You know how when you’re reading a book and you have to put it down for whatever reason and you’re disappointed and you say, “Oh, man, I was just getting to the good part!”
A Sweethaven Summer by Courtney Walsh is like that from page 1. The good part — that’s the whole thing. Seriously. I started reading it while my son took a nap on my lap and two-and-a-half hours later I was more than 200 pages into the story. I finished it later that night because I just couldn’t wait.
Before I go too much further with this review, I should tell you Courtney and I went to high school together, though one of us graduated before the other one did, and I won’t say which of us it was. We later worked together at our hometown newspaper and reconnected on Facebook years later (doesn’t everybody?). And we had lunch last fall in a cafe dangerously close to a talking moose.
OK. On with the review. And stick around to the end for a Q & A with Courtney about the book.
A Sweethaven Summer brings friendship, scrapbooking, family secrets, forgiveness, and even a little bit of romance together. Please don’t let the “romance” word scare you. It’s part of the story but it’s not over the top or in your face. Subtle is how I’d describe it. The main character Campbell isn’t on a quest for love, at least not the handsome fella, sweep you off your feet kind. After her mother’s death, she sets out to find the father she never knew and along the way discovers a mother she didn’t know as well as she thought she did either. Scrapbook pages bring old friends together in their former summer community of Sweethaven, Michigan. She also meets Luke, a local who helps her with her search.
A Sweethaven Summer is the first in a three-book series, and I, for one, can’t wait to read more about these characters.
FAVORITES: No word is wasted. I’m kind of a skimmer when it comes to novels. I don’t get caught up in endless paragraphs of description. I linger over dialogue, wanting to get to the action to find out what happens. (Although I will NOT read the end of the book before I read the rest of it.) I tell you that so that when I tell you I read every word of this book, you’ll understand how rare that is. Courtney uses words wisely to both set the scene and move the plot along. I didn’t feel bogged down at all.
FAULTS: Related to what I liked best is what I liked least: it was over too soon! Now I have to wait a few more months for the story to continue. OK, that’s not really a fault. I feel like I’d be nitpicking to mention anything. I want to say that Luke seems too good to be true, but I like his character. Maybe there’s more to discover about Luke.
IN A WORD: Sweet. Not the sick-to-your-stomach-after-eating-too-much-candy kind of sweet. More like a delicious and satisfying slice of your favorite pie to top off your meal.
Courtney was kind enough to grant an interview during her busy book launch schedule. Read on for her thoughts about family, writing and who would play her lead characters in a movie.
So the book is out, people are reading and reviewing it, the launch party’s over… are you still pinching yourself about being a novelist?
Ha. I think at this point, the “work” of it takes over. Marketing your book is a huge part of the process, so I haven’t really stopped and thought “Hey! I wrote a book!” yet. I’d like to you…you know, eventually. I did have a sort of surreal moment when I saw it in Barnes and Noble though…that was the moment where it all kind of came together for me!
What has surprised you most about your first novel (the process, the editing, the reaction, etc.)?
The whole process and the amount of work involved was very surprising…and still is! I don’t say that as a bad thing–I actually LOVE the whole process, but I was maybe a bit naive as to what it really took to write a novel! It’s a lot of writing and then rewriting and “cutting your darlings” as my editor says…but I also think I am surprised at how incredibly volatile it feels to have it out there, for people to read. I keep saying it’s like running across the stage naked with a follow spot on you. And it really is! (And, friends, that’s just not a pretty picture!)
How do you make writing a priority with a busy family?
I have an amazing husband. When we lived in Illinois, my mom came up once a week and kept my youngest (who is still at home.) But then we moved to Colorado. One of her attempts to keep us in Illinois went something like this: “You’ll never have time to write now without me there to watch Sam.” She almost got me on that one! It’s VERY challenging at times, but I’m so fortunate that my husband is supportive. He will give me a day away (or just locked in my office under the headphones) without any question. He doesn’t even ask me to make him dinner. I love that man.
Also, now, I pretty much only write on the weekends…I find that having a set time with a word count goal in mind really helps me.
The women in Sweethaven tackle some pretty serious issues: being raised without a father, unforgiveness, infertility, broken family relationships (and others I’m probably leaving out!) … how did you choose these themes for your novel?
Gosh, if I told you that the characters kind of told me their stories would you suggest I voluntarily check myself into a mental hospital? Because, truly, these women became so real to me, I really didn’t “dream up” stories for them…they sort of just unfolded while I wrote them. The unforgiveness thing probably comes from my own struggles, but everything else, I really feel like they fit in with the lives the characters lived.
And on a totally less serious note, if Sweethaven was turned into a movie, who would you want to play Luke and Campbell? (Or any other characters you’d like to cast.)
Oh, this is my favorite interview question of all time. ever.
Don’t think I haven’t thought about this. Until recently, I had NO one pictured for Campbell, but then my sister and I were talking about it and she found an image of Carey Mulligan. And it was like, “YES!” That’s her! To me, Luke has always been Scott Speedman from Felicity, still one of my all-time favorite shows. Wouldn’t they be so cute together? (It probably wouldn’t work anymore age-wise, but I can dream…)
I’m still thinking of the other parts…but Adele was inspired by Paula Deen. I don’t care how much butter she uses, I love that woman!
What’s next for you?
I just finished Book Two and am almost done with Book Three, which will be released at the end of summer and late Nov/early Dec. of this year…beyond that, I’ve got some things in the cooker but I’ve already made plans to take a month to really focus on finishing some projects around the house! I can’t wait to clean/purge and decorate!
Connect with Courtney on Facebook, Twitter (@courtney_walsh) or on her blog http://www.courtneywalsh.typepad.com. Courtney also is the author of two scrapbooking books, Scrapbooking Your Faith and The Busy Scrapper. If reading A Sweethaven Summer has you itching to dive back in to scrapbooking, like it did for me, then check out her other books as well.