What the Heart Knows
Former Days of Our Lives star Purl presents the first novel in her Milford-Haven series, which, like most women’s fiction, features a setting of unadulterated beauty–the small coastal town of Milford-Haven, CA in the prosperous mid-90s–and a cast of successful, sexy, sometimes quirkily independent characters. Protagonist Miranda Jones–a young, beautiful artist nearing the end of her “struggling” phase–has recently escaped from city life. The town and community provide many possible future story lines, and Purl introduces 26 characters here. Readers will find details galore–simple activities or outfits get a whole paragraph–and the novel’s many inner monologues reveal scheming, secretly confused, or flawed personalities. Thus far, Miford-Haven offers depictions of daily life, hints of possible future romance, the threat of scandal, and carefully parsed out mystery. Considering all of the problems and questions so cleverly left unanswered, the novel is poised to convince readers to continue with the series.
Former Days of Our Lives actress Purl imbues her soap opera finesse into the fictional setting of Milford-Haven, a sleep California coastal town where a cast of characters balance matters of the head and heart.
It’s the mid-1990s, and nature artist Miranda Jones has left he urban hustle of San Francisco for the quaint allure of Milford-Haven, a town that seduces passersby with its homey aromas wafting from Sally’s Restaurant, and where lighthouses and seashells afford its denizens a quiet serenity. Miranda’s inspiration is her paintbrush, and the town’s seascape is her muse. Sally O’Mally is an Arkansas transplant with a nose in everyone’s business, especially Samantha Hugo’s, the ex-wife of her boyfriend, Jack Sawyer. news reporter Christine Christian goes missing after a secret source leads her to a mansion under construction, and her oil mogul boyfriend, Joseph Calvin, the senior partner of Calvin Oil, is worried. In nearby Santa Barbara, Miranda’s opportunistic manager, Zelda McIntyre, also sets her sights on the eldest Calvin, while Joseph’s son, Zackery, is smitten with the mysterious Miranda. The plethora of lives that interweave in Milford-Haven is dizzying at first, but in true serial form, they slow collide, enticing the onlooker. Simmering just below the gossip that pervades the resident’s lives are heavy-hitting issues, including Samantha’s deeply held familial secret, as well as her professional commitment to protect the environment from new construction stemming from Jack’s building company. This may be Apple Pie, USA, but hearts are on the line, professions are at stake and a possible murder has tainted the landscape. Ending each plot line in a cliffhanger, Purl closes the saga with a peek at the next installment in the Milford-Haven series.
A whirlwind of juicy drama with dangling-carrot closure.
What the Heart Knows is an upbeat novel, billed by the author as “small town fiction,” and the first book of Purl’s Milford-Haven series.
The book opens powerfully with the appearance of the first of many strongly developed characters, Christine Christian. A television reporter, Christian is lured to the construction site of a controversial mansion-to-be with the promise of the inside scoop. Her fate remains unanswered in the pages that follow, until the reader discovers the prologue for book two generously included at the close of book one. Teasing mentions of the reporter keep one reading to find the answer.
What the Heart Knows is set in the mid-1990s, before the tidal wave of personal technology devices, social media, and the need to be “connected” 24/7. Purl does not use external paraphernalia to bring her characters to life. Instead, she creates genuine relationships that make sense within the story; each character has a clear set of goals and morals, all served up through dialogue and inner thought processes. Sound old-fashioned? It is. The author puts in the work so the reader does not need to Google each reference to stay on top of the story.
In a time of high unemployment and the resulting panic, it is also a pleasure to encounter characters that have profitable businesses and strong careers. Each person evolves through insightful internal dialogue written by the author and “spoken” during times when the characters are alone, reflective, and seriously mulling over their current situations and future plans.
Miranda the artist pokes through the cast as the most likeable of the crew. She is creative, outdoorsy, and very concerned with the environment and animal welfare. Her thoughts while painting, sketching, or considering her work bring the reader deep inside her psyche and illuminate her seascapes and animal portraits. Of a cheetah named Lia who waits on the easel to be completed, Miranda says, “My job is to reveal her spirit, not to encase her in paint.” This simple sentence conveys the values and vision of the artist both in her work and her life.
Sally O’Mally is the owner of the local breakfast spot where the residents of Milford-Haven meet for heart-to-heart conversations, drool over cinnamon buns, and catch up on local gossip. She is the most boisterous character, a smiling, seemingly happy woman. However, Sally harbors secrets, often spilling them out before she realizes she has opened her mouth. Her bubbly demeanor belies her sadness. Sally is involved in a clandestine affair with Jack Sawyer, the contractor for the mansion that is the plague of this otherwise idyllic coastal town. Sally wants the town to know about the romance, particularly when she learns that Jack’s ex-wife is one of the well-respected locals.
The long roster of characters all have large roles in the story and the author kindly wrote a kind of glossary at the end of the book, including physical descriptions, jobs, and major ties to other characters. Multiple love stories, friendships, crushes, and storylines populate What the Heart Knows. The author keeps the romantic interactions to a PG-13 level, eschewing gratuitous sex, and nary an expletive muddies the dialogue.
Purl’s characters are well-traveled, educated, and street smart. While she indulges in some clichés and predictable moments, these are redeemed in subsequent pages. For a prequel of book two in the series, When Hummers Dream, visit the author’s website: www.marapurl.com.
. . . in Mara Purl’s enchanting novel What the Heart Knows . . . although the picturesque, seaside setting of Milford-Haven plays an important role in the novel, the cast of interesting and eccentric characters is what really draws the reader into the book. Purl skillfully tackles tough environmental issues such as land development and offshore oil drilling through the lives of her characters and the events that unfold. Detailed descriptions of scenic settings, eccentric characters, and tantalizing storylines combine to make this book one that fans of romance will enjoy.
Former Managing Editor, The Associated Press
Mara Purl’s What the Heart Knows is a first class novel by a very talented writer with strong believable characters, a rapid-pace delivery of story, and very tight writing that make this novel such a delight to read. Purl and Milford-Haven are off to a great start. I look forward to seeing other titles in this impressive series.
Nationally Syndicated Book Reviewer
I read Mara Purl’s What the Heart Knows and loved the book—just devoured it, in fact—and can’t wait to read the next installment.
Anne L. Holmes, APR
National Association of Baby Boomer Women
Dee Ann Ray
The Clinton Daily News
Mara Purl’s characters have become old friends and I keep expecting one of them to give me a call!
. . . in a series of romantic novels centered in the fictional California coastal town of Milford-Haven, we meet . . . an intrigu[ing] cast of diverse characters.
Santa Barbara News Press