How A Book Comes To Be: Cynthia Swanson on The Bookseller

Today’s post by Cynthia Swanson, one of our spring authors | @CynSwanAuthor

Cynthia Swanson

Cynthia Swanson

It was a typical Tuesday morning. I was at the gym. My youngest child was steps away from me, in the childcare area around the corner from the cardio room. My older kids were at school. As I marched on the StairMaster, I thought about how most of the people at the gym at this time of day were – like me – mothers of young kids.

It was, I realized, a rather rapid shift in my identity.

Not long before, I had been a single woman with a successful freelance writing career. I lived with my cat and dog in a historic bungalow in a trendy area of Denver. I had plenty of free time to indulge in my passion for writing fiction. I published short stories and worked on a novel.

There at the gym – for just a split second – I wasn’t sure who I really was. How had I gone from being a woman who lived like that – creatively and freely – to being someone I barely recognized? I was now a married mother of three. Instead of that cute bungalow, I lived in a ranch house in a family-friendly neighborhood. I squeezed in paid writing projects whenever I got them. I volunteered, took care of kids, and ran a household. Like most parents of young kids, my husband and I fell into bed exhausted every night.

Writing fiction was a thing of my past. My old novel was tucked away in a drawer (which, in retrospect, was for the best). Creative writing was something I told people I used to do, and hoped to do again…someday. But not now. Along with aimless drives in the mountains and last-minute movie dates with friends, writing fiction had gone out the window.

But maybe all I needed was an inspirational idea.

I considered the question: how can life change so quickly? How can a woman be converted into someone who – some days – she feels she barely knows?

It was, I thought, the seed of a novel.

It was the seed from which The Bookseller was born.

* * *

The BooksellerAbout the book:

A provocative and hauntingly powerful debut novel reminiscent of Sliding Doors, The Bookseller follows a woman in the 1960s who must reconcile her reality with the tantalizing alternate world of her dreams.

Nothing is as permanent as it appears . . .

Denver, 1962: Kitty Miller has come to terms with her unconventional single life. She loves the bookshop she runs with her best friend, Frieda, and enjoys complete control over her day-to-day existence. She can come and go as she pleases, answering to no one. There was a man once, a doctor named Kevin, but it didn’t quite work out the way Kitty had hoped.

Then the dreams begin.

Denver, 1963: Katharyn Andersson is married to Lars, the love of her life. They have beautiful children, an elegant home, and good friends. It’s everything Kitty Miller once believed she wanted—but it only exists when she sleeps.

Convinced that these dreams are simply due to her overactive imagination, Kitty enjoys her nighttime forays into this alternate world. But with each visit, the more irresistibly real Katharyn’s life becomes. Can she choose which life she wants? If so, what is the cost of staying Kitty, or becoming Katharyn?

As the lines between her worlds begin to blur, Kitty must figure out what is real and what is imagined. And how do we know where that boundary lies in our own lives?

read more

Author to Author: Historical Fiction Edition

Today’s post by Erika Robuck and Sarah McCoy | @ErikaRobuck and @SarahMMcCoy

We’re thrilled to be visiting with Erika Robuck and Sarah McCoy today. These women are easily two of the most talented and prolific authors in publishing and they have both written my (Ariel) favorite type of book: historical fiction based on real people. Their novels THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE and THE MAPMAKER’S CHILDREN both release today. Erika and Sarah have kindly agreed to interview one another for our ongoing “author to author” series. We hope that you’ll take a moment to settle in while Sarah McCoy chats with Erika Robuck about THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE. We’ll be back on Thursday with the second half of this interview. And in the meantime we hope that you’ll pick up a copy of each book. We couldn’t recommend them more highly.

Historical Fiction Collage 2

SARAH MCCOY: In your previous novels, you’ve written from the perspective of fictional characters associated with historical figures. THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE is the first novel wherein you wrote as the narrative voice of the real Sophia Peabody Hawthorne. What challenges did this present and was it difficult to balance fact and fiction? 

ERIKA ROBUCK: I had planned on writing this novel in a similar vein to my others, but during the research, reading Sophia Peabody’s seven hundred page maiden journal, I felt her assert herself as the narrator. Because THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE is told in the first person point of view, it took reading all of Sophia’s journals and correspondence to attempt to harness her voice. It was difficult to capture her effusive, optimistic nature in the face of her life’s many challenges, but I hope I did her justice.

Even with a family as well known as the Hawthornes, there are many holes between points on the timeline. It is one of my greatest joys as a writer using the true history to imagine and animate those places that have been left in the shadows.

SARAH: In writing THE MAPMAKER’S CHILDREN, I fell into the dastardly historical fiction trap of wanting to include a colossal amount of information related to my novel’s era, the Civil War. I ended up having to chop over 400 pages during revision. Your books skillfully include so much history with each captivating story. How do you decide which facts to include and which to exclude?

ERIKA: 400 pages on the chopping floor! Sarah, perhaps you can publish those as a nonfiction supplement to your novel.

I, too, had difficulty ferreting out exactly what to keep and what to extract. Because I very much wanted to separate this book from anything purely biographical, I structured it as a series of geographically based novellas, each exploring the evolution of one woman who hoped to achieve the proverbial art-life balance. It was tempting to meander down the fascinating side paths of the Hawthornes’ existence—especially because they were close to so many well-known historical figures. But keeping razor-sharp focus, I was able to slice away anything in their rich lives that did not contribute directly to my chosen themes.

SARAH: What do you want your readers to discover or take away from THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE? 

ERIKA: I want my readers to see that the struggle to live balanced, full lives is timeless, that what artists give up to lead lives of domesticity often feeds their creative fires in ways they could not anticipate, and that there are light-bearers among us—who don’t always know it—but who enrich the world through their unique contributions, no matter how large or small they may seem.

* * *

The House of HawthorneAbout the book:

From Erika Robuck, bestselling author of Hemingway’s Girl, comes a brilliant new novel about a literary couple. The unlikely marriage between Nathaniel Hawthorne, the celebrated novelist, and Sophia Peabody, the invalid artist, was a true union of passion and intellect.…

Beset by crippling headaches from a young age and endowed with a talent for drawing, Sophia is discouraged by her well-known New England family from pursuing a woman’s traditional roles. But from their first meeting, Nathaniel and Sophia begin an intense romantic relationship that despite many setbacks leads to their marriage. Together, they will cross continents, raise children, and experience all the beauty and tragedy of an exceptional partnership. Sophia’s vivid journals and her masterful paintings kindle a fire in Nathaniel, inspiring his writing. But their children’s needs and the death of loved ones steal Sophia’s energy and time for her art, fueling in her a perennial tug-of-war between fulfilling her domestic duties and pursuing her own desires.

Spanning the years from the 1830s to the Civil War, and moving from Massachusetts to England, Portugal, and Italy, The House of Hawthorne explores the tension within a famous marriage of two soulful, strong-willed people, each devoted to the other but also driven by a powerful need to explore the far reaches of their creative impulses. It is the story of a forgotten woman in history, who inspired one of the greatest writers of American literature…

read more

Book Club Recipe: The Bookseller

Today’s post by Ingrid of Edible Tapestry | @EdibleTapestry

010

“Swedish pancakes on Saturdays and waffles on Sundays.” is what Lars Andersson cooks for his family on the weekends, according to his son, Michael, in Cynthia Swanson’s The Bookseller.

Blue-eyed Lars was born in Sweden. So as soon as I read what he made for his family every Saturday morning I was taken back to my childhood, when my sister and I would beg my mother to make the German pancakes from her homeland. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned that her “pancakes” were French crepes. I did a little research to see if Lars’ Swedish crepes were similar. When I learned that they were, I knew that cheese and fruit filled crepes were perfect to go with Cynthia Swanson’s debut novel.

Pre-made crepes that can be found in some grocery store freezer cases can be used to save time, though I have included my crepe recipe here. The filling is a cinch to whip up, and any berries, other fruit, or preserves can be substituted for the strawberries, as could mini chocolate chips or chocolate curls. These Swedish pancakes are easy to assemble ahead of time, and are great chilled, which makes them simple to prepare for those who may want to serve them at book club meetings.

Strawberries & Cream Swedish Pancakes

Ingredients:

Confectioner’s sugar

Strawberries for garnish

Pancake Batter:

Ingredients:

2 c. all-purpose flour

4 eggs

2 c. milk

Pinch of salt

4 T melted butter

Butter for cooking

Strawberry Cheese Filling:

24 oz. carton of cottage cheese

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 c. sugar

1 c. sliced strawberries

Method:

Sift together the flour and salt. Whisk in eggs and a little milk until a smooth paste forms.

Whisk in the butter, beating well to incorporate it so it won’t solidify.

Vigorously whisk in the remaining milk to make sure all flour has been blended in and batter is lump free.

crepebatter

Heat a crepe pan or small saute pan over medium heat. Melt a little butter in the bottom of the pan.

Ladle in about an ounce of batter, turning pan to allow it to coat the bottom.

Cook for approximately 30 seconds. Lift one edge of the pancake with the corner of a spatula. Flip the pancake over.

Cook for an additional 30 seconds. Shake to loosen the pancake as it cooks.

 

Slide the pancake off the pan and onto a plate.

slidecrepe

Repeat until all of the batter is used, adding butter between every few pancakes to the pan if it gets too dry and pancakes begin to stick.

Strawberry Cheese Filling:

Hull and slice the strawberries.

006

Place the cottage cheese, vanilla, and sugar in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.

 

Assembly:

Spoon a line of the cheese mixture down one edge of each pancake and top with strawberries.

008

Roll up. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Garnish with strawberries.

009

Yield: 24 Swedish pancakes

read more

Our Favorite Indie Bookstores

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon | @MarybethWhalen and @ArielLawhon

It’s Independent Bookstore Day! Which means today’s the day to get thee to a local indie and show them some love. And by love we mean buy lots and lots of books. In honor of this special day, we decided to share some of our favorite indie bookstores, both near and far.

Marybeth’s favorites:

IMG_0264
Park Road Books is my local indie. It’s run by a top notch, caring staff of book lovers who are only too willing to talk about and share books with readers. I’ve been to my fair share of live events and been able to connect with some of my favorite writers there through readings and gatherings– something I can’t get anywhere else!

IMG_0263
Pelican Books is my home away from home indie– located at Sunset Beach NC it’s always part of my vacation plans and the first place I go to to get my beach reads for the season. Thanks to the book mavens of Pelican Books, I found Jodi Picoult, Patti Callahan Henry, and Karen White. I have such fond memories of browsing their wonderful selection of books, usually while my family sat waiting to get to the beach! But every true reader knows that book love can’t be rushed.

Ariel’s favorites:

Parnassus Books

Parnassus Books is my local indie in Nashville. I know, I’m spoiled. But I can’t apologize because I simply adore this bookstore. They graciously hosted the book release party for my novel and they’ve invited me to participate in a dozen events since then. I love their staff. I love their owners. And–this is no small thing–I love the entire menagerie of shop dogs that are lounging around on any given day. I don’t say this about many things, but this store lives up to all the hype. I’ll be there tonight as a matter of fact.

Fox Tale Book Shoppe

FoxTale Book Shoppe was the first store that ever hosted me for an event and they set the standard for being gracious, charming, and absolutely wonderful. The Foxes are among my favorite booksellers anywhere and I don’t believe you’ll find a more passionate group of book lovers anywhere. Every time I walk in the door it feels a bit like coming home. You can’t ask for more than that.

read more

What We’re Into: April Edition

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon | @MarybethWhalen and @ArielLawhon

Marybeth Whalen:

The month of April has been pretty full, in a good way. I made some significant strides in 3 areas: my publishing efforts, a podcast I’m starting with friends (look for news here soon! we plan to coerce Ariel into popping in there from time to time), and putting myself out there as a speaker. I didn’t get much writing done, though I did come back from a long blogging break for Lent on my personal blog so I guess that counts as writing.

IMG_1111

As a family we celebrated Easter, even if we were one child short due to a virus. The week after that we took a mini vacation to Sunset Beach NC, the setting for four of my five novels, over spring break.

IMG_1188

I continued teaching once a week, moving closer to that all important last day of school. We celebrated having yet another teenager in the house with my fifth child’s 13th birthday. And we really, really enjoyed having the leaves back on the trees and all the flowers blooming in our neck of the woods. Our neighborhood really is most beautiful at this time of year.

IMG_1212

Other things I was into:

These articles all about science and reading/writing. I love when scientists prove what I already knew!

Science Has Good News For Couples Who Read Together

Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Read Fiction

Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love To Write

This quote from this post by Marisa de los Santos, one of our spring authors, made me glad I bought this book.

“All I know is that I loved having my day’s work spelled out for me. I loved standing on the edge of the cliff with a bridge in front of me instead of nothingness. Of course, I still had to listen to my characters, still had to let the plot grow organically. David and I made major changes to our outline as we went along, but there was something there to change. I loved it, all of it. I hadn’t had so much fun writing a book since I wrote my first novel, back when everything was new.”

Binge watching Bloodline and Broadchurch. I liked one immensely more than the other. Care to guess which one?

As for books, I was one of the first in line to get Kimberly McCreight’s new suspense novel Where They Found Her. I tore through it, anxious to see how she was going to tie all the story threads together, and she did. Though I was a bit disappointed over something that was revealed in the end, (I can’t say why I was disappointed or I will give it away) I did find the book to be a page turner.

I listened to Death Cab for Cutie’s new album Kintsugi pretty much nonstop. It was a nice soundtrack to all my walks. When I wasn’t listening to that album, I was listening to Brandon Flowers’ new song, Can’t Deny My Love. And, because She Reads is devoted to all things story, I will add it here, as it was inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story Young Goodman Brown.

And if you love Hawthorne don’t miss Erika Robuck’s new novel, The House of Hawthorne We will have an author to author interview about it coming up here in the first week of May… so don’t miss it!

Ariel Lawhon:

All I did in April was finish my novel. True, I ate and slept and did all the normal human things. My daily life with my family didn’t change. But every ounce of creative energy was focused on that singular goal. Finish. The. Novel. I’ll tell you, friends, it felt impossible. It felt impossible from the day I decided on the idea. It felt impossible the entire year that I worked on the book. It was exciting and tricky and, in the end, gut wrenching in a way I didn’t anticipate. And then it was done. I think I’m still a bit in shock.

Impossible

Now that I’m a normal human again, I am very much into lunching. Every day this week I’ve woken up wondering what I’m going to do with myself. I take the boys to school and instead of sitting at my desk and working like a madwoman, I putz around for a bit and then go to lunch with friends I’ve ignored for months. I’ve become that person who uses “lunch” as a verb. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

I am really, REALLY into my agent and editor at the moment. It’s a scary thing to let go of a new book. Even when you’re putting it in the hands of people you adore and trust. It feels like streaking and therapy and walking hot coals all at once. It’s terrifying. And I’m not sure what to tell you about the few short days that I spent waiting for them to read the book other than my brain sort of went blank. I spent an entire day reading. I went out for chocolate cake. I discovered Tennessee Sipping Cream. The book arrived on my agent’s desk on a Tuesday morning and she called me in tears on Thursday afternoon. I was at the grocery store, in the produce aisle, with all my children and I will never forget the conversation we had. Or how I sat in my car and cried (very good tears) afterward. The next day my editor called and left the kind of voicemail every author hopes to get at least once in a lifetime. I can’t see any scenario in which I will delete that message.

And now, as I begin turning my thoughts toward the editing process I am reminded of this quote (sent to me by Marybeth, of course, because she sends me all the good stuff) and I am very thankful that I have this kind of editor. I’m thankful she can still see the ship and is delighted that it exists.

“In my experience of writing, you generally start out with some overall idea that you can see fairly clearly, as if you were standing on a dock and looking at a ship on the ocean. At first you can see the entire ship, but then as you begin work you’re in the boiler room and you can’t see the ship anymore. All you can see are the pipes and the grease and the fittings of the boiler room and you have to assume the ship’s exterior. What you really want in an editor is someone who’s still on the docks, who can say, Hi, I’m looking at your ship and it’s missing a bow, the front mast is crooked and it looks to me, as if your propellers are going to have to be fixed.” — Michael Crichton

 

read more

When Our Selection Process Gets Personal

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon | @MarybethWhalen @ArielLawhon

Founder's Collage.jpg

One thing we look for as we decide on our seasonal selections are books that resonate on a personal and emotional level. We want those books that stick with you, that make you think, and that maybe even change the way you view the world after reading them. Some books are just fun. Some are just suspenseful. Some are uber romantic. And some are a combination of all of these. But some– the very special ones– feel a bit more… personal as you read them. Like perhaps the author has been reading your mail, peeking in your windows. At She Reads we believe that story is the shortest distance to the heart. But sometimes a novel finds an even faster route.

The best novels make us hope, make us feel, make us envision a future that, before we cracked the cover, we never dared dream of. These are the novels we endeavor to bring to you, dear readers. The novels that mattered to us first in hopes that they’ll matter to you as well.

Marybeth on the selection process:

That was the case for me as I read two of our spring books. THE DAUGHTER by Jane Shemilt is about a doctor whose teenage daughter has gone missing. This woman has been–some would say– successfully juggling work and family, but in the year since her daughter’s disappearance she’s begun to doubt just how successful she’s been. How well did she really know her daughter? How well can we really know anyone? What’s the right amount of parental involvement? Can there be a happy medium struck somewhere between hovering and abandonment? These are all questions the main character grapples with during the course of the novel. And they’re all questions that, as the mother of a couple of teens myself, I’ve grappled with.

With THE PRECIOUS ONE by Marisa De Los Santos, it got even more personal. In the novel, the main character gets summoned to her estranged father’s house to assist after he’s suffered a heart attack. Once there she comes into contact with not only her estranged father after many years of separation but also his child by his second marriage, the perfect daughter who is “the precious one” of the title. As Taisy struggles to get to know this sister she’s never really been around and come to terms with the breakdown in relationship with her father, I saw myself again and again. I too have a father I am estranged from. I too have a half sister I do not know. I too struggle with what exactly my connection is to these two separate but connected people. As I read the novel– not to give anything away– I found myself desiring some sort of happy ending, either the one that the Taisy got, or something close. Though I don’t see that happening as of yet, this novel gave me hope that it could. And that it isn’t wrong to think that it might.

Ariel on the selection process:

Every time I think of THE BOOKSELLER by Cynthia Swanson I think of these lines from Don Henley’s song, “For My Wedding,”

To want what I have

To take what I’m given with grace

Years and years ago when I got married I asked my husband to add this song to our reception playlist specifically because I loved those lyrics. And I still do–more so now that we’ve just celebrated our fourteenth anniversary. But life is hard. Marriage is hard. And when you add kids into the mix? Dang hard. THE BOOKSELLER explores these truths and these hardships in one of the more brilliant ways I’ve yet seen: a young woman, Kitty Miller, gets to live two alternate lives and is then forced to choose between them. In one of these lives she’s carefree and single and a bookseller in 1960’s Denver. But in her dream life she is Kathryn, a beloved wife and mother living in an idyllic world a mere three years later. As I read this book I knew that every woman, in her most honest, most lonely, most difficult moments has wondered about the other choice. The one she didn’t make. And she has weighed that decision against the reality of what her life has become. That’s powerful stuff, my friends. So as I read THE BOOKSELLER, I saw so much about the truth of singleness and married life. Motherhood. Dreams. Reality. And in the end this book made me want what I have and it made me desire to take what I’m given with grace. That’s why I insisted we include it as one of our spring books.

More than anything we hope you’ll consider reading each of these novels. We think you’ll find yourself on the pages. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll even find a new favorite book.

read more

Would You Keep Reading?

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Confession: Marybeth and I get more novels through the door than we can ever read. And we’ve learned to quickly identify the books that most appeal to us. One of the ways we sort through the daily UPS delivery is by reading the first page of the many novels that come our way. So often that page is an immediate indication of whether or not we will love a book. There’s just something about the tone and the cadence and feel of a good book right off the bat. So we thought it would be fun to begin a new series where we introduce you to a novel by it’s first page. And we can’t think of a better book to launch this series with than Nicole Baart’s, THE BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTERS, out today from Atria Books. We’d love you to chime in by taking a look at the excerpt below and letting us know whether you would keep reading. (Spoiler: we were hooked.) And we have a copy of THE BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTERS up for grabs today. (See the entry form below for details.) Congratulations to Nicole, and we hope you enjoy!

It was less a car accident than a struck match.

Adrienne had felt off all day, lopsided and a little dizzy, like the time she had taken the cable car to the top of Gibraltar and nearly fallen off the rock from vertigo. But she had ignored the strange sense of premonition, the feeling that her world was about to change, because Adri didn’t like change. And she didn’t like the madness exploding around her, each scene a snapshot so smudged and surreal she had to wonder if it was all a bad dream. A nightmare. But it wasn’t.

Broken glass. The thick scent of gasoline whipped up by the wind. Two dark slashes on the concrete that marked the place where the truck driver had hit the brakes too late. The road was a menacing swath of sharp edges, and the crowd a riot of colors and fists and dialects Adri didn’t understand. She could taste the musky press of hot skin, the sour-sweet tang of the red dust that churned beneath her feet. It was familiar and foreign, home and away.

She wasn’t afraid until someone reached into the wreckage of the overturned truck and brandished a single bottle that hadn’t been shattered in the rollover. It was an empty Fanta bottle, utterly harmless. Until he smashed it against the the upturned bumper and held it, jagged and glittering, like a blade.

* * *

The Beautiful Daughters

About the book:

From the author of Sleeping in Eden, described as “intense and absorbing from the very first page” (Heather Gudenkauf, author of The Weight of Silence), comes a gripping new novel about two former best friends and the secrets they can’t escape.

Adrienne Vogt and Harper Penny were closer than sisters, until the day a tragedy blew their seemingly idyllic world apart. Afraid that they got away with murder and unable to accept who they had lost—and what they had done—Harper and Adri exiled themselves from small-town Blackhawk, Iowa, and from each other. Adri ran thousands of miles away to Africa while Harper ventured down a more destructive path closer to home.

Now, five years later, both are convinced that nothing could ever coax them out of the worlds in which they’ve been living. But unexpected news from home soon pulls Adri and Harper back together, and the two cannot avoid facing their memories and guilt head-on. As they are pulled back into the tangle of their fractured relationships and the mystery of Piperhall, the sprawling estate where their lives first began to unravel, secrets and lies behind the tragic accident are laid bare. The former best friends are forced to come to terms with their shared past and search for the beauty in each other while mending the brokenness in themselves.

Nicole Baart’s lush and lyrical writing has been called “sparkling” (Publishers Weekly), “taut and engrossing” (Booklist), and “evocative and beautiful” (Romantic Times). THE BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTERS is another exquisitely rendered, haunting story that will stay with readers long after the last page.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

read more

Rough And Rugged: A Reading Roundup

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

Are you an outdoor girl? Do you love books like WILD and INTO THIN AIR? Or are you someone who just loves to read inspiring stories about what it takes to survive? Either way, we’ve got some new fiction titles for you to add to your “to be read” list!

After We FallAfter We Fall by Emma Kavanaugh

Publisher description:

Blood stains the carpet of an empty house. A front door slams behind a mother with a suitcase full of secrets. Someone screams. A plane falls out of the sky.

Cecilia made the hardest decision of her life moments before she stepped onto the plane that would bring her world crashing down. Her marriage was failing before even getting off the ground, and her desperate need to start over has driven her to abandon her family. Now, as her plane plummets toward the ground, she wishes she had given her son one last kiss good-bye. As tragedy meets mystery, Cecilia and three others, each struggling with their own secrets, become connected on one fateful night when lives are lost in the sky and on the ground.

 

In The Unlikely EventIn The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Publisher description:

When a series of passenger airplanes crashed in Elizabeth, New Jersey within a three-month period in 1951–1952, Judy Blume was a teenager. “These events have lingered in my mind ever since,” says Blume. “It was a crazy time. We were witnessing things that were incomprehensible to us as teenagers. Was it sabotage? An alien invasion? No one knew, and people were understandably terrified.” Against this background, Blume uses her imagination to bring us the lives of three generations of families, friends, and strangers, who will be profoundly affected by these events, either directly or indirectly. But life goes on and Blume digs deep into her characters—we see them coping not only with grief but with first love, estranged parents, difficult friendships, familial obligations, divorce, career ambitions, a grandparent’s love, a widower’s hope, and everything in between. . . . Most important, In the Unlikely Event is filled with the same warmth and authenticity that have won Blume the hearts and minds of readers of all generations.

 

The Mountain StoryThe Mountain Story by Lori Lansens

Publisher description:

Four go up the mountain, but only three will come down…

On the morning of Wolf Truly’s eighteenth birthday, he boards the first cable car to head up the mountains just a few miles from his sun-bleached trailer home in the desert community outside of Palm Springs. Armed with nothing but the clothes on his back, Wolf’s intention that morning was to give up on life—specifically at the mountain site of his best friend’s tragic accident one year ago. But on that shaky ride up the mountain, fate intervenes and Wolf meets three women that will leave an indelible imprint on the rest of his life. Through a series of missteps, the four wind up lost and stranded among the forested cliffs—in sight of the desert city below, but unable to find a way down.

As the days pass without rescue, we come to learn how each of them came to be on the mountain that morning. And as their situation shifts from misadventure to nightmare, the lost hikers forge an inextricable bond, pushing themselves, and each other, beyond their limits.

Reminiscent of John Krakauer’s modern classic Into the Wild and Cheryl Strayed’s #1 bestselling Oprah-endorsed Wild, Lori Lansens’ The Mountain Story is a deeply affecting novel that pays homage to the rugged beauty—and utterly unforgiving nature—of the wilderness, and considers the question: What price are you willing to pay not only for the ones you love, but for a complete stranger?

 

Happiness for beginnersHappiness For Beginners by Katherine Center

Publisher description:

A year after getting divorced, Helen Carpenter, thirty-two, lets her annoying, ten years younger brother talk her into signing up for a wilderness survival course. It’s supposed to be a chance for her to pull herself together again, but when she discovers that her brother’s even-more-annoying best friend is also coming on the trip, she can’t imagine how it will be anything other than a disaster. Thus begins the strangest adventure of Helen’s well-behaved life: three weeks in the remotest wilderness of a mountain range in Wyoming where she will survive mosquito infestations, a surprise summer blizzard, and a group of sorority girls.

Yet, despite everything, the vast wilderness has a way of making Helen’s own little life seem bigger, too. And, somehow the people who annoy her the most start teaching her the very things she needs to learn. Like how to stand up for herself. And how being scared can make you brave. And how sometimes you just have to get really, really lost before you can even have a hope of being found.

read more

Author to Author: The Women’s Fiction Edition, Part 2

Today’s post by Kim Wright and Belinda Jones | @Kim_Wright_W @BelindaTravels

We’re delighted to bring you part two of our women’s fiction interview today in which Belinda Jones chats with Kim Wright about her novel, THE CANTERBURY SISTERS. I have a weakness for novels told through multiple points of view. Add the fact that it takes place in England and I’m completely sold! I’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting Belinda Jones but I can say from personal experience that Kim Wright is an absolute gem. I’m grateful to call her a friend and I’m certain you’ll find this post both enlightening and entertaining.

Women's Fiction Collage

BELINDA: Both our stories revolve around a group of women taking a transformative trip. You have 9 deftly-differentiated leading ladies in THE CANTERBURY SISTERS – what made you choose that number and did any of their characters evolve in a way that took you by surprise as you were writing them?

KIM: The number nine arose completely by chance. During the time her mother Diana was sick, my main character Che promised she’d take her to Canterbury Cathedral for healing. They never make it, so after Diana dies, Che knows she at least needs to take her ashes on the pilgrimage they planned. She quickly learns she can’t walk the trail alone, so she falls in with this group of women – the Broads Abroad. She’s reluctant at the beginning, because Che’s normally a loner and doesn’t believe she has anything to learn from anybody. I wanted the group to have variety so that the stories would, and nine felt like a complete number.

All of the women surprised me in one way or another. In my first draft I had them arrive at a stream while walking and this thought struck me: “The way each woman crosses this stream will be a clue as to how she approaches everything in her life.” And that’s when they started to emerge for me as individuals. Some of them plunged right in, others were careful and analytical, some waited to see what would happen to everyone else before they chose their route, etc. It was like I was watching each individual personality emerge as I wrote the stream scene.

BELINDA: I had the rather easier task of taking a cake-themed road trip around New England while researching THE TRAVELING TEA SHOP whereas you walked for six days from London to Canterbury! Did you really make your pilgrimage in November? If so I am doubly in awe! How did your own journey mirror or differ from those of your Canterbury Sisters?

KIM: The trip was a blast – and I got incredibly lucky with the weather. It only rained four out of the five days!

When I started doing research, I realized that large parts of the Canterbury trail were broken by private land and highways, but about 40 miles were walkable. Just like Che, I knew I’d need a guide and just by poking around on the internet, I found the perfect one. A woman about my age, Jane Martin, who heads up a company called Tours of the Realm where she custom designs vacations around people’s interests. If she hadn’t been there pointing out the tiny little trail markers, I’d probably still be wandering around some field somewhere outside of Dover.

Since Jane was from the area, she went home every night and I stayed in a sequence of pubs along the trail. That was really fun because these are small, out of the way towns that don’t get a lot of tourists. The “inns” usually turned out to be a single room or two for rent above the village pub and the locals were gobsmacked that I was walking the trail. One night I got pulled into a game of darts and this one guy, drunk out of his mind and egged on by his friends, leaned over and whispered in my ear “Come with me to the smoking garden.” A smoking garden is just what it sounds like – a little yard outside the pubs where everybody goes to smoke. And make out too, I guess. I didn’t go with him, but an altered version of that night wound up being my favorite scene in THE CANTERBURY SISTERS.

BELINDA: I think of THE CANTERBURY SISTERS as a treasure trove of stories – readers are treated not only to the tales of the women on the walk but also stories of Thomas Becket, Sir Gawain, figures from Greek mythology, Disney’s Cinderella et al. It makes for a very rich, thought-provoking read. What classic or iconic storyline, be it literary or from movieland, do you personally most identify with? (For myself I would chose Thelma & Louise!)

Kim: Thelma and Louise is a good one. I’ve always been crazy about myths and fairy tales and having to come up with nine stories to weave into the main plot let me explore a variety of them. My favorite is Psyche, who was forbidden to see her husband in the light, because I think all women struggle to “see their husbands” in one way or another. That’s one of the recurring themes of my books – we’re all so complex, with so many fears and dreams, that no one completely knows anyone – not even their mother, husband, sister or best friend. There are always more layers to pull back.

BELINDA: I can see from your book that you love the research aspect of writing as much as I do! Early on you explain that the Canterbury pilgrimages began as a group pursuit simply from a safety standpoint – that a traveler would have been too vulnerable to robbers had he walked the path alone. I love nuggets like this – did you have a favorite fact that you unearthed that went on to inform the story?

Kim: I was amused to learn that Canterbury Cathedral was basically the world’s first tourist trap. Even while Thomas Beckett was in the process of being murdered in the church, the monks were already mopping up his blood and planning to sell the pieces of cloth to gullible pilgrims. As it turned out through the years EVERYBODY went to Canterbury in the spring seeking redemption or miracle cures or some sort of peace of mind. It was the Disney World of the middle ages.

* * *

The Canterbury Sisters Cover ImageAbout the book:

In the vein of Jojo Moyes and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, a warm and touching novel about a woman who embarks on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral after losing her mother, sharing life lessons—in the best Chaucer tradition—with eight other women along the way.

Che Milan’s life is falling apart. Not only has her longtime lover abruptly dumped her, but her eccentric, demanding mother has recently died. When an urn of ashes arrives, along with a note reminding Che of a half-forgotten promise to take her mother to Canterbury, Che finds herself reluctantly undertaking a pilgrimage.

Within days she joins a group of women who are walking the sixty miles from London to the shrine of Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, reputed to be the site of miracles. In the best Chaucer tradition, the women swap stories as they walk, each vying to see who can best describe true love. Che, who is a perfectionist and workaholic, loses her cell phone at the first stop and is forced to slow down and really notice the world around her, perhaps for the first time in years.

Through her adventures along the trail, Che finds herself opening up to new possibilities in life and discovers that the miracles of Canterbury can take surprising forms.

Author photo - Kim Wright (1)About the author:

Kim Wright is the author of LOVE IN MID AIR and THE UNEXPECTED WALTZ and has been writing about travel, food, and wine for more than twenty years for many magazines, including Wine Spectator, Self, Travel & Leisure, and Vogue. She has twice won the Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing. THE CANTERBURY SISTERS is her third novel, and she also ballroom dances competitively. Kim lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

read more

Author to Author: The Women’s Fiction Edition

Today’s post by Kim Wright and Belinda Jones | @Kim_Wright_W @BelindaTravels

The term “women’s fiction” is a hot topic in publishing these days. And for good reason. Some people consider it a description and others consider it an insult. Regardless of where you stand on subject we’ve got two authors today who refer to their own work this way. Belinda Jones and Kim Wright are the authors of THE TRAVELING TEA SHOP and THE CANTERBURY SISTERS and they have agreed to interview one another in our ongoing “Author to Author” series. It would be quite appropriate for you to grab a cup of tea and get comfortable while they discuss the intricacies of their genre and the inspiration behind their new novels. Up first, Kim interviews Belinda about THE TRAVELING TEA SHOP. And don’t forget to check back on Thursday when we’ll have part two in this series.

Women's Fiction Collage

Kim: So many women’s fiction writers open their books with their protagonist in a dither over some man or another.  (I’ve been known to do this myself!)  But at the start of THE TRAVELING TEA SHOP, it’s clear that Laurie’s most troubled relationship is with her sister.  Why did you choose to make female-to-female relationships so central to the book?

Belinda: I have certainly begun with my fair share of man-mangled heroines but this time I wanted to try something a little different.THE TRAVELING TEA SHOP was to complete a long-running UK book contract and it felt like the end of an era to me so I asked myself, if this was the last novel I ever write, what would I really like to focus on? I found the idea of writing about four women from four different generations so appealing and, interestingly, after 14 years of trying to get a US publisher, this was my first title to get an American deal! I’m currently with Penguin/Berkley so I’m rather glad I took that route! The companionship of women is a common theme to both our stories and one of my favorite things!

Kim: It strikes me that a trait we have in common is that we both weave real life places into our stories.  You’re an ex-pat Brit writing about America inTHE TRAVELING TEA SHOP and I’m an American writing about England in THE CANTERBURY SISTERS.  What are the payoffs and perils of writing about a land that’s not totally your own?

Belinda: For me it’s all payoff and no peril! Nothing inspires me more than a foreign shore. I love how everything seems new and intriguing and my stories essentially serve to showcase a destination – for example, when I wrote a book set in Tahiti I made the heroine an art historian so I could explore the Gauguin connection and one of the love interests was a jeweler on a black pearl-buying mission. (I learned so much about all the varieties from peacocks to baroque!) So even though the stories are fiction, each of my books can also double as a travel guide.

Kim: In a thematic sense, you combine two things that I love and that I think a lot of people love – food and traveling.  How important are these things in your own life?  Do they play a symbolic role in your stories?

Belinda: Well, my dad thought I was going to be a food writer since I always returned from my travels rapturising about all the marvelous things I had eaten along the way but I have absolutely zero culinary skills, even writing this whole book devoted to the wonder of cakes I have yet to bake one of my own. Travel is my greatest passion and my muse – all my books basically tell the story of a woman (or women) transformed in some way by the country they visit and the culture they experience, be it Cuba or Greece or Italy. I’m swooning a little just listing those countries!

Kim: Did you take a road trip through New England for this book?  I suspect you did, since the details are layered and spot-on.  I walked to Canterbury as research for THE CANTERBURY SISTERS.  Why is research so important, even for fiction writers?

Belinda: I did indeed road trip around New England, though I was driving a Ford Escape as opposed to a double-decker bus! As the book has a strong mother-daughter theme I thought it would be apt to take my own mum but it was a big mistake – she’s a total health nut and every time I was presented with a new cake to taste test she would cry, ‘You’re never going to eat all that!’ Even confronted with a French patisserie oozing with fresh cream éclairs and the prettiest fruit tarts she ordered a bowl of carrot soup.

Perhaps you and I are both especially keen on research because we have a background in journalism and like to get all the facts and details right! I even had the pastry chef at the Waldorf Astoria demonstrate how to make a Red Velvet Cake as that is where the recipe originated. The kitchens were amazing – they spanned an entire Manhattan city block!

* * *

The Traveling Tea ShopPublisher’s description:

The Traveling Tea Shop follows four women from four different generations as they take a cake-themed road trip around New England. Their mission is to trade recipes for English classics like Victoria Sponge and Scones for American tea-time treats such as Red Velvet Cake and Boston Cream Pie.

Along the way secrets are revealed and hearts are healed as each woman has her own taste of romance. Many cups of tea will be brewed as they learn that love isn’t always a piece of cake!

* * *

 

Belinda JonesAbout the author:

Belinda Jones is the bestselling British author of 11 travelicious women’s fiction novels and one Sunday Times Top 10 road trip memoir. The prequel to The Traveling Tea Shop – Winter Wonderland – is set during the Quebec Winter Carnival and features ice palaces, husky puppies and maple syrup pie! Belinda lives on the book-loving island of Coronado with her dog Bodie.

 

 

read more