Wrapped in the Stars, Elena Mikalsen

Wrapped in the StarsWrapped in the Stars by Elena Mikalsen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book–LOVED it!

I began this story thinking it was a conventional time travel story. Boy was I in for a surprise. Wrapped in the Stars is so much more than a time travel novel it’s hard to know where to start. So I’ll begin with the characters themselves.

Honestly, it’s like the author was channeling the two women in this book. The story is told in alternating times–Maya’s (present) and Rebecca’s (early 1900s).

Right from the first chapter I was hooked. I would get so wrapped up in the story I was reading (either Maya’s or Rebecca’s) that I absolutely hated it when a chapter ended. But by the time I’d read a paragraph into the next chapter, I’d be hooked all over again. . . . And then pissed when THAT chapter ended. This book grabbed me over and over again.

Mikalsen masterfully weaves together at least a half-dozen threads to create a rich, living tapestry: a glimpse into the history of women in medicine, a look at the grassroots organization of the Russian Revolution, early Twentieth Century European social history, parallel love stories, and a FASCINATING mystery/adventure in dual times.

I have this amazingly clear picture of Bern in the early 20th century stuck inside my head! The excitement of the time: a revolution brewing, a war coming, advances in medicine, technology, and revolutionary shifts in gender roles/relations. But even with such a vibrant backdrop, the characters still stand out and do not become lost.

It would be hard for me to say who is the heroine in this story–Maya or Rebecca. So I’m going to say they both are. They are two distinct characters and there is no mistaking their voices. Mikalsen does an excellent job of respecting history and depicts a character–Rebecca– who is a product of her time even as she rebels against it. Which means she actually ends up sounding and behaving like a woman from 1914, rather than a woman from 2018 dressed in clothing from the period.

And Maya? Well, she is a woman who alternately appears to be coming apart at the seams but also strong, driven, curious, and vulnerable. In other words, she is REAL.

And then there are the secondary characters, like Sarah, who Mikalsen makes you care for with only a few subtle, but powerful, snippets of her life.

Clearly I was floored by this book. Awesome debut and I hope for more.

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Book Review: Forbidden by Faith, Negeen Papehn

Forbidden by Faith (Forbidden Love, #1)Forbidden by Faith by Negeen Papehn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb on the back of this book does not do the story between the covers justice.

Forbidden by Faith isn’t only a love story, it’s also the story of young woman’s journey of self-discovery. Sara has her plate full: pharmacy school, loving–but demanding–traditional Persian parents and family, and two hot, forbidden men who are both willing to fight for her.

The author kept me guessing and I loved not knowing how this story was going to end. Papehn also did a stellar job of depicting Sara’s struggle to find the truth while those around her are busily pursuing their own agendas.

Sara walks a fine line of being an American, a Persian, and a woman who is her own person, regardless of labels or her family’s or society’s expectations.

Papehn tells Sara’s story in a clean, fast-paced, direct fashion that is compelling without sacrificing beautiful, intelligent, and often amusing prose.

Here are a few examples:

“There was a warmth about him that felt like fingers wrapped around a hot cup of tea on a cold day.”

“Persian women were a special breed, possessing certain ironclad strength. They never showed weakness. . . . Absolutely no one considered therapy, unless they were clinically insane.”

And then there were the descriptions of food, which left me so hungry I was ready to gnaw off my arm. I LOVE Persian food and it was torture to read about it and have no Persian mother here to cook for me.

Anyhow, I loved the book–starting from the very first page. The prologue, which was clever, made the story even more fun and interesting to read (you’ll need to read the book to see what I mean!)

5 stars

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Sugar MoneySugar Money by Jane Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I won’t lie–this was a very hard book to read. Lucien, the narrator, is a slave in Grenada in the 1760s. As if life weren’t hard enough, the island is also going through political and social upheaval as the French and British jockey for control.

Harris is an AMAZING author when it comes to evoking a feeling of brooding, incipient terror. Lucien is a fascinating narrator and you feel a crushing empathy for him as he goes about his life, which just spirals from harsh to bad and worse.

Lots of patois make the reading come to life and Harris’s descriptions paint a picture of an island that is no tropical paradise, at least not for the people who are forced to work it.

A great, if tear-jerking, book.

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Review of : And the Next Thing You Know, by Chase Taylor Hackett

And the next Thing You Know . . . (Why You?, #2)And the next Thing You Know . . . by Chase Taylor Hackett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book came at a perfect time! I had just finished back to back weepers (see reviews for Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality and Sugar Money) and I really, really needed something that made me laugh and smile.

I honestly cannot recall reading a more consistently hilarious romance other than The Hating Game.

Chase Taylor Hackett writes laugh-out-loud dialogue. I picked up the book because I was intrigued by Jeffrey, the angry-lawyer-sleeping-his-way-through-NYC. I have to admit that Jeffrey is still my favorite, but I did end up liking Theo a lot, mainly because he is such an impervious, amusing butthead (yes, I have a weakness for that).

Anyhow, the story takes place from the perspective of multiple POVs, but mainly Jeffrey, Theo, and Thomas. The story is fast-paced and you get into the characters heads pretty deeply as the author does a great job of making you root for them. There are some heavy moments and some important themes, but the book is not dark and depressing.

I think good comedy is the hardest thing to write, but Hackett kept me rolling on the floor even though I am most likely not his intended reader (a 50 year-old). And of course the ending was wonderfully fulfilling and romantic…

5 stars!

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Debut Author Anna Quinn Talks About Her Creative Process

And the interviews just keep on rollin’! Today I’m talking with Anna Quinn, author of The Night Child, a work of psychological/literary fiction that will debut January 30, 2018, and is published by Blackstone Publishing.

I’m sticking with my theme of “What’s Your Writing Process” and Anna will answer a few questions about her creative process right below a blurb for the book and cover shot.

The Night Child is the story of Nora Brown, a young mother and high-school English teacher, whose unremembered childhood trauma returns to threaten her sanity in the form of a child named Margaret. This exquisitely nuanced and profoundly intimate novel examines the fragile line between past and present—it is a story of resilience, hope, and the capacity of the mind, body, and spirit to save itself despite all odds.

Teaser:  “Her past—a malevolent undertow she cannot escape from simply by swimming parallel to and waiting for release; no, this is a force demanding a surrender she cannot allow.”

Psssst! If you’d like to pre-order The Night Child, you can order it HERE!

cover final The Night Child_finished cover

Minerva Spencer: How long did you take to write this book?

Anna Quinn:  I wrote The Night Child in only a year, but that’s because I used a great deal of content from my previously written memoir. It took another year to edit The Night Child, and yet another year to call up the courage to submit it. I queried twenty-four agents and within a month, received nine requests for partial manuscripts and three requests for full manuscripts. Soon after, two agents expressed interest in representation—one NY agent, and Gordon Warnock from Fuse Literary in San Francisco. The NY agent wanted significant developmental changes that involved sensationalizing certain scenes for commercial purposes, and Gordon loved the book enthusiastically as it was, so I accepted his offer. Nine months later he called to say Blackstone Publishing had offered a fabulous contract. After an additional three months of editing with Blackstone, my book was ready for publication and will be released Jan. 30th, 2018.

MS:  What kind of research did you do for this book?

AQ:  I used notes from my own personal history of dissociation, and spent hundreds of hours reading about psychiatric therapies, and interviewing psychiatrists and people who had experienced, or were experiencing dissociation.

MS:  What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

AQ:  I’m a fairly spare writer (my poet husband calls me a haikuist novelist) and I often need to elaborate rather than cut. However, the editing exercise that helps most regarding cutting words is to read the entire manuscript aloud underlining all the places that cause me to falter or lose attention. Later, I go back and either cut those sentences or rewrite the passages. I also used Microsoft’s Word Usage and Frequency add-in, to find repeated words. The words “actually”, “shrugged” and “sometimes” were my top three most overused words. I also removed an excerpt of Hemingway’s, Clean Well-Lighted place because my publisher and I agreed it would be too much effort to secure the copyright from Hemingway Estates as they are known to be a pretty tough crowd.


MS:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

AQ:  One of the most exhilarating things about writing is the mystery and complexity of it, so while I have a sense of big what if questions when I begin, I allow my imagination free rein during the first draft— I become a combination of interviewer, recorder and witness. I observe my characters, follow them around, ask them things along the way like: What do you want? Why does this matter so much to you? What are you looking for? What’s standing in your way? What are you afraid of? and What next? Over time they lead me into scenes, into answers, and a story emerges—the structure revealing itself as I write.


MS:  What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

AQ:  Revision thrills me—re-visioning a draft from a critical perspective, listening to the sounds of language, playing with rhythm sentence by sentence, magnifying the abstract for an  unambiguous detail, cutting irrelevancies (even if it means pages and pages) adding complications, and creating metaphor completely absorbs me. The first few drafts allow me to discover the story—what it’s really about, where the vulnerability of being human lives. Revision allows me to clarify and deepen the emotional truth of it.

 

MS: Okay, one last question, and one that many aspiring writers find interesting: what is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

AQ: Finishing a piece. But really, is any story ever finished?

A huge thanks to Anna Quinn for joining me to talk about her fabulous new book, which will debut January 30, 2018.

If you’d like to contact Anna about her book or with questions you can do so with the below addresses:

Website:annamquinn.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/anna.quinn.9277

Twitter:@annaquinn55

Instagram: annaquinnpt
Pinterest: annaquinn5480

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35390279-the-night-child

A Book Birthday for Debut Author Clarissa Harwood’s Historical Fiction Novel, Impossible Saints!

Today’s interview is with author Clarissa Harwood, whose book, Impossible Saints, debuts TODAY, January 2, 2018!! 

Impossible Saints is historical fiction and published by Pegasus Books and you can grab a copy NOW from the following book vendors:

Amazon

Barns & Noble

Chapters Indigo

The book is set in 1907 England. Lilia Brooke, an agnostic militant suffragette, believes marriage to a clergyman is a fate worse than death. Paul Harris, a quiet, intellectual Anglican priest, is well aware that falling in love with Lilia is incompatible with his ambition to become the next cathedral dean. Lilia and Paul must decide which compromises they’re willing to make and whether their love is worth fighting for.

Impossible Saints Authors18.jpg

A teaser from Impossible Saints:

“How well do you know Whitechapel?” she asked.

He hesitated.

“Have you ever been there?”

“No,” he admitted, “but I don’t need to go to Hell to know I don’t want to spend time there.”

She laughed. “That’s a terrible analogy.”

“Don’t you think you could better achieve your ends by adding a little prudence to your fearlessness?”

“You sound like my mother.” She tapped her foot impatiently. “Why is it that men’s courage is called bravery but women’s courage is called recklessness—or, even worse, foolishness? If I were a man, would you urge me to be prudent?”

“I certainly would,” he said firmly. “Not everything is a question of sex.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. Everything is a question of sex, but because you’re a man, you don’t see it.”

*************

Minerva Spencer: How long did you take to write this book? 

Clarissa Harwood: The novel took about twenty years from conception to publication. The first draft took me a little over a year, but I’ve written so many drafts since then that I’ve lost count. I gave up on it several times and wrote other books, but I kept coming back to it. You can read more about the timeline, including signing with my agent and getting the book deal in this blog post.

 

MS:  What kind of research did you do for this book?

CH:  As a doctoral student and later an English professor, I specialized in nineteenth-century British literature, so the poetry and fiction of that era always sparks my research and leads me to primary sources. An early influence on Paul’s development as an Anglican priest was Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, with its delightful melodrama surrounding the lives and loves of cathedral clergy. Poets associated with Anglo-Catholicism inspired Paul’s story too, such as Gerard Manley Hopkins and Christina Rossetti. First-person accounts of the suffragettes’ destruction of property, hunger strikes in prison, and the brutal force-feeding they endured, especially Emmeline Pankhurst’s My Own Story and Constance Lytton’s Prison and Prisoners, were especially influential in shaping Lilia’s experiences.

MS:  What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

CH:  Deciding what to include and what to exclude is always difficult, but I’m fortunate to have people with great editorial eyes looking at my work—critique partners, beta readers, my agent, and my editor at Pegasus.  I’ll admit I was dismayed when Laura, my agent, first suggested killing off a fairly major character in Impossible Saints, but Laura has an uncanny ability to detect which elements of a story should be left in and which should be left out, so I knew I could trust her judgment. I was also disappointed when I realized on my own that I had to kill off my only Canadian character and put a New Zealander in his place! It’s obvious to me now that both “murders” improved the novel.

MS: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

CH:  My natural tendency is to be a plotter, but I’m trying to let my inner pantser come out more often! I never plot a novel in great detail, though. Before I start writing a novel, I usually write a brief synopsis. Writing a synopsis for a finished novel is painful, but writing one early in the process is a helpful exercise to work out what the important turning points and key scenes will be. Of course, the synopsis I write at the beginning bears little relation to the one I write at the end, but that’s as it should be!


MS:  What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

CH:  I love revisions, whether I’m doing them on my own after having written several drafts, or whether I’m doing them based on my agent’s or editor’s feedback. There is no “terror of the blank page,” so I don’t experience writer’s block when I’m doing revisions. I already know the story and the characters, so I don’t have to create anything from scratch. Instead, I’m adding layers and depth, polishing something that is already a solid story.

 

MS:  What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

CH:  The first draft! How I hate the first draft! I hate not knowing my characters. They aren’t my friends yet, and I miss my old friends from the previous novel. The characters in a first draft are people who’ve dropped out of the sky and are ordering me to tell a story I don’t know.


MS:  Can you share your writing routine? 

CH:  I’m very fortunate to have flexible hours in my day job (I teach online courses at my local university), so I can work at home most days and organize my time the way I want to. Mornings are my sacred writing time: I try to write for at least an hour or two every morning. But my writing routine is quite different depending on whether I’m writing an early draft or a later one. I give myself a minimum time period when I’m working on a first draft (only ten minutes if I’m really struggling). When I’m working on a later draft or revisions, I give myself a maximum time period: otherwise I miss appointments, meals, and sleep because all I want to do is write!


MS:  Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

CH:  Yes, usually when I’m working on a first draft or if I’ve been away from the manuscript too long. I’m a recovering perfectionist, so my first step is usually just reminding myself that it’s ok to “write crap.” In fact, this is how I wrote my entire dissertation! When my writer’s block is really severe, I use the ten-minute minimum time period I mentioned before and let myself make point-form notes if I can’t form complete sentences. Another trick I use for severe writer’s block is stolen from the movie The King’s Speech: to work on the king’s stutter, his speech therapist had him shout out swear words to loosen him up. I do this with writing if I’m really stuck: I just write long lists of swear words!

 

MS:  How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

CH:  I wrote two novels as a teenager that were awful. I rewrote one of them in my twenties, but it was still pretty awful. I’ll call those my three practice novels. Then I signed with my agent based on a finished novel that didn’t sell, and I recently finished a sort of sequel to Impossible Saints. That’s two finished unpublished novels. I also have two unfinished first drafts of new novels.

Thanks so much for sharing your process with my readers and good luck with your publishing journey!

*********

Clarissa_Harwood Authors18.jpg

If you’d like to contact Clarissa or have questions for her you can find her at one of the following places:

Website: www.clarissaharwood.com
Facebook: @ClarissaHarwoodAuthor

Twitter: @clarissaharwood

Goodreads: Clarissa Harwood

Interview with debut author Carrie Nichols!

Today I’m speaking with Carrie Nichols, debut author of The Marine’s Secret Daughter, a romance about forgiveness and second chances. Carrie’s book is published by Harlequin and will be out SOON, the paperback will be available 1/16/18 and the digital on 2/1/18.

I’ve asked Carrie to talk about her writing process, but first, here is a peek at the cover:

The Marine's Secret Daughter

Carrie’s book isn’t out yet, but you can grab a copy early if you just click on THIS!

And how about a quick teaser….

This was not how her first meeting in over five years with Riley Cooper was supposed to happen. In her imagination, she was all sexy in a little black dress and killer heels after a relaxing spa day. Yeah, right; she’d spent the day cleaning and probably looked like Nick Nolte’s mug shot. So not fair! Riley was supposed to be breathless and falling at her feet, not vice versa. Stupid, stupid asthma.

Minerva Spencer: Thanks for joining me, Carrie. My first question is one authors get all the time: How long did you take to write your book?

Carrie Nichols: Years and years. LOL! The story underwent a lot of changes since I knew nothing about plotting and story arcs when I first wrote it as a series of scenes. But these characters wouldn’t let go and I’d learned enough by the 4th draft to start winning contests and to sign with my dream agent.

MS: What kind of research did you do for this book?

CN:  I love research so I did way more than I needed. I researched the fictional setting of Loon Lake, Vermont, including the loons that make the lake home. I consulted several nurse friends for the hospital scenes, a friend whose son was a marine and my critique partner whose husband is a respiratory therapist.

MS: Did you have to change much during the editing process?

CN:  We mostly added things during the editing process. I had already removed scenes that didn’t further the story thanks to my ever patient agent.

MS: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

CN:  I’m a recovering pantser. I had the luxury of years to write and rewrite my first story but knew I had to learn plotting basics to sell on proposal. I still struggle with plotting but with the help of Laura Baker’s Turning Points and Discovering Story Magic online classes, I’m slowly becoming a plotster. I have a skeleton with the big scenes and story/character arcs and fill in the rest as I write.

MS:  What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

CN:  Getting to know my characters and what makes them tick. They come to me fully formed and I have to figure out what happened to them (their backstory) to turn them into the flawed people they are. And because I write romance, I love giving them their HEA (happily ever after) after making them work for it.

MS:  Can you share your writing routine?

CN:  I write in my home office. When my youngest moved out I cried when I walked into his empty room until I realized I had an empty room! As my husband observed, I wasted no time in making that room my own with paint and some bookcases. I am also lucky enough to not have a day job. I lost my job about a month after signing the contract with Harlequin and since my husband was already retired, I decided to join him.

MS: One last question. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

CN: Don’t give up!!

Carrie Nichols

Carrie Nichols, is a hardy New Englander transplanted to the deep South, where two inches of snow can bring a city like Atlanta to its knees. She loves to travel, is addicted to British crime dramas and knows a Seinfeld quote appropriate for every occasion. 
Carrie has one tolerant husband, two grown sons and two critical cats. To her dismay, Carrie’s characters, much like her family, often ignore the wisdom and guidance she lovingly offers.


USA Today called Carrie’s short story, Snowbound with the Stork, “a charming debut”

You can connect with Carrie at:

Website: http://carrienichols.com/

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

Twitter: @carolopal

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/carolopal/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15104405.Carrie_Nichols