The Book Review Club: What the Heart Knows

What the Heart Knows by Mara Purl is my book review for the August meeting of “The Book Review Club”

I was invited to participate on the blog tour for Days of Our Lives soap opera actress, screenwriter, and author Mara Purl and was given a copy of Book 1 of the Milford-Haven novels, What the Heart Knows. Mara is scheduled to appear on my Blog for next Monday, August 8. But after reading the book, I loved it so much I decided to review it for this month’s meeting of “The Book Review Club.”

There were several hooks for me with this book:

It’s set on the Central Coast of California and being a California native with family members in every part of California, it resonated with me. With its soap opera format, it took me back to the 22 years I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and used to watch daytime soaps regularly. There was something modern and retro at the same time, which is so in now in television and I suspect we’ll be seeing more of this in novels in the future. And I had become so immersed in the story, I forgot all about it being a series. And when I came to the end, I wanted more. My head was saying, “No, no, no, I don’t want to wait to find out what happens next.” lol!

So instead of telling you about the book, I’ve decided to share some of my interview with the author here:

Kathy: I see the soap opera influence in What the Heart Knows, because it’s written like a soap opera. There are multiple characters with their own points of view. Can you tell us the importance of point of view in telling the story?

Mara: You’re right, since the whole Milford-Haven story began as a soap opera, the inherent structure of multiple characters with their own storylines is built in to the book series as well. Though What the Heart Knows is a book that stands on its own, it also introduces the whole series. I think a reader could imagine herself driving up or down the coast, finding the sign for Milford-Haven, and turning off Highway 1 onto Main Street. She’ll be struck by a lot of things all at once—shops full of arts and crafts, pine trees, ocean air, and several people, not just one or two.

With multiple major characters, the story has to work from each of their perspectives. Who is Miranda? What’s her story? She’s an artist, a painter, who found Milford-Haven a few months earlier and moved here. She was already enjoying some success with her paintings in a fine San Francisco gallery, yet she’s chosen to move to this little town? Why? What was her heart telling her that her head didn’t know? What will she find here?

While Miranda is on her own journey, meanwhile Sally own’s the local breakfast-lunch eatery. What does her life look like? She moved here all the way from Arkansas, and now she’s a successful business owner. But what about her relationship with Jack Sawyer—a relationship he refuses to acknowledge publicly? How does she feel about that? What about her own dreams of expanding her business, and one day having a family? How long can she keep that dream on hold?

So while Sally’s filling coffee cups and dreaming her private dreams, Miranda comes into her restaurant. They’re friends and happy to see each other. But then in walks Samantha, a woman Sally cannot stand, and the feeling’s mutual! So Samantha sits down to have a private talk with her pal Miranda, but Sally stands there eavesdropping.

Take just that moment—here are three distinct points of view, and each one of them is valid. Sally is entitled to her opinion about Sam, whom she considers to be “full of herself.” But Samantha has just received shocking news and is trying to process it with the help of a good friend. Meanwhile, Miranda is torn because she cares for both these women.

Point-Of-View—of POV as we say in the film/television business—is tremendously important and endlessly fascinating to me. At any given moment in live, there is always more than one way to look at a moment, or an issue. The more altitude we can get on a situation, the more clarity we can achieve. So I’m often writing about how a character can move beyond “self”, move beyond their own tiny, narrow POV and see a bigger picture.

Kathy: Tell us about the theme of the book and some of the issues the characters are dealing with and what led you to writing it?

Mara: The theme of the book is the heart—are we listening to it? Does it have anything valuable to tell us? Can it offer important guidance? I believe that in our busy world we honor mostly the head—that is, logic and “smarts”. We need our level-headedness for a hundreds, thousands of things in our lives. We need our heads to stay on track and handle our responsibilities, to strategize and plan. But if we listen only to our heads, are we missing anything valuable? The “heart” is often dismissed as being the repository either of “mere feelings” or of fear. If we make decisions based on what “feels good,” we’re told we’re not smart; and if we avoid something because we’re “afraid” of it, we’re told we’re immature. So how about looking much deeper into the truly valid and important aspects of the heart such as intuition?

Readers can have a very interesting journey of their own by tracking each character’s “heart” journey. Is Miranda listening to her heart? (She’s just beginning to take it seriously. How does that alter her course?) Is Jack listening to his heart? (No, he’s stuffing down his feelings as though he were driving spikes into packed earth.) What about Chris Christian, the journalist who gets in trouble at the very beginning of the story?

Readers can enjoy a first read of What the Heart Knows by just having fun moving through the story and its interconnected plot lines. But they might also enjoy digging deeper into the lives of the characters . . . and perhaps into their own lives too.

Kathy: How many installments will be in this series and when will they be available?

Mara: There will be twelve books in the Milford-Haven Novels series, and they’ll be published about every 8 months . . . so you know I’ll be busy!

Oh my goodness, yes! Thank you, Mara. I hope that you’ll all stop by the blog tour next Monday with more fascinating information about what it’s like to work on a soap, the surprising place where Mara grew up, and how she got started on her career path. There will also be links to free downloads. Hope to see you there!

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@Barrie Summy