Like millions of other readers, the first time I read Little Women, I fell in love—with everybody. Marmee, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. And of course Theodore Laurence, AKA Laurie (even though we shared the same name; I was Laurie back then). That was 8th grade.
However, before I actually read the book, I chose it for an oral report. Unfortunately, I finished only the first few chapters by the due date. Oh, dear! I was a slow reader. No way could I finish and prepare the presentation by the next morning.
But I had enough time to memorize the back cover blurb. Yep, true confession. That’s what I did, sorry to say. Surely the teacher would never notice, despite my shaky voice and sweaty palms. I was a wreck. Not just for quoting the back cover as if I’d written it myself, but because public speaking terrified me.
Guess what! The teacher noticed. But he was also gracious. He called me to his desk privately and kindly confronted me. He gave me a second chance to read and report on the book. Though withering, I gratefully accepted his offer.
I read the book. Despite the humiliation associated with my first encounter, I was captivated. Since then, I’ve read it multiple times, to my daughters as well, and have enjoyed several film adaptations.
Jo is my favorite. Strong and confident, she was who I wanted to be when I grew up. Plus, we had the love of writing in common. In fact, the scene that resonated the most was when Amy destroyed Jo’s stories in the fire. I remember the pit in my stomach as that fire sucked air from the room and the stories went up in smoke. Surely a writer’s worst nightmare.
Despite the heartaches, many joys abound with the March girls: their Pickwick Club, their Pilgrim’s Progress efforts to live right, their castles-in-the-air aspirations, plus parties, picnics, travels, and camaraderie.
So when I first saw Where Grace Appears: Contemporary Fiction with a Little Women Twist, I knew I had to read it. Heidi Chiavaroli’s novel is the first of four in The Orchard House Bed and Breakfast Series, followed by Where Hope Begins, Where Love Grows, and Where Memories Await.
By the way, Heidi is a two-time 2022 Carol Award finalist for Where Grace Appears (contemporary) and The Orchard House (historical fiction), which I’m featuring on July 26. Congratulations, Heidi!
Back Cover Blurb
A contemporary twist on the well-loved classic, Little Women, readers will fall in love with the Martin family—Maggie, Josie, Lizzie, Bronson, Amie, and their mother Hannah—each trying to find their own way in the world and each discovering that love, home, and hope are closer than they appear.
Ashamed of being duped by her handsome psychology professor, Josie Martin returns to Maine too proud to admit her foolishness to those closest to her. As the one-year anniversary of her father’s death approaches, she seeks solace in an old friend, Tripp Colton, and a new business venture that will prove to herself and her loved ones that she is still capable of success despite her overwhelming failure.
When Josie announces she will not return to school to finish her graduate degree but wishes to remain in Camden to help her mother achieve a lifelong dream, the entire family gets behind her idea to open and run a bed and breakfast inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. Even Tripp gets excited about restoring Josie’s great-aunt’s Victorian home for the purpose, but when Josie’s unexpected news is revealed, their friendship and the new feelings blooming between them are threatened.
As summer gives way to fall, Josie struggles with decisions regarding her family’s future, dealing with past mistakes she cannot run from, and her feelings for Tripp. When the opportunity for grace comes along, will she take it? Or will she continue to allow her failures to define her worth?
What defines us—shame or grace? Past failures or hopes for the future?
What motivates us? Ambition and success or the roots of a loving family?
Reminiscent of Little Women yet with a life of its own, Where Grace Appears revisits these themes in a contemporary setting.
For some reason, Mr. and Mrs. Martin gave their children namesakes in the March family’s four daughters: Maggie, Josie, Lizzie, and Amie. Oops— there’s a son, too. He’s called Bronson, with a nod to Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson Alcott. Even the girls’ personalities resemble their namesakes. Yet they’re not mere copycats. They are rich, complex characters in their own right. Relatable, authentic, and likable.
Josie’s childhood friend Tripp Colton—like Laurie—is still a faithful friend, now a successful contractor. Unlike Little Women, in this tale he’s not married to Amie. Hmm . . . my first thought was: perhaps Where Grace Appears is a do-over, of sorts. For Jo and Laurie—I mean Josie and Tripp. After all, didn’t most readers root for Jo and Laurie to fall in love?
But too many barriers stand in the way.
Josie Martin was following her dreams at college, finishing her senior year at NYU. But she unexpectedly returns home to Maine with bombshell news she can’t tell anyone. Yet. This rumbles beneath lingering grief from Mr. Martin’s unexpected death last year. Plus, Colton ruined everything when he proposed to Josie shortly after. Bad timing, turning a solid friendship into an awkward one. She broke his heart, yet he still loves her, and can’t imagine being with anyone else.
Three viewpoints unfold the story: Josie’s in first person, Tripp’s in third person, and another guy’s, also in third person. You soon learn why there’s a third.
At home, Josie has an idea for turning cranky Aunt Pris’s grand Victorian home into a bed and breakfast that also functions as a tribute to literature and Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House—a fulfillment of Mrs. Martin’s dream. But first Josie must get the whole family on board. As well as Tripp, in his contractor role. Plus, soon she’ll have to answer their questions about why she’s not returning to school as originally planned.
Time is running out for Josie and the secret she harbors. A secret that will alter her relationship with Tripp forever. Possibly causing irreparable damage.
If you’ve never read Little Women, fear not. Knowing Alcott’s masterpiece is not a prerequisite to enjoying Where Grace Appears. You’ll still find yourself entrenched in Josie’s life, in the reality of broken dreams, messy emotions, family dynamics, and tests of love.
Yet familiarity with Little Women will enhance your enjoyment of this contemporary spinoff without spoiling it. You’ll be walking an unpredictable path along with these endearing characters. You’ll encounter unconditional and sacrificial love, forgiveness, second chances, and people doing the right thing despite appearances, despite others’ judgements that might dictate otherwise.
This book does justice to Little Women. Louisa May Alcott would be pleased.
Join me for some Q & A with author Heidi Chiavaroli.
Questions about Where Grace Appears
I assume you’re a huge fan of Little Women. When did you first read it? Which character did you identify with the most and why?
I AM a huge fan of Little Women! While I didn’t actually read the book until my early twenties, what first sucked me into the world of the March family was the 1994 film (the one with Winona Ryder).
Around that time, my grandmother had taken me, my mom, and my sister to not only see the movie, but to experience Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, where Louisa had written and set Little Women. I remember standing at Louisa’s desk and feeling history come alive. So neat!
Though I’m probably more a combination of Meg and Beth, I loved Jo and wanted to be just like her! She was creative and bold and witty and Laurie loved her. Most of all, she loved to write. I think that’s what I liked about her most and why I felt connected to her—she wanted to do this amazing thing but would have to surpass a lot of hurdles to actually write that story on her heart. I could relate!
Where did you get the idea to write a contemporary story patterned after Little Women characters? How did your own characters develop as you thought about writing this story?
I had just finished writing my dual timeline novel, The Orchard House, when I got the urge to write a strictly contemporary series. The only problem was that my mind was still very much with Louisa and the March sisters.
I remember thinking how fun it would be to write a contemporary series loosely based on Little Women and to have each sister be featured in each book in the series. I added in a brother, a single mother to them all, and a crotchety Aunt Pris (who mirrors Aunt March), and before I knew it, I had seven books in the series planned. (To date, four released, three more forthcoming.)
What is your personal connection to the story’s setting in Maine?
As I sat down to write the series, I was getting the itch for a coastal New England setting. I wanted to find a true-to-life town that mirrored Concord in its historical richness but that wasn’t actually Concord.
Readers might laugh, but after a quick google search, I found Camden, Maine. I thought it would be super fun to set the story of the Martin family in Camden to parallel the March family living in Concord.
And it was a lovely excuse for a research trip with my husband! We had tons of fun walking the streets of Camden, visiting the library, climbing Mount Battie, seeking out lighthouses, and exploring the history of this beautiful town.
Do you have any experience developing or running a bed and breakfast? How did you decide to incorporate one into your story? What did you need to learn in order to do it?
While I think I would be horrible at running a bed and breakfast, I LOVE going to them. A good bed and breakfast is always included in one of my favorite kinds of trips to take with my husband. One of our favorites is The Cornerstone Victorian Bed and Breakfast in Warrensburg, NY. The kind owners, Doug and Louise Goettsche, agreed to sit down with me and answer ALL my questions about running a B&B. It was fascinating to hear their experiences and listen to their stories.
My husband is a contractor, so he was able to help me with all my building and renovation questions as the Martins set out to renovate Aunt Pris’s Victorian home.
Did the plot stick to a predetermined plan or did it change and grow as you wrote?
I’m not much of a plotter, actually. I usually start with a general idea and then see where the story takes me! For Where Grace Appears, I wondered what a modern-day Jo March might be like. What if she was duped by her handsome, older professor and came running back home…where the boy-next-door, the boy who always has loved her, waited? So, in short, what if Jo and Laurie actually had their romance? I couldn’t wait to write that story!
Questions about writing
What books have been most influential for you as a writer? Was there a book that sparked or confirmed your desire to be a novelist?
Though I started writing in third grade, I put it aside to pursue what I thought of as “real” career endeavors through high school and my short stint in college. It wasn’t until I became a stay-at-home mom and picked up Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series that I felt that urge to write again. Shortly after, I read Redeeming Love and then Karen Kingsbury’s Redemption series. These books changed and grew me. I wanted to write stories like that.
Where do your story ideas usually originate from—character, plot, setting, theme, or a combination? Share a couple of examples of how one of your stories grew from an initial idea.
Almost always, they originate in setting. With my dual timeline novels, it’s always an event in history that sparks my imagination. For example, my debut novel, Freedom’s Ring, was sparked as I explored Boston’s history during the American Revolution.
At the time, I was struggling, like so many, with the turmoil of the Boston Marathon bombing. I decided to set my present-day characters in the time of the bombing and my historical characters in the time of the Boston Massacre (1770). I wanted to explore common themes both my heroine in the present-day and my heroine in the past wrestled with.
Another one of my novels, The Tea Chest, was inspired when I read an account of some of the men who participated in the Boston Tea Party signing their names to a round-robin before the dumping of the tea. I thought, what if my heroine was in love with one of those men? What if her father was the fiercest customs official in all of Boston? What if the oath fell in the hands of the wrong man and she was the only one who could do something about it?
Are you an outliner or a pantser? Share a little about your novel writing process, and the length of time it takes to complete a book.
Though I’ve tried to outline, my characters seem to bristle under such stringent regulations! I start with a general concept, usually have a hazy idea of the middle and ending, and then, for the most part, let my characters take me away. Though this strategy often ends up giving me more work on the editing end, nothing else seems to work for me!
I’ve gotten faster the more books I write. I can usually write a shorter, contemporary book in a month, although I tend to need a lot of thinking and downtime between projects. My dual timeline novels tend to take longer—usually about three months, plus plenty of time for research (which I love!).
Please share something about a current project or the direction you want to go as an author.
Thanks for asking, Laura! I actually have a brand new release titled Hope Beyond the Waves coming out today! This book has been on my heart for years—it even won the 2014 ACFW Genesis contest in the historical category (under the title Tears of the Outcast). Alas, it has yet to see the light of day, until now. I spent the last year reworking it into a dual timeline story, and I can honestly say, I think it is worth the ten-year wait since I began writing it!
After that, I will be finishing up The Orchard House Bed and Breakfast series and then starting a new series that’s already in progress. ☺
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
Keep reading, keep writing, and keep learning. I think the ones who make it in this business are the ones who simply don’t give up. After receiving horrible scores the first time I entered ACFW’s Genesis contest in 2006, I nearly gave up. But someone told me that writing can be learned, and I took that advice to heart and completely believe it to be true!
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you enjoy fiction that harkens back to historical literature the way Where Grace Appears reflects Little Women and Louisa May Alcott’s world, you might enjoy my story, Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. Set in Holland, Michigan, this split-time novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. It highlights The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author, L. Frank Baum. Rather than utilizing a Bed and Breakfast, this story features an old Inn and Tearoom, plus a literary-themed cafe. I’m currently gathering a launch team. Read more and watch the book trailer here.
NEWS FLASH: On Friday, June 24, I was named a semifinalist in the Serious Writer Book of the Decade contest for my novel All That Is Hidden. I’m thrilled and honored! Learn more about All That Is Hidden and watch the trailer here.
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Heidi Chiavaroli Bio
Heidi writes women’s fiction, combining her love of history and literature to write both split time stories and contemporary fiction. Her debut novel, Freedom’s Ring, was a Carol Award winner and a Christy Award finalist, a Romantic Times Top Pick and a Booklist Top Ten Romance Debut. Heidi loves exploring places that whisper of historical secrets, especially with her family. She loves running, hiking, baking, and dates with her husband. Her latest dual timeline novel, The Orchard House, is inspired by the lesser-known events in Louisa May Alcott’s life. Heidi makes her home in Massachusetts with her husband and two sons. Learn more on her website.
Join me next time for another visit with Erin Bartels.
Meanwhile, have you read Where Grace Appears? Are you a fan of Little Women? Who was your favorite character? Answer in the comments below.
Laura, I am so honored by this beautiful post and review of Where Grace Appears. Thank you so much for inviting me to be on your blog!
You’re welcome! I’m honored to have you!
I’m trying to picture you as a Laurie, It’s sort of fun.
True confession—I read all (most?) of Louisa May Alcott’s books many times
but I can’t list “Little Women” as my favorite. Because every single time,
no matter how often I read it, Beth died. However, I LOVED “Eight Cousins!”
What an intriguing premise for a book!
Heidi’s inspiration and writing process is also intriguing.
Great interview, and wishing Heidi much success in her writing!
I know, I wish Beth didn’t die with each reading. But I’m glad all the other things remained!
What a wonderful interview. I too love Little Women and much admire Jo March and her writing career. Heidi’s book sounds amazing, and congratulations to her on her being a double Carol Award finalist, that is wonderful!
Have a fantastic day!
I hope you get a chance to read the book, Stacy! Thanks so much for dropping by.
I haven’t read Where Grace Appears yet. I haven’t read Little Women since I was a little girl & Margaret is my favorite character. I think I liked Margaret so much because I wanted to see if she got rid of her vanity and self centeredness and hopefully do her work more cheerfully.
Would love to read & review print format of book.
Let me know how you like the story, Crystal!
Love Little Women! I’ve read it more times than I can count. It was the first book I ever bought at a school book fair (2nd grade)–and yes, every time I read it, I cheer when Beth gets better, and then bawl when she dies. I think that’s why I loved Heidi Chiavaroli’s Where Hope Begins–what would have happened if Beth had lived. I just finished The Orchard House–can totally see why it’s a Carol Award finalist–I look forward to reading your post on it at the end of the month. Can’t wait to read Where Grace Appears because I love Chiavaroli’s voice, and Jo was my favorite. Of course, I couldn’t stand Amy 😉 Her burning Jo’s book devastated me in ways I can’t put into words–so her story in this series will be fascinating. Maybe I’ll finally learn to appreciate her side of the story.
I look forward to reading the rest of The Orchard House Bed and Breakfast series, too, and seeing how Heidi handles each of the characters. I think all my writer friends loved Jo the best and were most impacted by Amy’s burning of Jo’s book. No wonder.