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ENGLEdebraLightening Up, Letting Go

When I was writing Twenty, I thought about what I’d do if I were Meg, the main character. How would I spend my next twenty days if I thought they might be my last twenty days?

One of the first things that came to mind? Clean my closets.

Well, not just my closets. My drawers. My office. The storage room. The garage. The attic. The kitchen. The laundry room. The glove compartment in my SUV.

And not just clean, but clear out. De-clutter. Let go.

I’m definitely not the only one to think this way. In fact, as I finished writing Twenty, I Googled this question: What would you do if you only had a few days to live? Almost every respondent mentioned getting rid of stuff.

Bag it all up and take it to Goodwill. Donate it to a local shelter. Set up a bonfire in the backyard and burn it. Somehow, some way, release the attachments to physical things.

I’d like to think I could do that without an ultimate deadline. Maybe I could use the same technique my older sister and I employed when we were little. When our bedroom needed cleaning (which was all the time), we played a game of Concentration.

We’d lay out 52 cards face down and then turn over two at a time to see if they matched. If they did, we had to put away the same number of items as the number on the cards. If we turned over two sixes, we had to put away six items. (Notice we didn’t add the two cards together and put away twelve items. The games went on for a looong time.)

Since my sister and I loved playing cards and didn’t love cleaning, this was a creative solution. But, of course, by the next day, we were stepping over tennis shoes and Tiger Beat magazines all over again.

Today, when I look around at the stacks of books, folders and notes in my office, I remember that I’ve never been a “place for everything and everything in its place” kind of person. That’s why I’m summoning help.

In a couple of weeks, a young woman who has started a decluttering business will come to our house with a single goal: To companion me out of the chaos and into a new world of clean surfaces and streamlined shelves.

When I see her car turn into our driveway, I may run to meet her and roll out a red carpet for her to walk on. She’s that much of a celebrity to me.

It’s not that I can’t get organized. The sweaters and blouses in our bedroom closet are arranged in color groupings. The spices in my kitchen cupboard line up alphabetically. Boxes of tissue, paper towels and toilet paper share a dedicated shelf in the hall closet.

But in the lower level of our home, where my desk drawers and storeroom reside, the problem is simple. Too. Much. Stuff.

Actually, though, it’s more than that.

Too. Many. Decisions.

It’s easy to shelve paper products together and throw out the empty boxes when the tissues are gone. There’s no emotional attachment to those consumable goods.

But that’s not the case with the greeting cards from friends, family and readers that spill out of a basket on my desk. And the basket itself? I carried it home from a trip to Africa. How could I part with that?

Almost everything in my office and storeroom carries emotion, memories, potential. If I pick up any random item and ask the excellent Marie Kondo question, “Does this bring me joy?” the answer is almost always yes.

So that’s why Madison, my celebrity of an organizer, will soon become my BFF. She will be my ultimate deadline.

Like Meg, I will go through every piece of paper, every outdated skirt and blouse, every Halloween decoration that sits in my office even though we just celebrated the New Year. Unlike Meg, I will have a different motivation—not the possibility that I’m living my last days, but that I could live all my days better.

How much do I need to do this? The answer showed up in a dream I had last night, in which a man was interviewing me over the phone. He asked me the most essential question: “What’s your name?”

In the dream, I told him my first name. But I couldn’t for the life of me remember my last. So I went flying around my office, searching for one of my books so I could see the name on the cover.

I couldn’t find one. Why?

Too. Much. Stuff.

I figure when stuff gets in the way of your identity, it’s time to make a change. Lighten the load. Remove the stacks of resistance.

I know this will make space for new possibilities, just as it did for my friend Diane, who believes that decluttering her home paved the way for her to meet the man who is now her husband. Old energy out. New energy in.

Madison may think she’ll be teaching me new techniques for tossing and storing my stuff. But there’s more to it than that.

She’ll be showing me a better way to live. No card game required.


Books We Can’t Wait to Share – Staff Picks

9781496721419Review by Norma

Author Christin Brecher made my cozy editor dreams come true with her debut novel Murder’s No Votive Confidence, the first in the Nantucket Candle Maker Mystery series.Norma Perez-Hernandez February 2020 Staff Pick Photo

I’d wanted to read a cozy mystery series set in a candle shop for the longest time, and Christin’s delightful (pun-intended) take on the genre surprised me in the best possible way with its humor, heart, and handy candle making tips. Her follow-up Murder Makes Scents is no exception, as candle maker and Wick & Flame store owner Stella Wright uncovers a murder mystery centered on a missing vial of perfume. I hope cozy fans have as much fun reading Stella’s adventures as I did editing them!

9781420148732Review by Kristin

Reading Hart’s Hollow Farm feels like opening a book and closing the world around you (no small feat on a New York City subway). As soon I stepped into the pages of Kristen’s world, I was immediately transfixed with how connected I felt to her character. A mom who couldn’t save her only child, a woman who hasn’t let her heart feel again since, Kristen’s journey to healing goes as deep as the soil of Hart’s Hollow Farm.

As soon as she meets 73-year-old firecracker Emmy I knew neither women would be the same. Both of their losses run deep and they know the pain they carry will never heal completely, but they also understand life is meant to be lived. Enter Mitch, Emmy’s hunky yet sensitive son and my favorite part of this book. Kristen and Mitch are undeniably drawn to each other and the slow burn of their relationship had me hooked from the start. This book is a beautiful ode to the strength of community and the love a family can have for each other, whether that family is held together by blood or choice.

Review by Esi

Have you ever read a book so realistic and all-consuming that you start to forget it’s not your actual life?

That’s how I felt when I read Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn. I wanted to hang out with Meg Mackworth and friends, watching movies and sharing secrets. (I would also love to hire Meg to make me a planner that would finally organize my life). Watching Meg’s relationships—romantic and non—unfold over the course of the book felt like visiting with a great friend, the kind who you can go months without talking to, but then you get together and it’s as if no time had passed at all.

Of course, the care and detail taken with the location and descriptions just build on the realism. New York City springs off the page, so be careful if you’re the kind to make impulsive travel plans (or especially if you’re hungry, because there is a falafel description that makes my mouth water even now).

The story of Meg Mackworth, handletterer extraordinaire, and the decision she makes that upends not just her life, but that of buttoned-up, reserved, deeply thoughtful (and extremely handsome) Reid Sutherland, will make you laugh and cry, yes. But it will also make you think, make you dream, make you grateful for the people around you. Visiting the little world Clayborn has created makes it clear how wonderful all of our own little worlds are.

Review by Larissa

You don’t need to be fans of Victoria Laurie’s Psychic Eye or Ghost Hunter Mystery series to enjoy her the first book in her new spin off series starring two fan favorites, Cat Cooper and her best friend Gilley Gillespie!

In COACHED TO DEATH, Cat Cooper finds herself gouged from an unexpected and nasty divorce and decides to settle in the Hamptons for her new career as a business-savvy life coach. But her mean girl neighbor, Heather Holland, is trying to bully Cat out of town. But Cat is the wrong person to try to intimidate, and after a series of petty actions on Heather’s part, the two women have a showdown at Heather’s invite-only luncheon. But when Heather’s dead body turns up next to Cat’s shattered punchbowl, Cat gets pinned as the murderer.  With Gilley at her side, Cat must scour chic Hampton boutiques and oceanfront mansions in search of the criminal who framed her.

COACHED TO DEATH is deliciously witty and fun, Cat and Gilley are the two perfect friends to spend time with. Readers will be counting down the days until their next Hamptons adventure.

Reviewed by Esi

Nothing will get you into the holiday spirit like this collection, based around my absolute favorite story concept—being snowed in!

Fern Michaels, our resident holiday expert, delights with her tale of a a radio host who is supposed to be an expert on love, but finds herself feeling more and more lonely. But an adventure in speed dating and an unexpected snow storm may be just what she needs, in “Starry Night”. Tara Sheets brings us the story of Layla Gentry, a woman who has it all, and her nemesis, Sebastian. If there’s one thing I love as much as couples being snowed in, it’s a classic enemy to lovers story, and Tara delivers, in “Mistletoe and Mimosas”. Finally, in Kate Clayborn’s “Missing Christmas” longtime friends and business partners Kristen and Jasper make a trip to New England to finalize a vital deal for their company. But a freak blizzard may be all it takes to show them what they’ve really been missing.

These smart, funny, heartwarming tales are perfect to read while cozied under a blanket with a cup of hot cocoa—picture perfect for the holiday season!

Review by Ann

Attention, fans of Downtown Abbey, The Bletchley Circle, Home Fires – and books like The Alice Network and The Lost Girls of Paris – meet Verity Kent!

Verity is an amazing woman, far ahead of her time. A British wife who ends up working for La Dame Blanche, a real-life intelligence gathering organization in The Great War, Verity may participate in the societal conventions of her time, but she is also an independent thinker, an intrepid spy, and a modern woman by 21st century standards.  Her husband, Sidney – whom she thought dead – turns up quite alive, and the two of them sort through these successive shocks in addition to recovering from the psychic ravages and demands of the war.

What’s entertaining and educational about Anna Lee Huber’s Verity Kent mysteries is that they’re anchored by historical fact.  In PENNY FOR YOUR SECRETS, the mystery centers on the wreck of the Zebrina, a British cargo ship whose crew mysteriously vanished, and which remains one of The Great War’s still unsolved mysteries.

Huber also drew inspiration from the life of The Duchess of Marlborough, the stunningly beautiful Gladys Spencer-Churchill, who once notoriously brought a pistol to dinner during one of her parties and flippantly threatening to shoot her husband with it.  In the book, Lady Rockham is a newlywed who is confused by her marriage’s rules and decorum. The first blushes of romance are gone.  The Lady shocks her guests by bringing a pistol to dinner and ponders whether she’s going to fire off one at her husband, Lord Rockham. Then Rockham turns up dead.

Verity finds herself wandering deeper into a thicket of political intrigue: Lord Rockham’s death may be connected to his shipping business. He had lost considerable cargo due to German U-boats in the English Channel and The Atlantic. Why would someone seek revenge over the sinking of a ship if the Germans were to blame? Unless they weren’t?  Verity and Sidney are both drawn into the investigation, their strengths and backgrounds and marriage all coming into play as they get dangerously closer to discovering the murderer and the motive.

I love Verity, and you will, too. Until the BBC opts to make a series about her, we have Anna Lee’s books to bring her to life.