I saw Katie Holmes in the Charlotte airport once. This was pre-Tom, when she was still with Dawson and Pacey. She was in line in front of me at Starbucks and ordered a vanilla latte, same as me. Even before I knew who she was, she stood out among the other customers. She was stylish with a long coat and cute shoes. And she was very, very tall so she stood out that way too. I hate to admit it, but I watched her hands as she spoke to the woman next to her, and I considered how very much they reminded me of my own.

After all, we are both people. Before blogs and twitter, movie stars and TV people and book writers and news anchors seemed so untouchable. But now, you can read a writer’s book, follow them on Twitter, and comment on their blog. Just like that, you realize there is a human person behind all that stuff. And you can connect.

That is one reason why I love to talk about books written by people I know in real life. Because they are friends, they are mothers, they are wives and sisters and people. That is why I am excited to introduce you to Marybeth Whalen.

You may know her from her blog, Cheaper by the Half Dozen (yes, she has six kids), or from the Proverbs 31 Ministries team. That is how I know her. Last year at She Speaks, she was the lucky P31 team member assigned to introduce me and my sister, so she had to sit through our entire session. Since then, her debut novel The Mailbox was released, and I read it. Of course.

In it, Linsday Adams makes her first trip to the Kindred Spirit mailbox when she is only fifteen. Over the next twenty years, she continues to come back to Sunset Beach and write to the Kindred Spirit letters about dreams come true and dreams yet to be lived. Between the husband who leaves her and the first love who reappears in her life, Lindsay has choices to make that require both risk and faith.

The Mailbox has all the elements of a great read: the familiar flutter of young love, the sharp pain of betrayal, the longing that comes after heartbreak, and the beauty found in redemption. One thing I appreciate about this book is that Marybeth did not write Christian characters with fluffy flaws. These people seem real to me, with authentic insecurities and believable emotion.

Perhaps that is why, when I saw Marybeth again this year at She Speaks, I had to stop myself from calling her Lindsay and asking her how life was going on Sunset Beach. If I would have written about it earlier in the summer, I would tell you to be sure to pack this book with you in your beach bag. But since summer is basically over, I will recommend it as a great just-before-bed read. It is an easy book to get right into. I took it with me on a flight I had to take alone this summer and nearly finished it by the time we landed. I thank Marybeth for getting this anxious flier through some rough turbulance. I hardly noticed it.

When I chatted with Marybeth about how very much I admire fiction writers, she told me that a friend told her to write the book she would want to read. And so she did.

Would you like to read it, too? Simply leave a comment at the bottom of this post by Wednesday to enter to win a copy of The Mailbox. Otherwise, you can go here to buy a copy or to read more about the book.

The winner of my extra copy of Mary DeMuth’s book Thin Places is Star Forbis. Congrats! Check your inbox.