When We Were Brave, Suzanne Kelman

Despite a slow start, I found When We Were Brave the be captivating. Normally, I adore dual timelines, but the present day story felt too forced and it pulled me out of the story.

I was more interested and invested in Vivi’s story than I was in Sophie’s, and felt those parts were more of a distraction. I’d have preferred to have the story set solely with Vivi and her journey in WWII.

It was an interesting twist to have the story be about uncovering the truth about someone who’d been assumed to be a traitor. 

The Girl With The Louding Voice, Abi Daré

Have you ever read a book that both broke and revived your heart? The Girl With the Louding Voice was both heartbreaking and inspiring.

I absolutely loved Adunni and reading this book in her voice made it that much more real. Her words and sentences became more confident as she learned and grew, her voice louder and stronger with each page.

The Girl with the Louding Voice is definitely one of my top books of 2020.

Know My Name, Chanel Miller

This book should be required reading for everyone—men, women, boys, girls—seriously, everyone.

I listened to the audiobook of Know My Name and heating Chanel’s words in her own voice brought so much more power to the book. Chanel is the type of woman I aspire to be and pray I raise. The sheer strength of her and her honestly and vulnerability was palpable.

I’ll never be able to give Know My Name proper justice. I’m grateful for her, her words, and her strength, and I want to leave you with Chanel’s words.

“And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.”

2.12.20 – InstaShortie – Hand-Me-Down Words

Maybe it’s the calm breeze. Or perhaps it’s the sound of crickets and toads serenading their mates. Or the field and never-ending rolls of hills and trees. Whatever it is, it whispers my name and tugs me back. I can hear the siren call even in the darkest corners of the city intertwining with the neon glow of the light pollution and the hustle and bustle of city life. The loud bellow echoing through the city streets creating a symphony. The song is one I know so well I can ignore it, but it’s always there in the back of my mind stuck on a loop.

Sometimes when I close my eyes, I can still see it. The blue skies that never end. Trees dancing in the gentle winds. Over time, though, the blue faded to gray. The trees lost their rhythm. Much like me, the vividness of the memory is lost.

Now as I stand in the middle of the airport, I wonder if the welcoming arms of home will envelop me in their embrace, or if they will cross protectively over their chest the instant I am seen. Though I crave the former, I know the latter is what will greet me upon my return. Whatever is waiting for me is inevitable. I cannot avoid it. No matter how long I ignored the calls. The news I’d received made it impossible to continue to live in blissful ignorance. Home exists and it is expecting me.

I hand my ticket to the gate agent and smile. He returns the smile, though his is more rehearsed and perfected than mine. The curve of my lips is forced and tired. I’ll save the faux enthusiasm for later today. I can’t waste the effort now. No offense to the agent, he isn’t the one waiting for me. He doesn’t care if I’m genuine or not. He won’t lament the loss of my sweetness to the devil in the big city. He’ll just take my ticket and then move on to the next person. Another face. Another smile. Here I am just a number. A chore to check off a list. I have a name, but it only exists to confirm that I do in fact belong on this jet. My given name means nothing. At least not here.

There it matters. There I am someone. A daughter. A sister. I have a name and that name lays out expectations. It isn’t just mine. The legacy it carries is one I can’t escape. I could try, but home would always remind me. I belong. My smile, no matter how fake, matters. Everything matters there.

I take my place in line, sandwiched between two men in black business suits. My own suit lacks importance. Leggings. Sweater. Boots. Items that allow me to blend in and appear casual. The look, though contemporary and fashionable, provides me with a barrier. Clothing I can hide in. They hide the scars and bruises. The ones that don’t bubble on the surface, but instead linger deep below the skin festering and waiting for secrets to be whispered.

“Miss?”

I look up, tucking a stray strand of my auburn hair behind my ear, and force another half-smile at the flight attendant and show her my ticket. She glances down and smiles as she reads. First-class always seems to bring out an extra level of happiness. As if they’ve been trained that I am somehow more special and important than the others. I slowly file into the aisle, waiting patiently for my seat to appear to my right. An aisle seat. Never the window. I know what the ground looks like from thirty thousand feet. I’ve seen it before. More times than I care to mention, in fact. The aisle allows for easy exit. I can escape quickly. I slide my carry on into the overhead compartment and settle into my seat. Unlike my seatmate, I tuck my phone away. Having turned it off before I left my apartment, I didn’t need to check any last emails or make any calls.

Instead, I pull my book from my bag and slip my earplugs from my pocket. My neighbor leans over to say something, but I ignore her. I’m not here for small talk or friendships. She lingers a moment longer than necessary before returning to her screen. I open the book to the page I last marked. Not that I needed to, I’d read this book a million times. The book that was written for me. The one that nearly destroyed my father, and the one that made my mother an icon.

I hated this book. I’d hated for as long as I could remember, yet every year I revisit it. Each year, I buy a new edition. One with an updated cover or a new forward. One to celebrate an anniversary. Unlike the book’s biggest fans, I don’t keep them on display. Instead, I read it and tuck it away in a box. All thirty-five editions relegated to a coffin under my bed never to be seen in the light of day again. I collect them, yet I wish to destroy them. Burn their pages and return them to tiny particles. Brush away the secrets buried within the pages and pretend they do not exist.

“I love that book,” my seatmate says loudly. She ignores my desire to remain unbothered and continues, “is that the new cover? I have a first edition and then the twenty-fifth-anniversary one they did. Have you read her other books?”

Her question is one I’ve yet to figure out how to answer, despite having a lifetime to find one. I watched my mother give birth to them. I sat in a corner in total silence, not daring to breathe or move for fear of interfering with her creative process. Rather than speak, I nod.

“Which is your favorite?”

None of them. All of them. I lift the one I am holding and grin. This time, I pull from deep within my resources and produce a genuine smile. Emma’s Eyes,” I answer. “Yours?”

“Emma’s Eyes is mine too,” she says, “but I also loved Emma’s Heart, too.”

“Another good one.”

“I heard the author passed away last week,” she says. I wince, trying to hide my reaction. She turns towards the window for a moment. I blink away the tears that threaten to form in my eyes and compose myself before she turns to me and whispers, “so tragic.”

I nod. It was tragic. A tragedy I’d been expecting for years. One I saw coming from the moment I saw my mother for who she really was. The woman behind the words was much different from the woman on the page. Her own smile was rarely seen inside our home. She saved that for her adoring fans. She reserved her passion and compassion for her characters.

“Where are you headed?” she asks. “I’m off to Kansas City for a girl’s weekend. I’ve got twin boys. They’re two and a handful. My mom is helping my husband out this weekend. My name is Jennifer Grant, by the way.”

“Katie,” I say and offer her my hand. She shakes it gently, holding on to me as if I were a wet noodle. I don’t offer my last name—I never do—and thankfully, she doesn’t ask.

I sense she wants to ramble on and on about the challenges of motherhood. So, I nod along and add sound effects that indicate I am listening when I’m not. I allow her to talk to me about the trials and tribulations of working motherhood. Something I know nothing about. Nor will I ever. I ignore the tugging inside me, the one I’ve worked to silence.

“I’m sorry! I’ve been talking about myself and not letting you speak.” She tucks a strand of her brown hair behind her ears and raises her eyebrow, nudging me to speak. “Where did you say you were headed?”

“Home,” I say. 

“Kansas City?”

I shake my head. “A little further south.”

She waits for me to answer. When I don’t, she shrugs. “Oh.”

She says it so softly, my guilt kicks in. “It’s a small town just outside of the city. Only a few hundred people live there.”

“Any special occasion?”

“My mother passed away.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.” My answer has the desired effect. She offers a frown and turns her attention back to her phone.

The rest of the flight is spent in silence. I read the pages without reading the words. I know this story by heart. I could recite it in my sleep. Emma often comes to me in my dreams. Though my mother never confirmed it, I always knew that Emma was the daughter she’d wished I’d become. Loyal, loving, and compliant. Like my mother, Emma was a wordsmith. She crafts beautiful prose and tells stories. She’s also a private investigator, though my mother confessed years ago that storyline was just a ploy to sell more books. Emma was never meant to solve crimes. She existed for beauty. She gave my mother a sense of peace and calm that she couldn’t get anywhere else. 

My mother loved Emma in a way she’d never been capable of loving either my father or me.

Witness Protection Widow, Debra Webb

I’m a sucker for books set near where I live, so imagine my pure delight as I started reading WWitness Protection Widow on Sunday, February 2 and read these words:
Sunday, February 2
Winchester, Tennessee

Double whammy.

I think I’ve found my new favorite type of romance novel … romantic suspense. There’s a bit more at stake than a relationship.

I loved Ali and Jax. Ali is a relatable and strong character that is easy to root for. Jax is tough but also has a soft spot for Ali.

The story flowed at a smooth pace and wasn’t just about the relationship or sex. Both characters grew.

Witness Protection Widow
Can the witness protection program keep her identity secret?
After Allison James finally escapes her marriage to a monster, she becomes the star witness in the case against her deceased husband’s powerful crime family. Now it’s up to US Marshal Jaxson Stevens, Ali’s ex-boyfriend, to keep the WITSEC widow safe. But as the danger escalates and sparks fly, will Jax be able to help Ali escape her ruthless in-laws?

About the author Debra Webb
DEBRA WEBB is the award winning, USA Today bestselling author of more than 150 novels, including reader favorites the Faces of Evil, the Colby Agency, and the Shades of Death series. With more than four million books sold in numerous languages and countries, Debra’s love of storytelling goes back to her childhood on a farm in Alabama. Visit Debra at www.DebraWebb.com

Exclusive Excerpt from Witness Protection Widow
She shivered. The fire had gone out. She kept on her jacket while she added logs to the fireplace and kindling to get it started. Within a couple of minutes, the fire was going. She’d had a fireplace as a kid, so relearning her way around this one hadn’t been so bad. She went back to the kitchen and turned on the kettle for tea.

Bob growled low in his throat and stared toward the front door.

She froze. Her phone was in her hip pocket. Her gun was still in her waistband at the small of her back. This was something else Marshal Holloway had in­sisted upon. He’d taught her how to use a handgun. They’d held many target practices right behind this cabin.

A creak beyond the front door warned that some­one was on the porch. She eased across the room and went to the special peephole that had been installed. There was one on each side of the cabin, allowing for views all the way around. A man stood on the porch. He was the typical local cowboy. Jeans and boots. Hat in his hands. Big truck in the drive. Just like Marshal Holloway.

But she did not know this man.

“Alice Stewart, if you’re in there, it’s okay for you to open the door. I’m Sheriff Colt Tanner. Branch sent me.”

Her heart thudding, she held perfectly still. Branch would never send someone to her without letting her know first. If for some reason he couldn’t tell her in advance, they had a protocol for these situations.

She reached back, fingers curled about the butt of her weapon. Bob moved stealthily toward the door.

“I know you’re concerned about opening the door to a stranger, but you need to trust me. Branch has been in an accident, and he’s in the hospital undergoing surgery right now. No matter that his injuries were serious, he refused to go into surgery until he spoke to me and I assured him I would look after you, ma’am.”

Worry joined the mixture of fear and dread churn­ing inside her. She hoped Branch wasn’t hurt too badly. He had a wife and a daughter.

She opened her mouth to ask about his condition, but then she snapped it shut. The man at her door had not said the code word.

I Will Write Them

Just write. Just go for it. Just do it. There are a million and one platitudes that are meant to inspire us to take a chance on something we want.

As a writer, few things are more intimidating and invigorating than a blank page or a blinking cursor.

The desire to create is always there. Stories and characters fill my imagination.

But …

There are times I wonder if I have the skill or talent to adequately bring those characters and their stories to life. I’ve put a few ideas aside because some were so big that I wasn’t sure I was ready for them. But they’re out there waiting for me, and I will write them one day.

I will write them.

Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid

I’m still processing all of my feelings and reactions to Such a Fun Age. Most of all, I wanted to pull Emira into a big hug and thank her for finding and using her voice to stand up for herself, on her own. Everyone else was trying to shove their voices and beliefs onto her—Kelley, her friends, Alix—but in the end, she stood on her own two feet and took charge.

I really struggled with Alix. I liked her and hated her all at the same time. Her victim mentality and desire to be the white lady savior irritated me. But, I also related to her struggles as a mother. Mostly, though, I wanted to shake her shoulders and yell at her to let it go.

Overall, I loved Such a Fun Age, and I’d very much like a full-length sequel all about Briar’s life after Emira. And, maybe one with Zara, too.

Postscript, Cecelia Ahern

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

I remember reading and adoring P.S. I Love You when it first came out ages ago (16 years, to be exact. How??). So, when I saw Cecilia Ahern had written a follow-up, I knew I had to read it.

I was not disappointed. Postscript was filled with the vivid and rich prose that I love. Holly as a main character is honest, flawed, and vulnerable.

Every heartbreaking story was equally uplifting.

It wasn’t an easy read, but I very much enjoyed Postscript.

I would add that this could be a triggering book if you’ve dealt with loss. I lost my father to a brain tumor 28 years ago, and I sometimes struggle through stories that deal with a terminal illness. But this one, as did P.S. I Love You, left me wishing I’d had my own letters to read.

She Regrets Nothing, Andrea Dunlop

I loved pretty much everything about this book. The Lawrence family is every bit the juicy, E!News reality TV I love to indulge myself in.

Nora and Leo and their over-the-top privilege lives. Liberty and her desire to shed that lifestyle. Laila’s desperation to have the lives her cousins lived.

She Regrets Nothing kept me captivated. I could not stop turning the pages. And when I finished, I wanted more!

Write. Edit. Revise.

How do you begin a project?

For me, nothing beats pen and paper for those initial ideas. There’s just something magical about a smooth flowing pen on pristine white paper.

One question I get asked consistently is where do my ideas come from. The answer? Literally everywhere. In songs, conversations, the news, TV shows, movies, books, etc. Once I get the spark of an idea, I usually spend a couple of weeks thinking and obsessing about the characters and the story. Who are they? What do they want? What’s in their way?

Sometimes, I get it right. Sometimes, I’m wrong.

Back in November, I started a novel during NaNoWriMo. It was inspired by a news story, and I had this fear that it was too big for my current skills as a writer. But I wrote it anyway. Well, 60k words of it.

Then, I realized it was all wrong. I added a layer that didn’t need to be there. It became a story I didn’t want to tell.

So, I tried to start over (which is painful after 2/3 of it was written). I waited. I reworked the story. I waited. I started hating it. I took a two-month break from it.

Then, while trying to revise another manuscript, I realized what I wanted to do. So, I took the outline and plot and I deconstructed it. Now, I’m rewriting it and actually excited about it.

It took sitting down with a pen in hand and answering those fundamental character questions—who are they, what do they want, what’s in their way, what do they stand to lose if they don’t get what they want?

Cheers to new beginnings for old characters.