Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Roadtrip to Redemption by Laurie Larsen (Author Interview / Book Review)

In association with Author Laurie Larsen, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host a virtual book event for Roadtrip to Redemption!

Author Interview

Welcome back to Jersey Girl Book Reviews, Laurie!

Before we get to the interview, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself.

I’d love to! And thank you very much for hosting me on your lovely blog today. I’m a huge beach lover and there’s something about your website that makes me feel at peace. My name is Laurie Larsen and I live in central Illinois. I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary yesterday (June 17) and my husband and I have two wonderful sons, ages 22 and 19. I am the published author of nine novels and one novella. They range from women’s fiction, Young Adult romance, contemporary romance and inspirational romance. I am an EPIC Award winner. My book Preacher Man won Best Spiritual Romance of 2010, which was a thrilling day. My new book is the start of a series of inspirational romances that all take place on the beach (what else??) in South Carolina. The series is called Pawleys Island Paradise and Book 1 is Roadtrip to Redemption.

How long have you been a writer?

Next year I’ll celebrate 15 years as a published author! To celebrate, next year I’m going to re-edit and re-release my very first book, a contemporary romance called Whispers of the Heart. It was the book that started this whole wonderful journey for me!! Despite the fact that it’s going to need a lot of work, I have a special love for that book.

Do you have a day job, or is being an author your career?

Yes, I not only have a day job, I have a very demanding day job! I am a Project Manager in the fast-paced world of Information Technology at a Fortune 50 company. It’s hectic, sometimes cut throat, challenging and rewarding. I love it there, and I’ve been doing it a long time. But if I didn’t have my writing career, my world wouldn’t be complete.

What inspired you to become a writer? Describe your journey as a writer.

Believe it or not, it was Margaret Mitchell, the author of Gone With the Wind. I was on a business trip in Atlanta, and we had a free weekend to ourselves. I visited the Margaret Mitchell House, the little apartment building where she wrote about 80% of her novel, over the course of 10 years. It wasn’t easy for her, and life kept getting in the way. Her job, her marriage, illnesses, injuries. Yet, she still kept writing. It wasn’t glamorous. She put a TV tray in a little alcove in her cramped living room and threw a beach towel over it when she had guests over. From that paltry beginning, one of America’s greatest literary treasures was born. Standing in the tour that day, it hit me. I have a book in me. I can make all the excuses I want (I have a busy job, two small sons, etc etc) but it doesn’t matter. I can keep writing, just like Margaret did. I went back to the hotel and outlined a book which became my first published novel, Whispers of the Heart. I dedicated it to MMM, which of course, was Margaret Mitchell.

Please give a brief description/storyline about Roadtrip to Redemption.

I’d be happy to! Here’s the blurb:

It started as a trip to lose old memories. It became a journey to find her heart.

Leslie Malone faces an empty, lonely summer. Her marriage is over. Her daughter is overseas, living her dream. Her students are enjoying a carefree summer break. What's the purpose of her life if she's not a wife, mother and teacher? The idea of a roadtrip beckons her. Aimless wandering? Or inspired discovery? A woman of faith, she asks God for His guidance, then does her best to follow His direction.

Hank Harrison is a quiet man, good with his hands, but short on words. He's paid a heavy price for not forgiving his son for horrible mistakes made years ago, mistakes with vast consequences. Hank recognizes Leslie as an answer to his prayers, and together, they begin to mend their futures.

Neither of them plans to fall in love. Will the worst summer of Leslie's life become the season that redeems them both?

What was the inspiration for this story?

Like Leslie, I grew up traveling every summer to Pawleys Island, SC for family reunions. In fact, many of Leslie’s experiences in the book were true stories from my childhood. Including the Portuguese Man o’ War story! So the location was directly inspired by my own experiences. But it intrigued me to write a love story between more (ahem) mature adults. Leslie and Hank are in their fifties, had already had a chance at love, and weren’t looking for a new mate. But amazing things happen when you open your heart up to God’s will. God knows what we need more than we do ourselves. So I call this my “babyboomer inspirational romance” due to the age of the hero and heroine. I hope it’s enjoyable to your readers.

Do you have a special spot/area where you like to do your writing?

I have an office set up in my guest bedroom upstairs. It’s where I do about 80% of my writing. But I just recently redecorated my sunroom – painted it a cheery yellow, picked out a beautiful area rug, and ordered a writing desk, big comfy easy chair and ottoman. I’ll position the furniture so that it points out, into the backyard, vs. in towards the house. I’ll put my back to the activity and hustle bustle of the indoors and get my inspiration from nature. The sun really floods in through the windows so I’m looking forward to making it my secondary writing room.

How do you come up with the ideas that become the storyline for your books?

Some of my writer friends brag about so many story ideas hitting their brains constantly, that they can’t decide which one to write first. I’ve never been like that. Maybe because I’m a writer with a hectic day job, I am not inundated with ideas. I usually get one or maybe two at a time. If it continues to prod me and poke me, and I’m still interested in it after I’ve worked through some plot in my mind, then I know it’s the right one to pursue.

When you write, do you adhere to a strict work schedule, or do you work whenever the inspiration strikes?

Well, I try. But I have a lot of activities to prioritize. I don’t mean just my day job and family responsibilities. I’m talking about within my writing career. I’m an indie author, which means that I’m responsible for the whole cycle of putting out a book. At any given time I’m writing, I’m editing, I’m working with my cover artist to come up with a striking cover, I’m formatting, and I’m constantly promoting my books. So the luxury of just writing sort of died when I became published. But don’t get me wrong. I love it! As a previously small-press-published author, now turned independent, I’m really enjoying the creativity, the flexibility and the pride from having done it all.

What aspects of storytelling do you like the best, and what aspects do you struggle with the most?

I love building characters. I’m more of a character-driven writer than plot driven. I love setting up the conflict between two characters, then seeing how the fireworks go off between them, how they work it out, how they fall in love. What I struggle with the most is figuring out what I’m going to have these characters DO (the plot!). Although I will say, it gets easier the more books I’ve written.

What are your favorite things to do when you are not writing?

I love to read! Go to movies. Watch sporting events (especially my sons’). Go out with friends. Have a good glass of wine. Spend time with family. And laugh.

What is the most gratifying thing you feel or get as a writer?

Knowing that I’ve made someone’s day. That I’ve made them laugh, cry or say “awwwww.” That I’ve actually written something that is meaningful to others.

How do you usually communicate with your readers/fans?

I love connecting with readers over Facebook or Twitter, and I also have a Contact Laurie button on my website. I’ll get direct emails from people. I have a sign up on my website (every page, practically) where readers can sign up for my newsletter – which I only send when I have a new release out or some other news.

What is your definition of success as a writer?

My goal is to have a body of work that I am proud of, that reaches as many people as possible and makes them happy.

Are you currently writing a new book? If yes, would you care to share a bit of it with us?

Yes! Thanks for asking. I have recently finished Book 2 in the Pawleys Island Paradise series. I plan to release it in late summer/early fall. In Roadtrip, you meet Leslie and Hank. Hank’s son Jeremy plays a key role in Hank and Leslie’s love story. In Book 2, Tide to Atonement, it’s Jeremy’s story. Jeremy is an ex-con, released from a decade in prison in Roadtrip to Redemption. In his own book, he is working hard to re-assimilate to society. He’s not looking for anyone’s pity or handouts. He wants to work hard to make up for his past mistakes and make his own way in the world. His probation officer volunteers him to be the subject of a magazine article about successful transformations, but when the beautiful reporter, Emma shows up with a chip on her shoulder and an attitude to boot, he’s got to wonder why.

Thanks so much for having me!!

Thank you Laurie for visiting Jersey Girl Book Reviews and sharing a little bit about yourself and your writing career!

About The Author

A Project Manager by day in the fast-paced world of Information Technology, Laurie Larsen escapes to her fictional worlds by night. About to celebrate 15 years as a published author, Laurie has released eight full-length novels and one novella, with plans to release a new series, starting with Book 1, Roadtrip to Redemption in May. Laurie has written in a number of romance subgenres: contemporary romance, women's fiction, Young Adult fiction and inspirational romance. Her 2009 release Preacher Man, won the EPIC Award for Best Spiritual Romance. Her new series, Pawleys' Island Paradise returns her to her award-winning genre of Christian-themed love stories. Laurie is known for her tender treatment of everyday life with just a touch of worst case scenario.


Book Review

Roadtrip to Redemption by Laurie Larsen
Book 1: Pawleys Island Paradise
Publisher: Random Moon Books
Publication Date: April 26, 2014
Format: Paperback - 232 pages
            Kindle - 645 KB 
            Nook - 631 KB
ISBN: 978-1499347456
BNID: 2940149491353
Genre: Christian Inspirational Romance

BUY THE BOOK: Roadtrip to Redemption

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Book Description:

It started out a trip to lose old memories. It became a journey to find her heart.

Leslie Malone faces an empty, lonely summer. Her marriage is over. Her daughter is overseas, living her dream. Her students are enjoying a carefree summer break. What's the purpose of her life if she's not a wife, mother and teacher? The idea of a roadtrip beckons her. Aimless wandering? Or inspired discovery? A woman of faith, she asks God for His guidance, then does her best to follow His direction.

Hank Harrison is a quiet man, good with his hands, but short on words. He's paid a heavy price for not forgiving his son for horrible mistakes made years ago, mistakes with vast consequences. Leslie is an answer to his prayers, and together, they begin to mend their futures.

Neither of them plans to fall in love. Will the worst summer of Leslie's life become the season that redeems them both?

Book Excerpt:

Chapter One

The manila envelope in her hands grew heavier the longer she stood there, her name – Leslie Malone – printed on the front in black magic marker blurring as unwanted tears threatened to erupt.

“Lady? Excuse me?”

She jolted at the voice. She gave her head a shake, pulled a brusque hand over her eyes. “Yes. Sorry.”

Relief flooding the courier's face was unmistakable. After all, the last thing he needed was a crying woman when he was just trying to do his job. He couldn’t really help the fact that he worked for the biggest jerk of a lawyer in town.

He held out a clipboard and a pen and pointed to a line. She signed her name and handed it back. He made a quick escape off her front porch, down her driveway and away in his truck. Were those his tires squealing? Or maybe that was her imagination.

She sighed and returned to her foyer, closing the front door behind her. In all fairness, it wasn’t necessarily Tim’s lawyer who was the jerk – Tim himself had that honor.

She stepped into her living room and sank onto the sofa. No time like the present. She slipped her finger beneath the sealed flap of the envelope and ripped it open. She pulled out a small stack of papers and flipped through them before turning back to the front page. The contents didn’t surprise her. She’d sat through a full day of court, answered the lawyers’ questions, shared a mountain of documents she’d gathered at her lawyer's request, and listened to the judge’s decisions:

· Their marriage was over. Almost twenty years of matrimony -- gone.

· They’ll sell the house and split the profits. And they’d split up all the “stuff” according to the inventory they’d both agreed on.

 · They’ll share Jasmine’s college expenses, their contributions proportionate to their incomes.

· She’ll get half of his 401K when he retires, based on its current balance.

· He’ll pay child support until Jasmine graduates and gets a job.

She sniffed and tossed the papers on the coffee table. Her lawyer had been pleased with the settlement, especially that last point. Leslie would take her word for it. At this moment, she couldn't care less. But was it possible their lives together had resulted in five neat bullet points? What had once been a loving marriage and family, now was a bunch of legalese.

The phone rang and she jumped. By habit, she rose and glanced at the Caller ID. She puffed out a breath and smiled. “Jaz! How’s it going?”

“Fantastic, Mom.”

Her daughter’s voice always brought a smile to her face. From toddler to teen, and now as a young woman. “Your semester will end before you know it. It’ll be nice to have a break from school, huh?”

“Well, yeah.”

She caught the slight hesitation but plowed ahead. “It sure will be good to have you home, Jaz. The house is awful quiet these days.”

“I bet.”

A tone in the softly spoken words made Leslie scurry to find a new topic. She knew Jasmine pitied the state of her parents’ marriage. But today was not a day to delve into it. Tears were too close to the surface at any given moment to tempt them.

“Have you checked with the diner? They might need you to waitress this summer, and with me off school, we’ll have a lot of time together. I was thinking of some fun things to do – plant our garden, try new recipes, maybe we can even plan a vacation, just the two of us.”

Leslie winced at the forced cheer in her tone and bit her lip. Jasmine would recognize it; she was way too sensitive in general, and too close to the subject of Leslie’s destroyed marriage, to dismiss the subtlety. The last thing she wanted to do was make Jasmine take sides, or to feel sorry for her at this stage of her life.

Although, with her dad’s full-blown mid-life crisis, complete with a toupe, red Corvette and thirty-year-old divorcee girlfriend, the proper side to take was clear. At least in Leslie’s opinion.

“Mom, listen. I won’t be coming home this summer after all.” She cleared her throat and paused.

“What?” Leslie heard music playing behind Jasmine’s voice.

“Something really exciting has come up. An opportunity I don’t want to turn down because although it’s not, um, the best timing … I know I’d regret it later if I didn’t go.”

A little hand gripped Leslie's heart. She drew a deep breath and forced it out. “Jasmine, spill. What are you talking about?” Her daughter’s words tumbled over themselves. “A few months ago, I applied for a summer abroad program in Paris. I never, ever thought I’d get selected because it’s so totally competitive. It’s a chance for college students all over the world to work in the Paris fashion scene for three whole months. Go backstage of the runway, work with models, designers, marketers, buyers, retailers. It’s an unbelievable internship and only the top fashion students are selected. I really didn’t think I’d have a chance but guess what … I was chosen! I found out today!”

A weird buzzing filled her ears. Leslie stood squarely on her two feet and yet, the room was beginning to spin. She slumped into the chair beside the phone as if her spinal column had become a cooked noodle. The pause lengthened into an uncomfortable silence.

“Mom? Are you still there?”

“Yes,” she finally spit out. “You never even told me you’d applied for a summer abroad, honey.”

“I know. Honestly, Mom, I didn’t think I had a chance, so why bother? It’s really an honor. It’ll be something I’ll remember my whole life, and it’ll be great for my resume.”

“Okay, okay, Jaz. I hate to be the voice of reason here, but have you thought of the logistics?”

“What do you mean?”

Leslie sighed. “The biggest one I can think of is, how much does it cost, and how are we going to pay for it?”

“Oh, that’s taken care of, Mom. Don’t worry about it.”

“You mean, you got a scholarship? It’s a no-cost internship?”

Jaz cleared her throat again. “Not exactly. I mean, there’s a cost, but it’s okay.  Dad said he’d pay for it. In fact, he gave me his credit card number and told me to charge the tuition and fees.”

A chill crept down Leslie’s spine while goose bumps popped on her arm. “You called Dad about this before you called me?”

She winced. Not the most mature of questions to ask – but give her a break: she was new to this divorce stuff. “One day” new, in fact.

“Well, yeah, I mean … before I could accept the internship I knew I had to be able to pay for it, so I, you know …”

Leslie nodded. “Went with your best option.” Of course Tim would be able to pay for a summer abroad. His doctor’s salary loomed like the Statue of Liberty, her own teacher’s salary lingering almost unnoticed in the shadows.

“Well …,”

Leslie detested the uncomfortable silence but couldn’t bring herself to say anything cheerful to alleviate it.

“I’m sorry, Mom, but I …”

“No, I understand. I’m not sure I could’ve helped you anyway. I would’ve tried, though.”

“I know.”

For the next few minutes Jasmine chattered about the internship, the work, the classes, the travel. She was excited for her, sure she was. Of course she was! She hoped she showed all the appropriate enthusiasm. But when she hung up, reality hit her upside the head.

She’d be alone all summer.

Leslie closed her eyes and sat still, her mind serving up an image of what her summer break would be like. No husband, no job to go to, no Jasmine to brighten her days. Long days spanning ad infinitum with no plans. Or at least, nothing important to do.

What was the purpose of her life now? What was she put here to do, if it wasn’t to be wife, mother and teacher? Prayers helped; she’d learned that time and time again. If nothing else, she usually felt better after verbalizing her requests and getting them out there.

Her spoken words echoed in the empty house. “Lord. I know You’re there. Somewhere in all this mess that my life has become. It hasn’t been the most stellar of days, and You know that. But come on, how much can one person take? My marriage is over, my daughter will be gone all summer. Not even a job to get up and go to everyday. Nothing, but my new monotone life.” She sighed. “Solitude is completely overrated. Give me strength to deal with my new reality. Amen.”

She stood and made her way to the kitchen. What on earth was she going to do with herself?

My Book Review:

Roadtrip to Redemption is a beautifully written and heartwarming story that follows one woman's roadtrip that turns into an inspirational journey that will change her life. 

After twenty years of marriage, third grade teacher Leslie Malone is newly divorced and suddenly finds herself all alone for the summer. Daughter Jasmine is not coming home from college, she has been accepted to attend a summer abroad program in Paris for a once in a lifetime fashion internship. Facing long summer days alone ahead of her, and with no plans or anything important to do, Leslie is at a crossroads in her life. Leslie decides to hit the road for destinations unknown ... Traveling from her home in Pittsburgh, Leslie's roadtrip becomes an inspirational journey of self-discovery to the tranquil beach of Pawleys Island, South Carolina ... a journey filled with friendly encounters, adventures, an unexpected second chance at love, and a new outlook on life. 

Author Laurie Larsen weaves a lovely story that invites the reader to follow Leslie's journey as she discovers a new purpose in her life after a devastating divorce. You can't help but become captivated with this uplifting story of rediscovering faith, love, and learning to move forward in life. From meeting fascinating new people to rediscovering herself, and the unexpected plans that God has in store for her, Leslie's story will leave a smile on your face.

I loved the unexpected adult romance that develops between Leslie and Hank Harrison. They are two middle aged people who both face issues in their lives, yet they get a refreshing second chance at discovering love. 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the author easily transports the reader to the different locales on Leslie's roadtrip with her rich descriptions that culminates at the final destination on the tranquil beaches of Pawleys Island. 

I am looking forward to reading Tide to Atonement, the second book in the Pawleys Island Paradise series.

Roadtrip to Redemption is a wonderful Christian inspirational romance novel that will touch your heart and leave an imprint on your soul. 


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