Thursday, November 19, 2009


By Melissa Senate

In a perfect world I'd be able to read every book I blog about for the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit, but both parenting and writing are so time-intensive I don't get to read half the novels I'd like to.

Today, though, I have the absolute pleasure of blogging about a wonderful book I'm right smack in the middle of reading, THE SECRET OF JOY by Melissa Senate. This has everything I love--interesting, complicated relationships, great characters and a plot that sucks you in from the start.

Here's the plot snapshot:

What would you do if you discovered you had a half-sister you never knew existed?

28-year-old New Yorker Rebecca Strand is shocked when her dying father confesses a devastating secret: he had affair when Rebecca was a toddler—and a baby he turned his back on at birth. Now, his wish is that the daughter he abandoned, Joy Joyhawk, read the unsent letters he wrote to her every year on her birthday. Determined to fulfill her father’s wish, Rebecca drives to a small town in Maine—against the advice of her lawyer boyfriend who’s sure Joy will be a “disappointing, trashy opportunist” and demand half her father’s fortune. But when hopeful Rebecca knocks on her half-sister’s door, Joy—a separated mother who conducts weekend singles tours out of her orange mini-bus—wants nothing to do with Rebecca or the letters her father wrote to her. Determined to forge some kind of relationship with Joy, Rebecca sticks around, finding unexpected support from Joy’s best clients—the Divorced Ladies Club of Wiscasset—and a sexy carpenter named Theo . . . .

In addition to being a mega-talented writer, Melissa is very smart and very cool. Check out her answers to my interview questions:

How would you describe the genre of THE SECRET OF JOY, and what pulled you toward it?

I’d say THE SECRET OF JOY is a hybrid of chick lit and women’s fiction. My debut novel, See Jane Date, which was published in 2001, was as chick lit as you get. Eight years and eight books later, I’ve changed—marriage, motherhood, divorce, a major move from city life to Maine life. It’s natural that my writing would evolve along with me. That’s what I love so much about chick lit and women’s fiction. You can be who you are and write the book that’s inside you, in your voice, and there’s a place for you.

Please tell us about the genesis of the idea for THE SECRET OF JOY.

Several years ago, I received a startling email: I think you might be my half sister. Whoa. I was, indeed. I didn’t know how I felt about it and had some burning questions, such as: If you’ve had no contact with your biological father or any member of his family since you were little, is his child from a subsequent marriage your sibling? Really? What do the words father, sister, brother, sibling truly mean? Does DNA a sister make? I didn’t have the answers, so I ended up writing about a woman who discovers she has a half-sister she never knew existed and set her off to find her. Only the very nugget of the idea is based on my own life; I flipped everything else on its head. But the emotional force driving the story is very real.

Do you have a favorite character in THE SECRET OF JOY? If so, why?

I love Joy Jayhawk, the main character’s half sister. I share some of her trials and tribulations, and I understood her reserve and emotional journey in a way that made me feel so close to her.

What do you love most about THE SECRET OF JOY?

What I ended up loving most are Joy’s clients on “the love bus.” She conducts weekend singles tours of Maine out of her orange mini-bus. The Divorced Women’s Club of Wiscasset endeared themselves to be. I’d like to know them in real life.

Do you pay attention to book reviews? If so, has there been any particular review that made your heart do a little dance?

I pay too much attention, like every writer! There was one Booklist magazine review that did make me do the Snoopy dance. “Senate’s latest has her trademark quick pacing and sympathetic, lovable characters, proving once again she’s one of Red Dress Ink’s brightest talents.” Love that.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg. I’ve become enamored of her lately. I’m just so amazed at how she manages to write so honestly and elegantly at the same time. She will call someone a shit in the loveliest way.

Ha! Perfect. Thanks, Melissa!

Please look for THE SECRET OF JOY the next time you visit your local chain or independent bookstore. To buy online, visit,, or any cyber bookseller. For more information, visit Melissa's website at

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