Review of THE SECRET SISTER and author interview with Brenda Novak

Today I’m reviewing THE SECRET SISTER, by Brenda Novak.

This book will have wide appeal. There’s a romantic element in the book, but anyone who wants to be consumed by a great book will love this one.

The Secret Sister Final Front
Click here to go to Brenda’s page with all links and some reviews

Nicci’s Review:

THE SECRET SISTER, by Brenda Novak, is a riveting and realistic tale of Maisie Lazarow, a children’s book author whose life is in ruins. She retreats to her hometown, an island off the coast of North Carolina. Upon her arrival she finds that the bungalows she will one day inherit and where she hopes to stay are hurricane battered. Maisie’s mother is as cruel and her brother as volatile as ever. Maisie’s mother has also sold off part of Maisie’s inheritance, the bungalows, to a construction contractor as payment for rebuilding the units.

Even as she tries to regain her balance the sands shift beneath Maisie’s feet when she discovers a secret that rewrites history and threatens to destroy the fragile remains of the very family she is trying to rebuild.

This riveting tale has pure Brenda Novak emotional immediacy, that feeling that the story is happening to you. THE SECRET SISTER will draw you in and not let go until the fully satisfying ending.

What always amazes me about Brenda Novak is the subtlety of the wrongdoers. This family story explores the complex feelings of adult children who are products of very difficult, even abusive, parents. Of particular interest to me was how Maisey’s feelings about her late father slid across the spectrum from love and grief to fear that she would lose even her belief in his kindness, which has served as the one stick she could cling to in the rough seas of her life.

I like how the book hinges on simple clues, secret pictures and letters. I like the suspense which is gripping without being a thriller. This book reminds me a little bit of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter but with the reliable story magic of Brenda Novak.

New York Times Bestselling Author Brenda Novak was kind enough to answer these interview questions for my blog. Enjoy, and read the book! You won’t be disappointed. You can get all the buy links here:

http://brendanovak.com/books/posts/secret-sister/

Now for the interview! Don’t worry, there are no spoilers.

Welcome, Brenda!

Brenda

Brenda: Thank you for the lovely review. I’m so glad you liked the story—and it was such a pleasure to have you come to the launch party for this book.

Nicci: You’re welcome! And thank you—your launch party for THE SECRET SISTER was awesome. We had fun and love our signed books. Getting to THE SECRET SISTER, you mentioned enjoying writing a Gothic style with this book. Can you say a word or two about what you mean by a Gothic-style story, and also any tips as to creating that atmosphere? For example, I love the name, Coldiron House. You must have had fun naming the house. Is a cold and forbidding mansion an important part of a Gothic type book?

Brenda: Yes, I think a cold and forbidding mansion plays a role in most Gothic novels, and I wanted a little bit of that feeling here, so the ancestral home served nicely for those purposes. Gothic novels are a bit dark and foreboding and mysterious—all things I love as long as the story is also good, which is where the challenge came in, of course. JANE EYRE is a classic Gothic story, and it’s one of my favorites.

A Gothic designation probably has more to do with tone than anything else, so anything that adds a certain dark or mysterious feeling to a novel would help to carry it in that direction.

Nicci: I love the scene where Laney keeps wringing her dress. What amazed me about that was how you built in conflict even into that scene with this character action. Can you share a little of your experience crafting that scene (without giving anything away)?

Brenda: So much of what I do is instinctual that I’m afraid it’s difficult for me to break down my process enough to describe why I did certain things in this novel. I didn’t really intend to create conflict here (not consciously) so much as I knew a scene without some kind of tension is flat and boring. I always try to have something at stake—in every scene—which is where most tension comes from. I also had some characters who bring their own kind of tension, just because one is so difficult.

Nicci: I enjoyed the text message interactions between the characters very much, particularly the tension as the characters are surprised by them or waiting for responses. At one point you had two scenes happening around text messages, on the heroine’s side interacting with her family and on the hero’s side with him and his daughter. You use this new technology naturally and well. Can you share your experience of working with texting in your novel?

Brenda: Thank you. Texting was actually kind of difficult for me to add into my work, at first. I guess that’s because I started writing before I started texting. LOL Now I text so often with my children, husband and friends, that it’s natural for me to have my characters interact the same way.

Nicci: Your bio at the end says you have raised $2.4 million for diabetes research, but in your Author’s note, that figure increased to $2.7 million. This is an incredible achievement. So many people are affected by diabetes, so I would like to provide a link to another book of yours from which all proceeds go to this cause. My blog followers know how much I love food, and I was first in line to get this wonderful cookbook. LOVE THAT! Brenda Novak’s Every Occasion Cookbook.

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Click here to help find a cure for Diabetes

Brenda: Yes, there’s a discrepancy because I turned in the manuscript for THE SECRET SISTER before I did my fundraiser for this year. I added in the amount I was hoping to raise, thinking we would get there (like we had every other year). Alas, we didn’t raise quite that much this time. We are only at $2.5 million as a cumulative total, but maybe we can push that up with sales of the cookbook, which is something I continue to push. So thank you for your efforts to help me with that.

#Giveaway Monday

Okay, it’s Tuesday, not Monday, but I have some giveaway opportunities for you. I discovered these giveaways and book reviews while preparing for my own blog tour, which is coming up in May/June. All you have to do is comment on the blog postings and you get entered in a raffle for cold hard cash (via Amazon). Plus the book reviews, blurbs, and author bios are fun. You might find something you’d like to read.

This book, Taken by Passion, by Jaymie Holland had a Reviewer’s Choice award from Romantic Times:

http://unabridgedandralyn.blogspot.com/2015/04/taken-by-passion-king-of-hearts-25.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+UnabridgedAndra+%28Unabridged+Andra%29

This novel Before We Say Goodbye, by Julie MacLennan about four strangers who meet at a pivotal point in their lives, looks quite interesting.

http://unabridgedandralyn.blogspot.com/2015/04/review-before-we-say-goodbye-50-amazon.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+UnabridgedAndra+%28Unabridged+Andra%29

This Polish and Stalin history family memoir meets speculative fiction book, Grace Revealed, by journalist Greg Archer, looks amazing. Apparently the book has light moments too.  The author interview is interesting and fun.

http://unabridgedandralyn.blogspot.com/2015/04/grace-revealed-blog-tour-25-amazon-gc.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+UnabridgedAndra+%28Unabridged+Andra%29

$1000 prize, author interview & book review, When Summer Comes, by Brenda Novak

ALERT: When Summer Comes is on sale for $1.99 (instead of $6.99) across all digital platforms for a limited time only. This is rare for a front-list book. Grab it.

PRIZE: Go to Brendanovak.com for a chance to win. Have some fun too, all you have to do to enter is answer the question: What would you do this summer if you thought it was your last? The winner will receive a $1000 travel voucher to ANYWHERE. Winner will be drawn on April 30th and notified by email on May 1st.

An interview with this New York TImes bestselling author follows the review.

She’s done it again. In this compelling and wonderful installment of the Whiskey Creek series, Levi, the hero, as a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, has unfortunate but realistic motivation for his conflicts. In fact, realism pervades Ms. Novak’s work and, along with naturalness, is one of my favorite things about her writing. It’s a connected series, meaning you get to know the characters and the town, but you don’t have to read them in order.

Since I don’t know how Brenda does her magic, I decided to ask her, and she agreed to answer some questions for this blog.

Before I get to this wonderful interview, I would like to state the obvious: I’m a huge fan of Brenda Novak. Obviously, of her writing, but also of her, as a person. I’ve had the privilege of meeting Brenda a few times, always when she was extending herself to help other writers or readers.

She is a generous person and one who makes a huge difference beyond her writing. Brenda used her success as an author to create, develop and nurture an online auction to fund diabetes research.

She started with an idea, did it, and, over the years has raised $1.6 million (so far!) to help improve the lives of people living with this disease.

How many people do you love have diabetes and how many people do you know have a loved one with this disease? I counted nine for myself, in less than a minute. I’m sure there are more in my life or one or two degrees of separation from me.

Research scientists have made some impressive progress on this disease. I have read about exciting breakthroughs in research, improvements in treatment and glimmers of hope on the horizon for a cure. None of that progress would have happened without funding.

Of course, other people have given generously to the auction, and it has grown so large Brenda has someone helping her with the administration now, but today I want to celebrate the person who not only writes wonderful, uplifting, entertaining books, but who also created this auction and keeps it going year after year.

So, let’s hear some from Brenda:

Brenda, the cover art on When Summer Comes is radiant. It reminds me of you! Were you happy with the cover?

Yes! Of the first three books in this series, this was definitely my favorite. When I look at the cover, I feel the warmth of the sun. I like that.

Can you tell us what inspired you to write this book?

I had a very close girlfriend go through something similar to the heroine of this book just after college. She was young, beautiful, healthy—and then diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. We couldn’t believe it when we received the news that she would die without a transplant. She looked and acted as if she was fine. But slowly…the lack of a functioning liver started to take its toll. Luckily, my friend did receive a new liver (many thanks to the donor and the system that made this possible). It’s been ten years since then, and she’s just as beautiful now as she ever was—she’s also thriving, and that makes me so happy. I wanted to give Callie a wake-up call, something that would make her change her outlook on life and also be open to what she does for the hero.

Your natural style is my favorite thing about your books, well… besides how they always touch my heart. From listening to you in the past, I know that you are a “pantser” by which we Romance writers mean you “write by the seat of your pants” rather than “plotting” out every detail in advance. I think this adds to the appeal of your stories, because romance evolves naturally from the characters rather than feeling the author’s hand in the story. Did you ever try plotting everything, in the early days, or were you always a “pantser?”

Thank you! I did try plotting (or my version of it since I’m not even sure how). But I quickly ran into a debilitating problem. Trying to force the story in the direction I thought it should go resulted in a lack of emotional intensity. And if it was a suspense novel, I’d give away too much information (who the killer was, for instance). I guess, at heart, I’m a blabbermouth, because I couldn’t hold back. LOL So I finally realized I needed to let the characters speak for themselves and just go with it. I’m surprised that this method doesn’t require more re-writing than it does. I think my subconscious knows the end of the story before my conscious mind, and that helps direct me.

Brenda, you once told me the conflict is the engine that drives the book. When you come up with an idea for a book, do you think of the conflict first or do the conflicts come from the characters?

I definitely come up with the conflict first. The characters spin off of that (what kind of characters would be most interesting faced with such a problem—it’s usually someone who wouldn’t handle that problem well). And the plot grows out of the character. So it’s…one, two, three for me.

Those of us who participate in your auction know your youngest son, Thad, was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when he was five. When did you have the idea for the auction and what gave you the idea for this particular fund-raising method?

I had the idea for the auction about eighteen months after he was diagnosed. He’s had diabetes for eleven years. I’ve been doing the auction for nine of them. I was a young mother, with a young career and no resources. I was searching for a way to get involved and fight back. But I couldn’t come up with anything that was plausible for me—until I attended a silent auction at his school. Then, as I was standing there looking around, it occurred to me that there had to be an easier way to raise funds than to try and get everyone to come out to a physical location all at once (and to feed them all!). That’s when the light bulb went on and I realized that I could use my website as the destination for a fundraiser where people could shop at their leisure.

Does the auction only offer items interesting to writers?

The auction offers all kinds of items—trips & stays, jewelry, handmade items, autographed items, Coach purses, antique or retro items, etc.

You have raised $1.6 million so far. What is your goal this year?

We are hoping to break the $2 million mark!

How many people help you with the administration of the auction?

I just have one part-time assistant and two wonderful and dedicated volunteers.

Here’s where you can find Brenda, the auction, When Summer Comes and all of the Whiskey Creek series books:

http://brendanovak.auctionanything.com

www.brendanovak.com

Compelling Yet Cozy, book review, When Snow Falls, by Brenda Novak

This book was my first Brenda Novak and it made me a fan, particularly of this series, as it helped through a challenging holiday season. When my real-life, nail-biter situation of two friends in the hospital woke me in the middle of the night, I read When Snow Falls under the covers with my flashlight (so as not to wake dear hubby). The combination is perfect:

  • Compelling page turner
  • Cozy white Christmas
  • Good and not-so-good but very realistic characters

I love Cheyenne. I feel like I would make every decision Chey makes and feel every feeling that Chey feels, if I were in her circumstances. One time, after she did something, she said, “That was so colossally stupid.” I love that line! I could see myself doing that very thing and then slapping my forehead and saying that.

There’s a juicy twist, partway in, that I didn’t see coming at all!

All that and a satisfying end. Who needs whiskey when you can have Whiskey Creek?

Not erotic romance, but… book review Desert Prince, Lynne Graham

Erotic romance is more… well, you know, if you’ve read any. If not, stay tuned. Some reviews are coming soon!

Desert Prince, Bride of Innocence, Harlequin Presents February, 2010

An older book, but still available on Kindle and in large print.

Very sexy and emotional.

Kindle version:

http://www.amazon.com/Desert-Innocence-Harlequin-Presents-ebook/dp/B002WEPG24/ref=sr_1_2_title_1_kin?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1360431338&sr=1-2&keywords=desert+prince

I won’t offer extracts here as their steaminess goes outside the bounds of not adult content, but this is classic romance, folks.

Enjoy.

Can words be invisible? Book review, When Lightning Strikes, Brenda Novak

Yes, when the writer is Brenda Novak.

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Writing so natural, you’ll be swept along without even realizing you’re reading.

Conflict so gripping, you’ll be flipping through the pages as fast as you can.

Believable characters you’ll love and root for.

An escape into a homey two-bedroom house in the California gold country.

A love story unfolding in a way you’ll feel is happening to you.

Moments like these to touch your heart:

But did he really want to fall back into his old lifestyle? What about the woman who’d made him happy to live in an eight-hundred-square-foot house and work as a carpenter?

When Lightning Strikes by Brenda NovakBN.COM

Free yourself by counting pennies? Book review Your Money or Your Life

Readers of all income levels have used this to free themselves:

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Do you want to track every penny? Sounds awful, but look at it this way:

“A Spiritual Discipline
Religions, ancient and modern, as well as the personal growth workshops of the human potential movement all have techniques for training the mind to be here now, “in the moment.” These practices take many forms and include such techniques as watching the breath as it goes in and out; repeating a phrase over and over in order to focus the wandering mind; concentrating on an object…To this list we add another discipline designed to sharpen awareness—one that is indispensable to the financial program and perhaps more easily accepted by our grounded, materialistic Western mentality than some of the more ‘esoteric’ practices. Instead of watching your breath, you watch your money. This practice is simple:

Keep track of every cent that comes into or goes out of your life.”

Learn how to equate time, money and life energy.

“A shift will take place in the realm of values as your handling of money increasingly comes into alignment with what really matters to you.”

  • Make choices, not sacrifices
  • Choose simple pleasures
  • Work for money, maximize, save, and finally, “cross over”
  • Escape the hidden costs of working
  • Be a better friend, neighbor, family member, citizen

Quick link to Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Your-Money-Life-Transforming-Relationship/dp/0143115766/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_y

Good for skiing… New Rules of Lifting for Women by Lou Schuler, book review

This book will take 6 months to a year to thoroughly review. Stay tuned for the results.

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What’s to love?

  1. Learn to cook better.
  2. Eat more!  (And take fish oil pills.)
    Final meal
  3. New home-fitness toys.
  4. Bigger, stronger muscles… hopefully! (Check back in 6 months.)
  5. Less cardio.

What’s not to love?

  1. More calories do not come from alcohol.
    “I suspect you don’t need me to tell you that Kahlua and cream won’t make you sleeker.”
    You can have some, though. Red wine is best. We’re talking 4 ounces here, folks. 4. Four.
    4 ounces
    Not every day. Remember all those beers you saw in the skiing-lunch photos???? Not on the plan.
    Then again:
    “You’d think that the people who drink the most would weigh the most, but studies haven’t shown a connection between weight and calories from alcohol. One study showed that the most indulgent drinkers are more active than those who drink less…”
    Interesting. BUT
    “My overall goal is to make sure one special evening doesn’t extend into two or three special evenings in a row. Inevitably, I can feel it on my waistline.”
    Oh heck, we know this already.
  2. More calories in the right ratios means more cooking.
    more cooking
  3. “More calories” doesn’t refer to chocolate-chip cookies.
  4. If you don’t like to work out, you won’t like this book. But if you do, and you’re a woman, and you’re frustrated about working really hard only to get tiny muscles and a slow metabolism, check this out. I am just beginning but a friend of a friend had fabulous results, and she didn’t even do the eating part.
  5. Getting 30% of your calories from protein is challenging (but kind of fun) and pretty much requires whey powder (not too great tasting, kind of expensive, though Costco has it. Cytosport is a pretty good deal there.)

Note: I have used myfitnesspal.com (MFP) (it’s free) for 18 months. It’s a good foundation with this program so you can eat your own stuff and track whether you are “hitting your macros” (macro nutrients, protein, fat and carbs) instead of following the menu (just use it for ideas). You’ll need to modify the default MFP settings a little to 40 percent carbs, 30 percent fat, 30 percent protein.

Link to book: http://www.amazon.com/New-Rules-Lifting-Women-Goddess/dp/1583333398