Sunday, April 20, 2014

Recommended Romances: 'Ade,' 'Secrets and Sins'

by Michelle Monkou)

(Photo: Little A)

Join me every week as I share a few shout-outs on romance author goings-on, related events and recommended reads.

Adé: A Love Story by Rebecca Walker

What it's about (courtesy of Lake Union Publishing):

When Farida, a sophisticated college student, falls in love with Adé, a young Swahili man living on an idyllic island off the coast of Kenya, the two plan to marry and envision a simple life together—free of worldly possessions and concerns. But when Farida contracts malaria and finds herself caught in the middle of a civil war, reality crashes in around them. The lovers' solitude is interrupted by a world in the throes of massive upheaval that threatens to tear them apart, along with all they cherish.

Why you should read it: Adé: A Love Story by Rebecca Walker is deceptively simple — a youthful experience of love. There is beauty in the crafting of this autobiographical story with fictional elements told in a very personal, inviting way. The invitation to the circle is not for one to judge or sit dispassionately as a witness to the goings-on. Instead, the rhythmic cadence of the story invites a dialogue with Farida through her self-discovery.

Layers abound. Of which, there exists the beauty within the story. Peeling back the skin, what we hide behind, the messages are revealed with intimacy and transparency. Using humor, terrifying suspense, familial dynamics and thoughtful reminisces, Walker shows how to open and accept, reveal and trust, encourage and hope. I'm sure that for each read-through, there will continue to be revealed nuances to be appreciated and enjoyed.


I'm a firm believer that everyone in our life serves as a teaching moment. We learn about ourselves and the "teacher." These fragments of time that can be fleeting or enduring challenge our capacity for compassion and change. Why? To positively affect our environment/society. It's our human revolution.

One such teacher, Rebecca Walker, initially crossed my path when I read her New York Times best-selling memoir Black, White and Jewish. She opened the window to her life, digging deep and laying bare her soul. A literary exercise that did much more than entertain was also an effective medium to teach, enlighten, and reform perceptions. My admiration continues with her extensive body of literary works and accomplishments.

And here's some great news: Walker's novel Adé: A Love Story is headed for the big screen with Bruce Cohen as producer and Madonna as director.

Take this opportunity to meet award-winning writer and lecturer Rebecca Walker, named by Time magazine as one of the most influential leaders of her generation.

Michelle: You have written memoirs and essays, started businesses and acted. What keeps you motivated? There is a certain level of optimism with your pursuits ... your motto?

Rebecca: Keep going.

Michelle: What is the magic that's contained in the memoir format? Did it help with writing Ade — plot or characters?

Rebecca: I love memoir because it lets the writer speak in such a direct and personal way to readers — to share our most profound and affecting experiences from the depth of our hearts to create connection. There is an emotional immediacy between writer and reader there — a fundamental sense of "I trust you, I believe in your ability to hold my truth and I want to hold yours, too. So I'm telling you my story. Thank you for coming." This book is very autobiographical — I initially wrote it as memoir, so I hope it still retains some of those qualities, even though it has fictionalized in many ways, I still hope that vulnerability is palpable.

Michelle: "The power of love and the limitations of the human heart," taken from the book's description ... In your opinion, how does love transform life or even the world?

Rebecca: Love is everything, as crucial to human beings as air and water. Obviously we can survive without it, but thrive? Unlikely. Love allows us to transcend our limited notions of self, and give on behalf of the well-being of others we may have previously thought of as Other. The survival of our species depends on this recognition of our common humanity, no? Love grounds us in a very personal and intimate way as well. It buoys us through the often terrifying waters of life, and teaches us that the material world is important, but not all that matters. Love heals.

Michelle: Given the universal tenet to your quotes in Marie Claire magazine: "We human beings are vast and full of possibility; I alone am in control of shaping my desire, and that if I'm open, truly open, anything can happen; Maybe I'm an astronaut after all. I flew high above the arbitrary lines drawn on earth, and learned freedom." What would be your message to these avid readers who escape into, are inspired by, or are seeking their own truth from our books?

Rebecca: Don't be afraid to try. Be fearless. Step out of your comfort zone into the wild and inspiring and scary space of the unknown. There is something waiting there for you. Trust me.

For more information about Rebecca Walker and her books, visit

(Photo: Bunderful Books)

Secrets & Sins by Bettye Griffin

What it's about (blurb courtesy of Bunderful Books):

In this sweeping, 115K-word novel, Bettye Griffin introduces readers to the Cheeks family of Zion, Illinois: Eldest daughter Faye, whose placid, orderly life is about to be disrupted in a way she never could have imagined…middle child and only son Scott, who brings new meaning to the phrase 'midlife crisis'…and youngest daughter Robin, who is divorced from but not exactly rid of her former spouse.

At the center of the story is their mother, Julia Scott Cheeks, who along with her devoted husband Melvin, has tried to keep two scandalous family secrets hidden and has been successful for 55 years…but when Robin mentions the name of the former classmate she has a romantic interest in, Julia fears that the events she has tried so hard and for so long to keep her children from knowing are in danger of being exposed…

Why you should read it: The (free) prequel, Sinner Man, launches the main story, Secrets & Sins, with a dramatic secret. Individuals and families bear the weight of what should have been a private, undisclosed matter. But this act has consequences with an outward rippling effect that crosses over generations — thanks to Griffin's expert intertwining of the large cast with a hearty plot. Without missing a beat, these elements propel the story with solid pacing for full-blown enjoyment of this story.

Griffin writes her story points with maturity and adds in a good dose of common sense to her characters' vulnerabilities. Definite book club recommend.


Michelle: What was the inspiration for the story and theme in your latest book, Secrets & Sins?

Bettye: Love family drama, and I'd been playing around with a couple of scenarios (some of which I might still use). I then thought up a storyline that showed both the past and the present with parallel problems. But it all came together for me one night when I nearly confused Ben-Gay for K-Y jelly … my "what if" writer's mind went into overdrive, and suddenly I had a complete plot. As for the theme, I'd describe it as events from the past re-surfacing and threatening the future.

Michelle: Is there any connection to your own strong family bonds and the tight-knit bonds found in small towns when creating the story/series?

Bettye: No, at least not consciously. A reader once told me she noticed I featured a lot of blended families in my books. I didn't grow up in a blended family, but my current marriage involves stepchildren and now grandchildren (I refuse to use the term "step-grandchildren"; it's a valid word but to me sounds silly). As for small-town series, I haven't started mine yet. It should be interesting, since the smallest city I ever lived in (my current location) has 100,000 people. Authenticity is my biggest concern regarding that!

Michelle: Do you believe in a-ha moments? That sudden breakthrough in the heart or mind that reveals something about yourself that you didn't know.

Bettye: I know myself pretty well, so that wouldn't be the case … but I do get an occasional bright idea for a way to handle something I'm trying to accomplish.

Michelle: Do you still have stories to tell?

Bettye: In Secrets & Sins I introduced a small Southern town called Eighty-Eight, with two scenes (including the final scene) taking place there. I do intend to start a series in that setting, with possible contributions by other authors and hope to release the first book by the end of this year. It'll be called It Happened in Eighty-Eight (although only a small portion of that story will actually take place there, curiously enough). This town has more secrets and scandals than the U.S. government! But first, I will be releasing the second (not counting the prequel) and final book in my Love Will series, Love Will Grow, expected later this spring.

For more information about Bettye Griffin and her stories, visit


Through the next few months until RWA's award ceremony in July, I will introduce you to several Golden Heart finalists from Romance Writers of America's contest for unpublished writers.

Denny S. Bryce is a Golden Heart finalist in the Romantic Suspense category for Chasing Damn. She also finaled in 2013 in the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence Mystery/Suspense (Kiss of Death RWA chapter) and the Linda Howard Award of Excellence (Birmingham RWA chapter) with the same title.

Michelle: What are some books closest to your style?

Denny: Two authors come to mind right away, but not so much as closest to my writing style, but more so to the style I aspire (and hopefully, sooner than later :) — J.D. Robb and Laura Griffin. Eve Dallas, the heroine in J.D. Robb's In Death series, is vulnerable, tough, and impeccable at her job. A triple threat: I can admire a character and connect to her emotionally while longing for her next scene with Roarke. The romance is always compelling — even after 40-plus books. Recently I discovered Laura Griffin's The Tracers Series. Her books weave romance and suspense into every scene. These authors combine emotional relationships and suspense seamlessly (a skill I am striving to achieve), but they also tell great stories. So, yeah, I would be ecstatic if my writing style was compared to either one of these authors one day.

I also enjoy a dark and twisty personality and am a huge fan of thrillers. Some of my favorite authors in this sandbox include Chelsea Cain (Heartsick, Sweetheart, etc.) and Thomas Harris (Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs).

Michelle: What other subgenres do you write in?

Denny: Before writing my first romantic suspense in 2012 during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I wrote paranormal romance and urban fantasy. My writer girl roots were born in these sub-genres mostly due to my obsession with a TV show — Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I watched my first episode in November 2003 on Thanksgiving Day during a marathon on TNT. I fell in love with Joss Whedon's mythology and his words as well as with Buffy, Spike and Angel (the series) — and eventually Firefly. I started writing fanfiction (Buffy/Spike) a year after that marathon and continued until I decided to give original fiction a try. My favorite authors then included Jim Butcher, L.A. Banks and Laurell Hamilton.

Michelle: What's a 2013 and/or 2014 series you're looking forward to?

Denny: There are two series I'm excited about for 2013 and 2014. Laura Kaye's Hard Ink Series and Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. And, yes, the historical kind of eased itself onto the list at the last moment — but I love this book — I'm on chapter 33, and if anyone spoils me about Jamie Fraser's fate — you risk a beat-down ;)!

Denny can be found on Twitter (@dennysbryce) and Facebook and at

Michelle Monkou celebrates her Evernight urban fantasy digital release, Into the Pride . Her website is You can also connect with her on Facebook.

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