By Anderson McKean, Page & Palette Bookstore
What do you think of when you hear the word “family?” Most of us would include parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles; others might say a close friend or neighbor. The definition is unique to each of us, but one thing is universal — families are made up of the people we love and those who love us. They are created and solidified by connections made through a shared history, challenge, or experience. Family is the unifying theme across each of these four unforgettable novels — the family we are born into, and the family we make.
What Could Be Saved by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz
Part family saga, part mystery, What Could be Saved is a mesmerizing novel of loss and regret, loyalty, and redemption. Schwarz’ lyrical writing shares the emotional journey of a family of expatriates as they grapple with a lost then rediscovered son, deftly exploring the reasons and repercussions. Each of the beautifully drawn, tragically flawed characters remained with me long after turning the last page.
We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker
How is it possible for a story defined by loss and heartbreak to exude so much hope? We Begin at the End is a remarkable novel that begins with a crime but ends in redemption and forgiveness. Chris Whitaker’s crisp, elegant prose wraps around you like a warm blanket, providing comfort in troubled times. He has given readers a compelling, compassionate story about the family we have and the family we make.
Other People’s Children by R.J. Hoffmann
What a fascinating, thought-provoking read! R.J. Hoffmann does a brilliant job of tackling the topic of adoption from the perspectives of three passionate, resilient women…a young birth mother grappling with her choices, an overprotective grandmother filled with her own regrets, and the adoptive mother, a woman determined to do whatever it takes to become a mother. Other People’s Children is a riveting story about the choices we make, the paths we choose, and the desperate things we do to have the life we’ve always wanted.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah’s new novel is simply extraordinary! I am overwhelmed by her talents…her captivating prose, emotive voice and astoundingly immersive story blew me away. Set during the Great Depression, this powerful story lays bare the unfathomable hardships endured by millions of Americans during the Dust Bowl era. It is a moving testament of family and loyalty, grit, and survival. But most of all, it is about motherhood – the fierce love that compels is to protect and defend our children against every obstacle. Truly, The Four Winds is Hannah’s most magnificent work to date.
An Exclusive Interview with Patti Callahan Henry, Author of Surviving Savannah
Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times best-selling author of fifteen novels, including Becoming Mrs. Lewis —The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis. Among her many accolades, she was recently named The Harper Lee Distinguished Writer of the Year for 2020. Mrs. Callahan is also the host of the popular seven-part original “Behind the Scenes of Becoming Mrs. Lewis Podcast Series” and co-creator of the weekly web show and podcast Friends and Fiction. A full-time author and mother of three children, she now resides in both Mountain Brook, Alabama, and Bluffton, South Carolina with her husband. Mrs. Callahan took time to talk to PORTICO about her new book, Surviving Savannah.
Q: Surviving Savannah is the extraordinary story of “The Titanic of the South,” the luxury steamship that sank in 1838 with Savannah’s elite on board. What inspired you to write about the forgotten fates of those lost and found?
A: I am endlessly fascinated with the unknown parts of the stories we think we know. Finding an unknown story is like having a great secret whispered in your ear. And this was one of those stories. A local friend in South Carolina told me about the ship and I began to do my research. I was three weeks into the story about what had come to be called “The Titanic of the South” when I stumbled on a headline that a shipwreck hunting crew had found the remains off the coast of North Carolina. I felt, in many ways, that the story now wanted to be told almost two hundred years later.
Q: The novel is filled with excerpts from newspapers and correspondence uncovered from the wreckage. Tell us about the extent of your research and any surprises that you encountered along the way.
A: The research for this book was fascinating and often difficult. One of the greatest and most enriching surprises for me was the treasure of Savannah museums. From the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum to the Georgia Historical Society to the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters, I found a richer, deeper, and greater truth about this tale. Almost two hundred years have passed since this disaster and yet so much about the family I follow (a very real family from Savannah) has only come to light over the past years.
Q: The three women in your story – Lily, Augusta, and Evelyn – each face hardships unique to their roles in society and to their generation. What compelled you to share and connect their stories?
A: I knew fairly early on that the overarching theme of this novel would be “How do we survive the surviving?” So many shipwreck novels are narrated by men and I wanted this story to be told through the eyes and hearts of the women. What would they be thinking as they not only tried to survive but also save their families and children? I knew that the trauma they all went through would forever affect their lives. You don’t just live through a great loss and go on without grief. I wanted the three of them to be connected across and through time, with this idea that to heal we must not only survive but thrive.
Q: Becoming Mrs. Lewis and Surviving Savannah have been departures from your previous contemporary novels. Can you share a little about your journey into historical fiction?
A: It seems so natural in hindsight, but honestly, I didn’t realize I was changing paths until I was well and good down the path. It all started because I was interested in C. S. Lewis’ wife. I wanted to know about their tragic and amazing love story from her point of view. And not only did that book change my life, but also the trajectory of my work. I have always been interested in lost stories. As a nurse, I spent a good amount of that time as a research nurse. I love digging for the facts and the unknowns that will change the way we see the world.
Q: I’ve read that as the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, storytelling has played a large role in your life. How has your upbringing impacted your career as a writer?
A: It’s always hard to know what parts of our childhood affect our adulthood. I leave that to the psychiatrists, but of course growing up around sermons, stories and books had a huge impact on my life. I have always been enamored of the power of story to help us, heal us, and guide us. Our house was full of books and I fell into them the way other kids fell into sports. Libraries were my sanctuary and books still sustain me.
Q: You have lived and worked in many parts of the country…Philadelphia, Florida, Alabama, and South Carolina, just to name a few. How have those experiences shaped the topics and settings you choose for your novels?
A: I know we often talk about how setting is a character, and it is, but I also think it is the petri dish from which our stories grow. And same for us as people. We are in many ways an outgrowth of where we lived. Because of those different places I find writing about them fascinating. For example, most readers believe I am “Southern” and I am in so many ways, but I didn’t move to the South until I was thirteen. And even then, it was South Florida. I moved to Alabama when I went off to college at Auburn University. That is when I feel like I discovered the South as something distinctly different than the North. So, when I first started writing about the Lowcountry it was with an outsider’s eye, someone who had come to love it but had not grown up with it.
Q: Who are some authors and books that inspired you to be a writer?
A: Oh, so, so many. Grahame Greene and The End of the Affair. Pat Conroy and anything he ever wrote. Same with Anne Rivers Siddons. C. S. Lewis of course not only made me want to be a reader, but also a writer. A very eclectic group, non?
Q: What are you reading now?
A: When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain. It is glorious and immersive and powerful.
Q: What are you working on?
A: I am working on the final touches of a novel that comes out in October 2021 called Once Upon a Wardrobe. Set in the countryside of 1950 England it is about a little boy who asks his older sister to go find out “Where did Narnia come from?” She seeks out the author at her University and he answers her, but not as we might expect.