Category Archives: romance

In the wake of serious illness

Olivia’s Heart Song, the second in my Bethany Beach trilogy, deals with a serious health issue. At age thirty, Dan Newhouse just had surgery to fix a heart defect which had gone undetected until he’d reached adulthood. Now he’s looking at his life through new eyes and making changes, something an older friend and client of his understands, as the friend tells Dan about his own brush with a life-changing experience in his youth:

“When Grace and I were just starting out, before the boys came along, I was in an accident. Piece of machinery fell on me. Wrong place, wrong time. Long story short is I was out of work for a half year… That kind of thing…being too close to the Grim Reaper when you think you have quite a few years to make his acquaintance, let alone stare him in the face…well, the day I woke up from the knockout was as if I’d been reborn.”

Anyone who’s faced serious illness or accident can probably relate to these sentiments. I remember once hearing a man express thanks for being afflicted with cancer! How could that be? Well, maybe he was being a bit too glib, but his idea, that serious illness can shift your view of life in a good way, is anything but shallow. It forces you to evaluate what’s truly important, what can be easily discarded, what  you have to let go and what you need to hang on to.

We often lead our lives in a state of true blissful ignorance. We ignore our mortality. Yes, all of us know our days eventually come to an end, but we can go days, months, years without thoughts of that end intruding on our daily lives. Not so if you face a serious health challenge. Then, those thoughts pop into your mind more often. They shine a bright spotlight on all the clutter in your life, and make you think about cleaning it all up.

Like many, I’ve faced the Big C in my own life and had to go through the three usual therapies: surgery, chemo, radiation. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say thanks for the affliction, cancer did force me to refresh my view of a lot of things.

One piece of clutter I cleaned up in my life around that time — throwing out old journals. As I looked them over, I realized they were filled with whining and complaining (mostly about the publishing industry as I struggled to get published!). But there was too much joy in my life for those journals to be my written legacy. So…out they went.

When I was in treatment, time seemed to stop for long periods as I dealt with the challenges of each day, of crawling out of the fatigue and relentless schedule of treatment to the light of normalcy. Olivias_Heart_Song_600x900But normalcy is hard to find in the wake of such experiences. You do wonder about aches and pains, if they signify something serious, in those months after treatment ends. I read an article about the post-treatment phase that noted it’s common for cancer patients to be particularly fearful immediately after they’re discharged from care. After having been tended to almost daily for months on end, they’re suddenly free — free of health care visits but also free of the care itself! That can be scary.

In Olivia’s Heart Song, Dan Newhouse is in that stage, right after surgery, still emotionally fragile, still overly conscious of his body’s every ache, his heart’s every beat. When he meets a former army nurse recovering from her own heartbreaking troubles, he wonders if he can feel whole enough to love someone…and if she could view him as more than a sick man who needs tending. The story follows them both on a bumpy path to recovery from physical and emotional wounds as they sort out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

I hope it resonates with people who’ve faced serious illness and lets them know they’re not alone in their fears and hopes, their struggles to feel normal again.

This book, like the first in this series, is set along the Delaware coastline, an area my family and I enjoy a great deal, a quiet region filled with nature preserves, serene bays, miles of sandy beaches, and great restaurants and shops.

Olivia’s Heart Song is now available at Amazon.

 

 

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Excerpt: Reese’s Summer of Promise

From Reese’s Summer of Promise by Libby Malin

(Tales of Bethany Beach, Book One)

PROLOGUE

Reese Newhouse jammed her hands in the pockets of her parka, one fist curling around her smartphone as if to crush it and the email she’d just read on its small screen. She stared out at the churning Atlantic, leaning into the corner of the boardwalk railing, blinking her eyes fast to keep from crying.

Dammit. She wouldn’t cry. Couldn’t cry. Not now.

This officially had to count as the Worst. Valentine’s Day. Ever.

With a sniffle, she squinted through bright sunshine to watch intrepid surfers, clad in special wet suits, riding the chilly waves that still roared into the shore from a Nor’easter that had slipped up the Delaware coastline miles at sea the night before. In its wake was a sparkling dusting of snow on the sand and boardwalk, creating a glistening winter wonderland at odds with the dark, ugly thoughts in her heart.

The town felt deserted, as if all its residents had been alerted to an emergency and only a few diehards remained. But it was February, not the “season.”

Even when Bethany Beach was bustling, though, it still had the air of a small town about it with a short boardwalk and three-block main street filled with quirky stores, eateries and the usual national franchises. Most folks thought of bigger resorts for their summer fun, but Bethany, along with the 117 miles of seacoast that made up Delaware’s eastern border, was a hidden gem.

Today, Reese was glad Bethany was so quiet, with few people about to observe her heartache.

She breathed deeply. She had to put on a good face. Must not let her father and brother and aunt see her like this. Not today. Not on this occasion.

She heard their steps coming up behind her and turned, forcing her muscles into a slap-happy grin of greeting that she hoped would fool them all.

“You should have gone in. It’s cold out here!” her father, Theodore Newhouse, said as he hugged her, pressing a light kiss on her cheek.

“Such a beautiful day,” she managed to mumble, her cheeks already feeling stiff from her plastic smile. Her brother, Dan, looked as grim as she felt, his face white as the snow with two bright red spots on his cheeks from the cold. He nodded to her, his hands stuffed in his pockets, his collar turned up against the chill. “Besides…I thought we’d…do the ceremony first…then eat…” She gestured to the restaurant behind them and peered over their shoulders, scanning the walkway. “Where’s Aunt Nancy?”

“She’s got a bad cold,” her father said, an odd sense of relief in his voice. “Didn’t want to make the drive from Wilmington.” And then she noticed that no one was carrying…the box. The box that contained the urn with her mother’s ashes. And she knew. Once again, he was postponing scattering them, using Aunt Nancy’s absence as an excuse, most likely, and that of her sister and her family, who’d had to beg off when the storm had left them stranded in their Virginia home waiting for a power outage to be fixed.

“Dad…” she said, softly, her own pain now pushed aside as she considered his. She reached out to touch his arm, and he turned his head away toward the sea, as if studying those surfers was an assignment he had to complete before they went in.

She swallowed. She noticed Dan grimacing and shaking his head slowly, staring at his feet. He’d obviously tried convincing him already to go through with their plan, to no avail.

Their mother had been gone since December, and their father had yet to honor her wishes by scattering her ashes along the shore she’d loved so much. They’d finally convinced him to do it today, Valentine’s Day. And they’d planned a family meal together afterward in the expensive new hotel restaurant on the Bethany Beach, Delaware boardwalk, to take the edge off the sad task.

But once again, her father had found a reason to delay the task, to keep his beloved Jean near him.

She couldn’t fight this battle again. Not today, at least. Not after…that email.

Struggling with her own pain, she straightened and let her phony smile fall. She had to shepherd this group to some sort of peaceful ground and put aside her own heartbreak. She was the senior sibling here, with her older sister, Sarah, stuck in Virginia.

“Come on,” she said, putting her hand through the crook of her father’s elbow. “Let’s go in and raise a glass to Mom, at least.”

At that, he turned to her, and his lips twitched up, as if to offer thanks, but she saw the unshed tears in his eyes and looked away, afraid he’d see hers, as well.

Together, the three of them entered the restaurant.

***

Reeses_Summer_of_Promise_1600x2400A painful two hours later after a meal of good food they’d hardly touched, she bid them farewell in the restaurant parking lot, whispering in her brother’s ear as she kissed him goodbye, “We have to talk.”

After she saw them get in Dan’s car and drive off, she got into her own truck and pulled out her phone again to face the reality she’d tried mightily to push aside during the family dinner.

Fingers trembling, she slid the message into view, part of her hoping she’d misinterpreted it the first time. But, no, her reading comprehension skills had been spot-on.

A “Dear John” letter. But she was the “John.”

“Dear Reese,” it read, “I’ve been putting off writing this, but just can’t anymore. I wish you all the best in the world, but I’m just not ready to get married…”

Her fiancé, Lieutenant Sam Bakersfield, was dumping her. Did he even know it was Valentine’s Day? Probably not. He was deployed in Afghanistan. Special forces. Maybe even at an FOB with minimal communication ability. Maybe that’s why he’d chosen today, knowing it would be hard for her to try to Skype or FaceTime with him once she got his bad news.

As she stared at the device and swallowed hard, it rang. Sarah. She didn’t want to take it, but she knew why Sarah was calling.

“He didn’t do it,” Reese said on a cough as she answered the phone.

“Why not?” Sarah asked. “It wasn’t because I couldn’t make it, was it?”

Her sister’s absence had probably provided their father with a convenient excuse, but if he wasn’t ready to let go, would it have helped to push him where he didn’t want to go? Her strong, self-assured father was no more. In his place was an indecisive, distant man she didn’t know how to reach.

She wiped a tear from her eye. “We had a nice lunch. It was okay. Dan was here.”

“Should I come up?”

“No.” She couldn’t face Sarah at this moment, beautiful, confident Sarah with the great husband and great kids, the perfect life. She couldn’t even tell her yet. Not now. “Look, can we talk later? I’m in my truck. And I’m cold.”

They ended the conversation, but still Reese didn’t move, her gaze fixed on the phone in her hand, wanting to look at the offending message one last time, wanting never to see it again, caught between before and now.

With a growl, she pulled the small pear-cut diamond ring from her hand, intending to throw it to the floorboards. But as she raised her fist for the toss, angry resolve left her, and she instead arced her clasped hand to her lips, her grip so tight the diamond cut into her cold fingers.

A strangled cry broke from her throat, and she leaned on the steering wheel and sobbed.

CHAPTER ONE

Four months later

Beep-beep-beep! The backhoe’s warning cut the air as Reese slid the big piece of equipment into Reverse, then cranked the gears to move forward to another patch of ground, manipulating the boom and dipper to punch and dig the earth before her.

She wiped her brow with a gloved hand. Sweat collected under her hard hat in this late May heat wave. Although it was morning, her shirt already clung to her frame under her vest, and her feet swelled in their tightly laced work boots. And she had a headache.

No rest for the weary, she thought, as she soldiered on. She was only operating the backhoe because the guy they’d hired for this job had left for a better gig in New Jersey two days ago. Usually Reese was in the construction trailer managing the site work, as VP of Newhouse Construction, or at the office going through paperwork. Her father was the president, but he wasn’t on the job much.

As she pushed the machine into another gear, she saw the crew chief, Ben, waving at her. She halted the backhoe and turned off its engine, quickly dismounting the mammoth vehicle with the agility of a gymnast. Working on her father’s sites since high school, she knew how to operate almost every piece of equipment they owned, a skill that came in handy when they were short a worker on a tight deadline. Like this one.

“What’s up?” she asked Ben, pushing her hard hat off her brow and pulling off the hot gloves.

The stocky rusty-haired chief pointed at a spot near the tree line of the big brown muddy area they were working, prepping it for a housing development, a contract that had to be finished in record time. She’d been the one to agree to the deadline when she’d bid on the job. They’d lose money for every week they went over it.

“Found something. Might be an artifact.” He sported a half smile, and Reese realized that habit of his annoyed her. It was as if he was always…sneering…at her. Prior to her father’s absence from the job, Reese had handled a lot of the business’ paperwork while her dad had interacted with crew and staff. Six months into her expanded leadership of the team, Reese wasn’t sure that Ben had completely accepted her as a boss. Others had, and she’d been proud of how she’d managed them. Ben was a bit too old-school in his attitudes toward women on the job, though.

“Crap.” Heaving a sigh, she followed him to the spot. Finding any kind of historical artifact on a work site meant delays at the very least and complete cessation of the project at the most. Reese loved and respected history. Just not on her work sites.

When she saw what the item was, she breathed a sigh of relief. Just a metal lockbox of some sort, nestled in a pile of sandy moist soil, the only kind there was this close to the Delaware coast. It lay open and empty.

“We shot photos of it,” Ben said. And then he pulled a wad of papers from a big pocket on his work vest. “These were in it.”

Her relief buzzed back to anxiety as she took the bundle from him. Tied with rotting string, the mildewed, deteriorating bunch could still be identified through some scribbles on the top—they were letters. From the 1940s.

Crap. Crap. Crap.

Being a resident of the area, she knew its history and that of the stark watchtowers that still dotted the Delaware coast. Round silos of concrete—poured quickly in one piece, the history went—they had slits for the lookouts who were meant to keep an eye out for enemy efforts to block the Delaware Bay during World War II. Even a lost ship would be a win for enemies in these waters. A ship sunk in that bay where Lewes, Delaware looked across at Cape May, New Jersey, could have kept precious fuel at upriver refineries from reaching important destinations. An old fort at Cape Henlopen—Fort Miles—had big guns aimed at the sea to forestall any unwanted naval traffic in the area. They’d never been fired on enemy ships, but thousands of men had been stationed there before ultimately being sent overseas to Europe and Asia at the end of the war.

A piece of history from that era might be valuable.

“At least it’s not bones,” she muttered, but Ben heard and nodded. Unearthing an old cemetery or Indian gravesite would mean a complete shutdown as experts poured in, making it an archaeological and not a construction dig.

“I should hand this over to somebody,” Ben said, as if she wouldn’t have thought of it herself. And then, he added, “We haven’t found anything else.”

“Okay,” she said making a decision. The last thing she wanted was local or state authorities rapping her knuckles for not doing the right thing. “Don’t work this area today. Just keep leveling the ground near the road. I’ll take these into town and figure out what to do with them.” She placed the packet in her own work vest pocket and grabbed the handle of the lockbox. “Keep things moving,” she said.

She looked at her watch. If she hurried, she could take the find to the local historical society, then pop over to the office and finish the paperwork on Newhouse Construction’s next bid, then run to the store and pick up some groceries her father needed, and drop them at his house in time for lunch, which she’d promised to have with him today. She’d be back at the site this afternoon.

Reese liked being busy, but this was getting ridiculous. Ever since her broken engagement, she’d poured all her energy into work. And for good reason. Her dad was still mourning, working half days when he worked at all, often not coming into the office. She’d gotten used to not bothering him with decisions after he’d snapped at her more than once when she’d asked the same questions several times.

Now she was used to working independently.

As she tramped off the site toward her truck, her hat tucked under her arm and the lockbox dangling from her fingers, she noticed a lone figure approaching from the road. She’d seen him around before, mostly on the beach, horsing around with other men, playing volleyball. Or at least trying. He had a pronounced limp most of the time, and Reese suspected he was military from the short cut of his brown-blond hair, the muscular build, the all-business air. Military in town to do Pain and Torture at Dover Air Force Base up the road was her guess.

Physical therapy—but the soldiers, sailors, airmen who had to go through it called it pain and torture. Reese knew because her best friend, Anne Lee, was head of PT at the base health center, a civil service position that she loved. She handled PT for a variety of military—army, navy, air force, marines—at the inpatient health facility there.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for Reese Newhouse,” he said when their paths crossed. He shot a glance over her shoulder toward Ben, as if he expected her to lead him there. It wasn’t the first time she’d had men think Reese Newhouse wasn’t a woman.

“What do you want with Reese?” she said without rancor but with a no-nonsense tone.

“I wanted to talk to him about the backhoe operator position,” he said. At least he looked her in the eye when he spoke instead of scouring the worksite for the “real” Reese Newhouse.

“I’m Reese Newhouse,” she said. “Talk away.”

If he was surprised, he didn’t show it. Instead, he thrust out his hand for a firm handshake and looked her in the eyes. His were a mesmerizing crystal-blue.

“I’d like to apply for the job,” he said, pointing to the now-silent piece of equipment. “I saw your ad online.”

She’d posted it just hours after getting notice from her former worker. She tilted her head, taking stock of him. If he was military, as she suspected, why’d he need a job?

Not her business, she thought, as she evaluated him further. Strong, capable-looking, muscles straining at a dark green T-shirt. The limp wouldn’t be a problem if he had experience.

“Did you fill out the application?”

He nodded. “Yup. But thought I’d stop by to seal the deal.” He grinned, and she could tell from his confident gaze he was used to charming people with that smile. Dimples formed on either side of a perfect mouth, and warmth emanated from his face, as those blue eyes sparkled with good will. Even she was sucked in. And after Sam, she’d sworn off military, even military types.

Nope, no soldiers, airmen or sailors for her. When she returned to dating, she was going to look for teachers, doctors, lawyers, librarians or even mime artists. No more pumped-up bravado and machismo. She saw enough of it on construction sites, and all it did, she thought, was muddy a man’s thinking. She’d take straightforward and bland, someone honest with her and honest with himself, thank you very much.

Still…those eyes…those muscles…

But he wasn’t date material. He was worker material. And he’d shown up at the work site instead of just filling out the online application. She had to give him points for initiative.

“Okay. I’ll look over your app during my lunch break. If you stop by the office at, say, one-thirty, I’ll give you an interview, assuming your application passes muster.” She wasn’t one for being coy, and she’d not been flooded with apps since posting the position. Now that construction season was underway, machine operators were sometimes hard to find.

“Good enough,” he said, and put out his hand to shake as confirmation. This time, his grip was gentler, as if he had nothing more to prove. “Name’s Zack Davies, by the way. And I printed out my application…just in case.” He pulled two neatly folded sheets of paper from a back pocket and handed them to her. Initiative and preparation—she was impressed.

“Okay, Zack.” She took the papers and did a brief glance. As she suspected, he was military all right. Army. That meant he was probably from around here if he was doing PT at Dover. The military would let members do therapy near their homes, even if it was at another branch’s base.

“I’ll look this over,” she said, then nodded and moved past him, headed for her truck. As she walked, she couldn’t escape the feeling that he was watching her, staring at her back. She shook it off. It was nothing except the satisfaction of having a good-looking man give her a positive once-over. She’d take the compliment and get on with her work.

(c) Libby Malin Sternberg 2019

Reese’s Summer of Promise is available now in paperback and for Kindle.

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Favorite Beach Read 2019: Reese’s Summer of Promise

I’d love it if my book was the “Favorite Beach Read of 2019,” but I don’t even know where to submit it for such an honor. So I’m daydreaming with the title of this post. I hope you’ll indulge me as I tell you a little about this book and why I hope it becomes readers’ favorite beach read of the summer.

First, let’s talk about what makes a good beach read. For me, it’s something not too dark, that keeps me rooting for the characters, has a layered, not shallow, plot, and, yes, involves a happy ending. Throw in a beach location, and it’s a beach beach read!

Reese’s Summer of Promise is the first of three books set along the Delaware coast. So, beach setting–check!

Its main characters are strong, independent people. There’s Reese, who can operate a back hoe and other heavy construction equipment as VP of her father’s construction company. There’s Zack, an army man home to do physical therapy for a leg injury acquired in Afghanistan. Both start their summer “friendship” still stinging from rejection. He received a “Dear John” letter from his fiancee while in the “sandbox,” while Reese received the same breakup from her airman fiance when he was similarly deployed. So, interesting characters–check!

Reeses_Summer_of_Promise_1600x2400As to a layered plot, both Reese and Zack shy away from commitment after being deeply hurt, and they both are dealing with other challenges. Reese, along with her two siblings, is still trying to get her recently widowed father to honor her mother’s wishes and have a memorial service, scattering her ashes along the coast she loved as much as Reese does. Zack is working hard to get his leg back in shape, determined to rejoin his unit wherever they are next sent. Throw in this mix a discovery of old World War II love letters involving a soldier from nearby Fort Miles. As the summer progresses, Reese wonders if the soldier made it home alive…just as she is falling for her own soldier and learns he might be going in harm’s way once more. So, layered plot – check!

The Delaware coastline is a favorite spot for my family. We love vacationing there, especially at the “quiet resort” of Bethany Beach, where Reese lives and works. The book takes readers on a journey to this beautiful area, its bays and salt marshes, its eateries and beaches, and its history. Concrete silos from World War II still dot its coastline, and soldiers were once stationed at Cape Henlopen’s Fort Miles with guns trained on the entrance to the Delaware Bay so no enemy ships could get through to the refineries up river.

As with all beach settings, romance seems to float in with the tide, and Reese can’t resist its pull any more than Zack can, despite the fact that they both start in the “friend zone,” not intent on anything beyond a summer fling, something Reese’s best friend, Anne, urges on her, as she thinks about Zack:

“I’ve sworn off military men,” Reese said, gazing over to where Zack and his friends ambled on the boardwalk. She cringed for him—he’d given up on hiding his pain and now openly limped. They were all so intent on proving to the world they could take it—whatever “it” was. She’d spent enough time with a man like that. Sam had been full of bluster and pride, eager to show her around the base, to brag about what he did, how he helped schedule all the big transports out of Dover. No more. Swagger just hid the truth—they were human.

Then she remembered Anne was dating a military man, Gabe something, a pilot at Dover. They’d only been going out about a month.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with military men for other people,” Reese added, so as not to offend Anne.

Anne was the one snorting now, then she sat up again and returned to her more serious mood. She lightly touched Reese’s hand.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with being…intrigued by a man, military or not. It doesn’t mean commitment. It means enjoying yourself. Look, I wouldn’t be surprised if Zack was interested in you. He’s only here for the summer. What’s wrong with a summer fling? You deserve it.”

Reese’s Summer of Promise will be available soon at Amazon. The Kindle price is a bargain, so I hope you check it out and look for the next in the series after you visit with Reese and Zack. And I hope  — and daydream — that readers will find it a favorite beach read this year!

Visit Libby’s website at www.LibbyMalin.com for information on her other novels.

 

 

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“In Sickness and in Health”: New Novel!

Drumroll, please… I’m announcing the release of a new novel, a sweet romance/women’s fiction with some inspirational overtones, In Sickness and in Health. It’s available at the Kindle store and will be on sale for 99 cents for a while, so grab a copy by clicking on this link! 

0-6Here’s the story: Ava Fulton moves to Bethany Beach, Delaware to lick her wounds after a DC scandal sent her into hiding. There, she decides the best way out of her problems is to marry a millionaire, and she just so happens to remember one from high school, John Baylor, now a very successful man who’d shyly tried to court her as a teen. When she reconnects with him, though, she finds he faces grim health news and she tries to be a good helpmate through his medical crises. Only after they marry and his prognosis changes does she realize she’d wed him planning to be a widow, not a wife. They struggle to make a go of their union and a new life in general, eventually heeding an inner call to something greater than either of them together.

And here’s a Q and A about the book and its characters:

Where did the character of Ava Fulton come from?

She originally came from the character of Sheila in my romantic comedy Fire Me! In that book, the heroine spends a day trying to get laid off to snag a generous severance package. She discovers she has some competition in coworker Sheila. I’d envisioned In Sickness and in Health being a sequel to Fire Me, following Sheila’s life. Something happened as I was writing, though–I kept thinking of the heroine as Ava! That name just dogged me as I wrote, and I realized I wasn’t writing Sheila at all but some other woman and her story. So I abandoned the idea of a sequel and wrote this standalone novel instead. As soon as I did this, the novel flowed more easily, the writing became a joy instead of a chore.

The first part of the novel, which you subtitle “Dying,” is about John’s struggles with a serious diagnosis. Was that hard to write?

Sadly, I think many people have experiences similar to John’s, either dealing with a serious diagnosis or being helpmates/friends to people who face such a fate. I’ve dealt with the Big C myself and know the anxiety one experiences during testing, etc. Although I’m a ten year survivor now, I do find myself writing more stories that incorporate some of those health experiences in one way or another. Maybe I’m far enough away from it now that it’s easier for me to explore as a writer.

The second part of the novel is subtitled “Living,” however. What happens when things change for John and Ava?

I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers to mention that John’s prognosis takes an upward turn…and that’s when he and Ava have to figure out how to live together! Previously they’d been focused on the possibility of him dying, of being in declining health. Once they realize that fate might not be in store, they have to do some heavy lifting in their relationship. This creates a comic moment or two as they struggle with the “in health” part of their marriage vows.

Do they make it as a couple?

Well, readers will have to read the book to find out! 🙂 They have a bumpy road, to be sure, but they do eventually find peace and fulfillment…in a surprising way. I hope readers enjoy discovering how their stories end.

Is In Sickness and in Health an inspirational?

Yes, no, maybe. 🙂 The term “inspirational” covers Christian books–fiction or nonfiction–with faith themes. In Sickness and in Health is…something in between. Like all inspirational fiction, it’s clean and sweet. No sex scenes (the curtain closes even with a married couple like Ava and John in the bedroom), no bad language (or if there is, it’s scant), but, yes, some mentions of faith. I’ve written before on this blog about how general fiction, for the most part, has mentions of faith blanched out of books, but this isn’t the way a lot of people live. Even non-churchgoers can have rich faith lives, can believe in God, and they can even pray often. So I think a book like In Sickness and in Health probably reflects more of an average person’s connection with things spiritual than a lot of general fiction, even literary fiction, does. In my novel, Ava and John start out as good people who don’t even realize they are searching for something more in their lives until they discover ways to put their spirituality into action. It’s not a preachy book at all, and I must admit I hesitated to put a discussion of this aspect of the book on the blog for fear it would turn some away. Ava and John’s faith journey actually has some comic moments in it, and, though it shapes their eventual path, it is a gentle and tender path, not a judgmental one.

This book is set primarily at Bethany Beach, Delaware. Why Bethany?

Bethany Beach is one of my very favorite places, and we go there often. It is a small, quiet resort on the many miles of coastline that make up Delaware’s eastern border, and we vacation there every summer, and visit several times throughout the year. I have several other books in the works that are set there, so watch this space for news of those novels!

In Sickness and in Health by Libby Malin is available at the Kindle store. If you read and enjoy a book, consider leaving a review. Indie authors in particular are helped by reviews. They aid in bringing books to the attention of other readers!

 

 

 

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Excerpt: Heart Condition by Libby Malin

Excerpt from “Heart Condition,” by Libby Malin, a sweet romance, part of a series set in the Bethany Beach, DE area. (c) Libby Sternberg 2019

Heart Condition

by Libby Malin

PROLOGUE

“Mr. Newhouse? Mr. Newhouse? Daniel?”

His eyes focused slowly, searching for the source of the deep voice with a slight Indian accent. Just a second ago, he’d been…somewhere.

His mind struggled through fog. He felt safe, but not well. Numb. A little queasy. Cold. Yes, cold. Refrigerator cold. That’s where he’d been—in the cold operating room. Nurses, doctors, all busy, in blue scrubs. He’d not had a sense of the room’s layout, only seeing the patch of ceiling above him as he was wheeled in. He knew there was lots of equipment there, shiny and bright, as if just delivered and still in its packing, never used. Every once in a while, a face had appeared over him, just the face. The hair pulled under a baglike net, mouth covered with a mask, gloved hands raised in the air. “Doing okay, Mr. Newhouse?” They’d told a joke…and he’d fallen asleep, out cold, before the punch line.

Seconds ago…in a bright, sterile room. Where was he now?

He heard soft bustling noises nearby, a muffled screech of metal rings on a curtain rod, a cart rolling by? He saw two figures on the right. Mom. His heart raced, a fast beep from a nearby monitor pinging it into the room. No, Mom had been gone for more than a year now. This was Sarah, his oldest sister, who looked like her.

And his other sister, Reese. And Dad. They stood by his bed. The light seemed dimmer here, softer. He blinked.

“Mr. Newhouse? Everything went very well.” The doctor, still in blue scrubs, that was who’d been speaking. Dan turned toward this voice on the other side of the bed. For the first time, he noticed the man had neatly manicured fingers, pinkish nails that looked as if they’d been trimmed by an expert as a matter of pride. That was good. A surgeon should take care of his hands….

“It went very smoothly. I’ve already explained it to your family, and I’ll be in to see you tomorrow when you’re awake.” He smiled and patted him on the arm.

“How long….” he managed to murmur, his lips feeling chapped and not connected to his mouth. “How long it take?”

“About five hours. Right on time,” the surgeon said with good cheer.

Five hours. What had they told him—three to six? So “right on time” meant less than the maximum? Why so long?

“You’re going to be fine, Dan,” Sarah said, but he heard the strain in her voice.

“The doctor said you can be back to normal real soon,” Reese added. Then, tacked on, “Of course, we told him you never were normal.”

He smiled and would have laughed…but it hurt. Or tugged. It felt strange. He was under what seemed a mountain of blankets, but when he glanced down, it looked to be only a thin sheet and covering. It felt soft, thick.

“Just rest, Mr. Newhouse. The nurses will get you comfortable and tell you what you can and can’t do. You should get into a room soon.” And then the doctor said to his family, “I’ll be by tomorrow,” as if they hadn’t heard him say the same thing to him.

The doctor left, replaced by a nurse who said, loudly, as if his hearing had been affected, “How are you feeling, Mr. Newhouse?” She looked at the latest readings on the machine connected to him, checked an IV bag.

“Like someone is sitting on my chest.” Everything he said sounded husky and deep, his voice an octave below its normal tone to a basso profundo. And it was hard to speak loudly. It took too much effort and…scared him. He was afraid it would hurt, pushing the air out of his chest.

“That’s normal. You’re going to a room soon.” She must not have heard the doc promise the same thing.

“His color already looks better,” his dad said, gruffly. He looked scared as all hell.

“Mmm-hmm. Should see a big improvement in the quality of his life,” the nurse commented. And then he heard her say, under her breath to his family, “So young…”

So young. He was thirty. But he felt one-hundred. And, despite what the doctor said, he wasn’t sure he’d ever feel normal again.

CHAPTER ONE

She kicked the pot right into the water. She hadn’t intended to, but she’d turned to adjust another plant—fragrant lavender in a cobalt-blue container—and her toe hit the little black resin pot filled with lemon-yellow daisies kerplunk into the depths of the Little Assawoman Bay. That’s what happens, Olivia, when you try to cram a yard full of flowers onto a condo deck.

“Hey!” A voice came from below. A male voice. A specific male. Her landlord. The one whose slow, careful movements screamed old and tired but whose tan face and sandy-blond hair whispered young and eager.

“Sorry!” she said to the unseen shouter. Daniel Newhouse was his name. She’d met him exactly three times, and each time she’d been struck by the same things: he was good-looking, serious and…weak. Or rather, frail. He’d just had surgery, apparently. She knew from calling his rental management office when he was in the hospital. A too-chatty secretary had spilled that info.

Not my problem, she said to herself. Then she yelled it in her mind: Not. My Problem.

Olivia Bentley might be a nurse, but she no longer practiced the art and science of the caring profession. She’d put aside her scrubs last year after her father had died, leaving her a sweet inheritance as his only child. Her mother had passed when she was a girl.

No more nursing for her. No more…having your heart wrenched out as you watched patients struggle. As you watched some…lose the battle.

She shook her head, and a stray lock of frizzy auburn hair clouded her vision. As she pushed it aside, she breathed deep the smell of ocean air and absorbed the stunning shimmer of this spring day on the water. Brilliant blue sky. Abundant sunshine. Sleek, elegant terns winging over the marshy grass.

Just what she needed. She stopped her deck gardening, and plopped into a lounge chair, her feet propped up. Exactly what she needed. 41922363_2001352436589756_6283387358473617408_o

But as she closed her eyes, a news reel of memories flashed through her mind. Blood. Unspeakable trauma. Doctors and nurses around tables, tending the wounded, calling to each other for equipment, blood, sutures, IVs.

“Don’t give up, Hank.”

Her eyes popped open as she tried to figure out if she’d whispered the words or just thought them.

With a sigh, she heaved herself off the chair and went inside to continue unpacking, cleaning, arranging. If she lost herself in chores, she’d forget.

***

Dan leaned against the railing of his condo sipping on a mug of coffee. He heard the sliding door upstairs as his new tenant left the deck. He was beginning to set his clock by her routine. Whenever she stretched out on her chaise, he could do a mental countdown to when she’d shoot up and start doing something else. She never seemed to stay out there for more than a few minutes at a time, popping up to head inside, as if something kept her from really relaxing. And, like him, she’d spent some restless nights there, too, coming outside when Morpheus abandoned them in the wee hours.

She was a petite, curvy pixie, the kind of woman painters from a different era celebrated, but who’d never fit in with the rail-thin looks on today’s fashion magazines.

Ever since he’d first met her—when she’d come to his Baltimore law office to sign the lease for the condo unit above his at Fenwick Island, Delaware—he’d been intrigued. Not just by her bright green eyes, kewpie-doll mouth, porcelain skin and sensual figure. Sure, he’d noticed those things, but there was something else about her, something familiar, because it was territory he now knew, as well.

No, he’d been intrigued by the way her eyes didn’t smile when she laughed or grinned. Something was off there. Nurse retiring at the ripe old age of, what, thirty? That was his guess. His rental management secretary had filled him in on a few more details, how she was “between careers” or “taking a break.” Something. But she had the rent money, and that was all that mattered. Everything else—the sleeplessness that led her to the deck at night, the inability to relax, the haunted look in her eyes sometimes—wasn’t his business.

Not my problem, he thought to himself.

No, his problem was sticking to doctor’s orders, recovering from his heart surgery, and…figuring out what to do with the rest of his life now that he’d resigned from his Baltimore law firm, sold his house, and moved permanently to what had just been his beach home in the past.

He was officially a beach bum.

And he had his own problems with finding peace.

When he heard her walking around upstairs again, he wondered at the wisdom of taking the lower condo for himself and renting out the top one. But his was roomier, with an extra bedroom and a small den. Not that he used the den much. When he was browsing the internet or emailing on his ancient laptop, he preferred sitting at the kitchen counter, where he could see outside to the gently lapping waters of the bay.

Which was what he was going to do now. Check the internet, read the news there, and maybe even Google Olivia Bentley, RN.

____________

(c) Libby Sternberg 2019  This book is finished and will be on submission to agents and/or editors soon.

 

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SHORT EXCERPT: My Own Personal Soap Opera

My Own Personal Soap Opera (by Libby Malin) is up on Kindle and the serial fiction app Radish now, revised and updated! Below is a very short excerpt. Let me set the scene:

Frankie McNally, head writer for the New-York-based (and failing) soap opera Lust for Life, is about to head into a press conference to explain why the show isn’t pulling a jewel thief story line even though a real thief is imitating it in the city. She’s interrupted by Luke Blades, an actor on the show who recently broke his leg, triggering a rewrite of his character’s (Donovan Reilly) story arc, which will have to be further rewritten as he takes a sabbatical to do an off-Broadway production of Hamlet. Meanwhile, Frankie’s often-absent administrative assistant Kayla tries to help Luke, while Victor Pendergrast, nephew to the soap heiress whose company sponsors the show, tries to help Frankie. Phew! Got that?

EXCERPT FROM MY OWN PERSONAL SOAP OPERA BY LIBBY MALIN (copyright Libby Malin Sternberg 2018):

The press conference would have started okay, thought Frankie as perspiration beaded on her upper lip, if it hadn’t been for Luke crashing it. As in literally crashing. Just as Mary had finished the introductions and Frankie had started repeating to herself, “You’ll be okay, you’ll be okay, just ten minutes, that’s what Victor said, try not to pop the buttons on your blouse, don’t breathe too fast, but don’t forget to breathe,” Luke had entered the back of the room and stumbled over a microphone wire.

Ka-boom. All control vanished as reporters scrambled to help him.

“Luke!” An anguished cry from the doorway stopped them all in their tracks, as a redheaded angel of mercy swooped into the room to tend to the fallen actor.

That’s no angel of mercy, Frankie realized, squinting at the gal. It was Kayla!

Kayla?

She’d changed her hair color and was dressed in a white skirt and blouse with a white scarf around her neck.

What the…?

“We should help,” Frankie mumbled to Victor, before rushing through the gaggle of news reporters to see if Luke was okay.

Not only was he okay, he was holding court.

“Can’t comment for sure on the Hamlet thing,” he said, dusting off his leg as Kayla helped him with his crutches. “But should have an announcement soon. The show’s been great about it so far. Don’t anticipate any scheduling problems.” Then he looked up at Frankie and smiled. “Right?’

Frankie blushed with rage. Dammit. He’d deliberately sabotaged the press conference so he could get his Hamlet job on the record along with her promises to accommodate his time off. She’d look like Scrooge the distaff version if she said anything other than “How proud we are of our top actor, Luke Blades.”

Someone was sticking a microphone in her face, waiting for an answer.

“Uh…”

Victor stepped in. “The character of Donovan Reilly is currently a key component on the show,” he said. “We’re sorry we can’t have Mr. Blades stick around, but he needs to get checked out after this latest fall.” There was no missing his emphasis on Luke’s show name, and the meaning was clear. Donovan Reilly would stay. Luke? Hmm…

With a strength that looked both heroic and yet effortless, Victor grabbed Luke’s good side and glided him from the room. Frankie scurried after, unwilling to stay by the lectern without him.

In the hallway, Victor didn’t hold back.

“I don’t know what you thought you were pulling in there,” he whispered harshly, “but I’ll deal with it later.” Then he more clearly articulated his earlier statement: “Donovan Reilly will be in many stories to come. Whoever plays him.” He let go of Luke’s arm. Kayla rushed to stand by him, her face a mask of worry.

“And what are you doing here?” Frankie asked. “In that getup?” She pointed to Kayla’s outfit and hair.

“She was auditioning for a part,” Luke said, not hiding his anger. “She’s only a temp, after all.”

“Wha—” Frankie tried to compute this. “Only a temp?”

Kayla nodded.

“For two years?” Frankie asked, thinking back to when Kayla came onboard. Why didn’t she know this? The boss should know this. And she was the boss. Why did she have to keep reminding people about that? And what about the—

“Auditioning?” Frankie asked. “For what?” At least this explained the woman’s constant absences, her lack of dedication to her job, her “studying” at her desk.

“For the role of Florence Nightingale,” Kayla said defensively, stroking Luke’s arm. “In a play directed by Mishka Palonovitch. Luke told me about it.”

Frankie looked at Luke, who shrugged and said, “My agent passed it on.”  My_Own_Personal_Soap_Opera_1600x2400

“We don’t have time for this, Frankie.” Victor looked at the door to the room where the press conference was set up.

But Frankie was undeterred. She’d get to the bottom of this. Kayla was an aspiring actress…

“Is this the guy directing Hamlet, this Mishka Palomino—”

“Palonovitch,” Kayla repeated slowly as if Frankie herself were slow. “He won a Tony last year for War Songs.”

When Frankie registered a blank, Luke said, “The musical set at Walter Reed Hospital. All the soldiers are in wheelchairs. Big dance number at the end of act one.”

“So you both want to run off and do stage work with this comedic genius,” Frankie said, disgusted.

“Comic?” Kayla matched Frankie’s disgust and raised her one. “War Songs is a very moving tragedy about the perils of modern life as seen through the eyes of the wounded warrior. I find new levels of irony and insight every time I see it. I cry each time, too. Reviewers say—”

Frankie held up her hand. “Save it.” She glared at Luke. “If you’re so interested in stage work, buster, maybe Donovan Reilly isn’t such an integral part of the show.”

“Frankie, we’ll deal with him later.” Victor grabbed her by the arm, but she shrugged away.

“And as for you,” she said to Kayla, “if you’re interested in acting, why didn’t you tell me? I could have arranged an audition for Lust.” Well, maybe, maybe not. But hell if Frankie would look less than magnanimous.

Kayla’s reaction was anything but grateful. “Thank you, but I’m not ready to settle yet.”

“She’s done some small parts off Broadway,” Luke explained.

Settle? Kayla wasn’t ready to settle for Lust? Red-hot rage lit up her body and her voice as she turned to face Kayla. “You’re not willing to settle for acting on a daytime serial?”

“You see, this is exactly why I didn’t say anything,” Kayla said, her tone sweetly condescending. “I knew you’d offer to help, and, as I said, I’m not really interested in your kind of work yet.”

Inside, Frankie was an erupting volcano of hurt, anger, and outrage. Kayla, the secretary—the very bad temporary secretary, at that—thought her art was too good for Frankie, that her art was better than Frankie’s art. What was the world coming to?

“I… I…” Frankie sputtered, unable to give voice to the cauldron of indignation choking her throat.

“Come along,” Victor said through clenched teeth. He grasped her arm and wouldn’t let go. “We have more important things to do.” He steered her toward the press conference door. She called out over her shoulder, “Lust for Life is moving and touching! Just as moving as any dancing wheelchair farce that that Mucho Parmigiano can come up with! Just as good! Just as touching! Lust for Life is art, too! Damn good art!”

This last bit carried into the room as they entered, triggering the first question from a reporter.

“Ms. McNally, is that the reason why you’re not pulling the thief story, because you’re unwilling to sacrifice your artistic vision for public safety concerns?”

Frankie bumped Victor out of the way, rushed to the lectern, grabbed the mike, and leaned forward, causing the top two buttons on her blouse to pop open.

“Let’s get this straight, bub,” she seethed at him. “Art doesn’t rob people. People rob people!”

Check out My Own Personal Soap Opera at the Amazon Kindle store or on the serial fiction app Radish!

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Funny Ain’t Easy

My Own Personal Soap Opera, a romantic comedy about a head writer for a failing soap opera based in New York, will hit the e-shelves soon. I’m re-releasing this romp of mine (written under the name Libby Malin) after having had the rights reverted to me from its original publisher, Sourcebooks. I enjoyed going through this novel again, after some initial reluctance. Believe it or not, many writers have a hard time revisiting their works. You’re afraid you’ll discover that what you penned…is crap. It’s always a relief when you find otherwise. A low bar, I know. But that’s part of the glamorous author life.

As I went through the book again, though, I found myself reflecting on how writing comedy is hard. Visual gags, for example, are a bear to describe because if you use too much language, too many words, you kill the joke before you get there. And clever dialogue can sound like just that and nothing more, something that might win you an A on a Clever Dialogue Writing Test but won’t earn you a laugh, chuckle or even smile from your readers.

To me, comedy tests a storyteller’s skills more than writing drama. Moving people to smile or laugh takes the perfect combination of talent and knowledge, intuition, command of language and more. When I hear a reader say they laughed out loud at my romantic comedies, I’m thrilled. I’d be happy if they smiled a lot.

“…a world of wit and chaos that is so smart and insightfully written…you get happily lost in the fun.”

Booklist on My Own Personal Soap Opera by Libby Malin

My Own Personal Soap Opera is a smile kind of book, but like most comedies, it has an underlying story that’s more serious than fun. The protagonist Frankie McNally, a head writer on the failing soap opera Lust for Life, comes from a working class family. Raised by a single mom because her father ran off to join the “revolution” (become a hippie), she managed to get into an elite college through scholarships and landed in New York City where writing jobs led her to the soap opera she and her mother used to follow when she was growing up.

My_Own_Personal_Soap_Opera_1600x2400Even though she’s an accomplished woman, Frankie can’t seem to shake the chip on her shoulder about not fitting in to the more literary and sophisticated circles she now moves in. Her story is one of haves vs. have-nots, how the history of a have-not can impact her approach to life even when she moves into the “haves” category.

It’s a story arc that actually colored a famous soap opera back in the day: Another World. That soap followed a have-not, Rachel, as she tried to cunningly make her way up into the world of the haves, eventually landing a wealthy husband, Mac. I remember reading an article about that soap’s head writer/creator who talked about that story arc and how it never failed to generate more plots. How true.

Some of the most talented storytellers, of course, manage to weave wry comedy into even heartbreaking dramas. That’s one of my writing goals that I believe I’ve yet to achieve. Maybe some day I will. In the meantime, my writing life is divided between the lighthearted fun of books by Libby Malin (My Own Personal Soap Opera, Fire Me, and my earlier Harlequin release, Loves Me, Loves Me Not) and the serious offerings, written by Libby Sternberg (things like Sloane Hall, Death Is the Cool Night, and Lost to the World).

If I could figure out how to marry those two writing personas, I’d be a happy camper.

Watch for the release of My Own Personal Soap Opera within the coming month, but meanwhile, for a funny summer read, try Fire Me!

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