Books And Music: The Playlist for The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Gabrielle Zevin | @GabrielleZevin

A.J. Fikry Zevin Pic

I didn’t have a playlist when I was writing The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, but since I like reading other people’s playlists, I decided to make one anyway. I can imagine that if you listened to these songs chronologically (and hit pause/repeat a lot), they’d more or less provide you with a mini soundtrack for the novel.  I’ve given you some rough page and quote indicators of where the songs could go.

1. “Lloyd I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” – Camera Obscura

“Amelia the bright-sider believes it is better to be alone than to be with someone who doesn’t share your sensibilities and interests.” — p. 8

2. “Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed” – Silver Jews

“The difficulty of living alone is that any mess he makes he is forced to clean up himself.” — p.  19

3. “Adventures in Solitude” – The New Pornographers

“I’m not what you’d call an alcoholic, but I do like to drink until I pass out at least once a week.” — p. 35

4. “Simple Twist of Fate” – Bob Dylan

“Surely the owner of this bundle will return at any moment with an explanation that makes perfect sense.”— p. 49

5. “The Infanta” – The Decemberists


6. “September Gurls“– Big Star

“I’m the queen of lost causes, though.” — p. 91

7. “Left Alone” – Fiona Apple

“That’s one of those things you say to sound smart, right? But really you’re trying to make someone else feel stupid.” — p. 107

8. “Summer’s Life” – The Shaky Hands

“That June, the good weather makes A.J. and Amelia forget these and other objections.” — p. 134

9. “Garden Rose” – Lavender Diamond

“What kind of pipe is that?” – p. 147

10. “In Spite of Ourselves” – John Prine & Iris DeMent

“A good marriage is, at least, one part conspiracy.” – p. 155

11. “Everyday I Write the Book” – Elvis Costello

“He’d like to leave them before they leave him.” – p. 166

12. “Thirteen” Elliott Smith

“I know my mom. She always likes to carpool.” – p. 182

13. “We Used to Wait” – Arcade Fire

“What is so great about the times?” – p. 216

14. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” – R.E.M.

“Well, the thing is, I rather like your brain.” – p. 243

15. “Dead & Born & Grown” – The Staves

“In the end, we are collected works.” – p. 249

16. “Arrivals” – Aqualung

“…the owners won’t take what they can’t sell.” – p. 257

17. “Innocent When You Dream (78)” – Tom Waits

Acknowledgments/putting the book on the shelf music!

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Picture This: A Visit With Susan Gloss

Today’s post from author Susan Gloss | @SusanGloss

Susan Gloss

Susan Gloss

My debut novel, Vintage, was inspired heavily by images. In fact, each chapter begins with the description of a vintage item from the inventory of the fictional secondhand shop, Hourglass Vintage, that serves as the setting of the novel.  A 1950s wedding dress, an embroidered silk scarf from India, a pair of red d’Orsay heels–all of these items have stories behind them. And those stories are woven, either directly or indirectly, into the lives of the book’s three main characters, Violet, April, and Amithi.

One image that sparked the idea for a pivotal scene in the book was this set of 1960s Samsonite luggage. A globe-trotting friend of mine purchased it on Etsy. As soon as I saw the lemon yellow suitcase and matching carry-on, my imagination drifted to thoughts about who might have owned the set. Did she receive it as a graduation gift? Buy it for herself for her honeymoon? Stash it in the back of her trunk for a cross-country move?

vintage luggageIn Vintage, shop owner Violet Turner is smitten with other people’s stories, as told through the items that come into and out of her boutique. But when it comes to her own life, she holds her cards close to her chest, hesitant to reveal details of her own troubled past. A failed marriage to her high school sweetheart, who quickly devolved into an abusive alcoholic, left her wary of letting anyone get too close.

A yellow suitcase just like the one pictured here works its way into the storyline in Vintage when, in a flashback, Violet finally decides to leave her ex and start a new life. She packs her belongings into a suitcase her beloved Grandma Lou gave to her. Up until this pivotal point, Violet has spent her whole life in Bent Creek, a tiny fictional town in Northern Wisconsin. When she flips opens the yellow suitcase, she’s also opening herself to the possibility of something bigger and brighter. A second chance.

* * *

VintageHC CVintage is Susan Gloss’s sparkling debut novel in the vein of The Friday Night Knitting Club, centered around a Midwestern vintage clothing shop and and a group of women who eventually transform the store and each others’ lives.

At Hourglass Vintage in Madison, Wisconsin, every item in the boutique has a story to tell . . . and so do the women who are drawn there.

Violet Turner has always dreamed of owning a shop like Hourglass Vintage. When she is faced with the possibility of losing it, she realizes that, as much as she wants to, she cannot save it alone.

Eighteen-year-old April Morgan is nearly five months along in an unplanned pregnancy when her hasty engagement is broken. When she returns the perfect 1950s wedding dress, she discovers unexpected possibilities and friends who won’t let her give up on her dreams.

Betrayed by her husband, Amithi Singh begins selling off her old clothes, remnants of her past life. After decades of housekeeping and parenting a daughter who rejects her traditional ways, she fears she has nothing more ahead for her.

An engaging story that beautifully captures the essence of women’s friendship and love, Vintage is a charming tale of possibility, of finding renewal and hope when we least expect it.

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Author Profile: Amy Hatvany

Today’s post and interview by Amy Hatvany | @AmyHatvany

One lucky winner will win all five of Amy’s novels today. See the entry form below for details.

Amy Hatvany

Amy Hatvany

Screeching tires. The crunch of metal. The shrill of a young girl’s scream.

These were the sounds that had haunted me when I finally sat down to write the book that would become SAFE WITH ME. For months before that day, when I closed my eyes, I saw a mangled bike in the middle of the street, its tires bent, the frame broken, the spokes of the wheel sticking out like porcupine quills. I imagined the mother of the child who had been riding that bike, hearing these sounds, seeing these images just as I did. I put myself in her place, rushing down the stairs and through her front yard only to see that twisted and broken 10-speed. And then, every parent’s nightmare, her daughter lying motionless and bleeding on the ground.

The beginnings of a new story idea are months in the making. There is no magic fairy dust moment where I wake up one morning and rush to my computer, furiously pounding out an avalanche of words onto the page. Inspiration is a more gradual mechanism than that, a pot of water left on top of a slow and steady flame. During this time, this precursor to the actual act of sitting down to write, I’m plagued by uncertainty. Do I have an idea compelling enough to carry an entire book? Will the characters resonate; will readers care about them? And then, more importantly, how should the story begin?

If I find myself staring at a blank page with no image of a scene that should come first, I know I’m not ready to write. I had spent countless hours researching organ donation and domestic violence before I began SAFE WITH ME. I wanted to make sure I got the details right, that I understood the complicated set of emotions that donor and recipient families go through. I wanted to do justice to women suffering in abusive relationships, to show what might compel them to stay, and finally, what would encourage them to leave. While I conducted interviews and took copious notes, that image of a mangled bicycle would not leave me alone. I dreamt about it. I talked about it with my friends who were mothers, watching their eyes fill with tears as I asked them what thoughts they might have seeing their own child’s body thrown from a crash.

I didn’t choose to dwell in this particular image; rather, it chose to infiltrate me. As a writer, I’ve learned to be grateful for the scenes that set up camp and refuse to leave. Because however painful it was to let the image inhabit my mind, there was an equal balance of excitement, knowing I had been gifted the exact right place from which to begin.

Amy Hatvany Collage

We sat down with Amy Hatvany recently to pick her brain about life, publishing, and the inspiration behind her novels.

Safe With MeMarybeth: Amy, your other books all seem to spring from real life circumstances being put to the “what if” test. Will you continue to write in that vein for future novels?

Amy: I hope so! I’m so interested in how everyday people respond to being placed in challenging, pressure-cooker circumstances. I want readers to be able to put themselves in the characters’ experiences, their mindset and emotions. It’s possible I might write around subjects like these in order to sort out how I might respond; I can walk my characters through the mistakes they make and hopefully learn what NOT to do!

Ariel: I’m always interested in the “ah-ha!” moment that inspires a novel AND the unique challenges that come with any given premise. Can you share what those were for SAFE WITH ME and how you overcame those challenges while writing?

Amy: I actually wrote a poor version of this book over a decade ago, after reading a true story about an organ donor and its recipient randomly landing in each other’s lives without knowing who the other was right away. The writing of that first draft was bad, but the premise stuck with me, so I scrapped everything I had already written and started over. This time, instead of dwelling in a first person account of a mother whose child had died and donated her organs, I decided to include multiple viewpoints to create a better balanced story all around.

As I set out, I knew that in trying to capture the characters’ emotions in the midst of their particular experiences would be a huge challenge. There is a fine line between accurate portrayals and too maudlin description, and when dealing with such tumultuous circumstances as the death of a child, organ donation, and domestic violence, I had to be especially vigilant to include moments of levity and normalcy amid the more grief-stricken scenes.

Ariel: What was the last novel that grabbed you by the throat and wouldn’t let go, the book you’re telling everyone to read?

Amy: ME BEFORE YOU, by JoJo Moyes. It made me laugh, cry, and root for the characters to find their perfect ending. My measure of a good story is always whether or not I would recommend it to my mother to read, and this one hits all the right notes.

Marybeth: And finally, Sweet or salty? Red or white?

Amy: Sweet AND salty, thank you very much! A better combination than salted caramel my taste buds have never found.

I’m almost nine years sober, so no red or white for me, thank you…I already drank my fair share! On a more serious note, my short-term experience with addiction was something that I pulled from in order to accurately portray Cadence in my novel, BEST KEPT SECRET, a mother struggling to come to terms with her alcoholism during a custody dispute for her son. I wanted to address the whole “moms who need wine” culture and what happens when one of those moms crosses the line. Four years after the book came out, I’m still humbled by the notes I receive from readers about this story.

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Gabrielle Zevin On Why It’s Hard To Name A Favorite Book

Today’s post this month’s featured author, Gabrielle Zevin | @GabrielleZevin


Gabrielle Zevin

At one point in my novel,The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, the titular character asks, “A question I’ve thought about a great deal is why it is so much easier to write about the things we dislike/hate/acknowledge to be flawed than the things we love.” Not ALL of A.J.’s sentiments echo my own, but this is a question I ask myself, too.

From the moment you publish your first novel, people (reviewers, interviewers, readers, but also colleagues, friends, and even those who have casually heard that you write books) want you to tell them your favorite books. In the last ten years, I’d estimate I have answered the question over one thousand times. Perhaps, the only question I have been asked more often is, “Where do your ideas come from?”

Despite the fact that I know with certainty I will be asked the “favorites” question, I have never gotten good at answering it. My mind goes blank, as if I have never read a book before in my life. The titles that pop into my head are often nonsensical books that I am absolutely certain are not my favorites.  Or the books that rise to the surface of my brain are utter clichés, and even if they are wonderful books, I find I don’t want to name them. Do you really need another person to tell you her favorite book is, for example, The Catcher in the Rye? Out of desperation, I will occasionally spit out the cliché, but later, I always feel guilty about all the books I didn’t name. As a writer who has written a few hits and a decent number of flops, I always want to name the lesser known book or author.

At this stage in my life, I’m not certain I even have favorites. My relationship (and I don’t think I’m alone in this) to books is more complicated than a bilateral system of “favorite” or “not favorite.” For instance, there are the books I loved as a child. When I think of reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess, I am immediately transported to my parents’ scratchy, beige wool couch. It’s snowing outside, but it’s warm in my house. Are those peanut butter cookies in the oven?  My love for this book is about the book, which is wonderful, but it is also about my nostalgia for when I first read it.

And then there are books that weren’t necessarily fun reads, but were enormously instructive to me as a writer. I think of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Both books are inventive structurally and stylistically, but they aren’t necessarily page-turners. However, they were important books in my development as a writer because they suggested new possibilities for my own prose writing. Despite the fact that I’ve only read these books a handful of times each, I think about and reference them often.

Ironically, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a book all about favorites and how the books we read define our lives. I love asking the “favorites” question and I love hearing people answer it, even when I suspect they’re lying. “Really, you’re favorite book is The Gulag Archipelago? Do tell.” I relate to the impulse to, if not exactly lie, to want to put the best face possible on one’s reading life. I understand the desire to name titles that aren’t clichés, that reveal a sense of humor, and that make one appear well–read. I tell you, it’s not easy.

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April Book Club Selection

AJ Fikry Cropped

On a flight to Dallas I fell in love–with a book. I read THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY, by Gabrielle Zevin, in one giant gulp and found myself laughing, crying, and then laughing again, all uncontrollably, in the baggage claim area of DFW while I waited for the my ride. The novel was so sweet and so charming that I was immediately swept off my feet. And then it managed to do the impossible and be deep and profound as well. I’ve been telling people about it ever since.

THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY is the story of a widowed book seller who finds new love and new life when a stranger leaves a surprise package in his struggling bookstore one afternoon. But the novel is more than that. It’s a love song to books and those who sell them. It’s filled with the joy and wonder and laughter that stories bring to our lives. It’s a winsome look at one man’s life and the power of the written word, the hope found in community, and the simple grace of loving another human.  To me this was the book that completely restored the joy of reading.

We’re giving away five copies of THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY thanks to Algonquin Books. See the entry form below for details.

The official summary:

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryIn the spirit of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Gabrielle Zevin’s enchanting novel is a love letter to the world of books–and booksellers–that changes our lives by giving us the stories that open our hearts and enlighten our minds.  

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island–from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

A.J. Fikry himself would be delighted if you supported your local independent bookseller and purchased your copy from a brick and mortar establishment. Signed copies are available at Book Passage. They would happy to ship your copy. Also, we will be speaking with Gabrielle Zevin about THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY tonight at 7:00 EST in a live phone-in conversation. There’s no cost to join and we would love for you to be there!

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* * * gabrielle_zevin

Gabrielle Zevin has published six adult and young adult novels, including Elsewhere, an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, which has been translated in over twenty languages. She is the screenwriter of Conversations with Other Women (starring Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart), for which she received an Independent Spirit Award nomination. She has also written for the New York Times Book Review and NPR’s All Things Considered. She lives in Los Angeles. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is her eighth novel and was published this month by Algonquin in the US and by Little, Brown in the UK (as The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry). It will also be published in 18 other languages.

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Don’t Miss These Books About The Missing

Today’s post by our own Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

I’ve noticed that books come in waves– of themes or time periods, subjects or premises. There seem to be similiarities that just happen in the literary world, and in ways that couldn’t be orchestrated or timed. Maybe it was the success of Gone Girl, or maybe it’s just that the idea of someone missing– from our lives, our home, our neighborhood, etc– that makes for great storytelling because it impacts the human heart. We’ve missed someone. We’ve lost someone. We’ve known the significance of absence, either physically or emotionally. And nothing resonates with those feelings like an actual missing person.

The books in today’s roundup all touch on this idea in different ways. If you like books about the missing (anyone else still drawn in by a Without A Trace episode on cable?) then we’ve got some great books for you to check out!

When She Was GoneWhen She Was Gone by Gwendolen Gross

What happened to Linsey Hart? When the Cornell-bound teenager disappears into the steamy blue of a late-summer morning, her quiet neighborhood is left to pick apart the threads of their own lives and assumptions.

Linsey’s neighbors are just ordinary people—but even ordinary people can keep terrible secrets hidden close. There’s Linsey’s mother, Abigail, whose door-to-door searching makes her social-outcast status painfully obvious; Mr. Leonard, the quiet, retired piano teacher with insomnia, who saw Linsey leave; Reeva, the queen bee of a clique of mothers, now obsessed with a secret interest; Timmy, Linsey’s lovelorn ex-boyfriend; and George, an eleven-year-old loner who is determined to find out what happened to his missing neighbor.

As the days of Linsey’s absence tick by, dread and hope threaten to tear a community apart. This luminous new novel by the acclaimed author of The Orphan Sister explores coming of age in the shadows of a suburban life, and what is revealed when the light suddenly shines in. . . .

he's goneHe’s Gone by Deb Caletti

The Sunday morning starts like any other, aside from the slight hangover. Dani Keller wakes up on her Seattle houseboat, a headache building behind her eyes from the wine she drank at a party the night before. But on this particular Sunday morning, she’s surprised to see that her husband, Ian, is not home. As the hours pass, Dani fills her day with small things. But still, Ian does not return. Irritation shifts to worry, worry slides almost imperceptibly into panic. And then, like a relentless blackness, the terrible realization hits Dani: He’s gone.

As the police work methodically through all the logical explanations—he’s hurt, he’s run off, he’s been killed—Dani searches frantically for a clue as to whether Ian is in fact dead or alive. And, slowly, she unpacks their relationship, holding each moment up to the light: from its intense, adulterous beginning, to the grandeur of their new love, to the difficulties of forever. She examines all the sins she can—and cannot—remember. As the days pass, Dani will plumb the depths of her conscience, turning over and revealing the darkest of her secrets in order to discover the hard truth—about herself, her husband, and their lives together.

What A Mother knowsWhat A Mother Knows by Leslie Lehr

Michelle Mason can’t remember that day, that drive, that horrible crash that killed the young man in her car. All she knows is she’s being held responsible, and her daughter is missing.

Despite a shaky marriage, a threatening lawsuit, and troubling flashbacks pressing in on her, Michelle throws herself into searching. Her daughter in the one person who might know what really happened that day, but the deeper Michelle digs, the more she questions the innocence of those closest to her, even herself. As her search hurtles toward a shattering revelation, Michelle must face the biggest challenge of her life.

A poignant story of the unshakable bond between mother and child, What a Mother Knows is about finding the truth that can set love free.

Until She Comes HomeUntil She Comes Home by Lori Roy

In 1958 Detroit, on Alder Avenue, neighbors struggle to care for neighbors amid a city ripe with conflicts that threaten their peaceful street.

Grace, Alder’s only expectant mother, eagerly awaits her first born. Best friend Julia prepares to welcome twin nieces. And Malina sets the tone with her stylish dresses, tasteful home, and ironfisted stewardship of St. Alban’s bake sale.

Life erupts when childlike Elizabeth disappears while in the care of Grace and Julia. All the ladies fear the recent murder of a black woman at the factory on Willingham Avenue where their husbands work may warn of what has become of Elizabeth, and they worry what is yet to become of Julia—the last to see Elizabeth alive.

The men mount an around-the-clock search, leaving their families vulnerable to sinister elements hidden in plain sight. Only Grace knows what happened, but her mother warns her not to tell. “No man wants to know this about his wife.” Ashamed that her silence puts loved ones in harm’s way, Grace gravitates toward the women of Willingham Avenue, who recognize her suffering as their own. Through their acceptance, Grace conquers her fear and dares to act.

On Alder Avenue, vicious secrets bind friends, neighbors, and spouses. For the wicked among them, the walk home will be long.

the next time you see meThe Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones

In The Next Time You See Me, the disappearance of one woman, the hard-drinking and unpredictable Ronnie Eastman, reveals the ambitions, prejudices, and anxieties of a small southern town and its residents. There’s Ronnie’s sister Susanna, a dutiful but dissatisfied schoolteacher, mother, and wife; Tony, a failed baseball star-turned-detective; Emily, a socially awkward thirteen-year-old with a dark secret; and Wyatt, a factory worker tormented by a past he can’t change and by a love he doesn’t think he deserves. Connected in ways they cannot begin to imagine, their stories converge in a violent climax that reveals not just the mystery of what happened to Ronnie but all of their secret selves.

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A Curious Trend In Book Covers

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

My mother has this theory that things come in waves. Story ideas. Art. Divorce. Organic food. You name it. Things roll through a culture and sometimes being the first to catch a wave can pay off in big ways (not so much with say, the plague). She would cite our cultural obsession with Gremlins in the mid 80′s as a perfect example. I would make the same argument with a more recent phenomena: Vampires. Even Jane Austen. It’s as though everyone wakes up at the same moment and thinks, “Ah-ha! Leprechauns! I MUST WRITE ABOUT LEPRECHAUNS!”

I’ve had many a conversation with my mother on this subject. Usually because I am averse to following a trend of any sort. It’s why I’m always the last to read a popular series. What’s interesting to me at the moment is how true my mother’s theory is proving in areas other than storytelling. For a while it was all the rage for women with their heads cropped off to appear front and center on the cover of a book. A lovelier, and far more fascinating trend has taken over these days, however: the exploding rose.

Exploding Roses

The most interesting thing about this trend is the process by which these photos are taken (see this Washington Post article). The three novels pictured above couldn’t be more different in theme or content. Yet I find it fascinating that three different artists, at three different publishers thought this similar image best depicted the story within.

I should know by now that my mother is always right. Things do come always waves. Especially inspiration.

Have you noticed any other book cover trends? Do you like them? Hate them?

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Why The Forty-Something Woman Is At Risk Of An Affair: Guest Post by Jane Green

Today’s post by New York Times Bestselling author, Jane Green | @JaneGreen

We’ve got a copy of Jane’s new novel, TEMPTING FATE, up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.

Jane Green

Jane Green

Three years ago I started to notice a worrying trend. A number of women in my town, who appeared to be happily married, suddenly announced they had been unhappy for years, and could no longer continue with this sham of a marriage. Invariably the husbands would be left bewildered, as their newly-thin and glamorous wives exploded their lives, and turned out, in every case, to be having an affair.

In the majority of situations, the object of the affair was either younger, or someone entirely different to the husband – instead of a businessman, he would be a tennis coach, or the evening art instructor, or a younger man they met at the gym.

This was their soulmate, these women would tell me, their eyes sparkling with excitement and lust. This was the man they were supposed to have been with, not their boring old husbands.

In most of the cases, within the year, the soulmate had turned out not to be so, the women realized what they had thrown away, but by the time they go back to their husbands filled with apology and remorse, the husbands have moved on and met someone else.

I started to wonder why this kept happening to women around me, women in their forties, women who seemed to be happy, until the moment they weren’t. I thought about it on the train going into New York City, where at rush hour I found myself walking up Park Avenue into a sea of men in suits, swarming towards me. None of these men made eye contact, all of them busy looking at the young blonde on my left, and the mini-skirted young brunette on my right.

Oh! The realization slowly sunk in. Without realizing it, I had somehow slipped into middle age, and with middle age came invisibility.

And then I did a book event with a young, handsome author, who exchanged email addresses with me, and proceeded to indulge me with a series of gently flirtatious emails, which was both exciting and unsettling. It had little to do with him, but to do with me, and my growing feelings of invisibility, and the addictive quality of someone, anyone, actually noticing me, paying me attention, making me feel beautiful again.

I had always naively thought that in order for someone to have an affair, there has to be an inherent problem in the marriage, but all the evidence around me was suggesting something else. Although the women who did have affairs demonized their husbands, it was rarely to do with their husbands, more to do with the insecurity of aging, complacency within the marriage, and wanting, even for a little while, to feel beautiful again.

In my new book, Tempting Fate, Gabby, at 43, knows without doubt she is not the sort of woman to have an affair. She adores her husband, her children, the life they have built together. When a younger man starts paying her attention, she enjoys it knowing nothing will happen, but the more attention he pays her, the more addictive it is to feel attractive, noticed, alive. Soon she finds herself at a precipice, knowing she’s making the wrong choice, but unable to stop herself.

Recently I asked one of these women who lives in my town and left her husband, a woman who describes her now-ex-husband as the love of her life, why she had an affair.

‘I was bored’, she said, and as callous as that may be, I understood what she meant.

However wonderful our marriages are, however wonderful our husbands, when children are waking us up, repeatedly, at 5am, when every night is spent figuring out what to make for dinner, when mornings are spent shoveling laundry into the dryer and remembering the days when you actually had time to iron, it’s very difficult to remember the passion and lust that brought you and your husband together.

When your weekends are not spent holding hands over a candlelit dinner, but instead ferrying four children around from basketball game to basketball game, to playdate, to ice skating, to birthday party, it’s very difficult to remember the importance of appreciating your spouse, or indeed to find the time to remember to be kind, to pay attention to each other, to make each other feel loved.

Marriage becomes pots and pans. At first you’re distracted by those tiny children, but all of a sudden you’re in your forties, your kids are in grade school, you’re no longer needed in the way you once were, and you start to feel irrelevant.

Which is why the forty-something woman is so vulnerable. There is a window of opportunity, before we settle into what Jung called the afternoon of life, where a compliment can have far more impact than it otherwise would, where attention can start to feel like a lifeline to a youth and excitement we thought we had left behind long ago.

What I have learned, in my years as a writer, and thereby an observer of life, is that the grass is rarely greener. I have learned that life is cyclical, that this too shall pass; that just as there are periods when our marriages are wonderful, there are periods when life is boring, when we think nothing exciting will ever happen again. Those too, shall pass.

A good marriage requires work. It is a test of endurance, that is filled with joys, and laughter, tears, and worries, and often pain. If you stick with it, the joys will always outweigh the pain.

As for that younger man who makes you feel alive? That art instructor who offers you dreams of the creative road not taken? They are rarely the soulmates you tell yourself they are, in a bid to mitigate an action you know isn’t right.

I don’t often quote Judd Apatow movies, but occasionally there are words of wisdom that strike home. In “The Five Year Engagement,” the heroine’s sister, exasperated at the heroine’s fear of commitment, finally says, ‘well maybe there is no right cookie. You just pick one and take a bite.’

And once you take a bite, the right thing to do is stick with it until the end, no matter what other delicious confections temptingly call your name.

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TemptingFateHCcoverFrom Jane Green, the New York Times bestselling author of such beloved novels as Jemima JThe Beach HouseAnother Piece of My Heart, comes an enthralling and emotional story about how much we really understand the temptations that can threaten even the most idyllic of relationships….

Gabby and Elliott have been happily married for eighteen years. They have two teenaged daughters. They have built a life together. Forty-three year old Gabby is the last person to have an affair. She can’t relate to the way her friends desperately try to cling to the beauty and allure of their younger years…And yet, she too knows her youth is quickly slipping away. She could never imagine how good it would feel to have a handsome younger man show interest in her—until the night it happens. Matt makes Gabby feel sparkling, fascinating, alive—something she hasn’t felt in years. What begins as a long-distance friendship soon develops into an emotional affair as Gabby discovers her limits and boundaries are not where she expects them to be. Intoxicated, Gabby has no choice but to step ever deeper into the allure of attraction and attention, never foreseeing the life-changing consequences that lie ahead. If she makes one wrong move she could lose everything—and find out what really matters most.

A heartfelt and complex story, Tempting Fate will have readers gripped until they reach the very last page, and thinking about the characters long after they put the book down.

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YA Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Today’s post by our YA book reviewer, Melissa Carpenter | @MelissaCarp

DivergentVeronica Roth’s DIVERGENT series has taken the YA literary world by storm, comparable to the popularity of TWILIGHT and THE HUNGER GAMES in previous years. Some readers are eager to jump on the bandwagon and experience the latest all-the-rage series, while others are left with questions:

  • Does it really stand up to the hype?
  • Could it really be as good as The Hunger Games?
  • Is it worth reading the book if I already saw the movie?
  • Can I go see the movie with young adults without feeling awkward?
  • Is the movie more than just a reason to go watch Theo James on the big screen for a few hours?

The answer is a whole-hearted YES on all counts.

DIVERGENT is a dystopian trilogy taking place in a far-future Chicago. War has left the city in disrepair, and in an effort to keep peace people are divided between five factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent), and Dauntless (the brave). When the story opens, the main character, Beatrice (Tris) Prior is preparing for the test that will help her choose which faction she’ll enter for her adulthood: Abnegation, which she was born into, or one of the other four. The drama begins, though, when Tris’s test results are inconclusive and she has to navigate society as one who doesn’t fit with just one faction; she is what they call Divergent, and that makes her a target of society leaders.

As a writer, Veronica Roth is incredibly talented. She has created a future world that is fascinating and believable, yet far-fetched enough that it feels not like home. There are references to known Chicago landmarks, making the setting recognizable and relatable. Her characters, while futuristic, are also completely relatable – it only takes a few pages to get drawn into Tris’s story, which starts in DIVERGENT, continues in INSURGENT, and resolves in ALLEGIANT. I’m also intrigued by the fact that she started writing this in college and, even now, with three books out, a major motion picture, and a fourth book coming soon, is only twenty-five years old. That’s crazy!

I saw the movie on opening night, and it was great. Really. But, it didn’t get anywhere near the level of detail that you find in the books. I know that’s a common complaint with movies based on books, but in this case it’s not just a casual observation about the movie; it’s a compliment to the depth of Roth’s writing. I love the way she has broken people down into factions to describe personality types and how that forces you think about human nature as you read. I love that there’s plenty of romantic appeal in Tris’s relationship with Four (played by Theo James, as seen in the movie poster) and that their relationship is supportive and exciting without being sexual. I love the suspense and intrigue that keep you reading without being able to stop – I blew through all three books in a week and just couldn’t get enough.

Basically, I just love this trilogy. This is one case where, whether you see the movie before or after reading the books, you really need to read the books. I won’t say they’re an easy, lighthearted read – the emotional rollercoaster is a wild one, and the characters and storyline will dominate your thoughts even while you’re not reading – but I will promise that they’re worth your time!

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Editors note (Ariel here): I’ve not yet read the novel (even though I own it) or watched the movie though I’m very eager to do both. But I wonder about the rest of you. Have you read DIVERGENT? Have you watched the movie yet? What are your thoughts?

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Fiction: A Window Or A Mirror?

Today’s post by our very own Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

If you read fiction (and please don’t tell me if you don’t because… I’m not sure we can be friends) why do you read it? What do you want out of the story when you open that new book?

I was thinking about this the other day as I ran. (And please understand when I say “the other day” that is a generalization because it has lo been many days since I have run, thanks to all the rain. I hear confession is good for the soul. Hopefully by the time you read this I will have been to that new gym.)

Back to “the other day” when I was running. And thinking. I was thinking about some of the comments I’ve gotten on my new novel THE WISHING TREE. And how some people love my “lighter” books, books that are more romantic and dreamy. And some really like the ones where I dig in and really examine issues.

And I thought about how some people want a window when they read– a way of looking at the world beyond. And some want a mirror– they want to see themselves and the people they love, maybe in a new way or in a way that helps them think differently. There really does seem to be a dividing line among readers as far as what they look for in stories. The window people would tell you they just wanted to be entertained and transported. The mirror people would tell you they want to learn something about the human experience; they want to be challenged

And as I ran (if memory serves), I thought about how the best writing is the kind that is both window and mirror. The kind that shows you a world beyond but also makes you look inside yourself. Maybe that’s what all writers should be aiming for. Maybe it’s the ones who manage it who become the bestsellers, meeting both types of readers right where they are, enticing them with one, but surprising them with the other. And showing them the value in both.

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