“Cross How Stella Got Her Groove Back with Under the Tuscan Sun, and you've got Gaining Visibility, a novel that is at times beautiful, at times heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting.” –Wendy Webb
Julia Berkwith’s daughter has moved to Alaska, her beloved mother-in-law is in a nursing home, and her ex-husband is in Hawaii—with a younger woman. In her late forties, Julia is now used to being invisible. But even if she has to do it alone, she’s determined to celebrate her victory over breast cancer by hiking Italy’s Cinque Terre. And while she’s there, she can scout out treasures for her interior design business back in Kentucky.
Invigorated by the beauty of the Italian countryside, Julia seems unstoppable, until she’s injured by a rock—one that happens to belong to thirty-something stone mason Vitale DeLuca. Reluctantly, Julia accepts Vitale’s insistent offer of lodging while she recovers. But in his home, amid his exquisite sculptures, Julia sees beyond his charm and looks to something special: a talent she must bring to the world’s attention. And once she does, she plans to step aside to leave him in the spotlight. But Vitale has seen something in Julia too, something she is no longer able to recognize in herself. And he is determined to find a way to show it to her.
Poignant and uplifting, Gaining Visibility is an exhilarating story of one woman’s realization that even the deepest scars have a beauty of their own—and that it’s time to take her place in the sun once more.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Pamela Hearon is a former teacher who began a second career as a writer. With several books published by Harlequin SuperRomance (including 2013 RITA finalist Out of the Depths), Gaining Visibility is her first women's fiction novel. Pamela splits her time between homes in Illinois and Florida, traveling the country with her husband. In addition to writing, she is an avid reader and gardener by day and dabbles in amateur astronomy at night. Visit her at pamelahearon.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Pamela Hearon
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Pamela Hearon Hodges
All rights reserved.
She was invisible.
She'd first noticed that she was fading from view four years ago, about the same time she'd noticed the first gray hairs. The signs were subtle. No heads turning as she walked through the gym. No catcalls or whistles at construction sites. No compliments from then-husband Frank when they got gussied up for some formal affair. Alarms should probably have gone off more frantically in her head, but the changes were so gradual they remained inconspicuous and certainly nonthreatening.
And the gray was easily covered.
But the phenomenon had increased exponentially in an equation of Einsteinian proportion two years ago. E = mc2 plus total loss of breasts equaled total loss of visibility.
Scientific equations could prove how the laws of nature literally make the world go round; no equation could show why her world had been thrown into a tailspin she was still trying to gain control of.
Looking back, it seemed more like a combination of science and magic than science alone. Five hours of surgery and — poof! She'd vanished ... at least to the male half of the world's population.
Which is why it came as no surprise to Julia Berkwith that, at that exact moment, it wasn't one of the male doctors working on her but rather a female nurse who asked the question.
"You doing okay?"
"Fine," Julia answered, although she wasn't. The next item on her self-improvement list was to quit saying she was fine when she wasn't.
Lying flat on her back with her arms stretched out as wide as possible gave the doctors behind the white curtain of sheets plenty of room to work, but they seemed to have forgotten there was a beating heart and strained muscles below the mounds of silicone sacs.
During preparation, when they'd asked if she wanted her arms restrained, she'd promised she could keep them still without the bands. That had been over an hour ago when the surgery was ahead of her and exciting. Now, retaliating because of their awkward position, both arms were snoozing but sending telepathic messages to the muscles in her back and shoulders, demanding they redouble their efforts to bring pain in memory of their sleeping comrades. Adding to her discomfort, the temperature in the OR had been set to morgue, which worried her more than a little.
A white sheet draped from the overhead rod fell to below her chin, blocking off her view and allowing her no audience participation to her own procedure. The sheet started to sag, and now folds gathered in her mouth and nose region. In a normal setting, she would push them out of the way with a flick of the fingers, but she'd promised not to move her arms, so she blew puffs of air at them when suffocation seemed imminent.
An angel of mercy appeared at her head and gave the sheet a quick flick, sending the material away. The ensuing gust of cold air filled Julia's nostrils with the antiseptic scent she'd grown used to over the past two years.
"They look great." The young woman's smile was reassuring, even viewed upside down. "How long since your mastectomy?"
"Two years." The buzzing started again along with the odd vibration that seemed detached, though Julia knew it was occurring to her body. "Are they tattooing again?"
The nurse nodded. "They're finishing the second areola. It won't be too much longer."
The conversation diverted Julia's attention from her phantom arms and the frosty operating room. "I never realized how much design work went into building breasts," she said. "First-stage saline sacs. Injecting solution every two weeks to stretch the skin. Implant surgery. And now this. I could've had a house built in this length of time."
Her companion pulled up a stool and perched beside Julia's head. "Can you talk about it? The cancer, I mean. I know some people don't like to."
Julia shook her head as much as she dared, unwilling to risk jiggling anything that might make the doctors miss and result in a third areola. "I don't mind. I've been told talking about it is therapeutic. Is there something you'd like to know?"
The strange vantage point gave her a clear view of the woman's neck muscles, and Julia watched them tighten.
Talking about cancer wasn't a mission she would've chosen, nor was it one she totally accepted. But the subject was frightening to women, so guilt gnawed at her if she didn't answer questions when they asked.
"Did you have chemo?"
There it was — the nearly imperceptible cringe on the last word. Julia had learned to watch for it. Fear of chemo was greater than fear of cancer for many.
"No, I'm one of the fortunate ones." The badge of guilt she wore pricked her. She'd gotten off easy when others suffered so much. "We caught it early, so no chemo or radiation, and no hair loss. I only lost my breasts." She never added and my husband, though she always thought it, and ignored the tendril of pain that accompanied the silent admission.
"Well, the reconstruction looks fantastic." The nurse gave a tug on the cloth shower cap working its way down past Julia's eyebrows. "How do they feel?"
Julia stifled the shrug that would've moved her arms. "Honestly? Like two aliens have taken up residence in my chest." Her companion grinned. "I have no sensation on the outside. No feeling because of the nerves they cut. Today's procedure could've been done without the numbing shots, I think." The buzzing stopped, and Julia noted pressure like she was being wiped down. A stronger medicinal scent invaded the area between her and the sheet.
"Sometimes nerves regenerate, though, so don't give up on that yet."
Two years and not even a twinge. Regeneration wasn't going to happen. But nobody touched them anyway, so fretting about it seemed silly.
The nurse started to get up, then hesitated. "I have a biopsy scheduled for Friday." Her bottom lip, which had curved up earlier, now had teeth dug into it, which still couldn't control the tremble.
If her arms had been free, Julia would've pulled the new member of the sisterhood into a hug. As it was, she could only embrace her with words. "You're doing the right thing, staying on top of it. Early detection's the key. We didn't even know it was in my left breast, too, until the post-op report came back."
The young woman's eyes widened. "You were brave, going with the bilateral when you didn't know for sure."
"No, honey, I was terrified, so don't try to make me into a hero. I just didn't want to live in fear the rest of my life."
The woman's chest rose and fell with what Julia hoped was a steadier breath as she tilted her head toward the sheet. "Sounds like they're getting finished. You've done great." She patted Julia's cheek before sliding off the stool and scurrying away to take care of some post-op business.
Finished. Fabulous word, that.
Julia's fingers curled into triumphant fists. She couldn't clap her hands, but she hadn't promised not to move her feet. Gleefully, she smacked her big toes together in applause.
As the doctors completed their work, she turned up the volume on the Fond Memories playlist in her mind. Listening to the music had become so habitual, she no longer needed a device — simply switched it on and off at will.
She pressed the rewind button until she was once again in the backseat of her parents' powder blue convertible, racing down the highway on a summer night. A hot wind slapped her cheeks while a gazillion stars danced in her view, and her voice blended with her mom's and dad's and The Crew-Cuts on the cassette player in a rousing rendition of "Sh-Boom."
Three repeat plays and the doctors were done.
An hour later, she stepped into the sunlight with the playlist Survivor running through her head along with a new mantra:
Invisible maybe, but not dying.
For the first time since being diagnosed, after five million tears, four panic attacks, three surgeries, two years, and one divorce, Julia left the hospital with her designer breasts and her head held high ... in that order.
* * *
"Hold on a second, sweetie. Mosquitoes are eating me alive."
Julia lit the citronella candle, hoping it would keep away the pests long enough to finish the telephone conversation with Melissa without having to move inside. The temperature on the deck was balmy and perfect, but the pesky insects seemed more plentiful than usual for western Kentucky in late May.
"You ought to see them up here, Mom. They're like the size of bats."
"I've heard Alaska grows them big, but that's sort of an advantage, isn't it?" Julia pulled the phone away from her ear long enough to smash one of the creatures who'd chosen her right pinkie for his dining option. "They can't sneak up on you." Wondering if perhaps the mosquitoes were coming up through the cracks between the wooden slats of the decking, she set the candle down by her feet. "Anyway ... where was I?"
"Your tats, which, I might add, is totally weird for me to say."
That brought a chuckle. "I'll bet." Julia waved her hand to direct the smoke from the candle toward her legs. "So, no, like I was saying, the tattooing didn't hurt at all. I could feel vibration but no pain."
Her daughter's snort was draped in sarcasm. "Wish I could say that. The one on my lower back wasn't too bad —"
"You mean the freedom banner you rushed out to get the day after your dad and I left you at college?"
"Yeah, that one." A little sheepishness accompanied the tone, but Julia could still hear the smile that hung on the fringes. "It wasn't bad at all, but the one on my ankle — ghah! Halfway through, I seriously considered stopping him. But I figured it would look stupid to have a charm bracelet that only went part of the way around."
"Well, it is pretty." Julia admitted that only grudgingly. "But two's enough, don't you think?"
"Yes, Mom. Two's enough. Or it was until today." The laugh that came over the line was throaty and mature, reminding Julia that her precious daughter was an adult now — all grown up and living three time zones away. "Since you have two, I may have to get another one. Can't be bested on tats by my mom."
"To the world, you'll always be ahead by two because nobody but me will ever see mine."
"You don't know that." Before Julia could wonder if her child was making commentary about her nonexistent sex life, Melissa added, "The doctor might want to use photos of you on his Web site. You know ... to show how good he is."
"I can't see that happening." Julia cringed at the thought of her scars bared to the world. Frank's reaction to them still haunted her.
"Well, you never know."
A long, uncharacteristic pause ensued, and Julia kept quiet ... waiting. Conversation came easily between them, so pauses were signals. Whatever was on her daughter's tongue right then bore some weight.
A sigh. Julia braced herself.
"Dad came for a visit last week."
The apologetic tone took a swipe at Julia's gut. She and Frank worked hard to keep their daughter from feeling that she had to take sides. Julia forced a smile onto her lips, hoping it would give a lift to her voice — or, at least, take the bite out of it. "Was it a surprise? I didn't know he was planning a visit."
"We'd talked about him coming, but, yeah, there was a surprise." Another weighty pause. "He brought Dawn with him."
"Oh." Julia swallowed the retort that appeared on her tongue — the one that would confirm Frank's insensitivity. It left a bitter trail going down. "Was that ... okay ... with you, I mean?"
"It was okay." Julia sensed the shrug that accompanied the answer. "He looked good. Brown as a biscuit. And I could tell he's been working out."
"Good for him." A shallow answer, but it would suffice.
Another pause and then Melissa changed the subject, obviously not wanting to discuss her dad and his young girlfriend, which was fine with Julia. Preferable, even. "I went ahead and accepted that three-year offer, by the way."
Julia's breath left her in a rush. Three years. She tilted the phone up so Melissa wouldn't hear the shocked gasp. "You did? That ... that was quick. You were still just considering it the last time we talked."
"Yeah, I know. But Michael's got some cool stuff in the works, and Dad thought it sounded like a good deal, so I decided to grab it before somebody else did."
The excitement in her daughter's voice caused a tug-of-war in Julia's conscience. She wanted Melissa to be happy — wanted her to be confident in her decision making — hoped the impetuous decision to follow Michael into the wild was the right one.
But committing to three years?
The nagging fear she was too far away to care for her daughter's broken heart should the relationship go south never completely went away.
The remainder of their time was taken up with Melissa's ongoing saga of life in Alaska with Michael, and Julia's recently added details about her upcoming trip to Italy in July.
By the time the conversation ended and Julia sat alone with only the mosquitoes for company, the Far North seemed more familiar and real to her than ever ... and farther from Paducah, Kentucky, than she could've ever imagined.CHAPTER 2
The following day, Julia sauntered into Room 187 at the Manor Hill Convalescent Center bearing a bouquet of sunflowers in one hand and a box of Godiva chocolates in the other. "I have nipples!" she announced.
At eighty-three, Hettie Berkwith still cut a fetching image in her pink silk gown with her silver braid of hair lying sleekly over one shoulder. "So do I," she countered. "And I'd show them to you, but at present, they're tucked snugly between my knees." The stroke, which paralyzed the left side of Hettie's body, might've made her grin one-sided, but it hadn't slowed the speed of her one-liners.
Julia laughed and gave her mother-in-law's cheek a peck before presenting her with the chocolates and arranging the flowers in the vase that always awaited them on Thursday.
"So, do I get to see them?" Hettie already had the cellophane off the box and sat poised to pounce on the foil-wrapped dark chocolate medallion.
Julia set the flowers on the bedside table and eased into the La-ZBoy. "Not today. The bandages don't come off for a few days, and then I have to keep them protected for a couple of weeks."
Hettie cocked an eyebrow. "So that would mean no heavy sucking."
"Not even if there were someone who wanted to." Julia returned the look with a cocked brow of her own.
Hettie drew a long, dramatic breath. "Man, that just sucks." She popped the medallion into her mouth and replaced the lid on the box. "So, what other news you got? Heard anything from my son, the prick?"
Julia had grown so used to Hettie's "term of endearment" for Frank, it no longer fazed her. "Sort of." She pulled the handle to raise the footrest a notch and tilted the recliner back a bit. "I talked to Melissa last night. She said he and his new friend Dawn flew up to see her for a few days. Apparently he looked tanned and fit." Julia noted that whereas talking about Frank used to stir her anger, now it mostly made her tired. She stifled a yawn.
"Tan and fit, eh? I'd like to tan him. Guess that's what Hawaii does for you."
This was a day for celebration, not one to dwell on her ex, so Julia eased the conversation in a different direction. "Melissa and Alaska seem to be a good fit. She took that three-year offer they gave her." She'd advised Melissa against the move — losing her "little girl" to adulthood, a man, and Alaska in one fell swoop was enough to make any mother retaliate. But talking to Melissa last night had loosened the hounds of contrition, and they were nipping at her heart. "I was wrong, trying to talk her out of going," she admitted, more to herself than to Hettie. "But thank heavens she knew her own mind and didn't listen to me. Following Michael to Alaska was the right choice for her."
If she repeated it often enough, maybe it would stick.
"Doesn't anybody want to stay at home anymore?" Hettie grunted as she started to work on the box lid again. Julia watched the struggle but knew better than to offer help. If Hettie needed it, which she seldom did, she'd ask. "My son, the prick, in Hawaii. My granddaughter up in the Alaskan wilderness. You traipsing off to Italy." She shook her head and drowned her disgust in a caramel cream.
Excerpted from Gaining Visibility by Pamela Hearon. Copyright © 2016 Pamela Hearon Hodges. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Exceptionally well written uplifting book. This is the first book I've read by Pamela Hearon and I look forward to reading more of her work. This book touched me in so many levels. Julia struggles like many woman do with identify, health, relationships and loss. It takes a trip to Italy to reopen her mind to the possibilities of life. I am not fond of younger men older woman romances but this one was beautifully crafted. Vitale is an exceptional man and he recognizes the exceptional parts of Julia. Their love allows them both to heal and grow. Julia and Vitale's interaction with family and friends add extra dimensions to the story. I believe Vitale's "Julietta" is a woman we would all like to become. I was fortunate to win this book in a contest.
Julia has the feeling she's invisible, she's in her late forties and has survived breast cancer. She went through multiple surgeries and doesn't feel as good about herself as she used to anymore. Her daughter has moved to Alaska, her ex-husband has found someone else and is living a frivolous life in Hawaii. Julia loves her mother-in-law, who's like a mother to her, and regularly visits her at the nursing home. Besides having her own business Julia's life has become pretty empty, but she's been through a lot and has come out on top, so it's time to be kind to herself and do something she loves. Julia travels to Italy where she wants to hike the Cinque Terre. However, she doesn't get very far because of a mild injury. She does meet someone interesting though. Vitale is an artist, who's quite a bit younger than Julia, he's in his early thirties, but there's a connection. Julia recognizes his talent and wants Vitale's name to become well known. She can help him with his passion. Vitale wants to spend time with her, not only for his career, but to get to know her better. He is the first person in a long time who truly sees Julia. Can Julia and Vitale help each other to be happy again? Gaining Visibility is a beautiful story. Julia is a strong and courageous woman. She went through several surgeries after her cancer diagnosis and this makes her feel differently about herself. She's no longer young and notices she's being looked at in a different way. I loved Pamela Hearon's honest and open way of writing about this topic. It's something that happens to a lot of women and I admired how she elaborately describes the awful feeling of not being seen and turns it into a wonderful story. Julia might have been given the idea that she doesn't matter any longer, but that doesn't make it true and I loved that message very much. Pamela Hearon has a heartwarming writing style that immediately appealed to me. I loved Julia's spirit and determination and she and Vitale have a special bond that greatly impressed me. Gaining Visibility is an original love story with many unexpected twists and turns and plenty of terrific layers. Both Julia and Vitale are gorgeous people inside and out and their story blew me away from the start. I always love it when an author manages to surprise me. I was impressed and amazed by Gaining Visibility and loved it from beginning to end and highly recommend it. It's a fantastic novel filled with tenderness and dedication, questions about life and living and the most stunning true love.
An unexpected fling while vacationing in Italy creates problems for a middle-aged decorator, or does it? The theme of Pamela Hearon’s novel, Gaining Visibility, is more than just a story of one women’s journey to complete recovery from a devastating illness. It’s the story of recovering from the pitfalls and struggles of life itself, and coming out stronger for it. The character of Julia is like many women who are reaching or have reached the age of 50, myself included. For years, we define ourselves by our husband’s life, as wife and mother. But what if the kids grow up? What if the husband no longer wants to be your husband? What if you get sick? How do you survive? These questions are answered in a most delightful and very enjoyable way. The characters are richly drawn and realistic in their appearance and the setting of rural Italy is fantastic. Instead of the tried and true settings of Rome or Venice, Pamela Hearon chooses a lesser known area and showcases it, making the setting an actual character in the story. An extremely welcome change of pace for a novel. The character of Vitale is a drool worthy hero with the foibles and flaws that we never get to see in many novels but that exist in every man. Conflict is surprising and yet not in its design, making for a great experience. There is something for everyone in Gaining Visiblity, romance, drama and humor. It’s a true to life story that’s well worth your time.
Gaining Visibility is a beautiful story of recovery after breast cancer, of following dreams, and of falling in love with an Italian hottie. Julia is 48-years old and has just completed reconstructive surgery after a double mastectomy 2 years earlier. Her husband left her because he couldn’t stand to look at her changed body, and her only daughter has moved to Alaska with her boyfriend. Julia has decided to travel to Italy along for a 3 week celebratory adventure. She will hike the first week and then find artwork for her interior decorating business for the later half of the trip. But when a falling rock breaks her toe, her plans are ruined, and she must spend the rest of the trip with Vitale, a 34-year old Italian artist who makes her feel things she didn’t think she could feel. Pamela Hearon is a romance writer, but this book is her first women’s lit title. She has combined the best of both worlds in this story. Julia is a very sympathetic character. I felt for her right away, and I enjoyed reading about her growth as an individual. She feels invisible because of her age and her illness, but Vitale and Italy change that for her. She struggles with letting herself enjoy life again. Vitale is also dealing with his own issues, and he also grows a lot during this story. Add to that Pamela’s experience with writing lusty sex scenes, and you won’t want to put this book down. Sadly, I read it on my phone in stolen moments here and there, and I think a little of the magic was lost in the prolonged duration of my reading this book. But I still think it’s a great read for anyone wanting a lighter romance or a feel good overcoming adversity kind of tale. The plot is predictable, but very fun nonetheless. http://opinionatedbooklover.com/review-gaining-visibility-by-pamela-hearon/
Towards the end of Gaining Visibility by Pamela Hearon one of the characters observes that it isn’t so much that we became invisible, rather we stopped seeing the world around us. As women, this is so often true. We become so focused on being Superwoman – whatever that means in our world – that we forget that we need to focus on us occasionally and stop to see the world around us. As a message it is rather poignant and appropriate; it is also not over the top, it is subtly woven into the story and completely appropriate for the subject-matter. This book is a reminder that we need to stop and look around once in a while, otherwise we might miss something. Copy received from the author in exchange for an honest review.