Loveys, we are seventeen days from the release of The Last Summer (picture me squealing with excitement!). How fabulous! Today, Carrie from Reading is My SuperPower is doing a cover reveal! Hop over right now and join the excitement!!
Loveys, we are seventeen days from the release of The Last Summer (picture me squealing with excitement!). How fabulous! Today, Carrie from Reading is My SuperPower is doing a cover reveal! Hop over right now and join the excitement!!
I cannot believe we’re six weeks out from the launch of The Last Summer! How is this even possible?! It’s actually already available for pre-order on Amazon. The publisher is working on the cover. Final corrections are being made to the proofs. And this is feeling really real, y’all.
I was putting together a list of early readers this weekend, and the thought of people actually READING this story started to give me a little anxiety. Remember, these characters first came to me when I was 18 years old. A lifetime ago. They’ve been living in my head all this time. Now their story is finished and about to be available for people. I think nerves are just part of the process.
Nerves and excitement. I’m thinking of a book launch party and other fun, book-release things and excitement is part of all that. I’ve loved every book I’ve written–of course I have. You pour yourself into the writing and spend hours upon hours with your characters. But this book, lovey. This book.
It’s just different.
I love it in a nostalgic, memory-filled, roots kind of way. Because I remember forming these characters on the bottom of a bunk bed while living in a dorm room with five other girls, one of whom has already gone to heaven, which breaks my heart. We were just young girls then.
And then I remember re-writing it, living with Leah in dorm 23. Then Courtney and Kat. Dave Matthews or Matchbox Twenty on the radio. And then in our apartment while living with Laurie. Staying up late in my room, typing away on this same story.
Then becoming an intern for a publishing company and letting Mick and Kathy read it, getting feedback and feeling terrified as real, grown-up editors read my writing. Working on it while sitting with Samantha Krieger in one of the houses I was staying in during our internship. I think back on that and smile, thinking that’s what it looks like when you’re writer-friends. Come over, and bring your laptop, and we’ll sit together and type!
Then taking a break from it and writing Looks Like Love. Time passed during those years and life changed and I became an editor and lived out my dream job. Babies came. Then I wrote Table for Two, then Second Chance Café, then Recipe for Love. All while editing the books of so many others.
And finally, while pregnant with my third baby, I decided to start with a blank page, and rewrite this novel (in first person this time, which I loved while working on Looks Like Love).
So as Lily grew inside me, I wrote, for the last time, Sara’s story, The Last Summer.
And now, we’re six weeks out from release date.
But in my heart, we’re twenty years in. And I could just about cry.
So I’m scared and excited and happy and relieved and ready. I could use your help, loveys, to get the word out about this story. I hope to do a cover reveal in the next few weeks. And you can see the hashtag in the photo above. Once the book is out, I’d be so thankful to see readers with it, and please include that hashtag. Please leave reviews–you don’t even know how invaluable that is for authors. Share the book announcement on your pages. Contact me with any questions about how you can help! email@example.com.
It’s nearly time. The COUNTDOWN is beginning.
Oh gosh. I’m so happy!
Loveys, I’ve got two book releases to tell you about! The book my sister and I have done together, Chosen, is available now in print and on Kindle at Amazon. com! Sara and I are so thrilled. If you’re on Instagram, you can follow the book at #the_chosen_trilogy. There are lots of really great posts! Sara and I have been doing a lot of book promotion on Insta, you can follow both of us @sahanson and @alittlebitofbrandy. If you read Chosen, please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads and let us know what you thought about it! This book has been a labor of love for us, and to see it finally available and in the hands of readers is just wonderful. Hop over to Amazon and see what other people are saying about it.
Next book! The Romano Family Collection is available now in print and on Kindle! You guys know how partial I am to the Romano family. I wish I could pull up a chair at one of Leo’s restaurants and dive into a plate of Lobster Magnifico! You can also follow this one on Instagram at the hashtag #romanofamilycollection. And if you’re reading The Romano Family Collection in any form, I’d love for you to post a picture with the hashtag!
I mentioned before that this new repackage includes a bonus short story and recipe! I’m going to give you the first page of the short story as a teaser! Enjoy! And hop over to Amazon to grab this collection. You might want to grab something to snack on while you read!
A Southern Belle Road Trip
A Romano Family Collection Short Story
Ashley Gray looped her light brown hair into a loose bun on the top of her head, then stood with her hands on her hips, surveying the chaos of her apartment. Well, her apartment for the next week.
The front door opened and her friend Mandy peeked inside.
“I hate moving,” Ashley said, by way of greeting.
Mandy walked inside and set a plastic bag on the kitchen island. “At least the weather is decent. You won’t be driving in snow.” November had been a bit warmer than usual for Denver, Colorado. And while there was plenty of snow up in the mountains, Ashley was very grateful the roads where she lived were currently clear and dry. Traveling in cold weather was bad enough, snow would have been more than she could handle.
Mandy pointed to the bag. “Leo made a quiche this morning, and it was delicious. I brought you leftovers.”
“Hallelujah!” Ashley made a bee-line to the food. Mandy’s husband happened to be a talented chef, and Ashley’s stomach rumbled at the thought of breakfast. Mandy rounded the corner of the island and opened one of the cupboards.
“I see you haven’t packed the mugs yet. Or the coffee maker.”
“Fortification,” Ashley explained, pulling out a plastic container with two slices of quiche. She popped the Tupperware in the microwave for a minute while Mandy poured herself a cup of coffee. “I need the coffee to keep me going till all this is done.”
Once the food was warm, both girls sat together on barstools at the island, Ashley devouring the delectable egg-and-bacon quiche and Mandy sipping her coffee.
“So don’t move,” Mandy said. Ashley rolled her eyes and used her fork to motion to their surroundings.
“I’m halfway packed. I didn’t renew my lease. I have to move.”
“Tell me why.”
Ashley paused, her heart squeezing at the sight of her best friend’s sad look.
“You know why. We’ve talked about this. It’s time for a change.”
“But you’re going back to Virginia,” Mandy countered, tucking her hair behind her ears. “Is that the right kind of change? You’ve been there, done that, remember? You left for a reason.”
Ashley mulled that thought for a moment and then swallowed. “I left for adventure. A job opportunity opened up, and I’d never lived anywhere except for Sommersville, Virginia. It was time for me to spread my wings. I dreamed of moving out west and finding an amazing guy who’d fall head over heels for my Southern accent.”
Mandy smiled. “Well, it is pretty charming.”
Ashley was quiet for a moment.
“The thing is,” she finally said, “things didn’t quite turn out like I’d hoped, Mandy. Working at the church drained me, and I ended up so burned out. Working with the singles group was fun until everyone paired off or found someone or moved. And I felt like I was pulled in a million directions, helping with a ton of ministries, leaving no time for myself and not enough money to match the cost of living in Denver. I never met anyone—”
“Greg—” Mandy began but Ashley held up her hand.
“Do not mention Greg.” Ashley had no interest in talking about the one guy she’d dated, who happened to also be the worship leader of the church. Five months of dating had ended with him telling Ashley that they were better off as friends. Two weeks later he’d started dating another girl, and married her within six months. The fact that the girl had looked like a supermodel and Ashley’d had to continue working at the church in near proximity to the lovebirds—well, the whole experience had left Ashley feeling less-than-Christian for a good, long while.
“Okay. But you could do something different without moving.” Mandy glanced down at her buzzing phone. “Sorry. Leo’s watching Antonio and Olivia, and it looks like Antonio might have hijacked his phone. Either that, or Leo’s sending me text messages in some kind of code.”
Ashley chuckled and stood up to grab another cup of coffee for herself.
“Honestly, Mandy. You have to understand. You found your happily ever after. You got the gorgeous Italian, who can cook to boot. And now you’ve got two amazing kids. All I have is a drafty apartment. I’m out of options.”
“Ash,” Mandy said softly. “I remember you telling me once that there’s always another option. It’s called faith.”
Loveys, it’s almost book club time again! Which I’m thrilled about because the last month has had all kinds of unexpected issues (illness for one) and I feel like I have hardly been a part of humanity! I had all of these great intentions about being super social this year, and then one thing after another has happened, and basically my only social interaction lately has been with Jeff and my three children. SO, fingers crossed nothing else happens, and book club goes as planned next week.
Book club this month is Joanne Harris’s delightful novel Chocolat. I was immediately on board with this since I LOVED the movie so much. I was surprised by how much they changed from book to film–but the more I thought about it, the more I felt that the changes were good changes. They held to the themes while making the story something that worked perfectly in movie form. (This made me think of Julie and Julia. In that case, I loved the movie so much, but when I read the book, I didn’t connect with the author. The book just didn’t move me in any way.) When it came to Chocolat, I ended up loving the book and the movie. (Confession: I liked some of the characters from the movie better, but I liked getting to know Vianne in a deeper way.)
I was also reminded that I’m sort of obsessed with food. I really enjoyed the food/dessert aspects of this novel. I wish I could go to a chocolaterie in France! (This is also why I loved the movie.) I also enjoyed the mystic elements of this book. Whenever there are mystic elements in this kind of story, you end up wondering about how much is meant to be real or imagined, or perhaps the line between reality and otherworldly is intentionally blurry. I like the feeling I get when I read something that makes even the everyday seem like an adventure. The characters involved in the small town–mysterious, sympathetic, frustrating. The wind for Vianne, will it move her again and sweep her away to a new place?
So I get to host book club at my house this month and I’m thinking chocolate is in order. Maybe fondue? Maybe chocolate martinis? Maybe both? Jeff bought me a bottle of chocolate wine because he loves me, so we’ll try that. I’m feeling desperate for grown-up conversation, and book club is the perfect remedy. The only thing better than reading about food in books is drinking wine while talking about food in books!
P.S. I’ve been finishing up the final touches on my compilation book The Romano Family Collection. This compilation project is made up of my three Heartsong Presents novels, Table for Two, Second Chance Café, and Recipe for Love. I am so excited to have those available again! As I’ve been going through proofs, I can see again how much I enjoy food in fiction. Leo’s Lobster Magnifico, Isabella’s Corn Chowder, Alison’s Breakfast Casserole, Jeremy’s Bread Pudding–really, this girl likes to eat. In the Romano Family Collection, there’s a bonus short story called A Southern Belle Road Trip. I’m really thrilled for readers to get this glimpse into Ashley’s life (she’s a character from Table for Two!) It’s just a short story, but I managed to squeeze food scenes in regardless. And there’s a bonus recipe included! The Kindle version should be up and running soon, and I’m hoping the print version will be available within the next two weeks. Stay tuned for an update and possibly a giveaway!
Loveys, we’re getting closer to the release of Chosen! So exciting! This is YA (young adult) fantasy fiction. Kate Stokely is a 17-year-old girl, preparing to go to college. Humans and “Chosen” ones, people who can manipulate the elements, share this world, but until now, Kate has never personally known anyone who’s chosen. All of that changes in the blink of an eye, and suddenly Kate’s reality looks completely different. She’s about to find out who she is and what she’s made of.
Sara and I are so excited to share this story with you! Here’s a sneak preview of the Prologue….
Something was wrong.
At 3 a.m., an earthquake rocked all of northeastern America. By 5 a.m., a red moon was spinning in the western sky; to the east, a blazing yellow sun pulsated, and in between, millions of stars blinked frantically. People stopped on sidewalks and driveways, pointing up at the sky in open fascination or mildly camouflaged fear. By midmorning, black, billowing clouds crawled across the sky while a deep thunder boomed down from the heavens. And in the small quaint town of Huntington, New York, a cutting wind raced through the streets, sending the majority of its population indoors to seek refuge, while leaving the false impression of a ghost town in its wake.
The howling winds and turning clouds mirrored the woman moaning and tossing in labor at 947 Pine Hollow Street. Her water had broken the night before during an unusual, powerful earthquake that news reports indicated had left thirty or more missing persons throughout Long Island. The aftershocks that continued to wreak havoc across the city were lost on the dark-haired man now kneeling beside the writhing woman. He kissed her hand, whispering soft words of comfort, though his own face, pale and heavily perspiring, revealed his fear. The nearest hospitals were overrun with people and their doctor, overwhelmed with patients injured from the previous evening’s quake, had sent in his place a highly recommended midwife.
Delilah, short and plump with curly gray hair, ended her call with EMT and snapped her cell phone shut. At the same moment, the woman in labor, who had faded in and out of consciousness over the past few hours, began yelling hysterically, “JON! PLEASE HELP ME! Oh God, the pain—I can’t—” causing Delilah to sprint upstairs to the room.
Jonathan Stokely cried out, “Aurora! AURORA! Honey, wake up!”
Heart pounding, Delilah ran into the bedroom and rushed to the side of the woman whose face was now as white as the sheets around her. I have to do something. I can’t wait for help; it won’t be here fast enough. Even if we leave now for the hospital . . . she won’t make it. Still trying to fight the rising panic in her heart, and the terrible fear that Mr. Stokely would lose both his baby and his wife in the same day, Delilah placed her hand on the woman’s belly in an effort to regain some sense of duty and control over the situation. Delilah’s heart skipped a beat. Wait, no! That wasn’t my heart—that was the baby moving! The baby’s alive!
Pushing her sleeves further up her arms and brushing strands of hair away from her face, she set to work with fresh determination.
A half hour later, Delilah emerged from the room, smiling wearily and carrying a small bundle wrapped in white. Jonathan Stokely, who had been pacing the hall, continuing to call emergency services, and whose face was wet with tears, stopped abruptly, his eyes flying up to meet Delilah’s, searching for reassurance. She nodded.
“They’re both going to be fine. You have a beautiful baby girl. Congratulations.”
He breathed a huge sigh of relief, and his green eyes, falling back onto his daughter, lit up, displaying a fusion of joy and amazement.
“We’ll still need to go to the hospital as soon as the ambulance arrives. Your wife has lost a lot of blood. She and the baby need constant observation tonight,” Delilah told him.
Holding his sleepy daughter snugly in his arms, he approached the bed where his exhausted, weakened wife lay, a tired smile on her face. “She’s as beautiful as her mother,” he said, and leaned down so his wife could see their baby. “You have my heart, Aurora,” he promised. “You have since the moment I met you. And you have never been more beautiful than you are at this moment,” he added, his voice breaking.
Eyes filling with tears, she whispered, “I love you, too.”
Together, their eyes traveled down to rest on the newest addition to the Stokely family, a wisp of red hair just visible poking over the top of the cotton blanket.
“Hello, little chosen one,” Aurora whispered. “Jon, it’s cold in here.” Her husband wrapped his arms around his wife and daughter, enveloping them in an immediate rush of warmth.
“Her name?” he asked, as a tiny hand emerged from the blanket in his arms, reaching toward him with dainty fingers splayed open beseechingly.
Aurora wiped her eyes, which were silently spilling over in unchecked emotion, and replied with utmost tenderness in her voice, “Kathryn, her name is Kathryn.”
* * *
Thousands of miles away in the opposite direction, another woman was crying.
In a remote area of northern England, a well-preserved castle stood massive and impregnable, blending in well with the surrounding mountains. In the West Wing, on a velvet pillow, lay a midnight blue stone affectionately referred to as Avonmore that was beginning to moan. The woman who was crying took a deep breath and reached for the stone. She wiped her eyes and tried to wish away the sense of helplessness weighing heavily on her mind; but her despair would not be dispelled. She held the stone tightly, its deep sapphire color matching the exact shade of her eyes.
Within a large, luxurious flat deep in the heart of Moscow, a white stone christened the name of Zephyr set atop a silver walking stick began to tremble in an umbrella rack, and at the sound, a man named Uvionus looked up sharply from his comfortable sofa. Without a word he stood up, reached for a gray fur coat hung casually on the back of a dining room chair, and opened the door that led onto a balcony. Even as the door opened, the cool current of air outside began to grow stronger.
At the same moment, in a tiny village of Northern Africa, a crimson stone called Pyrrhus glowed brightly on the chain around former tribal leader Phaedron’s scarred neck. Phaedron grasped the stone without thinking and felt its heat seep into his hand. Sounds of children running and laughing throughout the village began to fade from his ears as he looked up at the dark sky.
Back in the East Wing of the castle, a man named Thaddeus sat complacently at his desk with hands folded together. And one last stone, the color of deep timber, fittingly titled Terra, set in a silver ring on Thaddeus’s finger, split down the middle with a resounding crack. Wearing a look of relief mingled with a touch of trepidation, he resolutely abandoned his seat and walked toward the spiral staircase leading upward from his office.
Within moments, the four Bearers of the stones were standing in front of one another at the top of a great tower. Their arms outstretched, their fingertips barely touching.
“It is as we feared then?” The Bearer of the white stone, Uvionus, was unable to veil the obvious tremble in his voice. The others looked to the Bearer of the midnight blue stone, Joselyn. She shook back thick locks of long, white hair. Her sapphire eyes closed for one moment before opening again, now so light they looked like crystal. She nodded.
“He is gone. But not yet entirely out of reach.”
Phaedron gave a sharp intake of breath, his audible expression only echoing the other’s silent emotions.
“So the balance hangs in jeopardy. Unless we have the strength to restore it. Joselyn?” Thaddeus’s words were firm, but as gentle as a quiet, rolling stream. Joselyn’s eyes watered.
“I am strong enough.”
Maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t. As the four Bearers raised their arms to the void above them, the ground shook violently beneath them. A scream could be heard—audible only to their ears. An icy wind began to blow around and through them, and a large fire roared in the center of them. As Joselyn’s tears fell silently down her face, the sound of water rushing—terrible and beautiful—filled each Bearer’s soul.
Thaddeus squeezed his eyes shut as his arms began to shake with an almost frightening power. The earth beneath him seemed to cry out in misery. The gusts of air, the swirls of waves, and the bellows of flames drowned out the shrill, painful screams. And in an instant, all was still. All was quiet. The four Bearers lowered their arms. For the moment, all was right. The balance was restored. The stars were aligned. The auburn moon returned to its pearly glow.
Thaddeus studied Joselyn, silently whispering words to her troubled mind—for the four Bearers had that unique ability to share thoughts without speaking. And slowly, Joselyn’s tempest gaze softened. Each Bearer breathed easier as the sense of equilibrium calmed the world around them and the spirits within them.
* * *
Back in Huntington, New York, Kathryn lay sleeping peacefully in her father’s arms. The strange, ominous weather outside had finally subsided, revealing bright, unblemished stars stamping the sky in its wake. The world was as it should be, once more.
But deep within the earth, a man whose screams had been silenced was shaking with rage . . . and waiting.
Loveys, so Saturday night was book club at the Bruce house and we were talking about all things Dragonfly in Amber. This is book 2 in the Outlander series (which I love!). Honestly, it’s not my favorite book of the series (that would be Voyager), but it’s an important part of the overall story and there’s plenty to discuss. Seriously, we sat in my living room, talking and laughing, till after midnight! This is why I love book club. Book discussion can go in so many directions and you end up learning so much about each other in the process.
Back to the book. Outlander is all about Scotland, and the setting is important to understanding the characters. But in DIA, our setting moves to France, and again, the setting is extremely important to the story (it does reach back to Scotland eventually). So we stuck with France for our book club theme, specifically the spookiness of Master Raymond’s shop.
Master Raymond is one of the most intriguing new characters in DIA and he’s a favorite of mine. He owns something of an apothecary shop and he’s fascinating on many levels, not to mention the fact that he ends up being a good friend to Claire. I tied our table décor to themes in the book–Master Raymond’s shop, Claire being labeled ‘La Dame Blanche’ (the white witch), Jamie joining the wine business with his cousin Jared, and so on.
It was fun to tie in the role of wine from the book to our book club night because…um, wine and book club go together like syrup and pancakes. For real. So for our party favors, everyone received little bottles of wine.
I printed off discussion questions, just as a starting off point, but some of the best discussion came organically. There’s a moment early on the book, when Claire is telling her daughter Brianna the truth about who her father is and what happened, and Claire tells Brianna that she hated her for a time. This topic resulted in a lot of interesting discussion. Other topics that I felt were really good included the role of faith/God in the story, whether or not Claire made the right choice in leaving, whether Claire owns that decision or blames Jamie (or even Brianna), and Claire’s marriage to Frank. For literally hours, the girls and I dove deep, talking about the books and sharing about ourselves. Good stuff.
(To be honest, these books are really long. You could have a great discussion on the TV series alone. Though I’d argue the characters are much better in the books and there’s so much more! But still, good discussion.)
So, Outlander book club part 2 was a success! I’m thankful to the girls who came. Friends and wine and snacks and books…all good things. (Jessica and Marina, I missed you girls! Next time for sure!)
It’s almost time for Dragonfly in Amber book discussion! I’ve been thinking about book club and hopped on this blog to remind myself of what I did the last time I hosted Outlander book club, and I can’t believe I never wrote an Outlander post over here! For all those people who watch the show, we’re currently experiencing Droughtlander, so some of us are reading through the books to compensate. But for all those lovely women reading Outlander and looking for book club party ideas, let me share with you!
Let’s talk about Outlander. So I discovered the show on a free preview Starz weekend. Honestly, I wasn’t all that hooked on the first episode, but it intrigued me enough that I wanted to keep watching. So I did. And I started reading the first book (which was intimidating because these books are massive!). I ended up being really hooked and reading all of the books and becoming a crazy person who vents on forums when the show makes me mad. So there’s that.
I found some other women to be crazy with me and we read the first book together and had an Outlandish book club night at the very beginning of summer. And it was perfect! Book club is always a fun time. But there’s something about Outlander that makes it even more fun (could be James Alexander Malcom Mackenzie Fraser–just sayin).
I found discussion questions online and printed those off. I also printed off the “Claire Randall Missing” flyers that you see above. I put one on the front door, which was so fun for all the guests to see. And as you can see above, our party favors were little bottles of whisky, with name tags. (I thought about making Scottish dishes to serve, but for real, I couldn’t find any that sounded very appealing. Haggis? Um, maybe not. Even the Scotch cocktails sounded kind of scary, like The Penicillin and the Rusty Nail. Or the Car Bomb and The Meatball. What?? When in doubt, stick with chocolate and wine, lovey.) I rented the Outlander soundtrack from the library (p.s. The soundtrack is amazingly beautiful), and that was our background music.
Because it was basically a perfect summer evening, we sat outside under the pergola and had cheese and chocolate fondue and drank lots of wine and talked about Scotland and time travel and romance and all sorts of things related to the book for hours. There’s so much to unpack with a book series like Outlander, add the show to the mix, and it makes for good discussion.
I love the heart of the story–which is the relationship between Jamie and Claire. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of Claire in the first couple of books. There are things I like about her, and things that I don’t connect with (I feel much the same about Brianna, her daughter). Jamie’s a straightforward character and there’s SO much to love about him (still, he’s not without his controversial moments). It’s who they are together that I totally get, and that keeps me reading. The show is much like the books, some parts I love, some I really don’t. Last season especially, I was ranting on forums at times! But part of the fun of Outlander is the enormous community out there to share it with. (I love My Outlander Purgatory blog!)
Practically speaking, reading is a solitary experience. But when you’ve read a great book or watched a great movie, you want to dish about it with other people! And sometimes you have to go looking outside your usual circle. Maybe this is an interest that some of your close friends don’t share–that’s okay! There are book lovers in every neighborhood, you just have to find them. Example, I was at a birthday party this weekend and I was standing and chatting with some women I’ve never met. I randomly said, Do any of you read Outlander? Voila! A kindred spirit was in the midst. A new recruit for all the crazy.
Here we are now, just days away from getting together to talk about Dragonfly in Amber! Just a few girlfriends and a couple of bottles of wine, talking about a Scot and his lass. Swoon! I’ll be back with ideas for hosting a Dragonfly in Amber book club night (if I actually have any ideas, which I don’t yet!). Book club is my favorite, loveys. And it’s not just because of the books, it’s the community. It always comes back to community. Finding something great and sharing it.