Book Spotlight: Finding My Happy Place by Heather Wardell

Synopsis:

If thirty-year-old Megan were any more of a doormat, she’d have footprints on her back. She helps anyone and everyone, no matter the cost to herself, and she’s always been that way. Even the thought of withholding her assistance makes her feel sick. Worse, it makes her feel like she’s a bad person, selfish and unkind.

She takes up running purely to avoid gaining weight, but as she trains with her cute but heartbroken coach Andrew she becomes more able to do things she’d never thought she could, both physically and emotionally.

The day before she runs her first marathon, though, her best friend’s demands result in the biggest challenge yet to her developing assertiveness and Megan must decide: cave in as she always has before or stick to her new-found ‘happy pace’ in running and life.

The book is available for only 99 cents at http://www.heatherwardell.com/finding-my-happy-pace.shtml

About the Author:

Growing up, I was an avid (rabid?) reader. I am a natural speed reader, regularly clocked at about 1200 wpm (I read Harry Potter 5 in just under three hours), and always have multiple books on the go, usually on my Kindle.

After careers as a software developer and elementary school computer science teacher, in 2005 I took up the National Novel Writing Month challenge and attempted to write a novel in a month. I succeeded, and the first draft of my first novel “Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo” was the result. I realized I love writing. I left teaching, and I haven’t looked back since!

Follow The Author:

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My 3 Last Book Reviews for 2011: Blank Slate Kate by Heather Wardell, Sunrise on the Battery by Beth Webb Hart, and Her Life as She Knew it by Karen Schwind

I have managed to end the year 2011 with 3 more book reviews before the new year.  I have read quite a lot this past week and really wanted to write the reviews for these books I agreed to reading.  While these are not comprehensive book reviews like I normally try to do, I know that readers will still be able to get the gist of what I thought.

Have a great and happy New Year!

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Synopsis: 

Waking up with a strange man is scary. Realizing you lost fifteen years of your life overnight? That’s terrifying. With her memories from seventeen to thirty-two gone, Kate has no idea who she is and where she belongs. As she begins to fall for the man who found her, she wonders if she forgot those years for a reason. Should she keep trying to retrieve her original self, or start a new life?

My Review:

Kate is a 32 year old woman, who has lost all memory of the past 15 years.  In her mind, she is 17 years old, and sees the world through the eyes of an innocent young teenager.  Heather Wardell brings the reader along as Kate tries to figure out what happened during those lost years, work through trying to catch up with world events, and even figure out the world of technology (think iphone, Twitter, Facebook, etc).  Heather Wardell writes very realistically in this  “too crazy to be true” scenario, as Kate also finds without her family, friends she knows, and a sweet bartender guy who she a crush on.  At times I wanted to hurry the story along because I wanted to know why this had happened to Kate.  However, everything is unraveled in its due time and all questions are answered in the end.  This is a story that is authentically told only through the eyes and thoughts of Kate, so as she unravels the mysteries, you will to…at her pace.  Hang tight, the book is worth the read, and it’s a book that I really enjoyed reading!  I highly recommend this book to those who love a good chick-lit book and who like mysteries weaved with a little romance.

*This book was provided by the author for an honest review. No forms of monetary or other compensation were given.

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Synopsis:

Now that she’s arrived at her ultimate address, will Mary Lynn’s longed-for view of the harbor satisfy the craving of her heart?

At last, Mary Lynn and Jackson Scoville are living the life they’ve dreamed of. Two self-described “small town bumpkins” from Round O, South Carolina, they made a small fortune selling the little gems of lowcountry real estate Jackson inherited and now they are living in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina, carefully working their way up the social ladder in hopes of meeting their ultimate goal:  to give their three daughters the life they themselves never had.

But the long-forgotten God of Mary Lynn’s childhood seems to be trying to get her attention in clear and unusual ways.   So clear and strange she can no longer deny it.  When Mary Lynn prays for Jackson to open his mind and heart to God, her prayers are answered beyond her wildest imaginings.  Now Jackson’s dramatic conversion (which includes street witnessing, giving away a lot of money, and inviting poor, desperate and marginalized people into their home) is threatening their social status as well as their family mission statement.  Is she willing to go along with him?

What would it be like to go “all out” for God?  Jackson, a sharp and focused Type A man, is unafraid and willing to go all the way.  Mary Lynn has her doubts.

My Review:

Mary Lynn and her husband both grew up from humble families and both became rather wealthy and live in the plush town of Charleston, SC.  Both deal with their own inner demons, while their oldest daughter Katherine tries to please her father, deals with severe anxiety, and begins to take pills to deal with her own demons as well.  There were quite a few very realistic scenarios in this story as Jackson grapples with handling his success and keeping up with Jones’, wanting the best for his children, and dealing with the death of his mother (who he lost at 9 years old), all while also questioning his own spiritual existence and relationship with God.  While I really thought this story dealt with some very real and raw issues that all families deal with, even Christian families, I felt that some of the issues weren’t addressed fully and that the story ended too perfectly.  For example, Mary Lynne recognizes some changes in her daughter Katherine and suspects something is going on with her when she sees Katherine’s hands often shaking.  However, she never quite addresses the issue and Katherine soon stops using and instead focuses on her studies and running. I felt that there was a huge piece of the storyline missing.  It would also have been helpful to have seen more of the struggles Jackson and Mary Lynne experience as a result of their spiritual walk, or lack thereof.  While Mary Lynne was attending church, it would have given a more realistic portrait to what a family experiences when one partner chooses not to embrace faith and spirituality.  I also wanted more surrounding Mary Lynne’s miracle.  Nonetheless, this was a good read and one I would recommend to those who enjoy reading Christian fiction.  Keep an eye out for this Christian author…she has a gift for writing!  Maybe just adding an extra 100 pages would be helpful for my inquiring mind ;)

*This book was provided by Book Sneeze in exchange for an honest review.  No forms of compensation were given.

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*Click picture to purchase book for $1.99

Synopsis:

For readers who believe that the best lives are built on the firmest foundations.

Karen Schwind brings us Caroline McKee, a girl on the cusp of womanhood who is determined to use her wit and fearlessness to right the wrongs former friends did to her. She gets her chance when Billy Taylor, a veteran of the Great War, returns to Greensboro and opens a newspaper in the spring of 1919. Together they dig into the lives of townspeople until Caroline discovers a secret that lays bare the sorrow and shame of people she’s known all her life. Publishing a front-page story of betrayal and tragedy, Caroline learns a lesson that only her devout Christian father could teach–about love, loyalty and letting go. Schwind has crafted “a memorable setting that feels historically authentic” and “portrays Caroline McKee’s longing for an idealized childhood . . . in tender, nostalgic” language that captures the reader’s imagination until the last unexpected turn of this amazing story.

My Review:

I loved the character of Caroline McKee.  She is a woman destined to be a great writer and finds creative ways to do just that in a town where not much happens, during a time when women didn’t work outside the home.  This is a sweet story, nothing sexual and profanity is zilch.  While I enjoyed reading how she becomes a writer and tries to please her father while also fulfilling her own life long dreams, I would have liked a little more inner struggles with her mother (who abandoned her and the family), as well as seen the relationship between her and Johnny evolve.  Because he marries, it would have been helpful to see how Caroline handles the news of his marriage and its impact on her.  However, it is a very sweet story and gives a small snapshot into the life of one woman and those she interacts with.  Overall, this was a really good book and I look forward to reading more from this author.

*This book was provided for review by Skoobpress for an honest review.  No forms of compensation were given.

Review: A Life That Fits by Heather Wardell

Synopsis:  Twenty-eight-year-old Andrea returns home from a business trip to find Alex, her boyfriend of fourteen years, nervously waiting for her. Assuming he’s finally going to propose, Andrea’s instead horrified to learn he’s been cheating on her and is leaving to be with the other woman, who he calls Andrea’s opposite.

At first Andrea’s paralyzed by shock and sadness, but the business analyst soon forms a plan: change every last detail of her life and become her opposite so Alex will come back to her.

It’s a challenge at first, but soon Andrea’s loving the changes she’s making, the new activities she’s doing, and the new people in her life. But will she change enough to get Alex back? And if she does, will he fit into the wonderful new life she’s creating for herself?

For an excerpt, please visit Heather Wardell’s website.

My Review:

Andrea comes home from a conference excited about her upcoming engagement only to be told by her boyfriend that he does not want to marry her nor be with her at all.  Andrea is shocked and experiences a whole array of emotions, from denial, anger, bargaining (if I do this, then he will come back), depression, then acceptance.  If Elizabeth Kubler-Ross were to have heard about Andrea’s story she would have said: “the most beautiful people I’ve known are those who have known trials, have known struggles, have known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.”  How true this is!

Okay, so Andrea is not a real person, nor is she someone dealing with the death of a loved one, but in this fictional story she experiences the death of a dream to be married to her life long boyfriend and would have been quite content being everything he wants her to be.  It is not until she is alone that she gets to know herself and discover her strengths and beauty, which she has neglected.  By being true to herself and embracing her passions and dreams, Andrea learns who she is in the midst of this trying time.

Throughout the book, I found myself getting irritated with Andrea as she tried to do everything in reverse in hopes of winning Alex back and really did not like Alex at all.  I couldn’t understand how an educated woman could be so needy and unsure of who she is….however, that is the beauty of this book.  It will bring out emotions in the reader and challenge the reader to ask, “Am I following my own passions and dreams?  Am I being true to myself?”.

I liked how Heather Wardell challenged me to think beyond the storyline, created characters and situations that stirred anger and brought joy.  In the end, Andrea certainly finds what and who fits best in her life as the reader cheers her on.

Be aware, this is a chick-lit book.  It’s not meant to be spiritual or a deep thinking book.  I love that this book does not scream sex or is too fluffy.  I also love how Heather Wardell brings everything together, especially since there is such a large cast of characters and quite a lot going on in the book.  Lastly, in honor of Andrea, I think I will go and paint my nails teal!!

  *A copy of this book was provided by the author, Heather Wardell in exchange for an honest review.  No monetary or other forms of compensation was given.

Meet Heather Wardell

This picture shows me wearing a sweater I crocheted and holding the finishers’ medal I received at my second half marathon, May 13/08.

About the Author:

Growing up, I was an avid (rabid?) reader. I am a natural speed reader, regularly clocked at about 1200 wpm (I read Harry Potter 5 in just under three hours), and always have several books on the go, nearly all in e-book form on my iPhone.  I have always made up stories in my head, but never considered becoming a writer. Instead, I intended to be a high school music teacher. I was sidetracked by my enjoyment of my psychology courses in university, and ended up with a psychology degree with a concentration in computer science.  This took me to a major Canadian bank as a software developer. I stayed there for just over four years, and then went back to school to become an elementary school teacher. After four years teaching elementary school computer science, I took up the National Novel Writing Month challenge and attempted to write a novel in a month.  I succeeded, and the first draft of “Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo” was the result. I realized I love writing. I left teaching, and I haven’t looked back since!  In my non-writing time, I read, run, swim, crochet (I am on Ravelry and would be happy to add you as a friend!), take care of my 55 gallon aquarium and my cat Sapphire, and play clarinet. Generally not all at once.

*Bio taken directly from Heather Wardell’s website.


Thank-you for taking some time out of your schedule to give a written interview.  Your answers will be posted on my book blog, Books in the Burbs, and on Bay Area Book Club’s meetup page.  It is my hope that readers will gain a better understanding about who you are and how your books are developed.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Lisa Salazar

Interview with Heather Wardell:

1.  The first book I read from you was Life, Love, and  a Polar Bear Tattoo, which I absolutely loved!!  Then, I read Planning to Live, which I also loved.  In both books, the main characters (Candice and Rhiannon) have an “ah-ha” moment as they look at their life and relationships.  When did you have your “ah-ha” moment to start writing and leave the workforce?

When my husband was away on a five-week business trip, I decided on a whim to see if I could write a novel, a sort of “National Novel Writing Month” on my own. I did, the first draft of Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo, and realized I loved it. Luckily for me, my husband was both able and willing to have me quit my teaching job and write full-time. That was in 2005, and I now have five novels available with three more in the pipeline for 2011.

2.  Prior to writing, I read that you worked in software development and elementary teaching.   How have your two prior career positions helped you as writer?

I used the software development experience in Planning to Live, but more generally I think they both helped me work to a deadline, keep track of the little things (you haven’t learned to multi-task until you’ve taught twenty kindergarten kids to use a computer at once!), and be comfortable planning and following plans. I plan my books in considerable detail, using my own variation on Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method, and I know it helps me write with more speed and accuracy.

3.  How would you describe your style of writing?

My style of writing tends toward the conversational. I am far more interested in letting readers “be” my characters than in flowery language, although I do spend a lot of time getting my words just right when I edit. I’m sarcastic and that comes across too but I do my best, in writing and in life, not to be a jerk with it.

4.  When you are writing, what does a day look like for you?

Ideally, I start working at around 10 and go to noon with a short break in the middle. Then I work after lunch, with a break around 3, and then stop at 5 or so. The issue is, sometimes those breaks extend to 30 minutes or more without me noticing, so I’m doing my best to keep a handle on them by using my phone’s alarms to nudge me back to work.

In 2011 I’m working on two books at once (previously I did only one at a time) so I’m currently writing one in first draft and editing another. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to switch from one character to another in my head but it’s been just fine, and it lets me work when I’m tired since editing is easier for me than first-draft writing.

5.  Are you still a marathon runner?  If so, which marathon have you most enjoyed?

I now run half-marathons and shorter races. A full marathon just takes too much out of me! I think my favorite is the Mississauga Half-Marathon in 2009. I’d had an awful flu for weeks beforehand and wasn’t even able to walk around two weeks before the race. I went into it figuring if I finished it’d be a good day, and so I didn’t feel any pressure or worry about my speed. I just took my time and had fun, and I did finish and felt great.

6.  I read, from another interview you gave, that you have “rambling files”.  Can you share what that means?  Would you share one “rambling file” line that you used to write Planning to Live?

“Rambling files” are my version of thinking about a story. I know some writers can work through plot problems while out for a run, but I can only think effectively while typing (and occasionally not even then!). I just keep my fingers moving and “talk” to myself through the keyboard and am constantly surprised by the things I discover as I go, by the unexpected concepts and ideas that appear without me realizing they’re coming. I rarely feel like I am creating the story; it seems to come from somewhere else and it’s my job to catch it and put it down. I love it.

Here is an unedited excerpt from Planning to Live’s rambling file. My original concept for the book was “woman is trapped in car after accident and calls her friends/family while waiting for the ambulance”. Here’s how it changed to “trapped in car with no contact with outside world”:

Is it reasonable, though, that she wouldn’t be able to get help right away? If she called 911 from some distant area, then yes, it could be reasonable.

What if it happened on a very distant road and she didn’t have any phone network available? Then she’d basically be waiting for someone else to come get her. Waiting for someone to drive by.

If it’s winter, then she’d be at risk of freezing to death. Trapped inside the car, she wouldn’t be able to get out – could it somehow have actually trapped her leg? And she doesn’t know it but she’s bleeding badly down there.

As you can see, I do really talk to myself as I go along. This excerpt doesn’t, but some of them include things like “I don’t know how this’ll work but I know it has to”, “keep going, you can do it”, and even “I’ll work on this for another fifteen minutes then have lunch”. They usually run around 70 pages, and the first huge part is often nothing to do with how the book actually ends up but is instead ideas that are “in the way” of what I need to know.

7.  What was your motivation to self-publish?  How has it helped you as a writer?

It was a gradual process. I made Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo available for free download at the end of 2008 to stop me fiddling with it. (I’d fallen into the “one more tweak and then it’ll be perfect” trap and I needed to leave it alone and move on.) It received a lot of downloads, so I decided to try selling my next book, Go Small or Go Home, for $0.99. It sold, so I did the next and the next after trying and failing to find a literary agent. My fifth, Stir Until Thoroughly Confused, is my first book to go straight to self-publishing without any agent queries and I plan to continue that. I LOVE having contact with my readers, either on Twitter or via email or on my Facebook page (all of which are available through my web site at http://www.heatherwardell.com) and I so love that my books are being read and enjoyed instead of sitting alone and unloved in my computer. That’s what I wanted and I am thrilled to have it. I’m not opposed to getting a “traditional” publishing contract, but I’m quite happy with where I am now.

8.  How do you decide your book titles and covers?  What made you decide the chocolate chip cookie as the cover design for Planning to Live?

I decide my titles and covers, and most of my writing decisions, by what feels right. If I’m off-track I get a nagging achy feeling right under my ribs, and I have learned to accept that no matter how much I logically want whatever feels wrong. It’s not right if it feels wrong.

I tried a number of different covers for Planning to Live, many centering around the car accident that begins the book, but the cookie is a repeating theme in the story itself, the whole “live for now and don’t wait for what you want” concept, and so it felt right to put it on the cover.

9.  Both Bill and Rhiannon are put in serious cold conditions as they wait to be rescued.  When you were writing this storyline, did you know what would happen to both of them prior to writing your novel or did it slowly evolve as you wrote?

Rhiannon’s situation was part of the plan. Bill, her fiance, was a complete surprise. That’s one of the “who is WRITING this thing through me?” scenes that I mentioned above. I wrote the first draft of that book in early 2009 and I still remember how that scene just unfolded as I typed, though it was painful and sad, like I was reporting something real instead of inventing a story.

10.  I can imagine Planning to Live being a 2-3 person play on Broadway.  If you could choose your cast, who would you want to play Rhiannon?  What about Andrew?  Who would be your 3rd character that you feel would be essential to being in the play?

What a fabulous question! I am sadly out of touch with the acting world so I honestly can’t pick actors, but I would want Rhiannon to be played by a woman who’s a little overweight (in real life, not just for the play) and able to be funny and serious too, and Andrew needs an actor who can handle a “still waters run deep” kind of character. I hate to say this, but I think the third would have to be Rhiannon’s weight loss coach Joel since he has such a huge influence over her.

11.  Do you have an underlying theme or inspiration that you want your readers to be inspired from after reading your books?

My motto is “women’s fiction with depth, humor, and heart”, and it’s not remotely a marketing line. I think a lot of books today, a lot of media really, is lacking depth and heart, and I do everything I can to put those qualities into my books. I want my readers to feel that if they want something enough and are willing to do what it takes, they can get it. I firmly believe that’s true.

12.  Who are some of your favorite authors?  How have they inspired you?

I love Marian Keyes, Sophie Kinsella’s “Remember Me?”, and Maeve Binchy. They’re wonderful because they all focus on characters rather than crazy plots (although Sophie can head into the crazy-plot zone) and I love feeling like I know the characters as I read a book.

13.  In Planning to Live, Rhiannon shares with her loved ones to enjoy the “lovely little things”.  As I was planning for this interview, I came across one of your blogs, “Lovely Little Things”.  How exciting!  What was your motivation in starting this blog?  What would Rhiannon think about your blog?

My motivation for this blog, which I have sadly been neglecting and should get back to, was Rhiannon realizing that we let those little things go by all too often. As she says in the quote I made into free downloadable desktop pictures (http://www.heatherwardell.com/free.shtml) it really is the journey, not the destination, that matters, and I wanted to help other people and myself notice those. I’d like to think that Rhiannon would subscribe to the blog and submit her own lovely little things that happened.

14.  In the spirit of Rhiannon, which lovely little things are you most thankful for?

He’s not little, but my husband definitely is lovely. Not many men would be able to support me like he does, and I try every day to remember that. I get to write what I want when I want, and I have a still small but growing following of people who really get my books and enjoy them. I still get choked up with nearly every reader email, so happy that people take the time to write to me, and especially with Planning to Live when people say they think it’s changed their lives since the writing of it changed mine. I have everything I could possibly need and nearly everything I could want, and today my husband found a bottle of nail polish I’d misplaced for months so I am thankful for that too!

Thank-you so much for taking time to answer these questions! I wish you continued success on your writing and know many will enjoy reading your books as much I have :)

Thanks!

Lisa

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For a list of Heather’s books, please visit her website.

Lovely Little Things Blog

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To read Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo for FREE, visit Barnes & Nobles to download.

To purchase Planning to Live, visit Barnes & Nobles to download.

Her books are available for e-readers at a wonderful value of $.99.

 

Review: Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo by Heather Wardell

After reading, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, I needed a light read. Through Barnes and Noble, I was able to download Heather Wardell’s book for free! To read a synopsis of the book, I suggest you visit her website. She also has an excerpt of the book.

My Review:

This is an easy read, but don’t let that fool you.  Heather brings to life challenges that women experience with friends, work, and marriage.  Experiencing the loss of her in-laws, Candice and her husband are unable to recover and find themselves disconnected in their marriage.  Ian takes a 1 month project in Bangladesh, leaving Candice to experience the results of her pap smear alone (albeit, Ian did not know), the past issues/current relationship with an old flame, her relationship with mom, and her career.  In experiencing these situations alone, Candice finds her voice, learns what she wants, and together she and Ian are able to change the course of their marriage.

Without spoiling the scenario for you, there is a scene with Candice and her friend (I won’t say who either) that had me laughing so hard that my husband thought I was crazy.  I had to fill him in on the scene because it was that hilarious!!! This is a book about second chances, not just with Candice’s marriage, but with her parents, her career, her friendships, and most importantly with herself.  I loved the character of Candice and how she uses this alone time to rediscover herself and gets that darn cute polar bear tattoo!

While I did love the story, it would have been great to have read Ian’s emails to Candice and perhaps have included a chapter or two of what their marriage looked like before he leaves for 1 month.  Nonetheless, the story kept me interested from the first page until the end.  It is definitely a story that I would recommend to anyone who likes chick-lit and/or who wants an easy read.