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  • Cloud Nine
  • Written by Luanne Rice
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  • Cloud Nine
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On Sale: August 26, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-553-90590-8
Published by : Bantam Bantam Dell
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

What would you do with a second chance at life?

Sarah Talbot thought she’d never see another birthday. But against all odds, she beat the illness that could have killed her, reopened her bedding shop, Cloud Nine, and vowed to make the most of a fresh start that few are given. With Thanksgiving approaching, Sarah charters a small plane to take her to Elk Island, a remote spot off the rugged Maine coast where she spent some of her happiest days and where she hopes to reunite with the two most important people in her life. She arrives on the island with pilot Will Burke, a kindred spirit with whom Sarah forges a bond that will give them the courage to confront the past and have faith in the future…no matter how uncertain.

Once Sarah thought happy endings occurred only in books; now she believes they can happen for anyone. And as she and Will grow closer, and something unexpectedly real blossoms between them, she has him believing it, too. But is believing it enough? Is even love enough? Can real life be lived on cloud nine? In this stunning novel, New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice tells a story you will cherish, peopled with indelible characters whose challenges are your own.

Excerpt

Another autumn had come to Fort Cromwell, New York, and Sarah Talbot was there to see it. She sat on the front porch of her small white house, drinking apple cinnamon tea, wondering what to do next. The college kids next door were washing their car. Spray from the hose misted her face. Wrapped in a red plaid blanket, she tilted her face to the sun, and imagined the drops were saltwater and she was home on Elk Island.

A blue sedan drove slowly down the street. It looked municipal, as if it might belong to an undercover police officer or street inspector. FORT CROMWELL VNA was stenciled on the side, and when it parked in Sarah's driveway, a small, trim woman in a white coat climbed out.

Sarah smiled to see her.

"What are you doing here?" Sarah asked.

"That's a fine greeting," the visiting nurse said.

"I thought you were done with me," Sarah said. Holding her blanket with one hand, she used the other to unconsciously ruffle her closely shorn white hair.

"Done with you? My daughter would kill me. Besides, do you think that's how I treat my friends?"

"I'm your patient, Meg," Sarah said, smiling.

"Were, Sarah. Were. We're here to take you for a ride."

"A ride? Where--" Sarah began. Glancing at the car, she noticed Mimi in the backseat.

"Happy birthday, Sarah," Meg said, bending down to hug her.

Sarah reached up. She put her arms around the visiting nurse and smelled her citrus-scented shampoo. Meg's pockets jangled with keys, pens, and a stethoscope. A colorful plastic teddy bear was pinned to her lapel, just above her name tag. Sarah could feel by the new padding between her bones and Meg's skin that she was putting on weight. The hug felt good, and she bit her lip.

"How did you know?" Sarah asked when they pulled apart. Today was her thirty-seventh birthday. She was having a quiet day: no party, no cards or calls from home. In the car's back window Mimi was waving with one hand, trying to paste up a bright pink sign with the other. In silver glitter she had written MANY HAPPY RETURNS OF THE DAY!

"I read your chart," Meg said, grinning. "Come on."

Will Burke stood in the hangar, his head under the hood of the Piper Aztec. Fall was his biggest season. He needed all three of the planes he owned serviced and ready to fly. The lake region was a tourist destination, with all the cider mills and foliage trails. He operated fifteen-minute aerial tours, especially popular during the Fort Cromwell Fair. The end of October brought parents' weekends at two area colleges, with scheduled flights back and forth to New York, shuttling parents to see the big games and visit their kids.

At the sound of tires crunching over the gravel outside, he wiped his socket wrench on a blue rag and placed it on his tall red toolbox. He checked his watch: four o'clock. A friend of his daughter's had booked a quick birthday tour, up and down, a fifteen-minute scenic loop of the lake and mountain. An easy thirty dollars, and he'd be back to the tune-up in no time.

Tucking his work shirt into his jeans, Will walked outside to greet his customers. He didn't really feel like taking a break, but the afternoon was sunny, and the fresh air felt good, so he found himself smiling at the car anyway. He waved as they pulled up.

Meg and Mimi Ferguson got out. Meg was the town visiting nurse, and she yelled hello with cheerful efficiency, making Will smile a little wider. He hung back, wondering which one had the birthday. His daughter sometimes baby-sat for Mimi, and judging from what he remembered, Mimi must be about ten.

But then someone new got out of the car, a woman Will had never seen. She was small and thin, the size of an underfed teenager. Her skin was pale and translucent, like high cloud cover on a fall day, and her head was covered with blond peach fuzz. It was the way she looked at the sky that caught Will's attention: with total rapture, as if she hadn't ever seen it so blue before, or as if she couldn't believe she was about to go up in it.

"Ready to fly?" he asked.

"Which plane, Mr. Burke?" Mimi asked, excited.

"That one," he said, pointing at the two-seater Piper Cub.

"We can't all fit?" Mimi asked, disappointed.

"Now, Mimi--" Meg began.

"Sorry, Mimi," Will said. "The big plane's getting an oil change. If I'd known . . ."

"You know what, Mimi?" the woman said eagerly. "Why don't you go up for me?"

"It's your birthday flight," Mimi said. "It was my idea, and we want you to go."

"Happy birthday," Will said to the woman.

"Thank you." Again, that expression of amazement, as if she had never been so happy. She stared at him directly, and he had that shock he felt when coming upon a person he knew from somewhere, hardly at all, but who has undergone a drastic change of appearance. A weight gain or loss, a different hairstyle, a drop in health. He had seen this woman around town looking quite different. Then, for some strange reason, he pointed at the sky.

"Ready?" he asked.

"I am," she said.

"Let's go," he said. Then, speaking to Mimi in a voice he tried to keep from sounding overly hopeful, he said, "Hey, Susan's in the office. She'd be glad to see you."

Secret's dad had brought her to the airport. Her allergies were out of control, and the school nurse had tried to call her mother, but of course she wasn't home. So Secret had told her to call Burke Aviation and ask for Will: Her father would definitely pick her up. And he had. She'd felt better almost immediately upon reaching the airport, but there was no point in going back to school: the day was almost over. She slouched at his desk, painting her nails. Craning her neck, she could just see the action outside, through the big window. Mimi and her mom and their friend were standing by the landing strip, talking to him.

Of all the kids Secret baby-sat for, Mimi was the best. She was a nice little kid. She listened to her parents, never tried to get Secret to pierce her ears in weird places, and wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up. She had Dreams and Goals, she knew there was more to life than Emma Turnley, the only school in this one-horse town, just as Secret herself did.

"Hi, Susan," Mimi said, bursting through the door.

"'Susan'?" Secret said, barely looking up. "There's no one named Susan here."

"That's right, I forgot," Mimi said, grinning. "Secret. You changed your name. What're you doing?"

"October is the month for witchy doings, and since you know I'm a witch, I'm painting my nails accordingly," Secret said patiently, as if she were explaining something terribly obvious to a dim but cherished friend. She wiggled her fingers at Mimi, casting a spell.

"Wow," Mimi said, admiring the artwork. Secret had used India ink and a crow-quill pen to paint delicate spiderwebs on her iridescent pale blue nails. Being right-handed, her left hand was more intricately done, with microscopic spiders clinging to the silken strands.

"You brought that lady here for her plane ride, I see," Secret said, looking out the window again. The airport was tiny, and there wasn't much activity. "Was she surprised?"

"Very surprised," Mimi said. "I'm glad you suggested it."


From the Paperback edition.
Luanne Rice|Author Q&A

About Luanne Rice

Luanne Rice - Cloud Nine

Photo © Gasper Tringale

Luanne Rice is the author of twenty-seven novels, most recently The Geometry of Sisters, Last Kiss, Light of the Moon, What Matters Most, The Edge of Winter, Sandcastles, Summer of Roses, Summer’s Child, Silver Bells, and Beach Girls. She lives in New York City and Old Lyme, Connecticut.

Author Q&A

Describe Cloud Nine...

When I think about Cloud Nine, I think of my experience with my mother. Of how she got sick, and of how I would have done anything to stop that. I think that in Cloud Nine, Sarah, the heroine, wants so badly to stick around to see what's going to happen to Mike, her teenage son, and she would do anything to be sure that happens. And Mike, as closed off as any eighteen-year-old could be, wants this too, more than anything.

Cloud Nine is a novel of healing, of healing between Sarah and her father, and Sarah and her son.

What was it like as an author for Cloud Nine to have succeeded so well? Did hitting the New York Times bestseller list affect you in any way?

The whole thing was a huge thrill. I was in New York at the time, getting ready to go off on tour to promote Follow The Stars Home (in hardcover). The phone rang, and it was my editor calling. "Are you sitting down?" she asked. "Yes," I replied. To be specific, I was taking a bath. She told me "Cloud Nine is number nine on the New York Times paperback bestseller list." I asked her to please say it again. Then, because I wasn't exactly sure I'd heard right, I asked her again. But before she finished speaking, I had started to cry.

I've been writing for a long time. My first poem was published when I was eleven; my first story when I was fifteen. I quit college to see the world and write fiction. Writing has always been my passion, a dream in itself. To live by writing: who could imagine a better life?

I tell myself rewards don't matter: the joy is the work. I have the mermaids to keep me company. As a child, I won the praise of my teachers. My mother, a teacher of English, was very proud of me. Every day I wake up, go to my desk and write the next pages. But the New York Times Bestseller List! Wow! I grew up reading the Book Review. I have perused the lists, cheered when my favorite authors—some of them friends now—made it on. When a book appears there, it's like watching someone's dream come true. The author has found a readership, a group of people who love their work enough to flock to it.

What writer wouldn't want such a thing? When I write, I always imagine my reader. I imagine the light on the pages, the curtain moving at the open window, my reader lost in my story. I know certain people are drawn to my work because of the things in their own lives: certain hopes, dreams, losses, secrets. When they come to my books, they are looking for something very particular.

I know what that is. I do, I do. And I am so thrilled you're still here. I'm so glad I am too.


From the Paperback edition.

Praise

Praise

"Immensely moving...Tender and heartbreaking."—Iris Johansen

"A tightly paced story that is hard to put down...Rice's message remains a powerful one: the strength of precious family ties can ultimately set things right."—Publishers Weekly

"One of those rare reading experiences that we always hope for when cracking the cover of a book...A joy."—Library Journal

"Luanne Rice touches the deepest, most tender corners of the heart."—Tami Hoag, author of Ashes to Ashes

"Elegant...Rice hooks the reader on the first page."—The Hartford Courant

"Warm, sweet, and deeply touching...a novel filled with poignant emotion and the fine, soft twist of elegant storytelling...a heartfelt look inside the workings of ordinary yet extraordinary lives."—Deborah Smith, author of When Venus Fell

"A celebration of family and the healing power of love. Poignant and powerful...one of those rare books which refreshes and renews the landscape of women's fiction for a new generation of readers."…—Jayne Ann Krentz, author of Sharp Edges


From the Paperback edition.
Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions

About the Book

One of Luanne Rice’s most emotionally powerful novels, Cloud Nine tells the story of Sarah Talbot, a cancer survivor who beats the odds and vows to make the most of her second chance at life. Her family presents big challenges, though, especially her son and her father. Both of them are reeling from previous losses, hardening their hearts against Sarah because they nearly lost her too. With Thanksgiving approaching, she charters a small plane to visit them at the family home in a rugged corner of Maine. The pilot, Will Burke, is immediately captivated by her courageous spirit, sparking a passion that burns brighter than anything they have experienced before. The love between Will and Sarah begins to heal their families, granting the strength to face their darkest fears … even when the future threatens to shatter their fragile new bonds.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Luanne Rice’s Cloud Nine. We hope they will enrich your experience of this deeply moving novel.

Discussion Guides

1. Discuss the novel’s title. What did Sarah hope to give the customers of her bedding shop? How does the world look to her from the sky, with Will piloting? Where do you find your perfect bliss? Which people in your life help you attain it?

2. How does Sarah approach her illness? What gives her the courage to be optimistic during her recovery? What can she teach everyone who faces a daunting challenge?

3. How does Susan cope with the loss of Fred? What is reflected in her wish to change her name, and in the rage she sometimes expresses in front of her parents?

4. How was Sarah affected by the death of her mother? Is George’s response to grief typical of most spouses? Why does Mike feel more comfortable being with George than with Sarah?

5. Discuss Will’s ex-wife, Alice, and her newfound wealth with Julian. What is missing from her life, despite the financial success? Were she and Will ever a good match?

6. What does Mike need in order to feel secure in the world? How did your opinion of him shift throughout the novel?

7. Why were Will and Sarah drawn to each other so quickly? How do they forge common ground between her past and his–including his history with the navy, and the loss of parents?

8. How is Sarah changed by being reawakened sexually? How did illness and recovery influence her perception of her body?

9. Many of the novel’s characters grapple with the question of why bad things happen to good people. What approaches have you seen to tragedies such as the ones that unfold in Cloud Nine?

10. How has Sarah’s relationship with her family changed by the novel’s closing chapters? What kinds of homecoming experiences did she have? How did the Talbot’s Thanksgiving gathering compare to yours?

11. Why is it important for Will to marry Sarah? What pain from the past is washed away in that moment?

12. How did you react to the novel’s epilogue? What legacy is left for Susan, and for all of the novel’s characters?

13. Luanne Rice often draws on the unique landscape of New England in crafting her novels. What makes the setting of Cloud Nine appropriate for the characters’ lives? What are the beauties and shortcomings of Elk Island and its remote location?

14. In what ways does Cloud Nine underscore the wisdom of love that is evident in each of Luanne Rice’s novels? How does this novel offer a new definition of a happy ending?


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