last.

About the author (from her website): Kim Michele Richardson resides in the rolling hills of Kentucky where she is a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and an advocate for the prevention of child abuse and domestic violence. She is also the author of the bestselling memoir The Unbreakable Child. Liar’s Bench is her first novel. She is a contributor to the Huffington Post and is busy working on her next novel, GodPretty in the Tobacco Field.

Kim Michele, welcome!

Liar’s Bench joins a host of recent novels that address racial tension in our country, especially as it we see it in the South. Kathryn Stockett’s The Help obviously comes to mind, as does Julie Kibler’s Calling Me Home, Deborah Johnson’s The Secret of Magic, and Natalie Baszile’s Queen Sugar. Yours differs both by era (the early ‘70s), and place (Kentucky). Was there a particular reason you chose this setting for your story?

The 60s and 70s are rich with big historical events and troubled history: Vietnam, racial strife, women exploring new freedoms—teens struggling between old and new ways— the south struggling to find itself—Title IX and more. All this made an interesting blend for my novel. Living in Kentucky was another good reason. The beautiful and mysterious landscape and its people offer a writer’s feast.

Another thing that sets Liar’s Bench apart is its grim premise: the hangings of two women—one black, one white—a century apart but with a connection between them. Talk about imaginative! How did you dream up that idea?

I’ve always loved small town benches. For the longest time I had a liar’s bench in mind, but I felt it needed to have its own vibe — history, and one that determined the attitudes and represented the lives of its townsfolk. So when my husband told me his relative attended the last public hanging in the United States, I was intrigued. I learned the historic 1936 hanging was of black man, Rainey Bethea, and that it took place in Kentucky. Surprisingly, I dug around some more and found out that the priest who administered the last rites to Rainey was also the governing priest at the orphanage I grew up in. All this inspired the connection of my dear character, female slave Frannie Crow.

I love a good mystery, and although it’s not immediately apparent, that’s really what this novel is—all wrapped up in fine, literary storytelling. I like how bestselling author Beth Hoffman describes it: “a richly imagined Southern gothic tale.” Is this the kind of novel you envisioned when you first sat down to write it?

Beth is outstanding and I am humbled and thrilled by her lovely description. Six years ago when I began writing Liar’s Bench, I only had a title, but no clue the paths it would take. It didn’t have a genre, because for myself, labeling the book would’ve stifled the content and pulled back on my creativity. It remained that way a good while. Many times when I thought it was going in one direction, it would venture into another.

Names. Your heroine has a very unusual one, and your hero a very plain one (for which you have an amusing story about your Word program’s determination to change that). Would you share a little more about both names?

I use a lot of my ancestors’ names. (My great-grandmother’s name was Mudus, nicknamed, Muddy). And, I always wanted a simple name for my male character, intentionally settling on Bobby for such. No problem, right?  Wrong. I almost changed the male character’s name many times, because my Word doc seemed to be possessed and simply wouldn’t have it.  The demon Word taunting, constantly changing it from ‘Bobby’ to ‘Booby’ throughout. I could only imagine sentences such as “I love Booby” and “I felt Booby,” etc. Then one day while driving down the road, I spied a yard sale and pulled over to kill time. There I found an old child’s baseball glove from the 60′s. It had my male character’s name, Bobby, scrawled sweetly across it; more importantly, it was exactly what my Bobby would’ve used.

What can we look forward to next?

Currently, I am working on my second novel, GodPretty in the Tobacco Field, which is due out in the spring of 2016. It is the story of RubyLyn (Roo) Royal Bishop, a young girl living in rural eastern Kentucky in the ‘60s. Subjected to grueling labor by her God-fearing uncle, Roo strives to find a ray of hope in her poverty-stricken town through her own tobacco patch, a forbidden first love, and her home-made paper fortunetellers. A Coalminer’s Daughter meets Winter’s Bone tale of tender love and loss which examines the crushing oppression of Appalachian women then, and that which is relevant now

Thank you and your readers for having me, Katherine!

Thank you, Kim! It’s been a privilege.

After words: I mentioned several recent novels besides Liar’s Bench that address racial tension in our country. (Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Julie Kibler’s Calling Me Home, Deborah Johnson’s The Secret of Magic, and Natalie Baszile’s Queen Sugar). Here, I feel I should also add Barbara Mutch’s The Housemaid’s Daughter as it’s of a similar vein, though it takes place in South Africa during the Apartheid era. Have you read any of these–or another like them? If so, what did you find most memorable?