Archive | Literary First Love

Literary First Love – Julie Kibler

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Julie Kibler | @Julie Kibler

UPDATE: the winners for this giveaway are Susan Coster and Sandy Nawrot. They have been notified by email. Thanks to everyone who entered! And don’t forget to visit again soon.

Those of you reading CALLING ME HOME this month will understand the symbolism of the thimble. But Julie decided she didn’t just want you to read about it, she wanted to share one with you. Which is why she’s giving away two of these thimble necklaces today. One for a reader and one for a member of  our Blog Network. All Blog Network members are automatically entered. And any readers who would like to toss their name in the hat can simply leave a comment on this post.

The first word I clearly remember reading on my own, without prodding from an adult, my fingers running across each letter, was Heidi  —  the title on the colorful cardboard sleeve of a read-aloud record album. I must have read other words before that. I was four or five, and I was an early reader, but for some reason, that experience remains vivid and fills me with nostalgia and the memory of listening to the story.

This doesn’t surprise me. Throughout my childhood, I was drawn to nostalgic stories about girls who were marginalized but remained or became strong.  I was a painfully shy, often lonely girl. We moved a lot. I attended seven different schools. We never seemed to have quite enough money to make ends meet, and my brother and I were frequently ridiculed or bullied by the kids who had lived in our neighborhoods their whole lives. Being a preacher’s daughter often made things worse. Strong female characters who chased their dreams in spite of seemingly insurmountable barriers resonated with me. I lived vicariously through my fictional friends when my own life felt out of control.

They were orphans — Heidi, Pollyanna, Anne Shirley, Sara Crewe, Mary Lennox, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase‘s Sylvia Green.

They were poor and/or living on the edges of society  —  Laura Ingalls Wilder, Francie Nolan, Anne Frank,  The Borrowers’ Arietty Clock,  Blue Willow‘s Janey Larkin, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March.

They were just plain different  —  Cress Delehanty, Velvet Brown, Ramona the Pest, Caddie Woodlawn.

Or they were all three  —  Pippi Longstocking.

I grew up, married, and had babies. I divorced and lived five years as a single mom before remarrying. Now I’m following a career path I dreamed about for as long as I can remember—author.

And I’m not a bit surprised that I’m drawn to writing nostalgic stories about characters who are marginalized, yet resilient, characters who attempt to build happy lives and strong families in spite of their circumstances. In Calling Me Home, Isabelle is a young girl who falls in love despite all the naysayers. Dorrie is a single mom who would do anything for her children when they’re in trouble, yet believes she must handle her brokenness alone.

In spite of our differences, I am all of them. And they are me.

What characters did you relate to as a child? What characters did you want to be?



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A Life-Long Love Affair With Books

Today’s post by New York Times bestselling author, Karen White

Karen’s latest novel, After the Rain, is now in stores. But we’ve got a copy for one lucky reader today. Leave a comment on this post to be entered.

Karen White

Update: the winner of this giveaway is Vanessa. She has been notified by email. Thanks to everyone who entered! Check back soon for more giveaways!

I had the misfortune of growing up with three brothers—two older brothers who loved to torture me, and a younger brother who had the misfortune of having an older sister.   I wanted a sister so badly that when he was born and named Steven, I dressed him up in my doll’s clothes and blond wig and called him Stephanie until he was old enough to fight back.

When I was nine years old, my father’s job with Exxon moved us to Venezuela where the insects are huge and the reptiles even bigger.   If you’re a brother with a younger sister, the opportunities to torture her are endless.   For reasons that have yet to be explained to me, my father bought the two older brothers BB guns for Christmas one year so they could shoot the iguanas out of the mango trees.   What do you think they did with those iguanas once they fell from the branches?   Hence my nickname “Blarin’ Karen. ”

I suppose it’s no surprise that it was while living there that I discovered books for the first time.   My best friend brought me with her to pick out a book at our small American library and while there the librarian, Mrs. Shero, asked me what I liked to read.   Imagine her shock when I told her, “I don’t. ”   She promptly rifled through a few shelves until she found the perfect book and placed it in my hands:   The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene.   My first Nancy Drew book.   And thus my life-long love affair with books began.   I now had something to keep me company while I hid from my brothers as they attempted to put enormous reptiles down my shirt.

In the seventh grade we moved to London, England, into a building that stood directly across the street from the location of the house where Charles Dickens lived while he wrote David Copperfield.   Imagine my delight when I discovered that my walk to the Tube (subway) stop each day to get to school and back had me passing in front of a book store.   I devoured every book my babysitting money would allow me to buy.

And then one day a friend recommended a book she had just finished reading:   Gone With the Wind.   They had several copies in the school library and I checked one out.   I began reading on the Tube on the way home and missed my stop because I was too engrossed in the book.   I went home and continued to read, skipping dinner and homework, and then sleep.   In the morning I knew I couldn’t go to school without my homework (and without sleep) so instead I got dressed, pretended to leave for school, then went up to the roof of our building and continued to read.   And read.   It was the only time in my life when I’d skipped school—and all because of a book!

It was a life-altering experience.   I knew then that I wanted to either become Scarlet O’Hara or become a writer.   Specifically a writer of the sequel to GWTW since I’d already worked out what was supposed to happen next.

But then college happened, and a degree in business, and then a career in the business world.   Those years were followed in quick succession by marriage and two children.   I simply didn’t have time to read.   I missed books, but couldn’t find a way to squeeze them into my busy life.

Until my sister-in-law recommended a book, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.   I remembered thinking at the time how corny the book sounded—a WWII nurse being sucked back in time to the Jacobite rebellion of the 18th century.   By touching standing stones.   Right.   But she insisted and so I bought a copy and brought it and my two small children to the park and set them on swings.   Something like six hours later they were begging to get off the swings and go home because it had started to rain at some point and it was getting dark.

We returned home and I continued to read even past my husband’s return from work to a dark house with nothing on the stove.   (Luckily, this experience prepared him for the many dinnerless nights he would experience as the husband of a writer).

I quickly devoured the entire series (only three or four had been written at the time).   The author had transported me to another place and time, and into the lives of her characters—so much so that I could not pick up another book to read when I was done.   So I did what my teachers since elementary school had been telling me I should do:   I started writing my own book.   That book, In the Shadow of the Moon, was my first published novel.

In that first book, along with every book I’ve written since, I try to replicate for my readers the feelings those favorite books evoked in me.   I want to share emotions, and transport my readers to a difference existence.   In my new book, After the Rain, I return to the small town of Walton, Georgia where six children and their father are grieving for their mother, and where a stranger is about to turn their world upside down.   It’s the kind of book I like to read—part mystery, part love story, part woman’s journey, but mostly a book about people I can care about and root for.   Just like the books that inspired my own writing journey.

There have been other books I’ve read before and since that have shaped my own writing, but The Secret in the Old Clock, Gone With the Wind, and Outlander will always have a special place in my heart as my literary first loves—remembered much more clearly and fondly than any romantic first loves from my distant past.   At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


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Literary First Love – B.A. Shapiro

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, B.A. Shapiro | @BA_Shapiro

B.A. Shapiro

As early as first grade, my teachers began complaining that I was an underachiever. There was no denying this, but what they didn’t know was that I was an overachiever in one area: reading — just not the reading assigned in school. Our family went to the library every Saturday morning, and I took out many more books than the skeptical librarians believed such a young child could read in a week. But I did, returning the following Saturday for another batch. My mother says this is what kept her from despairing for my academic future.

I loved being read to, and I loved reading books by myself. My best friend Linda and I used to spend afternoons stretched out on the two twin beds in her room, reading side-by-side. And I’m not just talking rainy afternoons. While the other kids in the neighborhood romped around outside, Linda and I read in compatible silence. They thought we were boring, we thought we were in heaven.

But I didn’t know anything about heaven until I picked up Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. I can still see the book: thick and substantial, rough-edged pages, silvery-blue with a wide binding, two columns running down each page. I must have been about ten at the time, and I read it through in three days. As soon as I finished, I turned back to page one and did it all over again.

I’d never been so captivated, so grabbed and thrust into a world I knew little about, missing, as any ten-year-old would, some of the story’s less endearing qualities. I believed I was there, that all the characters were real, some my friends and others no so much, that their disasters and triumphs were mine. And I was completely taken with the idea that Mitchell had just sat down and conjured it all up. What an amazing and wonderful thing to be able to do. I decided then that when I grew up I would be a novelist — and Scarlett O’Hara.

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Literary First Love – Greg Kincaid

Today’s post by author Greg Kincaid | Greg on Facebook

When I was a boy living on a Kansas farm, there were only two good reasons to interrupt a warm summer day and meander to town.   One was Safeway glazed donuts cooling on metal racks.   The other was the old library on Chestnut Street.   The Safeway had air-conditioning; not so with the library.   Luckily for me, the children’s books were relegated to the basement where it was at least ten degrees cooler. As I tumbled down the stairs–nearly out of control and taking two steps at a time while clinging to an old metal rail– the first thing that would hit me would be the smell of old books: humid, musty and wise; the smell of adventure waiting to be uncovered.

The Olathe, Kansas library was built in 1909 with $10,000 of grant money from Andrew Carnegie.  Not surprisingly, it was called the Carnegie Building. With very little programming within the reach of our television antennae and video games still decades away, there were limited places for a young boy to find adventure.   I created it myself or I read about it.

The very first books at the bottom of the library steps were written by Walter Farley. I don’t think I ever ventured any further. There was no need.   I had found the Black Stallion.   Not much else matters once you’ve discovered Alex Ramsey and the Black Stallion. Walter Farley’s books were pure magic. They brought much joy and pleasure to my young life.

As much as I loved these books, I fear my own horses, if they could have read as voraciously as they grazed, would have despised every story Walter Farley wrote.   One horse in particular, Black we called him, suffered the most in Farley’s hands.   He was a tall, half-Arabian, all black gelding.    I say was because after I finished the black stallion books, he was transformed into something else entirely different from a gentle farm horse. Now he was The Black and spent most summer days removed from the green pastures where he peacefully grazed, saddled over his objections, and raced around farm fields at breakneck speeds with an 11-year old boy clinging to his flowing mane and whispering into his ears. “Run Black. You can win. I know you can win! ”   As I recall, he always did.

I may not have been Alec Ramsey, but I sure felt like it.

Ours was a middle class family, so for me (or any other child) to own a book was a rare treat.   Being able to jump down the library stairs empty-handed and trudge back up 30 minutes later loaded down with an arm full of books was nothing short of a miracle of generosity–the most worthy extension of credit ever devised by man.

Like my Black, I don’t think my parents cared that much for Walter Farley either.   Once I was home with a load of his books, there was no coming up for air for days on end. I had to be told twice to come down for dinner or to do much else for that matter.

By   the 1960’s  the Carnegie building was considered old-fashioned and although no one thought it mattered much to an 11-year old boy, a piece of our hometown history was about to be leveled. As so often happens to children, I drove by it one day and it had disappeared; a blighted building erased from the landscape by something called urban renewal.  A place I loved was just gone.  Some adult casually explained that the library had moved down the street to a new, larger and (I’m sure) fully air-conditioned building.

Today my law office looks out over Chestnut Street.   There is—like the song predicted—a parking lot where the Carnegie building once stood.   I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could still run down those stairs empty-handed and return with an armful of adventure ready to be devoured.   Perhaps, at my age, it’s best that I don’t.   At least the horses are very happy about it.

Greg Kincaid, the author of A Dog Named Christmas and Christmas with Tucker, still lives in rural Kansas. His most recent book, A Christmas Home, was just released by Crown.   Todd, the hero of a Dog Named Christmas, is now five years older and happily employed at the local animal shelter where his girl friend Laura volunteers.   Funding shortfalls force the closing of the shelter before year-end.   Todd must find new work, homes for thirty dogs and a way to protect his emerging relationship with Laura.   A tall task to be sure.   Fortunately for Todd, he has some very capable canine assistance. The New York Journal of Books calls A Christmas Home “A heartwarming read…well written and uplifting. “  Library Journal says, “Dog lovers and anyone looking for a heartwarming Christmas story will enjoy Kincaid’s latest. “

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Literary First Love – Dana Gynther

Today’s post by author Dana Gynther

Dana Gynther

When I was a kid—growing up in a college town with academics for parents—there was never a shortage of books. Between hauls from the city library, books for Christmas, novels passed on from friend to friend, I read loads when I was young (even if my older sister claims that, since I didn’t become horribly myopic like her and my brother, I scarcely touched a book in childhood).

My unquestionable first love was Dr. Seuss—I can close my eyes and still see those pale green pants, the fish that likes flowers, or a hundred other Seussian images—followed by Roald Dahl (how I loved to loathe Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge and the host of other unsavory adults from the safe confines of my “French provincial ” bed!).

My first truly “literary ” first love, however, came in the 9th grade, and was as surprising as a first kiss.   In my Advanced English class, we were assigned to read Dickens’ Great Expectations. This was greeted with rolled eyes and groans since I—and everyone else—assumed that Classics = Boredom. What a revelation! On page one, when introduced to Pip, we became aware of Dickens’ sly sense of humor, as he explained that our young orphaned hero always imagined his parents to look like their gravestones ( “square, stout, dark “). Then, on page two, we were already faced with a terrifying convict! Where were the endless pages of tedious description I’d been expecting? Where were the incomprehensible passages, the difficult vocabulary, and the annoying moral lessons?

Great Expectations not only had fast-paced adventure, but fascinating characters—Ah, the “Aged Parent “!—and none can compare to Miss Havisham.   Who could forget the first time they met her, the skinny old woman still dressed for her wedding, like “a ghastly waxwork at the Fair ” (which raised a lot of questions, admittedly, like how she took a shower, but that just added to the intrigue)?   Jilted in youth, she became frightful, embittered, and determined to manipulate others’ feelings, to break others’ hearts. Miss Havisham, for me at least, broke the mold of what an elderly woman character was like. Neither granny nor hag, she was wealthy, powerful, intimidating, and—why not?—odious too.

Vera, one of the main characters in my novel Crossing on the Paris is endowed with some of these same traits. Elderly, rich, strong, she too obsesses about her past, she too would like the perfect heir for her treasure. Although a sympathetic character, she is a distant cousin of Miss Havisham. A literary woman, Vera would have certainly read Great Expectations in her own youth. I wonder if Miss Havisham made an impact on Vera, as she did on me at the age of fourteen.

We’re giving away a copy of Dana’s novel, CROSSING ON THE PARIS, today. Just leave a comment on this post to be entered to win.

In a sweeping debut novel that marries the appeal of Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs with the romantic glamor of The Titanic, Dana Gynther brings the 1920s to vibrant life.

In 1921, the Gilded Age is drawing to a close, but not aboard the great ocean liner the Paris, on its maiden voyage between Le Havre and New York. Amidst the luxurious wood paneling and plush carpets of first class is the aging Vera Sinclair, who has made the difficult decision that after thirty years in Paris she will leave her dearest friend behind and return at last to Manhattan. In the cozy family comfort of second class, Constance Stone revels in unaccustomed freedom as she returns from a brief, failed mission in Paris to her home in Worcester, Massachusetts, where her adored little daughters and dull professor husband await. And on the stifling, noisy lowest deck below the waterline, young Le Havre native Julie Vernet tests her wings in her first job—unenviably serving meals in the steering class dining room. Three very different women from very different worlds, yet aboard the Paris their lives will intersect.

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Literary First Love – James Kimmel, Jr.

Today’s post by debut author James Kimmel, Jr. | James on Facebook

James Kimmel, Jr.

I fell in love with writing before I fell in love with books.

I didn’t enjoy reading as a child or a teenager.   I did, however, enjoy being read to.   Listening to my mother reading Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and A Billion for Boris to my brother and me is among my fondest memories.   But that’s about the extent of my literary exploits as a kid. Rarely did I crack a book on my own.

Raised on a small farm, I loved working with my hands.   I loved the machinery of farming—the tractors, implements, and tools—the earth of farming, the animals of farming, the expanse of farming.   And also the deep camaraderie among those who work the land.   I had no knowledge of or aspiration for a literary life.

But then farming rejected me—my family didn’t actually make a living from our land (my father was an insurance agent)—so the neighboring farm kids didn’t accept me as one of them and made sure I knew it, sometimes violently. Spurned by the community and the vocation I loved, I found myself in a rural high school searching for a place to fit in.

I had no known talents.   I couldn’t throw a football or win a race; I didn’t play an instrument and couldn’t carry a tune; my artwork hadn’t progressed past stick figures; and science and mathematics baffled me.

The brightest and most admired kid in my high school could do most of these things and more. But the thing he did better than anybody else was write. His essays and short stories were small, sometimes astonishing works of art that brought for him a certain level of prestige and acclaim. With no other prospects, I decided to try my hand at writing.

Perhaps in the same mystical way that some people pick up an instrument and instinctively understand how to make music with it, I instinctively understood how to turn sentences and paragraphs into essays and short stories. And like a musician who practices daily for the sheer joy of it, I found myself writing each day for the sheer pleasure and sense of accomplishment it brought me.

By the end of my senior year, I was thought of as perhaps the second best writer in my school.

My love for writing is why I graduated with honors from college. It is also what got me admitted into an Ivy League law school and from there into the upper reaches of the legal profession—places that seem such a long, long way from the farm.

I’ve gone on to read many of the great works of literature—but not nearly all of them, and not nearly as many books as avid readers consume. I read strategically, selecting novels that will challenge me and improve my writing. I am a painfully slow reader. I consider and weigh each word in search of the writer’s motive behind its selection. A great sentence has the power to seize me with reverence—and to wrack me with waves of self-doubt and jealousy. I might put the book down for days to ponder the genius of such a sentence, unwilling to move on until I’ve savored the last hints of its flavor.

My life has been profoundly altered by great books—East of Eden and War and Peace come to mind. But I do not write because of them. I write because I love to write. And because I can’t not.

James Kimmel’s debut novel, THE TRIAL OF FALLEN ANGELS, was published by Amy Einhorn Books last week and we’ve got two copies up for grabs today. Leave a comment below if you’d like to be entered in our drawing.

WHEN young attorney Brek Cuttler finds herself covered in blood and standing on a deserted train platform, she has no memory of how she got there. For one very good reason.

She’s dead.

But how did she die? And why? Trapped between worlds in a mysterious place populated by people from her distant past, Brek desperately struggles to get back to her husband and her beautiful, now motherless, baby daughter. But her hopes for escape dim, and her fear for what lies ahead grows, when she is informed that she was sent here to join the elite group of lawyers who prosecute and defend souls at the Final Judgment.

With each dramatic trial conducted in a harrowing courtroom of eternity, Brek moves a step closer to comprehending what has happened to her. In a seemingly deliberate coincidence, her first client appears to provide a link to the sequence of events that led to her death. Through a series of stunning revelations, Brek discovers how the choices that she and others made during their lives have led her to this place. If she’s to break the chain, she must first face the terrible truth about her death. But when Brek suddenly finds that she herself has been called to stand trial, she learns the surprising answer to perhaps the most important question of all:  Who is the true final judge of our fate and our lives?

The Trial of Fallen Angels  is a thought-provoking mystery about love and hate, freedom and responsibility, and humanity’s search for redemption.

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Literary First Love – Janis Owens

Today’s post by Janis Owens, author of AMERICAN GHOST | @JanisOwens

Janis Owens

I had so many literary loves in my youth that it is a puzzler, trying to nail down that definitive book that stayed longest and wrought the most change. Truly a dozen titles come to mind, though the story that continues to speak to me in middle age was penned by a good-natured British linguist named J R R Tolkien long before I was born. The book is The Hobbit. Try as I might, I cannot think how I came upon this charming little fantasy — I was raised in a culture that prized children’s lit for its hardline moralizing, and The Hobbit had hardly a moral at all, other than the assurance that the ordinary personality — in this case, Bilbo Baggins — could successfully complete the most extraordinary adventures if he is but willing.

And though I came to love it and reread dozens of times, I will confess that at first, I was not especially taken by the jolly descriptions of Bilbo’s round door and garden, his lack of height and his hairy feet. I was a child of the hardscrabble South, and was willing to entertain a good bit of magic in my religion, but in books, preferred realism to whimsy. But as the story unfolded, I found I had much in common with the shy, complacent Bilbo. I, too, had a Took side — mine not attributable to elfish blood, but to my maternal grandmother, who was of Alabama Huguenot extraction. Like Belladonna Took, she was considered a bit odd by her more conservative kin; given to writing poetry and plays; to wearing feathered hats and favoring the color lavender.

Bilbo’s Took side is the part of him that gets him drawn into his grand adventure, and as soon as I met the dwarfs, I was, of course, charmed, as they are the true Southerners of the piece: impatient, overly-polite, demanding, head-strong, and possessed of a mean sense of grievance toward a boasting enemy: the dragon Smaug. Tolkien makes much fun of them throughout the book — from their quarrelsome fights, their bad luck, their stamping impatience — that I felt a keen kinship, and an even keener kinship with the Ultimate Realist, Bilbo. Hapless, tired, and always on the look-out for the next meal, Bilbo speaks for the Everyman — or in my case, Every child — as he stumbles his way through every challenge that befalls him, some more honorably than others. Despite his ineptitude, his uselessness as a burglar, and his ongoing, droll misgivings, by force of his tenacity and his sheer wits, he continually lives up to Gandalf’s estimation, enough to outwit trolls, goblins, and one nasty Gollum.

By the time they have made it over the Misty Mountains and to the dragon’s lair, I was frankly proud of Bilbo’s mouthy give and take with Smaug, and even more impressed with his humility when he confesses to the dwarves how difficult it is, really, not to fall under a dragon’s spell. But he succeeds in this, as in all — imperfectly, but resolutely — and when even the hardy dwarves succumb to the lure of the treasure and war is imminent, it is Bilbo — no longer an ingénue, but sly enough to sneak through enemy lines and parlay with the king, who ultimately saves the day.

When Bilbo returns to the Shire, he is much changed after his adventure, as we all are after this sort of journey of discovery tale, which is at the heart of every true novel. My latest, American Ghost, is opposite The Hobbit in every detail. A historical romance, it is set in contemporary rural west Florida, and recounts how a young woman and a town are forced to come to terms with a shameful secret — a gristly lynching that took place sixty years before, and is long buried in silence. There are no magical bears, wizards, and nary a hair foot in sight, but it, too, is a journey of discovery, of a woman raised in a country as dragon-haunted as Bilbo’s, who overcomes as many deadly obstacles to fulfill her destiny and find her voice.

It is the heart of all heroes’ tales.

We’re giving away a copy of Janis’ novel today. Leave a comment on this post as an entry.

JOLIE HOYT IS A GOOD SOUTHERN GIRL living in Hendrix, a small Florida Panhandle town. The daughter of a Pentecostal preacher who sells insurance on the side, and the best friend of a lively beauty who moves to the big city to pursue a career in interior design, Jolie is all too aware of her family’s closet full of secrets and long-held distrust of outsiders. Nevertheless, she throws caution to the wind when she meets Sam Lense, a Jewish anthropology student from Miami, who is in town to study the ethnic makeup of the region.

Jolie and Sam fall recklessly in love and dream of beginning a life together, far away from Jolie’s buried past. But their affair ends abruptly when Sam is discovered to have pried too deeply into Hendrix’s dark racial history and he becomes the latest victim in a long tradition of small-town violence.

Twelve years later, when a black businessman from Memphis returns to Hendrix to do right by his father’s memory, Jolie and Sam are brought together again. They are forced to revisit the unresolved issues of their young love and finally shed light on the ugly history of Jolie’s hometown.

A complex and compulsively readable Southern saga, continuing in the tradition established by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and brought into the new millennium by writers like Karen Russell and Kathryn Stockett,  American Ghost  was inspired by Janis Owens’s extensive research on a real lynching that occurred in 1934 in Marianna, Florida.

American Ghost  is a richly woven exploration of how the events of our past haunt our present.

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Literary First Love – Amy Hill Hearth

Today’s post by Amy Hill Hearth

Amy Hill Hearth

From the time I was very small and, in fact, before I could read, I was aware that I had been named after a character in a novel.

That book was Louisa May Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN.   My mother, as she so often told me, had been re-reading it while she was pregnant with me, the youngest of her four children. Back when I was born in the late 1950s, labor was not induced as commonly as it is today.   A late baby was a late baby. I was supposed to be born on my dad’s birthday, March 29. When that didn’t happen, the doctor predicted April 1 but my mother, not wanting me to be burdened with an April Fool’s Day birthday, stayed very still all day in the hope that she could hold off my birth another day.   Her plan worked too well: I wasn’t born until April 10. As my petite mother grew larger and larger (I weighed 9.2 pounds by the time I arrived), and more and more impatient for my arrival, she turned to literature as a way to divert and calm herself.  She escaped into the familiar company of Marmee and her four daughters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March.

I am probably one of the youngest persons ever to read LITTLE WOMEN. My connection to the book made it irresistible. I was perhaps 7 or 8, so I didn’t comprehend parts of it. I spent a lot of time asking my mother questions and running to the dictionary to figure out the meaning of certain words.

I was a little shocked that Amy March was not the nicest or most admirable of the four daughters. Of course, this required an explanation from my mother.   She explained that Meg was short for Margaret, and Jo was an abbreviated form of Josephine. Neither of those names was particularly popular when I was born, and she hadn’t wanted me to be burdened with a name I didn’t like.   (This is the same woman who tried not to give birth to me on April Fool’s Day, after all.) She went on to say that she could not possibly have named me after the third sister, Beth, because poor little Beth dies in the novel.

Besides, Amy was the youngest of four children, and blonde, just as I was.

I re-read the novel about once a year, and as time went on, I grew to appreciate Amy March. While on first reading she seemed like a whiny little twit, her antics began to seem more charming through my adult eyes.

When I began writing my own novel, I couldn’t resist finding a way to mention LITTLE WOMEN. Set in Collier County, Florida, circa 1962, MISS DREAMSVILLE is the story of a middle-aged wife and mother from Boston who moves to the area with her family, and instantly manages to offend almost everyone in the small, Southern town. One of the first things she does is start a reading group. And, of course, one of the books they read is LITTLE WOMEN.

It’s my way of paying tribute to Louisa May Alcott as well as to my mom, who is now 87 years old.

We’re giving away a copy of Amy’s debut novel MISS DREAMSVILLE AND THE COLLIER COUNTY WOMEN’S LITERARY SOCIETY. Simply leave a comment on this post and we’ll toss your name in the hat. (U.S. residents only)

A brilliant debut novel from a New York Times bestselling author about a transplanted wife from Boston who arrives in Florida in the 1960s, starts a literary salon, and shakes up the status quo.

In 1962, Jackie Hart moved to Naples, Florida, from Boston with her husband and children. Wanting something personally fulfilling to do with her time, she starts a reading club and anonymously hosts a radio show, calling herself Miss Dreamsville.

The racially segregated town falls in love with Miss Dreamsville, but doesn’t know what to make of Jackie, who welcomes everyone into her book club, including a woman who did prison time for allegedly killing her husband, a man of questionable sexual preference, a young divorcee, as well as a black woman.

By the end of this novel, you’ll be wiping away the tears of laugher and sadness, and you just may become a bit more hopeful that even the most hateful people can see the light of humanitarianism, if they just give themselves a chance.

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Literary First Love – Juliette Fay

Today’s post by the amazing Juliette Fay | @JulietteFay

Juliette Fay

I can’t remember learning to read. As I’ve watched each of my kids undertake to makes sense of all those lines and curves, I’ve thought, How could I not remember this? Twenty-six different letters, many with several different sounds, combinations making even more sounds …. Let’s be honest, it’s a lot to take on.

Maybe my memories of those struggles were eclipsed by reading itself, which, once I’d mastered it, was like being let loose in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. A good book felt as delicious as hot fudge sundae to me. But more than that, the characters helped me make sense of my own life, and opened wide the French doors to other worlds, so I could escape my life when it felt too nonsensical.

I loved The Boxcar Children. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s about a family whose parents die suddenly. The four kids decide that their grandfather, whom they’re supposed to go live with, is too mean, and they set off on their own. They find a boxcar in the woods, clean it out, scavenge old household items from a nearby dump and make it a home.

I loved that book in part because it was my aunt’s from childhood, and for some reason I thought I could only read it when I went to her house several hours away. Its appeal grew by the very fact of its limited availability. (I have no idea why it never occurred to me to get a copy from the local library, which was like a second home to me.)

While my own family was struggling with divorce—a fairly rare and shameful thing in our small New England town at the time—and its resulting financial crisis, The Boxcar Children offered perspective. These kids had no parents and no money. They relied strictly on hard work, ingenuity and cooperation. (Are there any life skills more critical these?) When one of them gets gravely ill, they have to make very hard decisions.

And yet I envied them also. Their relationships were straightforward, reliable, loving. They disagreed occasionally but never had screaming fights. No hair was ever pulled, which was the tactic of choice among my two sisters and me. The adults in the book were generally trustworthy, though it often took the kids several chapters to be sure.

The Boxcar Children gave me hope that, though my own young life often felt incomprehensible, good things could come. Happy surprises might await. In fact, they did, and I didn’t even have to go live in a boxcar for them to find me.

We’re giving away two signed copies of Juliette’s latest novel, THE SHORTEST WAY HOME. Just leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win.

Sean Doran has spent twenty years as a nurse in Third World war zones and natural disaster areas, fully embracing what he’d always felt was his life’s mission. But when burnout sets in, Sean is reluctantly drawn home to Belham, Massachusetts, the setting of Fay’s bestselling first novel, SHELTER ME. There he discovers that his steely aunt, dramatic sister and quirky nephew are having a little natural disaster of their own … and that the bonds of love and loyalty might just rewrite what he once thought he knew about his purpose in life.

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Literary First Love – Kristyn Kusek Lewis

Today’s post from Kristyn Kusek Lewis | @kkuseklewis

Kristyn Kusek Lewis

It is 1980, maybe 1981. A spring Saturday afternoon. Every window in the house is open. Bob Seger blares from the stereo in our family room. My parents are cleaning house—mopping the floors, mowing the yard, clearing the cobwebs from the windowsills.

I am six or seven, sitting in an armchair by a window that looks out to the backyard, my legs flopped over one side, Little Women in my lap. I would assume this position—different books, different chairs–thousands of times over the course of my childhood. But this first memory? Little Women.

The book is over my head—it’s the first “big book ” I’ve ever opened—but I am desperate to understand it. I’ve just recently visited Orchard House, Louisa May Alcott’s childhood home, which is just ten miles down the road from where we live in Sudbury, Mass, and my mind is blown by the fact that this big, giant book was written essentially down the street, on a “shelf desk ” that Louisa May Alcott’s father built for her.

In time, I’ll read and fall deeply in love with the book and it’s characters, particularly Jo, who is brash and bold and writes elaborate plays for her sisters. Once I’m older, I’ll appreciate that the book was perhaps the first to portray young women in such a strong and independent way. It will also become a favorite of mine for the way that it exalts the sacred, almost holy, relationships that women have with each other, whether they’re sisters by blood or by fate.

These types of relationships are exactly what I had in mind when I began writing How Lucky You Are, my novel about three women and their longstanding friendship. I wanted to write an authentic story about women’s friendships—not the shoe shopping, Cosmo sipping froth of it all, but the real stuff: the way that we hide from each other to avoid hurting each other, the nitty-gritty, tear-stained, up-all-night talks that save us, the way that we can love our friends so much that we would truly, and absolutely, do anything for each other.

We’re giving away a copy of Krisyn’s novel HOW LUCKY YOU ARE today. Just leave a comment on this post to be entered.

Waverly, Kate, and Amy are the very best of friends—a tight-knit trio that’s always had Waverly at its center. But suddenly Waverly’s role as the group’s anchor is being tested. The cozy bakery she runs faces financial ruin because of her mounting debt, and her long-term relationship feels stale rather than secure. Independent and headstrong Kate is married to a man who’s on track to be the next governor of Virginia, but larger, unsettling questions are brewing in their future. Stay-at-home mom Amy has a perfect life on paper, but when a horrific secret threatens to reveal itself, she panics.

As life’s pressures begin to tear the three women apart, Waverly knows she has some big decisions to make. Soon she will discover that the lines between loyalty and betrayal can become blurred, happy endings aren’t always clear-cut—and sometimes you have to risk everything to gain the life you deserve.


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