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.

BrendaNovakCookbook_CoverFront-3
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.

Luke’s #1 Rule, by Cynthia Harrison

Lukes #1 Rule
Lukes #1 Rule

Releasing today, Luke’s #1 Rule is on sale this week only at The Wild Rose Press.

This book has the natural style I love so much about Brenda Novak’s work, and like Brenda’s Whiskey Creek series (see here for all my book reviews), Luke’s #1 Rule is part of a small-town series. The small town is Blue Lake, and when the main character ends up there, I could feel the relief of arriving in a community where people care about each other. But the relief doesn’t happen immediately for Chloe Richards. Oh no, she has a constant source of internal conflict: She’s moving with her kids to Seattle, very far away, and it’s ripping her apart, but she has no choice.

This book is about family and very difficult issues. It’s realistic, not at all forced, and utterly riveting as a result. Yet it is still a romance, and though I cried three times while reading it, they were good tears, and I knew it would somehow all end well. That’s a requirement for me. I dislike books that end sadly, even if I love the book, and I tend not to read those authors again, because let’s face it, who needs more bad news and sorrow when we have life, which has its share for everyone? (Although I do sometimes break this rule for literary work that makes me understand things more, like, for example, Rules of Engagement by Anita Brookner, which I really need to review one of these days! And even The Hunger Games, the ending of which infuriated me, but which is still such a profound work of allegorical literature that it informs my thoughts about various things we humans are doing to each other and the way the world works at the moment.)

But back to this wonderful book. Luke’s #1 Rule is thought provoking literature that will leave you feeling happy and satisfied as well as thoughtful and more informed.

Here are some little details from the book that I jotted down as I was reading. After that, I am posting the interview that was included at the end of the book, with the author’s permission. Cynthia is on tap to answer comments, too, so fire away!

I love it when Tommy’s smile spreads over his face like butter on toast. (Tommy is one of Chloe’s children, whom I just adored. Cynthia really captured children realistically. I love the characterization of the children; I could see and feel their excitement over meeting Luke, and over everything fun.)

I love this line:

“Then I’d say you had quite a mess to clean up before your next child arrives, don’t you?”

This was a line by a therapist talking to the drug addict in this book who makes the people around him miserable. This line is just an example of how you feel this book is written by an artistically mature author.

Speaking of artistically mature, the book is so deeply written, I was inside the character’s minds.

I love details like this, feeling the calming effect of something homey when one is in the midst of a very real life crisis.

…and the meatloaf mixture minus eggs sat in a blue bowl. Her mom had used that same mixing bowl since Chloe was a little girl.

And little offhand comments like this that communicate a setting in so few words:

Good stones, she had learned this week, were the ones that made the biggest splash when you flung them into the water.

And I love the realism of this little gem tucked into a scene:

She mentioned the price of a year of college these days. One year for one student. Her mother had been shocked at how college costs had sky-rocketed just since Chloe had finished off her degree.

And finally this, at the crisis point in the book. I felt the emotion because I was living the story with the characters.

Now she knew the rip of kin from kin, and it hurt.

Buy Luke’s #1 Rule here (on sale)

Now for the interview. I love that it was included in the book because I instantly had questions about the author’s own experiences. The book was so realistic that I thought maybe she had experiences along the lines of those of the book’s characters.

There are also excellent book group discussion questions provided.

An interview with Cynthia Harrison

Cynthia Harrison
Author Cynthia Harrison

1. You said that your husband gave you the idea for this book twenty-five years ago. Why didn’t you write your true love story?

I’m a fiction writer. I like making things up. I also wanted to protect the privacy of the real people involved in this story. Not just my husband and sons, but their father, their other mother, and their siblings.

  1. Their other mother? Why not stepmom? Do you mean the character of Bettina?

I’ve always felt, from almost the first day, great respect for the woman who would help raise my children. I feel like I can talk to her about anything and she will understand. She’s very friendly and open and nonjudgmental. I love her. She took great care of my children; she is truly their other mother. Stepmom has such negative connotations in literature. She’s the opposite of that.

  1. So the next obvious question is your ex-husband. Is he anything at all like Spence?

Not an iota. Not even close. Spence is the character I had the most trouble with, at first. I didn’t want to make the ex the bad guy. It’s such a cliché. So I did the opposite and that didn’t work. This is fiction, and I needed conflict. I’m a writer who teaches, and the first seven years of my teaching career, I taught at-risk high school children. I learned a lot about addictions and how they destroy families. Then there’s my addiction to chocolate and potato chips, which sounds funny but created serious consequences. I was recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes. So no more sugar for me. I have an addictive personality. Fortunately, I can’t drink more than a few glasses of wine without getting dizzy and then sick. So food has been my primary addiction, but I am also a binge television watcher, huge movie fan, and constant reader of novels. Aside from the food, these are all soft addictions, but they all gave me insight into Spence.

  1. What will happen to Spence? Will he be okay? How can the reader know?

As a reader, I sometimes have questions when a story ends, too. In the literature, the relapse number is very high, but Spence has a unique supportive system in Blue Lake. We will see Spence in other stories, but I don’t know if he will relapse because he hasn’t (yet). Still, it’s true what they say: addicts will always be in recovery.

  1. How many books do you plan for the Blue Lake Series?

I still have a lot of stories to tell. I like telling two thematically related stories in every novel. So Fast Eddie’s will be about the reunion of Bob and Lily, who were going off to college in Blue Heaven. They’ve graduated, and Lily comes back to Blue Lake. So does Eddie’s first love. My favorite way to write is to have a new adult storyline and a more mature romance as well.

  1. Blue Heaven was more of a traditional romance, but Luke’s #1 Rule had many more characters. There are the four adults and two children, plus the meddling mothers. Why the change?

They say every writer has a “book of her heart.” Luke’s Number #1 Rule was mine. It was not just a love story, although that’s the main plotline. Using the theme of blending a family was the book I’ve always wanted to write. It was a challenge. And it wasn’t a romance. I will always write love stories because I have a romantic soul, but the larger picture interests me, too. 7. You said you’re a reader. Who are some of your favorite authors? If you came to my house, you would look at my bookshelves and know. I use an e-reader these days, but still collect my favorites in hardback. First came Jane Austen and Erica Jong, then Alice Hoffman, Louise Erdrich, Sara Lewis, Elizabeth Berg. I also love poetry and short stories, so add Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. Also Carol Shields.

  1. Do you read male authors?

I do. Raymond Carver is a personal favorite. I also admire TC Boyle and Richard Ford. There is not a book by David Lodge I have not laughed through. Richard Russo is in there, too. I don’t collect any of them except Carver. I think taking two degrees in English literature filled me up with male authors. The classics. After college, I started my own education of contemporary female writers.

  1. Do you read contemporary romance?

I do. I never miss a novel by Barbara Delinsky, Pamela Morsi, or Rachel Gibson. I’m also a fan of romantic suspense and several of my fellow TWRP authors write in that line. Mysteries! Sue Grafton and Anne Perry. Lee Childs. Every book.

  1. How do you find the time to teach, read, and write? Are your little boys grown up now?

Yes, my boys are grown with families of their own. When they were young, I wrote less and read less. I enjoyed my time with them. More recently, I’ve been teaching less, which gives me time to read and write. I’ve found you can do it all, but you can’t do it all at the same time. I’m also dedicated (again, I could say addicted) to Twitter and my blog. My older son suggested I start a blog in 2002. He set it up for me, and I’m still there at http://www.cynthiaharrison.com. For ten years, I wrote about my efforts to publish my novels. Then it happened and I decided to write about other things, the concerns in my novels, but also the love and joy in everyday life.

  1. Do you ever speak to book clubs?

I adore meeting people I’ve only known on the Internet. In real life, I’ve met friends from New York, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Seattle. I live north of Detroit, but, time permitting, I’d be happy to Skype with a book group from anywhere.

Where to find Cynthia Harrison:

Blog : http://cynthiaharrison.com

Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/authorcynthiaharrison

Twitter : http://twitter.com/cynthiaharriso1

Pinterest : http://www.pinterest.com/cynthiaharriso1

Google+ : https://plus.google.com/110024602669466854106

Goodreads : https://www.goodreads.com/goodreadscomCynthia_Harrison

Amazon Author Page : http://www.amazon.com/Cynthia-Harrison/e/B004HIXM7Y/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1401552546&sr=8-1

$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?

Writing craft musings and Brenda Novak

Deep point of view (POV) reflects life as we actually experience it, I think.

Deep POV was the last big hurdle for me before being able to write what I consider to be effective stories. (Whether other people consider them effective remains to be seen, but hope is on the horizon.) It took me years to get deep POV. I still struggle with it.

I recognize deep POV excellence in others. Brenda Novak is extremely good at it. In studying her and thinking about this craft issue this morning, going back over yesterday’s pages to get back into the story, and inevitably starting editing, I find myself mostly fixing non-deep-POV issues. On a micro level.

I think there are a few levels to deep POV. One is the avoidance of distancing words like “feel,” “think.” But even “look.” “He looked at the thing.” Deep POV just describes the thing.

Similarly, as a writer who had to make absolutely every possible mistake known to fiction writing, never learning anything the easy way like from a teacher or book of which I have many, I can say one of the things I struggled with in my early days and still do, is the idea that I have to describe the events of a novel sequentially.

He gets in the car, he gets out of the car, he walks across the driveway, he opens the door, he closes the door, he goes inside, he sits down, and finally he gets to have his thought.

When in reality what happens is, he doesn’t even think about all of those transitions. Who really thinks about what they’re actually doing while driving? This is how it is, sometimes unfortunately, like when somebody almost ran into us head-on in a parking lot the other day. Only leaning on the horn continuously for several seconds snapped the driver back to attention in time to  prevent an accident.

One goes through the motions of life, even those among us who aspire to be in the moment, lost in thought.

Begin the telling with the character in the thought, not in all the transitions through space of getting him into the scene where he will have the thought. This is what I’m learning.

On a philosophical level, I assert by being in deep POV, we’re actually reflecting more accurately the human experience. We live a psychological life.

Enough shoptalk. Back to the novel. Thanks for visiting.

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